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West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland Hikes: Table of Contents # Location Nearest City Length Difficulty Main Features (mi) West Virginia Hikes 1 Twin Falls State Resort Park Beckley 7 Moderate 2 waterfalls; 2 scenic views 2 Hawks Nest State Park Ansted 1.75 Mod./Diff. Waterfall; New River overlooks 3 Babcock State Park Clifftop 4 Moderate Overlooks of Manns Creek Gorge 4 New River Gorge National River: Grandview Beckley 3.2 Moderate Grand views District 5 Moncove Lake State Park Monroe 4.5 Difficult Rock formations; Solitude 6 Cacapon State Park Berkeley 1.5 Easy/Mod. Rocks on Warm Spring Ridge Springs Virginia Mountain Hikes (West of Blue Ridge Parkway) 7 George Washington National Forest: Wildflower Luray 1 Easy Nice forest hikes Trail 8 St. Mary’s Falls Trail Lexington 4 Moderate St. Mary’s River 9 Natural Chimneys Park Bridgewater 2 Moderate Natural rock chimneys 10 Natural Bridge of Virginia Lexington 2.5 Easy Large natural bridge 11 James River Face Wilderness: Appalachian Trail Lynchburg 2.8 Moderate Day hike on world-famous trail to Matts Creek 12 Jefferson National Forest: Dragon’s Tooth Roanoke 5.4 Difficult Views from Dragon’s Tooth 13 Mountain Lake Wilderness: Chestnut and War Blacksburg 2.5 Easy Wilderness overlook Spur Trails 14 Jefferson National Forest: Cascades Trail Blacksburg 4 Easy Large waterfall 15 Hungry Mother State Park Marion 5.6 Mod./Diff. View from Molly’s Knob Virginia Mountain Hikes (On or East of Blue Ridge Parkway) 16 Shenandoah National Park: Fox Hollow Trail Front Royal 1.2 Moderate Site of Fox homestead 17 Shenandoah National Park: Stony Man Nature Luray 1.6 Moderate Views from Stony Man Mountain Trail 18 Shenandoah National Park: Limberlost Trail Luray 1.3 Easy Ancient hemlock grove 19 Mountain Farm and Humpback Rocks Waynesboro 4.8 Mod./Diff. Recreated farm; Views from Humpback Rocks 20 Blue Ridge Parkway: Otter Creek Trail Lynchburg 8.9 Moderate Pleasant creekside stroll 21 Peaks of Otter: Fallingwater Cascade Trail Bedford 1.6 Moderate Attractive waterfall 22 Peaks of Otter: Elk Run Trail Bedford 0.8 Easy/Mod. Informative interpretive signs 23 Peaks of Otter: Johnson Farm Trail Bedford 2.1 Moderate Restored Johnson farm 24 Peaks of Otter: Harkening Hill Trail Bedford 3.3 Difficult Harkening Hill summit; views 25 Peaks of Otter: Abbott Lake Loop Bedford 1 Easy Picturesque Abbott Lake 26 Blue Ridge Parkway: Roanoke River Loop Roanoke 0.5 Easy Roanoke River overlooks 27 Fairy Stone State Park: Little Mountain Loop Martinsville 4.2 Moderate Overlooks; Little Mountain Falls 28 Fairy Stone State Park: Stuart’s Knob Loop Martinsville 3.2 Moderate Old iron mines; overlooks 29 Fairy Stone State Park: Oak Hickory Trail Martinsville 1.1 Easy/Mod. Quiet forest hike Lynchburg Area Hikes 30 Riverside Park Lynchburg 1.3 Easy/Mod. Recreational history; James River views 31 Peaks View Park Lynchburg 6 Moderate Long hike in urban park 32 Blackwater Creek Natural Area Lynchburg 10 Easy/Mod. Long creekside hike 33 Liberty Mountain Trail System: Monogram Lynchburg 2.7 Mod./Diff. Views from LU monogram 34 Liberty Mountain Trail System: Dam Loop Lynchburg 2.2 Easy/Mod. Pleasant forest hike Virginia Piedmont and Coastal Hikes 35 Smith Mountain Lake State Park Bedford 3.2 Easy/Mod. Lake views 36 Staunton River State Park South Boston 7 Easy/Mod. Views of 2 rivers 37 Holliday Lake State Park Appomattox 5 Moderate Holliday Lake 38 Twin Lakes State Park Burkeville 4.9 Moderate Views of 2 lakes 39 First Landing State Park Virginia Beach 1.5 Easy Bald cypress swamp Maryland Hikes 40 Antietam National Battlefield Sharpsburg 1.2 Easy Famous Civil War battlefield 41 Catoctin Mountain Park: Cunningham Falls/Blue Thurmont 5 Moderate Cunningham Falls; 2 overlooks Ridge Summit Loop 42 Catoctin Mountain Park: Charcoal Trail Thurmont 0.5 Easy Charcoal-making history (This page intentionally left blank) Hike #1 Trails: Falls, Hemlock, and Cliffside Trails Location: Twin Falls State Resort Park Nearest City: Beckley, West Virginia Length: 7 miles Last Hiked: June 2002 Overview: A long, fairly remote hike featuring two waterfalls and two overlooks. Park Information: http://www.twinfallsresort.com/ Directions to the trailhead: From Beckley, take SR 16 south 3.5 miles to SR 54 and turn right on SR 54. Take SR 54 14 miles to SR 97 and turn right on SR 97. Take SR 97 5 miles to the state park entrance on the left. Turn left to enter the park. Once in the park, proceed 1 mile and bear left at the first intersection, then take a soft right following signs for the Falls trailhead. The blacktop road is gated at a cul de sac in 0.2 miles. Park in the cul de sac, making sure not to block the gate. The trail begins at the gate. The hike: If you look at a list of facilities that are contained within Twin Falls State Resort Park, one would never guess the seclusion this park can offer. The park features a 64 room lodge, restaurant, 18-hole golf course, swimming pool, amphitheater, museum, several picnic shelters, and a fair-sized campground. Yet, even with all of the amenities, the park’s out-of-way location, not near any large cities or interstates, makes the volume of visitors comparatively light. The trails of this park are not as famous as those in nearby New River Gorge National River, but the hiking is no less enjoyable. In fact, the relative seclusion can make these 19 miles of trails in this park even more inviting. The scenery is as good as the nearby river, albeit different. The deep gorge and sweeping views are replaced by pretty waterfalls and nice rock outcrops. The hike described here takes you past much of the best scenery in the park. It is a combination of three trails. The Falls Trail is a short loop taking you past the two waterfalls that gave this park its name. The Hemlock Trail is a creekside path that follows an old road uphill to the campground. The most difficult trail described here is the Cliffside Trail, which leads downhill from the campground to a pair of overlooks along the Brushy Fork Ravine. Begin by proceeding around the vehicle gate and beginning the Falls trail. All trails in this park are well-marked, including this one with plastic yellow diamonds. In 0.2 miles the trail comes to Marsh Fork Falls, the first of two waterfalls. This 50-foot spout waterfall is approached from the upstream side and can be viewed from the gorge rim by looking downhill to the right. A steep manway leads downhill for a view from the falls base. Back at the top of the falls, the trail splits to form a loop. I recommend following the right option, as this will lead you past the second waterfall and provide the fastest connection to the Hemlock Trail. Remaining in the young forest, the trail follows an old rocky road as it gently descends with the creek constantly visible on the right. The trail gradually curves left around the end of the ridge and soon the second waterfall, Black Fork Falls, comes into view on the right. This is another 50-foot spout waterfall (hence the name twin falls), but the view from the trail is blocked largely by foliage in the warmer months. Be careful descending for a better view, as the hillside is very steep. Shortly after passing the second falls, the Falls Trail makes a sharp turn left, while the blue-blazed Hemlock Trail goes right to cross the creek on stepping stones. At first, the Hemlock Trail stays in the creekbed, so this section could be impassible after a heavy rain. If the water is knee-high or higher, do not attempt to wade it. The first few hundred feet are extremely rocky, but soon the trail leaves the creekbed and curves right to begin following an old logging road. This turn could be missed, so watch for the blazes. For the next 1.25 miles, the trail follows a small tributary of Brushy Fork, passing through the dense and dark hemlock forest that gives this trail its name. During this time, the trail gains nearly 300 feet of elevation from the creek crossing. At first, the increase is very gradual, but as the creek becomes narrower and the ravine tightens, the last 100 yards to the campground are steeper. The Hemlock Trail ends at a gate along a campground road beside a campground picnic area. The unoccupied picnic tables of the campground provide ample rest after the climb. Turn right on the campground road and continue straight at the next two intersections. Pass some restrooms on the left and soon arrive at the beginning of the red- blazed Cliffside Trail marked by a sign on the right. The wide trail enters the young forest and assumes an easy ridgetop course that would be spectacular for fall foliage hiking. Brushy Fork Ravine is ahead, and the ravine you just climbed out of is on the right. In 1.1 miles the trail forks to form a small loop. This description will turn right here and use the left trail as the return portion. Now at the end of the ridge, the trail descends very steeply to arrive atop Canada Cliff, the first of two rock outcrops that overlook Brushy Fork ravine. At present day, not a sign of human interference can be seen or heard from this location. Imagine you are an early mountaineer viewing this land for the first time through European eyes. How daunting the cliffs and steep, unpathed slopes must have seemed to someone in unfamiliar terrain, without the benefit of modern shoes, maps, trails, and equipment. The trail turns left at this point and begins a steep, rugged, rocky course, with a slight net gain in elevation to the second outcrop, Buzzard Cliff. The view here is similar to the first. A rock gives a great place to sit and admire the view. Leaving Buzzard Cliff, the trail begins climbing uphill back to the ridgetop. At first the climb is moderate, but the last couple hundred feet before the loop is closed is very steep. Upon closing the loop, retrace your steps back along the ridgetop to the campground. Assuming you did not arrange a shuttle at the campground, retrace your steps back along the Hemlock Trail (now an easy downhill cruise) and back past the waterfalls to your car to complete the hike. Hike #2 Trail: Cliffside Trail Location: Hawks Nest State Park Nearest City: Ansted, WV Length: 1.75 miles Last Hiked: June 2002 Overview: A rocky cliffside journey to a spectacular overlook of New River Gorge. Park Information: http://www.hawksnestsp.com/ Directions to the trailhead: From Ansted, go west on US 60 to the entrance to Hawks Nest State Park. Turn left to enter the park. Park in the first parking lot on the right, a large, asphalt lot. The hike: Located at the mouth of the famous New River gorge, the views from Hawks Nest have attracted visitors for many years. Among the first famous visitor was Chief Justice John Marshall in the early 1800’s, who thought that the views from present-day Hawks Nest were equal to any in Virginia. In the early 1900’s, coal mining and lumbering were key industries in and around the gorge. The railroads that serviced them can still be seen in the gorge today. In 1968, the state park lodge that sits on the gorge rim was built, and in 2002 the state park golf course was upgraded to improve quality of play. The lodge is surrounded by 4.5 miles of hiking trails, some easy and some steep and rocky. The most difficult trail is the Canyon Trail which descends a seemingly endless set of steps from the lodge to the river. That trail is maintained by the Governor’s Summer Youth Program, a state-sponsored program that helps build and maintain the trails in West Virginia’s state parks. The hike described here leads below the sheer sandstone cliffs of the gorge and ends up at one of the overlooks that made Hawks Nest famous. The trail is unblazed but always easy to follow. The best time to hike this trail is probably the winter when leaves are off the trees, thus expanding your views of the river and Turkey Creek Waterfall. However, this trail would be very dangerous during icy or even rainy conditions. From the parking lot, walk west to a picnic shelter located on the gorge side of the park road. The trail enters the forest behind this shelter. A sign warns: “Children must be accompanied by an adult.” This warning should be heeded, as the trail contains some unprotected sheer bluffs and extremely rocky sections. The trail immediately begins descending steeply down a pair of switchbacks to the first unprotected overlook. Look for the railroad bridge located to the left and observe the sandstone cliffs across the river. The trail continues descending on more switchbacks and some wooden steps to finally reach the base of the cliff on the right. A large rock shelter can be seen on the right here. For the next 0.6 miles the trail