Passports & Parsimony

major adventures on a modest budget 

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

At the very end of September, some friends and I visited Shenandoah National Park. This one has been on my list for a while, and I was excited to finally see it in person! We didn't know this before going, but it was National Public Lands Day so admission was FREE! (Normally admission is $20 -- if the cost deters you, round up a car full of friends and it will only cost you a few bucks each!). Our journey took about 3.25 hours, not including a short pitstop at a Starbucks in Loudon County, VA. I really loved driving through Leesburg -- what a charming looking town! Maybe I'll come back someday for a proper visit.

The real fun started when we reached Skyline Drive. I go nuts for a good overlook, and this road has so many!

My friend Lorne suggested we hike Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest mountain in Shenandoah National Park. After all, the coolest view is probably at the highest point, right? There are several different paths to reach the summit. We chose the Upper Hawksbill Trail, which is pretty short (little over 2 miles up and back). I didn't find it too strenuous and there was nice shade on most of the trail. This link shows a map of the trails as well as parking locations. Weather-wise, late September is a good time for a hike -- it's not too cold yet, but it's chilly enough to make you shiver once you reach the mountaintop. Good thing is, you warm up as you hike, so you'll stay pleasantly warm if you're moving.

We took some photos at the top of the mountain.

We ate our packed lunches and then made the hike back down from the summit (there is a restaurant by the visitor's center, but bringing your own food saves time and money!). Afterward, we went to the Visitor's Center, which has a mini museum inside. It tells you all about the park's history and the people who used to live in the mountains.

Across from the Visitor's Center is Big Meadows, which is quite aptly named:

There's some really lovely colors in the meadow around this time of year! Fall was just getting started, so among the green were these patches of brown, red and purple. There were even some bright yellow flowers!

Our final hike of the day was to Rose River Falls, supposedly the best waterfall in the park. To get there, we hiked part of the Rose River Loop, which also connects to Dark Hollow Falls (we didn't go that far). On our way down, we saw a baby bear climbing the rocks across the river. He was cute, but I had my eyes peeled to make sure his mom wasn't nearby. We never saw her, though. Maybe lil guy was lost? My pictures of him came out blurry, unfortunately.

Bears weren't the only critters we saw on the trails! We also saw quite a few caterpillars (one was a young monarch butterfly!), salamanders (just lift up rocks near damp ground to find these guys), beetles and one millipede. If you're into fungi, there's some funny-looking mushrooms along the paths, too. Definitely a fun place to bring a field guide!

The water level looked a bit low at Rose River Falls. Maybe it hasn't rained much lately? Not sure. But overall, still a pleasant view. I thought the hike back up was easier than the one coming down, but neither was too challenging! This link shows the complete trail loop.

I think this is a great place to visit if you love the outdoors. Plus, the trails have varying lengths, so there's something for people of all fitness levels :) Hope to come back another time -- maybe when the trees have fully changed! I bet that would be a beautiful sight.

Thanks for reading!

~ Lael

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