Shenadoah National Park and My First Visit to the Appalachian Trail

   This past weekend I visited my friend Molly in Richmond, Virginia and had a chance to visit Shenadoah National Park. The cheapest pass available is a seven day pass for $15 per car, which I think is a really nice deal. I forgot that you might have to PAY for a national park... Shenandoah marks my very first visit to a national park system. I wish that I could have spent more than just one whirlwind day in Shenandoah, but it was worth the 2 - 2 1/2 hour trip from Richmond. The drive to the park was gorgeous in of itself, and not too hard to find. When we turned on to Skyline Drive, the road which leads into and through the entire park, the scenery was just gorgeous. First you climb upwards on the road, passing by overlooks every couple miles at least where you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ridge and Valley Appalachians rising up. While a lot of the overlooks look a bit the same, I wanted to stop at almost every one. We were driving in during some rainy, cloudy weather, so at first the views were limited, but still breathtaking as the fog hovered over the mountains.

We stopped to do a combined hike of about 6.5 miles in the Loft Mountain Area down in the southern end of the park. We parked and followed the Brown's Gap fire road, turned on to Doyle's River Trail and the Jones Run Fall trail, and then finally finished up the last mile or so on the Appalachian Trail back to the parking lot. You can see a map of the area and the trails we did HERE. We then proceeded to drive through the park, stopping at outlooks and at the "comfort station" until we hit the next exit out of the park.

The trail itself was gorgeous, even though the falls were very nearly dry. The fire road was pretty even and straightforward and wide, though we did see some bear tracks in the mud. We got caught in a brief rain downpour, but then were able to continue on. Even though the weather shifted between cloudy, sunny, humid, and drizzly, we only had one brief rain where we actually stopped to take cover. Then a great deal of the trail was downhill... this was very hard on our knees, and a bit precarious since the trail was mostly rocks and dirt and the rocks were very slippery. The falls (or what was left of them trickling) were kind of taken over by some groups that were also on the trail, so we stopped to admire but didn't really climb or explore. The rest of the trail was all uphill and seemed to last FOREVER. I figured a 6.5 mile trail was definitely within my abilities, even without having hiked in months, but this was definitely on the harder side of "moderate" that the park rates the trail. We took quite a few breathers, and stopped for a really relaxing lunch at one of the dry falls. Sometimes nothing tastes better than peanut butter and jelly and lots of water. Then we huffed and puffed (or at least I did) up and up and up.

The last part of the trail was the Appalachian trail. I totally geeked out. There was something about actually putting my feet onto the Appalachian trail that was almost a spiritual experience for me. I know that sounds silly, since it was only a mile long section we walked on, and it was the least visually stimulating part of the whole trip. I assume this is because the Appalachian Trail covers over 2,000 miles, the point of lots of the trail is to get somewhere, so most of the Appalachian Trail just follows the road that runs north-ish through the park. Regardless of all that, stepping onto the trail, walking where so many feet have walked before me on pilgrimages Northwards (or Southwards), seeing the familiar white blazes and AT trail stamps that I've become so familiar with was overwhelming and wonderful. It hasn't been a lifelong dream or anything -- in reality, I think I became infatuated with the Appalachian Trail only a year or so ago. But it took me on by storm, and I still hope and pray that I will be able to follow through with one of the few life-long goals I've made to do the Appalachian Trail. I left the park feeling wonderful. I hadn't hiked in months, and the beauty of the park was undeniable. The short trek on the Appalachian Trail stayed with me the whole trip back. I hope I can revisit it soon!

Skyline Drive near the pass where we parked for the hike.

Bear tracks still fresh in the mud on the fire-road part of the hike

The dry falls where we ate our lunch

The white blaze marking our peaceful trip on the Appalachian Trail

One of the many places where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road

Things to come

So obviously I haven't been updating lately, and in truth I haven't been doing much. The heatwave that hit this summer was absolutely brutal. Getting up at 5am to go hike wasn't going to do much to beat the heat that just seemed constant, week in and week out, day and night. Aside from a walk at Powder Valley a couple weeks ago, I haven't been out much. I really need to though. I find that I am happier overall when I get out and hike. Whether it is the exercise or the outdoors that gives me that peace and de-stressing that I need, I'm not sure, but I know it is affecting me.

However! Next weekend I go to Richmond, Virginia to visit a dear friend of mine that I've known since middle-school. She's just finished grad-school there, so this is one of my last chances to visit her before more schooling or a job takes her somewhere else in the country. I am very excited to see her, as now that we live farther apart we rarely get to talk as much as we used to.

Even though it isn't ALL that close by (at least a 2 hour drive), I am absolutely giddy at the fact that we might actually get to visit Shenandoah National Park!!!!  Not only is this an absolutely beautiful national park, it is also a national park that the Appalachian Trail runs through. Now Shenandoah National park has "over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail." So I don't know if I'll get to walk on the actual Appalachian Trail or not, but it's the closest I'll have ever been since my dream started to hike it thru one day. I'm hoping for some dry and not insanely hot weather so that I will have a chance to really enjoy this opportunity to see this national park and catch up with a really good friend.

I need to find my camera charger and find out exactly how I'm supposed to pack for a trip that is only over a weekend but might include camping.... expect an update though!