traverses an up and down course, clinging to the hillside on the right and a steep drop-off to the left. Poison ivy is very common along this trail, and watch your steps when climbing over the talus at the base of the cliff. Hawks Nest Dam comes into sight in the river on the left. This dam was built specifically for generating hydro-electric power. Notice a tunnel going into the mountain to the right of the dam. This opening is the beginning of a four mile tunnel that carries water through Gauley Mountain to a power generation station 4 miles away. The trail curves right, keeping to the curvature of the cliff, and soon leaves the New River behind. The steep ravine on the left is that of Turkey Creek and it contains some very nice waterfalls and cascades. Be warned, though, that except during the leafless time of year as mentioned above, a thick cluster of rhododendron will greatly obstruct your view. The cliffs on the right have also disappeared, replaced by a steep hillside. The trail begins gaining elevation moderately at first, then more steeply as the trail curves right away from Turkey Creek. A couple of windfalls make the hiking more difficult here, and the thick rhododendron and steep hillside make going around nearly impossible. Just before reaching US 60, the trail turns sharply right and continues a steep climb, now through a small grove of pines. The traffic from US 60 can be heard on the left. One final steep climb and you arrive at the parking lot along US 60 for the overlook. Take a short trip right on the blacktop trail to arrive at the famous overlook, from which you can see all of the items along the hike in one view. Back at the parking lot, cross US 60 and browse the park gift shop. Follow the paved path behind the shop, following signs up some steps for the museum. The museum features a collection of artifacts and exhibits relating to the gorge that was donated to the park in 1938 by Judge Harland Calhoun of Moorefield, WV. Exit the museum and go around the assistant superintendent’s residence to arrive at a blacktop access road. Follow this road downhill to its intersection with US 60. Arriving at the parking lot, located across US 60 and to the left, completes the hike. Hike #3 Trail: Skyline Trail Location: Babcock State Park Nearest City: Clifftop, WV Length: 4 miles roundtrip Last Hiked: June 2002 Overview: A beautiful, scenic, linear hike along the rim of Manns Creek gorge. Park Information: http://www.babcocksp.com/ Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 60 and SR 41, go south on SR 41 4 miles to the state park entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the park, then at the first intersection take a soft right on the Manns Creek Park Road. Follow this road past the first overlook (you will hike back to this overlook later) into the cabin section of the park. Continue straight at the next intersection, then bear left. Park at the small parking area that services a magnificent overlook of Manns Creek Gorge. The trail starts at the left side of this parking area. The hike: You can tell by the dense, dark, mature forest driven through on the way in that Babcock is one of the oldest state parks in the West Virginia State Park system. The New River cuts the 4100 acre park in half. The western half is extremely rugged and undeveloped. The eastern half is centered around two creeks, Glade and Manns, both of which have steep gorges and offer great views. The Glade Creek drainage contains the main park office, a restored grist mill, a small park lake, and two hiking trails. Several more trails can be found in the Manns Creek watershed, which contains a horse camp, cabins, and several overlooks. The Narrow Gauge Trail, found along Manns Creek, follows an old railroad bed that used to service the lumber and coal industries. It can be reached from this hike via the steep and appropriately named Rocky Trail. The best hike in the park, though, connects the two cabin areas in the Manns Creek watershed, passing numerous overlooks along the way. The well-named Skyline Trail follows the north rim of Manns Creek gorge for 2 miles. The trail is easy to follow, blazed with yellow blazed, and not particularly strenuous as far as mountain hiking goes. Begin at the small brown wooden sign that says “Skyline Trail 2 miles.” The dirt trail enters the woods and descends slightly, threading its way through a series of large, sandstone slump blocks. A large number of ferns carpet the ground, and a few even grow out of cracks in the rocks. The dark forest features mostly maple, oak, and beech with a few yellow birch, hemlock, and galax. The trail descends slightly into a dense rhododendron thicket and at 0.5 mile reaches a junction with the Rocky trail which descends to the right. Continue straight on the Skyline Trail, which descends slightly to cross a small stream, then begins a moderate, but short climb. The trail bends right to skirt the exposed sandstone cap of this ridge and assumes a level course with the cliff on the left and a steep drop-off on the right. This portion of trail is very narrow, so keep small kids firmly in tow. The trail curves left through another rhododendron thicket, passing through the upper reaches of another ravine. A brief but moderately steep climb will cause you to arrive at the overlook you passed on the drive in. A pair of benches allows you to sit, relax, and enjoy the broad views of beautiful Manns Creek Gorge. The creek can be heard roaring in the valley, and the road is not heavily used, so little interference should be had here. 0.8 miles remains to the other cottage area at the end of the trail. From the overlook, the trail reenters the forest and descends the ridge steeply via a pair of switchbacks. From here on the trail remains in a dense rhododendron thicket and clings to the cliff edge on the right. The trail becomes very narrow at times, so watch for the yellow blazes. Just before reaching the cottage area, the trail passes a nice, unprotected overlook of the gorge and crosses a wooden bridge over a very deep chasm in the rocks. Upon reaching the cottage area, back track for 2 miles to your car to complete the hike. Hike #4 Trail: Canyon Rim Trail Location: Grandview district, New River Gorge National River. Nearest City: Beckley, WV Length: 3.2 miles round-trip Last Hiked: June 2002 Overview: A moderate cliff-top walk featuring some of the best views of New River Gorge. Area Information: http://www.nps.gov/neri/ Directions to the trailhead: Take I-64 east of Beckley to County Route 9 (exit 129). Exit and go north. In 5 miles CR 9 enters the national recreation area. Follow signs to the visitors center, where the trail begins. The hike: The reasons why this section of New River Gorge has earned the name Grandview are well-understood by anyone who has stood on the rim. It is at this point that the river turns from flowing west to flowing north, and does so in (yes, I’m going to say it) “grand” fashion. The river makes such a sharp, sweeping turn that one is able to look almost 360 degrees and see nothing but river. The views of this curve have been photographed more than just about any other views in West Virginia. These views have been in public ownership since 1938, but visitors began coming here long before that. The first known settlers, Joseph and Jane Carper, came in 1855. At first the area simply was called “Rock” for the cliffs that line the gorge here. Stories of visitors coming to the Carpers and other nearby residents to see the view date to the early 1900’s, when this area could only be reached by a dirt wagon road. When the state of West Virginia bought the land in 1938, mountaineer farming, lumber harvesting, and coal mining had taken their collective toll. Nevertheless, the civilian conservation Corps began building shelters other facilities, and the area was dedicated as Grandview State Park. In 1978, an act of Congress created the New River Gorge National River administered by the National Park Service. In 1990, the land was transferred from state to federal hands and became part of the national river. 3.5 miles of trails can be accessed from the Grandview Visitor Center. A couple of short nature trails head east from the visitor center. The most scenic and popular trail is the Canyon Rim Trail described here. It takes visitors along the west rim of the gorge for its entire length, connecting two overlooks that made this area famous. The trail starts at an information board across the parking lot from the visitor center. Look for signs that direct you to the “Main Overlook,” which is a short walk on paved trail from the parking lot. From this protected vantage point, one can see the first of several broad turns in the river. Study first the cliffs across the river. Trees seem to carpet the slopes, on the surface showing no scars from the land’s industrial past. Then study the river and rapids that can be seen therein. Watch for kayakers attempting to ride the river north towards Hawks Nest and Kanawha Falls. Notice the railroad tracks that at one time would bustle with locomotives carrying coal and timber for sale in Charleston downstream. Lastly, notice to the right the wilderness known as Glade Creek gorge, which features its own compliment of fine and scenic hiking trails. Starting back from the overlook, the Canyon Rim Trail departs to the right as a gravel trail, heading into the forest. There is a trail brochure that describes some of the sights seen along this trail, and it may be available at this point. The trail assumes a level course with the gorge ever-present on the right and a picnic area through the trees on the left. Pass some rock outcrops which serve as unprotected overlooks and in 0.3 miles arrive at the North Overlook, downhill on a short side path to the right. This is another protected overlook and offers much the same view as the Main Overlook. Interestingly, neither overlook can be seen from the other. Trail traffic past this point lessens somewhat, but one of the best overlooks still lies ahead. Continue on a northwest course through second-growth upland forest consisting of red oak, sugar maple, and a few pines, including hemlock, galax, and red pine. Much of the understory is taken up with mountain laurel and rhododendron. At 0.6 miles intersect the park road and angle left as the trail begins paralleling this road. The trail and road will never stray more than a few yards apart for until the parking area for the Turkey Spur Overlook is reached. During this time, the trail undulates gently up and down at first, with a couple steeper descents using wood and stone steps at the end. In all, the trail will lose about 100 feet in elevation from the Main Overlook to the Turkey Spur overlook. At 1.5 miles the trail rounds a sandstone cliff and arrives at the small paved parking area that serves the Turkey Spur Overlook. Across the parking area, the short trail to the overlooks begins. A trail sign states that a total of 150 steps must be navigated to reach the overlook, but there are three platforms to view with separate steps at each, so not all 150 steps have to be climbed at once. Just begin following one of the boardwalks/steps, and an excellent view will reward your efforts in each case. Putting all three platforms together, one can almost see 360 degrees, with the river in view most of the time. After seeing the views from all three platforms, hike 1.6 miles back uphill to your car at the visitor center. Alternatively, since the Turkey Spur parking lot is accessible by car, one could arrange a two-car shuttle to whisk you back to the visitor center. Hike #5 Trails: Diamond Hollow, Roxalia Springs, and Devils Creek Trails Location: Moncove Lake State Park Nearest City: Monroe, WV Length: 4.5 miles Last Hiked: August 2010 Overview: A difficult hike with several steep sections offering much serenity. Park Information: http://www.moncovelakestatepark.com/ Directions to the trailhead: Take SR 3 east out of Monroe to Moncove Lake Rd., which is listed on the map as CR 8. A state park sign marks this intersection. Turn left on CR 8. Take CR 8 to the state park entrance on the left. Turn left on the single lane paved park road to enter the park. Follow the park road across the dam to the medium-sized swimming pool parking area on the right; a small brown sign stating “public restrooms” marks this parking lot. Turn right to park in this lot. The hike: Tucked away in extreme southeast West Virginia only one ridge from the Virginia line, Moncove Lake State Park is the perfect destination for a quiet mountain retreat. Despite the location, this park is quite new, established only in 1990 