Monday, June 16, 2008

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

For the past few weeks I have been focusing my hiking on the Appalachian Trail. However, in Shenandoah National Park there are some 500 miles of trail with the AT being only about 100 miles of that total. Today we created a loop hike which took us off the ridge by one trail, back up to the ridge by another and then back to the truck by way of the AT.
View from Big Run Overlook

Shenandoah is a long, skinny park with Skyline Drive and the AT running north/south for about 100 miles along the ridgeline. From the ridge the motorist, biker, or hiker can get breathtaking views to the valleys on either side. Many of the park trails begin at a parking area or overlook along Skyline Drive then descend the slope of the mountain. Just because it is downhill, doesn’t necessarily mean it is steep. On our hike today, the downhill trail was pretty steep as we lost 1400 feet in about 2 miles. However, the trail we used to come back up was much more gentle gaining that 1400 feet over about 3.5 miles. The AT is, of course, blazed white and the park trails are blazed blue. Horse trails are blazed yellow.
Doyle's River Trail

Shenandoah boasts of its many waterfalls. I hadn’t been too enthusiastic about hiking to a waterfall since Virginia has been near drought conditions for a while. Ever hopeful, we decided to try it today and we were not disappointed.
Piped Spring

We began our hike on the Doyles River Trail. Within a half mile we came to a side trail which led to the Doyles River Cabin. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains several cabins within the park. Doyles River Cabin is one of these. Near the side trail to the cabin was a piped spring. Water is relatively scarce close to the ridgeline so having such easy access to water is a blessing to thirsty hikers. Past the spring we soon came to an unnamed waterfall. As we continued our descent the water flow became larger. We were soon rewarded with Upper Doyles River Falls and then in about a half mile, Lower Doyles River Falls.
Unnamed falls
Upper Doyles River Falls

We continued down hill until there was no more down left. That was where we found the trail junction with Jones Run Trail. This would lead us back up to Skyline Drive. I think the prettiest of the three falls was Jones Run Falls. It was not the highest, but it had the most water. We took a short break here just enjoying a glorious day in a wonderful place.
Lower Doyles River Falls

We were getting pretty hungry by the time we got back to the top of the mountain. We found a wide, grassy spot on the AT and sat down for lunch. I had eaten my little half sandwich about the time a thru hiker on his way from Georgia to Maine came upon our “picnic”. Thru hikers are always hungry and we had a small ziploc bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies which Gene offered. Then two more thru hikers showed up. We offered more food. They ate the grapes, they ate the cherries, they ate the chips, they ate the rest of the cookies, they ate the M & Ms, they ate the bit-o-honey (which they had never heard of before), they ate everything we had. I guess I was lucky to have eaten my half sandwich before they showed up. Actually, we were glad to give what we had. We have been on the trail for long periods of time and it is incredible how hungry you are all the time. It was always wonderful to find food or cold drinks that “trail angels” had left for hikers. This was an opportunity for us to be trail angels. These boys were headed to Loft Mountain and we encouraged them to get the blackberry milkshake. Word up and down the trail is that it is to die for. We bid them a safe journey and packed up our stuff and headed north on the AT to the truck, some 3 miles distant.
Jones Run Falls

By the time we got to the truck, I was starving. My bowl of cereal and my half sandwich were long gone. Gene offered to take me to Loft Mountain Wayside. You know what I ordered—blackberry shake. Before we left, the three thru hikers came in. They ordered cheese burgers and fries and one guy even got a blackberry shake.

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