by setting aside 250 acres of the adjacent Moncove Lake Wildlife Management Area. Additional land transfers bring the total number of acres to 896, including the 144 acre lake. In spite of all of this hike’s great features, it is not for everyone. Indeed, the combination of remote, primitive trail and persistently steep hills make this hike one of the hardest hikes in my blog to date, perhaps second only to Fort Hill State Memorial in Greater Cincinnati or Dragon’s Tooth in Virginia. Fortunately, a short-cut option (to be described later) exists that cuts off the hardest part of the hike. From the pool parking area, cross the park road and head for the campground check-in station. An information board to the right gives a map and trail information. Turn sharply left at the check-in station and walk down the paved campground road. The Diamond Hollow Trail begins at a wooden sign on the right side of the road that says, “Diamond Hollow Trail, Foot Travel Only.” The wide single-track grass/dirt trail immediately begins a long, moderate climb away from the campground. The Diamond Hollow Trail is blazed with red plastic diamonds, and while you don’t need them to follow the trail at first, they will come in handy later. The tallest trees in the forest here are broadleaf trees such as maple and oak, but some pines make an appearance as you near the top of the hill. Mountain laurel provides a persistent and fairly thick understory. As you approach the crest of the hill, the trail curves sharply left to continue ascending along the ridgeline. Sharp turns are marked with double blazes, a fact that will come in handy later in the hike. Near 0.5 miles, the narrow, orange-blazed Grouse Knoll Trail exits steeply downhill to the right and heads back to the main park road. The Grouse Knoll Trail intersects the park road nearly 0.5 miles from the pool area to create a very short loop, so you should continue straight on the Diamond Hollow Trail. The grade eases as you walk along the ridge crest and soon reach the highest point on this hill. During the leafless months, some partially obstructed views of Middle Mountain unfold to the southeast, but dense broadleaf trees obscure any views the rest of the year. After topping the hill, you begin a long, moderate to steep descent toward Devil Creek. While the trail coming up was wide and clear, the trail on this side of the hill is more rocky and harder to discern. Use the red plastic diamond blazes to guide you. At the bottom of the descent, the trail curves left to begin following what appears to be an old logging road. Near 2 miles into the hike, the Diamond Hollow Trail ends at an intersection with the yellow-blazed Devils Creek Trail, which goes left and straight. The left fork leads directly back to the campground, but this hike continues straight to head to the southern arm of the Devils Creek Trail. As you approach Devil Creek, you will enter a brushy area with thick, shoulder- high meadow greenery on either side of the trail. The trail here is very narrow, so it is best to wear pants to avoid getting briar scratches and picking up unwanted passengers such as ticks. Devil Creek doesn’t look like much, but it is in fact the outflow of Moncove Lake. The trail crosses Devil Creek on a small, shaky bridge constructed out of two small logs with planks nailed to the top. The bridge is rickety, but it held my 300 pounds and hence will probably hold your weight as well. After climbing the steep south bank of Devil Creek, you reach a trail intersection with the Roxalia Springs Trail, which is blazed with white plastic diamonds. The Roxalia Springs Trail is the hardest trail in the park, considerably harder than anything you have encountered thus far in this hike. If you are not up to the challenge, you can turn left at this intersection, staying on the Devils Creek Trail, and rejoin this hike at a later point. For an adventure on steep, primitive trail, turn right to begin the Roxalia Springs Trail. After a short stint on an old logging road along the creek, the trail turns left and begins climbing Middle Mountain. This climb starts steep and gets steeper. At first you are ascending along a small tributary of Devil Creek, but soon you pass the upper reaches of the tributary as the grade gets steeper. The terrain here is rocky, and the trail is very hard to discern. Rather than trying to stay on an “official” treadway, you will need to simply walk from white blaze to white blaze using whatever route looks most feasible, climbing all of the time. 3 miles into the hike, you finally reach the crest of Middle Mountain. Even on a warm summer day, it will likely be cool and breezy up here, so take a minute to appreciate your accomplishment. On the top of the ridge, the trail curves sharply left and begins following the crest of Middle Mountain, which falls away steeply on either side. The ridgetop hiking is surprisingly pleasant after the brutal climb you just endured, and a few partially obstructed views open through some small gaps in the trees. All of the trees up here are stunted due to the rocky soil; most of them are broadleaf but a few are pines. Due to the large concentration of broadleaf trees in this area, this would be a nice, secluded place to do some leaf peeping in early October. All too soon, you begin the descent back toward Moncove Lake. At first you descend along the ridge crest, but soon the trail rolls off the left side of the ridge and passes some interesting rock formations as it descends. For the most part, the descent is steep but not as steep as the climb. Also, the trail here is easier to discern than on the climb. 4.1 miles into the hike, the Roxalia Springs Trail ends at an intersection with the Devil Creek Trail, which goes right and left. If you chose to omit the Roxalia Springs Trail earlier, you will arrive at this intersection from the left. Turn right to head for Moncove Lake. Devil Creek and the brushy area beyond it are downhill to your left as the wide two-track dirt trail follows what appears to be an old logging road. A dense understory of ferns creates a new and pleasant hiking atmosphere. At 4.4 miles, the trail climbs gradually before it ends at a gate along the park entrance road. Turn left on the park road and walk across the earthen dam that forms Moncove Lake. Pass a fishing pier on the right as the pool parking area comes into view ahead. This sight signals the end of the hike. Hike #6 Trail: Ridge Trail Location: Cacapon State Park Nearest City: Berkeley Springs, WV Length: 1.5 miles Last Hiked: September 2010 Overview: An easy to moderate hike to the summit of rocky Warm Spring Ridge. Park Information: http://www.cacaponresort.com/ Directions to the trailhead: The state park entrance is located on US 522 10 miles south of downtown Berkeley Springs, WV or 26 miles north of Winchester, VA. After entering the park, drive to the Nature Center, passing turn-offs for the swimming area, golf course, and cabin area in that order. Turn left on the one-way loop road beside the Nature Center. Stop in the Nature Center if it is open, then continue on the loop road to the Play Area parking lot. Park here. The hike: The tall, mature forest and old stone structures you drive by on your way to the trailhead give away this land’s long history as a state park. Indeed, established in 1933, Cacapon State Park (pronounced ca-CAY-pon) was one of West Virginia’s first state parks. The name Cacapon comes from a Shawnee Indian word meaning “medicine waters.” The Shawnee described this area as such because of the mineral springs which have their sources on the mountain and come to the surface in Berkeley Springs. These springs are renowned for their healing powers. Nonetheless, this land’s natural resource of greatest importance today is not the water but the sand, from which large quantities of natural gas can be extracted. Of course, commercial exploitation of parkland is prohibited, so the park’s part of the mountain will not succumb to the drill. Cacapon State Park today claims resort park status, and rightly so with its top- notch golf course, 31 cabins, swimming area, lodge, tennis courts, and 20 miles of hiking trails. Hikers with a full day to spend here should take on the Ziler Trail, a 5.1 mile loop offering great views from the side of Cacapon Mountain. In my case, I was merely stopping for a leg-stretch while driving from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Thus, I chose to hike the Ridge Trail, which offers a taste of mountain hiking and good views of the park’s namesake mountain without the length and difficulty of the Ziler Trail. From the playground area, follow the blacktop path that leads across a bridge and heads for the swimming area. About halfway to the swimming area, look for the brown plastic sign that reads “Ridge Trail” with an arrow pointing to the right. Turn right to leave the blacktop and begin the Ridge Trail, which at this point is an easy gravel path. The path drops to join an old road as the South Fork of Indian Run comes into view on the right. At 0.3 miles, an old stone dam appears in the creek to your right. Dams such as these usually mark former mill sites, though little other evidence of a mill here remains. Past the dam, the trail curves left and begins climbing Warm Spring Ridge. The climb is somewhat rocky but never steep. As you approach the top of the ridge, you pass a couple of benches, and a few gnarled pine trees mix in with the broadleaf forest, which is dominated by poplar, maple, oak, and hickory. At 0.7 miles, you reach the crest of the ridge, and the trail makes a sharp switchback to the left. The trail is marked with yellow paint blazes, but it is always wide and easy to follow, so getting lost is difficult even without the blazes. Now walking northeast along the ridge crest, you soon reach the highest point of the hike. The stunted pines block any broad views, but some gaps in the trees allow for partially obstructed views of Cacapon Mountain to the west and Sleepy Creek Mountain to the east. The mountains here are dominated by broadleaf forests, so this would be a great place to do some leaf peeping in early October. On my visit in mid-September, a few trees had turned color, but the mountainside was still a blanket of green for the most part. The trail tops a couple of small knobs before beginning the descent to the swimming area in earnest. Given how moderate the climb was, this descent seems quite severe, so be glad you are hiking the trail counterclockwise. At 1.2 miles, you reach the bottom of the hill beside the large blacktop swimming area parking lot. Follow the yellow blazes by turning left and passing to the left side of the bathhouse. The last segment may be the hardest part of the hike. With a chain link fence keeping you out of the beach area to your right, the trail passes over and around numerous large boulders. Just pick your way through the boulder field whichever way looks best. I was able to avoid crawling on all four but not without some awkwardness. At 1.4 miles, you close the Ridge Trail loop. Continue straight on the blacktop path to return to the playground area and complete the hike. Hike #7 Trail: Wildflower Trail Location: George Washington National Forest Nearest City: Luray, Virginia Length: 1 mile Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: A moderate hike along the eastern slope of Massanutten Mountain with an impressive wildflower display in season. Trail Information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/lee/recreation/day_use_areas/wildflower.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Luray, take US 211 west 5 miles. As the road begins to climb Massanutten Mountain, look for the signed George Washington National Forest Visitor Center on the left. Turn left and park in the small blacktop parking lot. The trail begins at the Visitor Center parking lot. The hike: Located atop Massanutten Mountain on US 211 some 10 miles west of Shenandoah National Park, the George Washington National Forest Visitor's Center offers maps and other information on the several hundred thousand acres comprising the forest. Also, guided nature hikes on the short Discovery Trail leave from the center. On the east side of the parking lot stands the trailhead for the Wildflower Trail which links the Visitor's Center with a picnic area 0.5 miles down slope. As the name suggests, this is an attractive, short trail to hike in the spring for the nice display of wildflowers. Start by hiking the cinder path southward as it descends slightly along the side of the mountain. In April, look for jack-in-the-pulpit, blue and white violets, tulips, daffodils, and morning glory. A bit later in the year, flowering mountain laurel provides an impressive display of color. An interpretive sign informs you that, some 150 years ago during the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson used this very path to maneuver his confederate troops over Massanutten Mountain. After a gentle turn to the right, the trail intersects another hiking trail going up the mountain to the right. US 211 can be heard but usually not seen downhill to the left. All the time in young maple forest, the trail takes a gentle turn left before beginning a moderately steep final descent to the picnic area. After pausing to catch your breath at the picnic area, retrace your steps 0.5 miles back up the mountain to the trailhead to finish the hike. Hike #8 Trails: St Mary’s Trail; St. Mary’s Falls Trail Location: St Mary’s Wilderness, George Washington National Forest Nearest City: Lexington, Virginia Length: 4 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: A fairly level hike that fords the river twice before reaching an unusual cascade. Area Information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/gp/recreation/hiking/index.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Lexington, go north on I-81 to CR 606 (exit 205). Exit and go east. CR 606 becomes SR 56 when it intersects US 11. Continue east 1 mile to CR 608 and turn left on CR 608. In 2.1 miles stay right on CR 608 where CR 667 exits to the left. Continue an additional 0.4 miles to FR 42 and turn right on FR 42. Where FR 42 curves to the left, continue straight on FR 41. Gravel FR 41 dead-ends at the St. Mary’s trailhead. The hike: Established by Congress in 1984, the St. Mary Wilderness protects 10,090 acres of second growth forest on the west slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wilderness designation means that humans are only visitors, not permanent residents. This means that only primitive camping is allowed, vehicles are prohibited, and, most importantly for this hike, no bridges exist. The wilderness area is traversed by a large network of trails. The main artery running southwest-northeast is the St. Mary’s/Kennedy Ridge Trail (the trail changes name on top of Bald Mountain). The main artery running southeast-northwest atop Bald Mountain is the Big Levels Bald Mountain Primitive Road, formerly a forest road now closed to vehicles. This hike follows part of the St. Mary’s Trail along St. Mary’s River to an unusual cascade in the river. This trail can be most easily hiked in the fall when river levels are lowest, thus making the fords easier. The trail begins at the rear of the small gravel parking area. Enter the forest and walk along a narrow ledge with the creek on your right and a steep hillside on your left. The rocky trail is not very well marked, but the ravine is narrow and the trail follows the river, so it is hard to lose your way. Some side trails created by fisherman head right down to the creek, but stick with the main trail, heading upstream. The trail remains on the north side of the stream for the first mile until the ravine walls completely close off the north side of the river. At this point you must ford the river for the first of four times total (two out and two back). The river bottom is rocky, the river is about 40 feet wide, and the water is one to four feet deep depending on the season, so use discretion when determining whether it is safe to cross. If the water is too deep or swift, turn back and try again at a dryer time. Across the river, the trail continues upstream following the south bank. Cross over a particularly narrow ledge that requires a three-foot step up to reach, then come to a trail junction 1.5 miles from the start. The main St. Mary’s Trail continues to the right, while the side trail leading to the falls goes left. Stay left, and in 0.2 miles come to the second ford of St. Mary’s River. This one is further upstream and thus easier than the first, but use caution again. Back on the north side of the river, the trail crosses a side stream on an easy rock- hop and in 0.3 miles comes to the main feature on the hike. What makes the cascade so unique is that half of the cascade disappears under the rock of the south bank. Water crashes into the vertical rock walls, then makes a quick right turn as it continues downstream. The gorge is narrow and cool at this point, and a couple of nice rocks make for good spots to stop and rest, watching the river. The easy trail ends at this cascade. If river levels allow, you can enter the river and wade another 0.2 miles upstream to St. Mary’s Falls, a nice falls in the river. Unfortunately, on my visit the river was too deep to wade safely, so I had to turn around at this point. Either way, you must now walk 2 miles back down St. Mary’s River, crossing the river twice more on your way out. Be careful with the river crossings and on the narrow ledges as you return to your car and complete the hike. Hike #9 Trails: Chimneys and River's Edge Trails Location: Natural Chimneys Park Nearest City: Bridgewater, VA Length: 2 miles Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: A steep climb to overlook the chimneys, followed by an easy streamside course. Park Information: http://www.uvrpa.org/naturalchimneys.htm Directions to the trailhead: From Bridgewater, take SR 42 south 2.5 miles to CR 747. Angle softly to the right on CR 747. Take CR 747 3 miles to CR 731 and turn right on CR 731. Natural Chimney Park is less than 1 mile ahead. Turn right to enter the park. Continue straight on the park entrance road to where it ends at a parking lot near picnic shelter #3. Park in this lot. The hike: Tucked away along the North River in rural Virginia, Natural Chimneys Park is named for the unusual stone towers that stand within its boundaries. The park's developed campground and location near Shenandoah National Park make it a nice side trip for visitors to the area. The park is also famous for its annual jousting tournament hosted every August near the chimneys. From picnic shelter #3, start your tour of the park with a ground-level view of the Natural Chimneys, which are located to the left of the shelter. The limestone chimneys range from 65 to 120 feet in height. They were formed millions of years ago as wind and water eroded the less resistant surrounding rock. Natural tunnels located in the base of a couple of the chimneys formed as ancient caverns before the rock eroded away. A couple of interpretive signs near the chimneys give more details about the feature. When you are done admiring the chimneys, begin your hike with the Chimneys Overlook Trail, which enters the forest just to the right of the picnic shelter. The trail begins a very steep climb, the only significant ascent of the hike. Near the top of the hill, the trail forks. For now, take the left fork, which leads to the vantage point for which this trail is named. After admiring the chimneys in the foreground and the Allegany Mountains in the background, retrace your steps to the trail intersection. Turn left to take the other fork and continue the hike. The trail now assumes a ridgetop course through young maple forest and soon reaches a small man-made clearing. Continue straight as the trail joins a dirt maintenance road and begins descending the hill as it slowly turns to the right. The trail comes out at the main park road near shelter #2, where the Chimneys Overlook Trail ends. Continue the hike by turning left on the blacktop road. Cut behind the visitor center to reach the trailhead for the River's Edge Trail, which starts as a bike path near the campground gate. The trail heads west toward North River treading a thin strip of land with the park boundary on the left and the campground on the right. Upon reaching the river, the trail turns right and begins following the river downstream. A few breaks in the trees allow some nice views of the fast-flowing river. About 1500 feet past the right turn, the trail comes alongside the main park road. Turn right on the park road and follow it back to the parking lot near shelter #3 to complete the hike. Hike #10 Trail: Cedar Creek Nature Trail Location: Natural Bridge, Virginia Nearest City: Lexington, Virginia Length: 2.5 miles round-trip Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: An easy, fabulous hike under Natural Bridge, then along Cedar Creek to a waterfall. Park Information: http://www.naturalbridgeva.com/ Directions to the trailhead: From Lexington, take I-81 south one exit to US 11 (exit 180). Exit and go south on US 11. Take US 11 south 3 miles to the large blacktop parking area for Natural Bridge of Virginia Visitor Center. The hike: Historic, famous Natural Bridge of Virginia, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, has been attracting visitors for centuries. Young George Washington visited the bridge in the mid-1700's, carving his initials in the south side of the bridge which can still be seen today. Later that century, Thomas Jefferson purchased the bridge as a retreat, a precursor to Camp David. Today the bridge is operated as a tourist attraction along with a nearby wax museum, cavern, and hotel. This hike features the Cedar Creek Nature Trail, which takes visitors on a 1.25 mile hike one-way under the bridge and past two caves to a waterfall, staying along the banks of Cedar Creek all the time. The scenery in this area makes the bridge and adjacent attractions a must stop in the Shenandoah Valley, very well worth the price of admission. Begin inside the visitor center, which features one of the largest souvenir shops in Virginia, a good place to browse on your way back. Exit through a door on the east side of the store marked "To Bridge," descend some stairs to the ground floor, and exit the building at a bus stop. While one can take the bus to the bridge, it is much more scenic to walk down the 127 concrete steps which start to the right. Along the entire left side of the steps is a small stream that cascades down the rocks a few feet at a time. The steps are shaded by some large white pine and hemlock trees with a few smaller hardwoods. At the base of the steps, turn right to begin the trail, which is currently paved with concrete. With babbling Cedar Creek to the left, the trail curves around the hillside on the right with the bridge soon coming into view. At 215 feet high and 85 feet wide, the limestone bridge defies words. Standing underneath this bridge is one of the greatest experiences in my hiking career. Looking straight up, the bridge appears as a dark gray streak in the white cloudy sky. An occasional cool drop of water falling from the porous stone wets my right shoulder as a gentle rush of water sounds from the creek. The rows of green benches on either side of the bridge are seats for the drama “Creation,” a light show put on nightly under the bridge at sunset. This show lets you see the bridge in a different "light" and is definitely worth staying for after you have completed this hike if sunset is anytime in the near future. Past the bridge, the trail turns to cinder and begins heading up a gorge created by Cedar Creek, which is now on the right. In about 300 feet the trail comes to a recreated Indian village tucked between the trail and the creek. Staffed during the day by costumed interpreters, the village gives insight into the daily life of the Monacan Indians, the tribe that originally settled the area. Past the village, the trail crosses the creek on a concrete bridge and comes to a short side trail leading to Saltpeter Cave. Not a commercial cavern, the small cave was mined during the Civil War for its saltpeter, a key ingredient in gunpowder. The cave is not lighted, and I do not recommend entering unless you are properly equipped with spelunking equipment. Continuing on, the trail climbs slightly to a well-placed trail shelter, then descends slightly to our next point of interest, Lost River. This underground stream is an unusual natural site. The rushing water can be heard more easily than it can be seen. The creek rises above ground level for only a couple feet before disappearing beneath the surface again. One would suspect that the stream would flow into Cedar Creek no more than 50 feet away. Yet, no outlet has ever been found, and neither has the stream's source. Further upstream, the gorge narrows as you approach Lace Waterfall at the head of the gorge. Notice the unusual layers of rock that rise at a 45 degree angle in the bedrock of the streambed to your left. This is a result of the ancient uplift that formed the Appalachian Mountains millions of years ago. Lace Waterfall soon comes into view in the distance. The water drops in two sections, each about 30 feet high. With a strong, clear water source in Cedar Creek, the waterfall is pretty all year long. The trail ends at an observation platform with benches about 150 feet before reaching the waterfall. Turn around and retrace your steps back under the Natural Bridge to the trailhead, completing one of the greatest nature hikes in Virginia. Hike #11 Trail: Appalachian Trail Location: James River Face Wilderness-Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Lynchburg, Virginia Length: 2.8 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: An easy hike along the Appalachian Trail to Matts Creek Trail Shelter. Area Information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/gp/recreation/hiking/index.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Lynchburg, take US 501 north to its crossing of the James River. Just after crossing the river, look for the Appalachian Trail parking area on the left. Park in this parking area. The hike: James River Face is one of those special geologic areas. For 160 miles, the imposing Blue Ridge Mountains forms a nearly unbroken natural barrier from Front Royal in the north to Roanoke in the south. Only once in that length is the Blue Ridge broken by a natural waterway, and that break is accomplished here by the powerful James River. The feat was not easily accomplished, as nearly 250 million years of erosion was necessary to form the passage that exists today. The resistance of the limestone and sandstone bedrock is still evidenced by the sharp, craggy exposed rocks on both sides of the river. The wilderness area has James River as its north boundary and is centered around 3073 foot Highcock Knob. Highcock Knob is accessible by only a few trails, all of them steep. One of those trails is the famous Appalachian Trail (AT), and it is not necessary to climb all of the way to the knob to experience a good taste of AT hiking. The short hike along the AT described here provides some nice scenery, but it turns around at the Matts Creek Trail Shelter, right before the real climbing begins. Exit the parking lot on the east side, go downhill under the railroad track, and climb some steps to the AT bridge over James River. The river is deep and wide here, as you are only a few hundred yards above Snowden Dam, visible on your drive in along US 501. Look for some fishermen trying their luck with a rod and reel in the river. At the other side of the river, pick up the white AT blazes, which soon make a sharp right turn at a point where water trickles over rocks from the mountainside. Now heading upstream, the trail stays close to the south bank of the James River. At some points the trail is rather narrow and there is a vertical drop of several feet to the swift river, so watch your step, especially on wet rocky sections. At 1 mile come to a US Forest Service sign that announces your entry into the James Face Wilderness. Shortly past this sign, the trail curves left and, on a rare sunny stretch, leaves the James River behind, preferring the narrow ravine of Matts Creek, which is visible downhill to your right. For the remaining 0.3 miles to the trail shelter, the trail climbs and descends several bluffs, some rather steep. The net gain from the James River to the trail shelter is about 250 feet. Just before reaching the trail shelter, the blue-blazed Matts Creek Trail leaves to the left. Actually, this is the old route of the AT; it ends on US 501, but on the wrong side of the James River for our trailhead. The shelter itself shows signs of heavy use, and a colony of bumblebees had taken over in light of humans on my visit on a warm April afternoon. Some nice places for a trail snack can still be found in sound and sight of gurgling Matts Creek. This description ends at the trail shelter. The AT crosses Matts Creek at the shelter and begins a long series of switchbacks that culminates at an arm of Highcock Knob. From the trail shelter, retrace your steps 1.9 miles back down Matts Creek, then along the James River, to return you to the trailhead to complete the hike. Hike #12 Trails: Dragons Tooth, Appalachian, and Boy Scout Trails Location: Jefferson National Forest: Dragon’s Tooth Nearest City: Roanoke, VA Length: 5.4 miles Last Hiked: October 2010 Overview: A difficult, rocky hike featuring good views and unique rock formations. Trail Information: Dragon's Tooth Trail Directions to the trailhead: Near Roanoke, take I-81 to SR 419 (exit 141). Exit and go north on SR 419. Take SR 419 0.5 miles to SR 311 and turn right on SR 311. Take SR 311 north 10.5 miles to the signed trailhead parking on the left. Take care driving up the short entrance road to the parking area: it is rather bumpy, but with careful driving even my low-clearance Chevy Cavalier made it without problem. Park in the large gravel parking area. The hike: Located about 30 miles northwest of Roanoke at the end of Cove Mountain, Dragons Tooth is an inverted cone-shaped sandstone rock jutting out from the nearby cliff line. The tooth has drawn visitors for many years, hence the recreation area formed as part of the Jefferson National Forest. In the 1950’s when the Appalachian Trail (AT) was being rerouted west of the Blue Ridge, this route was selected partly to take the AT past the tooth. Some hikes are rated difficult because they feature steep areas or large elevation gains, but this hike is rated difficult because of the rocks. Indeed, the 1100 feet of elevation gain is considerable, but you will get sore and stiff from climbing over rocks before you get winded climbing the hill, especially once you reach the AT. It took me over 4 hours to complete this loop, so be sure to leave yourself enough daylight, especially if you are hiking in the fall when the days get shorter. Despite the difficulty, the hike to Dragons Tooth is a popular one. When I hiked this trail on a Saturday afternoon at the peak of leaf peeping season, the Dragons Tooth Trail was almost as busy as I-81. However, the adjoining AT and Boy Scout Trail saw little traffic. Thus, to view the tooth and get some hiking solitude, I recommend the difficult 5.4 mile semi-loop described here. The hike begins tame enough. Start on a wide gravel path at a wooden sign that says “Dragons Tooth Trail” and an old information board. The trail, which is blazed with grey rectangular paint blazes, climbs gradually as it crosses a few small streams, some by wooden bridge and some by rock hop. At 0.2 miles, you reach an intersection with the blue-blazed Boy Scout Trail which exits left. The Boy Scout Trail will be our return route, so for now angle right to remain on the Dragons Tooth Trail. A campsite with a fire ring is also located at this intersection. Past the campsite, the trail stays close to a small creek for a short distance before curving right to begin the real climb. The climb starts with a switchback held up by some fine rock walls. This switchback and another like it further up were paid for by the 2009 federal economic stimulus. I don’t know how many jobs were created or for what cost, but these are some Cadillac-caliber switchbacks, far nicer than you will see on almost any other trail. Some brown carsonite posts warn against cutting the switchbacks, and they should be heeded if you want the switchbacks to stay this nice. For the next mile the trail winds itself up a steady moderate to occasionally steep grade with the ravine dropping down to one side, usually the left. The forest is dominated by broadleaf trees such as maple and oak with a few small pine trees populating the understory. At 1.7 miles, you reach the crest of the ridge and an intersection with the AT. This hike will eventually turn left and head northbound on the AT, but to visit the tooth, turn right and head southbound for now. Now the hard hiking begins in earnest, as the rocky, rugged landscape that makes the AT so famous (or infamous) becomes fully apparent. In numerous places you will have to use both hands and feet to climb up and over steep rocky outcrops. Fortunately, some boulders have been moved and some steps have been cut into the stone, so this climb is not as bad as it has been in the past. Also, the rocky outcrops create some gaps in the trees, so some views can be had of Catawba Mountain to the southeast. The large number of broadleaf trees make for above average leaf peeping in late October. 2.7 miles into the hike and just after climbing up a particularly high rock outcrop, you reach the signed spur trail to Dragons Tooth. Angle left to hike the short trail to the tooth itself. The tooth is an unusual shaped rock that juts up from the main cliff line. From this point, you get a sweeping view of Catawba Mountain, Tinker Mountain, and even the Peaks of Otter (located over 50 miles away) in addition to other points to the south and east. The views are no better if you rock-climb to the top of the tooth, and several people have fallen and become seriously injured attempting such a climb, so I do not recommend it. The AT continues south to Georgia, but having seen the main point of interest in this direction, you should retrace your steps north 1 mile on the AT to arrive back at the intersection with the Dragons Tooth Trail. The Dragons Tooth Trail heads left and downhill to take you directly back to the parking lot, but for some more AT hiking and to get away from the crowds, continue straight on the white-blazed AT. The trail ascends rather steeply but only for a short distance through a dense rhododendron thicket to arrive at Devil’s Seat, a large rock formation. The rock not only provides a comfortable place for a well-deserved rest, but behind the rock is another nice view of Catawba Mountain, this time over some small pine trees in front of and below you. Past Devil’s Seat, the trail traverses a rare flat spot before dropping down a 15 foot cliff. Some ledges in the cliff make the descent possible without any technical climbing skills. After climbing down a few more rock outcrops, you reach Rawrie’s Rest. Unlike the other overlooks on this trail, this one offers views both toward the northeast and toward the south. The road you see cutting through Catawba Mountain is SR 311, the road you drove in on. Just past Rawrie’s Rest, you reach the only true knife-edge on this hike. The trail takes you over several jagged, rocky outcrops that drop off sharply on either side. Careful stepping and holding (with your hands) will get you across without incident. After a final steep, rocky descent, the rocks begin to go back underground, the grade lessens, and you are through the hardest part of the hike. The remainder of the AT hike is a very pleasant moderate descent on sidehill trail with the hillside rising to the right and falling to the left. At 4.8 miles, you arrive at the top of the blue-blazed Boy Scout Trail, which exits the AT at a sharp angle to the left. This intersection is marked with another wooden sign. Turn left to begin the Boy Scout Trail. The rather narrow Boy Scout Trail immediately begins descending toward the parking lot. At other times you might complain about the steep grade, but this descent is much easier than the rocky hiking you did on the AT earlier. Using a couple of switchbacks, you soon arrive at creek level, where the trail heads downstream. A few hundred feet later, you arrive at the campsite you passed several hours ago and close the loop with the Dragons Tooth Trail. A right turn here will take you the final 0.2 miles back to the parking lot to complete the hike. Hike #13 Trails: Chestnut and War Spur Trails Location: Mountain Lake Wilderness-Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Blacksburg, Virginia Length: 2.5 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: An easy hike through mountain top forest featuring an excellent overlook. Trail Information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/easterndivide/recreation/hiking/warspur_chestnut.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Blacksburg, take US 460 west 6 miles to CR 700 and the signed turn-off for Mountain Lake. Turn right on CR 700 and begin climbing the mountain. Where the road to the Mountain Lake resort goes to the right, angle left on a gravel road and enter the national forest. Follow this gravel road another 2 miles to the small marked parking area for the Chestnut and War Spur Trails on the right. The hike: The first documentation of Mountain Lake occurred by a 1751 survey party sent to search out what is today southwest Virginia for settlement possibilities. A natural lake in this region is very unusual, so unusual in fact that there are only two in Virginia: the other one is in Dismal Swamp. The 1800’s brought logging to this and most of the rest of southwest Virginia, and by the 1900’s very little was left of the forest the original survey team had observed. In the early 1900’s two events happened. The impressive Mountain Lake hotel was built to overlook the lake. You still pass this landmark as you drive to this trailhead. Second, the US Forest Service began acquiring logged-over land in the Mountain Lake region to be added to the newly-formed Jefferson National Forest. In 1984, the Mountain Lake Wilderness was established, and in 1988 it was expanded to its present 10,700 acres. Several miles of trails today access the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area, but very few of them are arranged to make for convenient loop hikes. The short hike described here, combining the Chestnut and War Spur Trails, is an exception. A spur trail from this hike also provides access to the Appalachian Trail, which passes through the wilderness. Begin at a signboard which contains a map of the immediate trail system. The two trails leaving from this signboard form our loop. This description will use the Chestnut Trail on the right as the outward portion and the War Spur Trail on the left as the return portion. Beginning the Chestnut Trail, the trail dips to cross a small stream (actually, the beginnings of War Spur Branch) and then climbs gradually toward the highest point of the hike. The forest is young and dominated by oak in the hardwoods and Virginia pine in the needleleaf sections. At the high point on this hike, the trail curves left and descends gently to a marked intersection at 0.9 miles. The War Spur Trail, our eventual return route, goes left here, but for now continue straight ahead on the spur trail to the overlook. 0.2 miles and a moderate descent later, arrive at the top of a rock outcrop that serves as the overlook. Potts Mountain lies in front of you and across the War Spur drainage. John’s Creek can be seen downstream to the right. This overlook would be especially nice in the autumn, as you are surrounded largely by deciduous forest. The overlook is not protected, so do not venture too close to the edge trying to get a better view. Retrace your steps to the intersection, then turn right on the War Spur Trail to begin your return route. After 0.1 miles of ridge walking, the trail descends using two switchbacks to the south bank of War Spur Branch. You will hear the creek before you see it due to the dense understory of rhododendron, which sit amidst some tall hemlocks. Now at the lowest point on the trail, the trail follows War Spur upstream for 0.3 miles until it crosses the creek. The creek flows underground most of the time here, so this should be an easy crossing. The unblazed trail becomes difficult to follow just past this crossing, but stay near the stream, and you will soon relocate it. A moderate climb and 0.3 miles later, the War Spur Trail intersects a spur trail that leads right to the Appalachian Trail. Stay left on a wide grassy path and in 0.3 miles return to the parking area to complete the hike. Hike #14 Trail: Cascades Trail Location: Cascades Recreation Area-Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Blacksburg, Virginia Length: 4 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: An easy and beautiful creek-side hike ending at a large, rushing waterfall. Trail Information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/easterndivide/recreation/hiking/cascades.shtml Directions to the Trailhead: From Blacksburg, take US 460 about 10 miles to the town of Pembroke. In Pembroke, turn right on CR 623. CR 623 dead-ends at the blacktop parking area for the Cascades Trail. The hike: It was late-morning on a cloudy mid-April Saturday when I drove into the large, blacktop parking lot for the Cascades Recreation Area. I had just driven two hours from my lodging in Lynchburg, and I was eager to stretch my legs along this National Recreation Trail. After a brief stop at the newly-constructed restroom at the trailhead, I began the trail. What was waiting for me could not have been more splendid. The trail itself is well-maintained and has a front country feel to it, but the scenery is as good as any backcountry trail I have hiked. Specifically, the creek tumbling over rocks sounded and looked as nice as any creek side hike I have taken, and the 66-foot waterfall at trail’s end is possibly my favorite in southern Virginia for its volume of water, height of falls, and sound of water hitting the rocks and plunge pool. Hike this trail in the spring soon after a good rain, and you will not soon forget it. The trail leaves at a signboard to the right of the restroom. There is a picnic area to the right of the trail as you start, but that is soon left behind and the creek comes into full view and sound. Make sure to take a few moments to stop and close your eyes, listening to the sound of the water tumbling over an endless number of rocks. 0.25 miles from the trailhead, come to the first of two newly-reconstructed bridges crossing the creek. Turn right here and cross the creek, using the trail going straight ahead as the return loop. The other side of the creek features much of the same terrain as the trail continues to parallel the creek upstream. This area has been logged extensively in the past, so it does not qualify for status as a wilderness, but the forest along the creek is recovering quite nicely. The single-track dirt trail remains on the south side of the creek for 1 mile until reaching the second bridge where you are forced to cross back to the north side. Turn right at the north side of this bridge and continue following the creek upstream. The last 0.75 miles of trail to the waterfall is more rocky that the first 1.25, so watch your footing when the rocks are wet. After passing an “appetizer” (a small waterfall created by a small tributary 1.9 miles from the trailhead), come to a wooden platform and bench overlooking the real show 2 miles from the trailhead. As stated in the introduction, this waterfall is quite a treat for the eyes and ears. Water falls 66 feet from a ledge in a single column before being broken by a rock outcrop at the bottom of the falls and above the large, clear plunge pool. A pair of overlooks allows the postcard view from 50 yards in front of the falls, but don’t miss the overlook higher on the ridge that sits only 30 feet from the falling water. Make sure you have your camera along, as you will want to use it. The waterfall marks the furthest point from the trailhead reached on this hike. There are two trails into the waterfall area, the one you came in on, and another one departing the same direction but uphill toward the ridge rather than downhill toward the creek. Choose the uphill trail, and after 0.1 miles of steep climbing, arrive at an intersection with an old jeep road. This is the highest point of the hike; it is some 700 feet above the trailhead, but except for the last 0.1 miles, the climb is hardly noticeable. A stone marker at the intersection directs you to turn left on the jeep trail to return to the trailhead. Follow its instructions and begin heading downhill on a wide two-track jeep trail that probably used to be a logging road. The forest along the ridge is much younger, suggesting it has been logged much more recently. For the next 1.75 miles, the trail slowly but steadily descends along the jeep road to an intersection back at the first bridge. For most of this distance, you are several hundred feet above the creek, so you get a different perspective on the ravine. From the bridge intersection, you must retrace your steps 0.25 miles downstream back to the parking area to complete the hike. Hike #15 Trails: Lake, Molly’s Knob, and CCC Trails Location: Hungry Mother State Park Nearest City: Marion, Virginia Length: 5.6 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: An easy hike along Hungry Mother Lake followed by a difficult climb to Molly’s Knob. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hun.shtml Directions to the trailhead: In southwest Virginia, take I-81 to SR 16 (exit 45). Exit and go north on SR 16. Take SR 16 through Marion. 2 miles past US 11, turn right on CR 617. Take CR 617 1.4 miles to the state park entrance on the left. Enter the park and follow the park road to where it dead ends at the boat launch ramp. Park at the ramp parking area, where this trail description begins. The hike: The story behind the state park system’s most unusual name dates to days shortly after southwest Virginia was settled. According to legend, Molly Marley and her child escaped when some Indians raided their settlement in the New River valley south of the park. Alone in the wilderness, the two survived eating berries until Molly could go no further and collapsed. The child continued down the creek valley, and when reaching the closest settlement, uttered the words “hungry mother.” Search parties arrived too late to save Molly, but the creek became known as Hungry Mother Creek and the knob that towers over the creek became known as Molly’s Knob. Less desperate visitors arrived in the 1930’s to develop the park. Hungry Mother Creek was dammed to form Hungry Mother Lake, and the park became one of the original six parks in the Virginia state park system. A cabin area and campground provide lodging opportunities, while a boat dock, a sandy beach, and a 9-mile trail system provide recreation opportunities to modern visitors. The park is only a few miles from I- 81, so visitors are surprisingly many for southwest Virginia. The hike described here gives visitors excellent views of Hungry Mother Lake and a trip to the top of Molly’s Knob, two of the main features in the park. This hike is contained within the Molly’s Knob trail system, the largest in the park. With a little more time, hikers might also find the 1.8 mile Raider’s Run-Old Shawnee loop of interest. This hike takes you along a stream and departs from the picnic area. The Lake-Molly’s knob route described here is a loop hike that has two possible starting points: the boat dock and the campground. I have selected the boat dock as the starting and ending point due to the superior parking lot. The down side to this selection is that the easiest part of the hike, the part along the lake, is taken first, leaving the difficult climb to Molly’s Knob until the end. An alternate starting point is from the main campground, which can be reached by continuing 2 miles north on SR 16, turning right into the campground and picnic area entrance, and following signs to the trailhead. This starting point puts the climb to Molly’s Knob at the beginning, but there is only room at the trailhead for 4 or 5 cars. From the boat dock, start at a picnic table in the back right corner, from which the blue-blazed Lake Trail goes both left and right. To hike the loop clockwise as described here, use the left trail now and return on the right trail. The lake comes into view on the left and in 0.2 miles the trail makes a short, moderate climb to an elevation some 50 feet above the lake. All of the trails at Hungry Mother are marked every 0.1 mile with colored markers. If the top of the marker is flat as they are here, the numbers decrease as you walk, while if they are pointed, the numbers will increase. The trail reaches the end of this ridge and curves to the right. Ignore the yellow- blazed Middle Ridge Trail that exits to the right and continue on the Lake Trail, which heads up the first of several rhododendron-filled ravines. The trail will go up the right side of each of these ravines, cross the creek, then down the left side, all the time maintaining a near-constant elevation. 1.9 miles from the start, the narrow, gold-blazed Ridge Trail leaves at an odd angle to the right. This trail will also lead to Molly’s Knob and could be used to shorten the hike by about 1.5 miles. For the full tour, continue on the Lake Trail, which soon descends to arrive at a small rock outcrop only 10 feet above the lake. This is a nice spot to take photos with the visitor center and sandy beach visible on the opposite shore and the Brushy Mountain Range visible all around. From the rocky outcrop, the trail ascends gently to arrive, 2.7 miles from the start, at the picnic area and the alternate starting point mentioned above. The Lake Trail ends here. Walk uphill along the gravel cabin road for 0.1 miles to the beginning of the white- blazed Molly’s Knob Trail, which begins heading uphill to the right. The trail heads east and uses a single switchback to gain an elevation 100 feet above the picnic area, 150 feet above the lake. The trail appears to have been rerouted recently, as a steep, unmarked abandoned trail exits downhill to the left. The trail climbs gently along the ravine, then uses several steeper switchbacks to gain a ridge that extends northeast from Molly’s Knob. 1 mile into the Molly’s Knob Trail (3.7 miles from the start), the upper end of the short-cut Ridge Trail enters from the right. The Molly’s Knob Trail continues a steep climb to another trail junction 0.4 miles later. The CCC Trail, the final leg of our hike, descends to the right, while the Molly’s Knob Trail continues another 0.2 miles straight ahead to the summit of Molly’s Knob. Continue on the Molly’s Knob Trail, and two switchbacks later, arrive at the summit of Molly’s Knob. On a clear day, one can see Hungry Mother Lake 750 feet below, the Brushy Mountain Range extending to the southwest, and Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia, to the south. You will probably meet some photographers at the summit, especially if you are visiting on the weekend. Take some time to soak up the views, the reward for your steep climb. There is only one trail to the summit, so you will have to backtrack 0.2 miles to the intersection described above, then turn left on the CCC trail. The CCC Trail loses 600 feet of elevation in its first 0.7 miles, so the descent is quite steep, but that is a nice change from the long uphill climb you have just completed. Ignore the Middle Ridge Trail which exits right, and continue descending until, 5.4 miles from the start, you arrive in a narrow rhododendron choked ravine. Another 0.2 miles will bring you to the end of the CCC Trail and beginning of the Lake Trail. A right turn here will almost immediately return you to the picnic table beside the boat launch, thus completing the hike. Hike #16 Trail: Fox Hollow Trail Location: Shenandoah National Park Nearest City: Front Royal, Virginia Length: 1.2 miles Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: A moderate loop hike through Fox Hollow in Shenandoah National Park. Trail Information: http://www.shenandoah.national-park.com/hike.htm Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is located on Skyline Drive in the northern part of Shenandoah National Park. Take Skyline Drive to milepost 4.6 and park in the small parking area for the Dickey Ridge Trailhead on the east side of the road. The trail begins at this trailhead. The hike: To form most national parks, the land and natural features are first acquired with the roads and accommodations built to suit. At Shenandoah National Park, the reverse occurred. Dedicated in 1936, Shenandoah National Park was built around Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic highway first conceived by President Hoover in 1930. The drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for its entire distance and offers some of the best views in the world. The northern end of the Drive is anchored by the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center, located atop the mountain only 4.6 miles from the Skyline Drive's northern terminus at Front Royal. A system of trails leaves the visitor's center, and one of the better trails in the system is the Fox Hollow Trail. This short, unmarked nature trail takes hikers along the side of the mountain to the remains of the former home site of the Fox family, for whom the hollow is named. The Dickey Ridge Trailhead is located at a black information sign directly across Skyline Drive from the Visitor's Center. Before starting, take a minute to admire the excellent view of the Piedmont to the east afforded by the trailhead. The Fox Hollow Trail forms a loop; for ease of hiking, this description starts by going left at the trailhead and uses the right trail as the return portion of the loop. Going north, the trail maintains a roughly constant elevation on the hillside heading through young maple forest. The trail comes to an intersection about 300 yards from the trailhead. The blue-blazed Dickey Ridge Trail continues straight ahead only to terminate at Skyline Drive in about 1 mile. Our trail turns right to begin a rather steep descent into the hollow. After losing some 200 feet in elevation, the trail comes to an area dotted with piles of stones. This is the remains of the Fox home site. This location was probably chosen due to a good-sized spring which can be seen on the right side of the trail. Before modern plumbing, people living in the mountains too high in elevation for large creeks had to rely on such springs as a water source. Also on the trail, this time on the left, is a small cemetery where several members of the Fox family are buried. The headstones date to the early 1900's. Past the home site and cemetery, the trail takes a sharp right turn and crosses the stream formed by the spring you passed previously. Deer are abundant in the park and seem to enjoy feeding on the plants in the groundcover of Fox Hollow. After another right turn, the trail begins its ascent back to the trailhead, following what appears to be an old road. Notice the remnants of the fencerow to the left of the trail. The older stone fence can be seen, combined in some spots with the more modern wire fence, which itself is about 80 years old. After about 500 yards of ascending gradually along the road, the trail takes an abrupt right turn away from the road to begin a short, steep, final ascent to the trailhead to complete the hike. Hike #17 Trail: Stony Man Nature Trail Location: Shenandoah National Park Nearest City: Luray, Virginia Length: 1.6 miles Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: An excellent short hike to the summit of Stony Man Mountain. Trail Information: http://www.shenandoah.national-park.com/hike.htm Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead for the Stony Man Nature Trail is at mile marker 41.7 of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The closest access for Skyline Drive from outside the park is given by US 211 from Luray. From US 211, go south on Skyline Drive 9 miles to the signed paved parking area for Stony Man Nature Trail on the right. The hike: For my general comments on Shenandoah National Park, see Hike #1. The Stony Man Nature Trail, located on Skyline Drive at the entrance to Skyland, is one of the best short hikes in the park. The trail ascends from the Skyland parking lot to Stony Man Mountain which, at 4010 feet in elevation, is the second highest peak in the park. The peak is named for the rock outcropping at the summit which, when viewed from a distance, resembles a man's face carved in stone. This hike takes you atop the outcropping and through some nice mesophytic forest along the way. The gravel path begins heading northeast from the trailhead, immediately entering the forest. An informative trail guide may be available in a black metal box near the trailhead. The numbered wooden posts along the trail correspond to the numbers in the trail guide. The trail meanders left and right as it slowly gains elevation. Stop for a minute at post 4, which points out the unusual case of a yellow birch growing out of a rock. Apparently some years ago a yellow birch seed fell in a crack in the rock and began growing. Now the tree is slowly splitting the rock apart with its trunk and roots. Post 5 points out a dead American chestnut tree. Though the chestnut less than 100 years ago was a major part of the eastern forest, it is now almost extinct, succumbing to the imported chestnut blight. The trail soon makes a left turn to arrive at a trail intersection. A yellow-blazed horse trail goes left, while the Appalachian Trail, which to this point has been following our nature trail, goes to the right. A sign at the intersection notes that this is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail in the national park. Our trail continues straight, still climbing toward the summit of Stony Man Mountain. After a short, gentle climb the trail comes to another fork, this one forming a loop around the top of the mountain. I suggest turning right and using the left fork as the return route. The forest near the top of the mountain is sparser and the ground more rocky than lower on the slope. The understory is heavily encumbered with mountain laurel. After a moderate climb, the trail arrives at a nice view over the side of the mountain to the northeast. Continue around the mountain, pass an old copper mine, and arrive at a complex trail intersection with one trail going right and two going left. The trail going left at the sharpest angle is the return portion of the loop, and the other trail going left (the one with yellow blazes) is the horse trail approach to the summit. For now, take the trail to the right, which leads a short distance to the top of the rock outcropping mentioned earlier. This point provides an expansive view to the west; included in this view are Luray, Shenandoah Valley, and Massanutten Mountain. After soaking in this view, retrace your steps to the multi-trail intersection and begin the return portion of the loop. This rocky trail descends moderately to arrive at the outgoing trail and close the loop. From this point, retrace your steps back down the mountain to the trailhead to complete the hike. Hike #18 Trail: Limberlost Trail Location: Shenandoah National Park Nearest City: Luray, Virginia Length: 1.3 miles Last Hiked: April 2000 Overview: An easy trail through an ancient hemlock forest in Shenandoah National Park. Trail Information: http://www.shenandoah.national-park.com/hike.htm Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead for the Limberlost Trail is at mile marker 43 of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The closest access for Skyline Drive from outside the park is given by US 211 from Luray. From US 211, go south on Skyline Drive 10.5 miles to the signed paved parking area for Limberlost Trail on the left. The hike: For my general comments on Shenandoah National Park, see hike #1. The Limberlost Trail, located near Skyland at milepost 43 of Skyline Drive, is one of the shortest and easiest hiking trails in the park. With its firmly packed gravel surface and lack of steps, it is also the only wheelchair-accessible trail in the park. Nevertheless, the trail provides an interesting walk through a wide variety of forests. From the parking lot, the trail goes straight and to the right across the road. On my visit, I hiked the trail clockwise by going straight at this point and using the trail coming in from the right as the return portion of the loop. The trail begins meandering through young oak forest with an occasional red cedar while heading gently downhill. The trail soon intersects the Whiteoak Canyon Trail for the first of two times. Getting lost is nearly impossible as long as you remember to stay on the gravel trail at each intersection. After crossing the Whiteoak Canyon trail for the second time, the trail enters a grove of very large hemlock trees. Take a minute to consider all the events these trees have lived through during their several hundred year life. The trail crosses a fire road and spring-fed creek before taking a right turn and ascending moderately out of the hemlocks. After another right turn, the trail enters an area dominated by young maple and ash trees. The understory consists of a dense layer of mountain laurel, honeysuckle, and paw paws. The forest slowly changes back to the oak and cedar combination as the trail heads north to close the loop, thus ending the hike. Hike #19 Trails: Mountain Farm Trail, Humpback Rocks Loop Location: Blue Ridge Parkway: Humpback Rocks Visitor Center Nearest City: Waynesboro, VA Length: 4.8 miles Last Hiked: October 2010 Overview: A stiff climb to Humpback Rocks followed by an easy downhill glide on the Appalachian Trail. Area Information: http://www.nps.gov/archive/blri/humpback.htm Directions to the trailhead: The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center is located at milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Milepost 5.8 is (obviously) 5.8 miles south of I-64 and 21.6 miles north of SR 56. The hike: If you are starting south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from milepost 0 in Rockfish Gap, the first major point of interest you come to is the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and its adjacent Mountain Farm. Some people do not see the need to stop so quickly, but for those willing to stop and spend a few hours, interesting history and great views await. Mountain Farm is a recreated 1890’s Appalachian farm. Most of the buildings in the farm have been moved from other points along the Parkway. By touring the farm and the adjacent Visitor Center, you can get a good idea of what life was like in this area over a century ago. The farm area will be crowded on a nice weather day, but only a few people will hike to Humpback Rocks, and even fewer will hike the entire Humpback Rocks Loop described here. Combining the developed Mountain Farm Trail through the farm and the rugged Humpback Rocks Loop yields an interesting hike replete with history, scenic views, and great forest hiking. From the Visitor Center, pick up the paved trail that heads south toward the farm. When I visited Mountain Farm in early October, the area was decorated with harvest- themed items and pumpkins. Pass through an opening in the split-rail fence to enter the farm; the trail turns to gravel here. You will first pass the vegetable garden on your right and the log-cabin-style homestead on your left. Some chickens were roaming around this area and ran toward the woods as I walked by. A period-dressed interpreter showed me around the homestead. More buildings sit beyond the homestead, including a spring house, a barn with large gaps between the logs, and some pigpens. Past the last building, continue on the gravel trail to pass through “kissin’ gate” and leave the farm area. A short ascent will lead you through a meadow to the Parkway, where you should cross the road to reach the Humpback Gap Parking Area and the beginning of the Humpback Rocks Loop. The Humpback Rocks Loop begins at a blue and green information board at the rear of the parking area. The wide gravel trail immediately begins a moderate to steep climb through the maple-beech and oak forest of Humpback Mountain. Some wooden planks have been placed across the trail to help prevent erosion, but judging from some deep ruts in the gravel, they have only been moderately successful. 0.5 miles from the Visitor Center, an opening in the trees to the right gives a nice view across the meadow and toward the Shenandoah Valley to the west. This meadow is called Coiner’s Deadenin’. Deadenin’ was a method of clearing land to prepare it for farming. Trees would be stripped of their leaves, and crops would be planted between the leafless skeletons. Unable to perform photosynthesis, the trees would die, and the trunks would be chopped down at a later, more convenient date to fully clear the land. The trail continues climbing with several benches providing opportunities to rest. At 0.8 miles, you reach one of the few level areas on this part of the hike. Ignore a rough side trail which exits left (that is the old trail to Humpback Rocks), and continue straight on the rerouted and better-graded official trail. The Humpback Rocks Loop is blazed with light blue rectangular paint blazes, but the trail is easy to follow and you will not need the blazes except at intersections such as this one. The level area is soon behind you, and you find yourself climbing again first up some intricate wooden steps and then up some steep, rocky switchbacks. You might begin to think that the name “Humpback Rocks” refers to the rocks in this trail, but the real destination still lies ahead. The switchbacks ease the grade, and some carefully arranged stone steps make the ascent more manageable. At 1.2 miles, you reach the crest of the flat-topped ridge and a trail intersection. Our hike will eventually use the trail to the right to reach the Appalachian Trail (AT), but for now angle left on the spur trail to Humpback Rocks. A wooden post bearing the word “Rocks” and an arrow marks the way. A few hundred feet of rather flat hiking will lead you to the base of the rocks. You do not have to climb all of the way to the top of the rocks to get a view: about 6 feet of climbing up a vein in the rocks will open up the classic view to the west through a gap in the rock. A few low ridges are in the foreground, but the featured object is the wide and broad Shenandoah Valley in the background. If you come here in early April, spring will be well underway in the valley while winter still dominates up at the rocks. Beyond the Shenandoah Valley, jagged Little North Mountain, located in the George Washington National Forest, rises almost as high as the peak you are standing on. You have worked hard for this view, so take a few minutes to rest and enjoy it. From the rocks, retrace your steps to the trail intersection. Most people go back down the way they came up. They must not know that only 40 more feet of climbing will yield some time on the AT plus a more gradual and less crowded route back to the parking lot. You have already climbed over 700 feet, so you might as well reap the full benefits of this investment by continuing straight at the trail intersection, heading for the AT. A little more moderate to steep climbing over another 0.2 miles will lead you to an intersection with the AT 1.5 miles into the hike. Turn left to begin heading northbound on the AT, following the famous white rectangular paint blazes. As painful as the climb up was, this part of the hike is equally delightful. Based on the crowded parking lot, I was surprised when I did not meet another single person on the AT. I also found it hard to believe that a descent this gradual could get me all of the way back down, but it did and does. The AT switchbacks down the northeast side of Humpback Mountain. At 2.2 miles, you pass a small rocky spring on the right side of the trail. Past the spring, the trail joins and leaves old roads several times and often at switchbacks. Double blazes mark sharp turns, and keeping a watch for them should keep you on the trail through the switchbacks. The forest here is dominated by broadleaf trees such as maple and oak with a few ferns in the sparsely populated understory. 4 miles into the hike, the AT joins the old Howardsville Turnpike as you reach the lowest point of this hike. The trail becomes noticeably rockier and begins a gradual climb at this point. In the early to mid 1800’s, the Howardsville Turnpike was billed as the most gradual route across the Blue Ridge. Hence, the road was one of the main routes for trade. Horse-drawn carts and wagons carried goods from the Shenandoah Valley to the west to the historic town of Howardsville on the James River to the east. As they climbed this mountain, wagon drivers would look up to Humpback Rocks to gauge their progress through Humpback Gap. Thick trees prevent such a gauge today, but you can still imagine what it was like to drive a wagon full of goods to market along this rocky road. At 4.3 miles, you reach a signed trail junction. The AT heads right to continue its northward journey to Maine, but our hike continues straight on the Howardsville Turnpike to head back to the parking area. The white blazes of the AT are replaced by the light blue blazes of the Humpback Rocks Loop. At 4.5 miles, you close the loop as you reach the Humpback Rocks parking lot. Retrace your steps across the Blue Ridge Parkway and along the gravel Mountain Farm Trail to complete the hike. Hike #20 Trails: Otter Creek, Otter Lake Trails and Trail of Trees Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Otter Creek Recreation Area Nearest City: Lynchburg, VA Length: 8.9 miles round-trip Last Hiked: September 2009 Overview: A moderate creekside hike with good James River views. Area Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/parkway_tour/parks/060_8/index.asp Directions to the trailhead: From Lynchburg, take US 29 north to SR 130 and turn left on SR 130. Follow SR 130 for 15 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway and enter north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Otter Creek Recreation Area is less than 1 mile ahead on the right. The trail departs from the right side of the parking area. (Note: taking US 501 out of Lynchburg to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway is shorter on the odometer, but it is a winding mountain road and hence longer on the stopwatch.) The hike: Although the James River is the low point of the Blue Ridge Parkway in terms of elevation, it is certainly not the low point in terms of scenery. Within 4 miles of the river lie two Parkway Visitor Centers: the James River Visitor Center, located on the river bank, and the Otter Creek Recreation Area, located a few miles up Otter Creek. Connecting these areas is the Otter Creek Trail, the main subject of this hike. True to its name, the Otter Creek Trail stays close to Otter Creek, which in turn stays close to the Parkway. Thus, you will never be far from civilization on this trail. Yet this trail takes you far enough into the wild to do some good wildlife viewing. For example, I had a blue heron fly within feet of my head at one point along the trail. Since the trail crosses Otter Creek several times on stepping stones, this hike should be avoided during times on unusually high water, at which times these crossings would be difficult or dangerous. On the other hand, during normal water levels you should be able to cross with dry feet. Also, since the Otter Creek Trail does not form a loop, much of this hike involves backtracking. If you have a car shuttle and want to avoid back-tracking, you could park one car at each Visitor Center and simply hike the trail one direction. From the Otter Creek Recreation Area, the trail leaves at a grey information board on the right side of the parking area. Almost immediately the trail arrives at creek level. Do not follow the stepping stones across the creek (they lead to the Otter Creek Campground), but instead continue downstream on the west bank. A few hundred feet further downstream, the trail does cross Otter Creek on another set of stepping stones. Now treading along the east bank, the trail passes under a Parkway overpass at 0.3 miles. The trail here is right beside the creek and hence would be impassible during high water. A few rocky sections such as the one just past the bridge will impede your progress somewhat but should not be a major problem. More problematic is the presence of poison ivy. I wish I could tell you exactly where the worst of it is and hence how to avoid it, but unfortunately I failed to spot it...and then had the telltale rash pop up all over my left ankle the next day. Poison ivy likes streamside areas, so this point is one candidate for the source of my rash. At 0.6 miles, a spur trail heads left to Terrapin Hill Overlook, a seldom-used parking area along the Parkway. Just past the overlook, the trail passes under overpasses for the Parkway and SR 130 in quick fashion. Next, the trail crosses back and forth over Otter Creek, each time using stepping stones. In between, you get to see why these crossings are necessary, as a jagged rock cliff rises directly from the creek on the east bank. The still water here makes for a very tranquil setting. Back on the east bank, the trail climbs steeply for a short time as it begins its only section away from the creek. Now roughly 100 feet above the creek, the trail traces around three small tributaries of Otter Creek, crossing the first one on an iron and wood bridge and stepping across the other two. The middle creek would have a nice, small spout waterfall just below the trail if it had sufficient water, which it did not on my visit. After stepping across the third creek, if you look up and to the left, you will see a small rock overhang with a bench underneath it. The trail curves sharply left at this point, passes over one final rocky bluff, and then descends steeply for a short distance back to creek level. The next 0.4 miles stay very close to the creek on the right and the Parkway just beyond that. It was along this section that I saw the heron. At 1.9 miles, the trail crosses Otter Creek twice, both times using a wood and iron footbridge, as it passes through the Parkway’s Lower Otter Creek overlook. The next 0.5 miles is one of the easiest and best sections of trail in this hike. The wide, flat trail passes through lovely oak forest with the noisy Parkway getting more and more distant on the right. At 2.4 miles, the trail forks to form the Otter Lake Loop. The shortest route around the lake exits to the right, but it also stays closest to the Parkway. For more solitude, angle left, cross Little Otter Creek on a footbridge, and soon begin a steep climb up a ridge. At the top of the ridge, a short 150 foot spur trail leads right to a scenic overlook of Otter Lake. A bench at this overlook makes a great spot to rest just when you need it. Back on the main trail, the trail descends equally steeply to cross another small tributary, this time on stepping stumps. Wet muddy wood can be very slippery, so watch your step if you choose to use the stumps. After crossing over another small bluff, the stone dam which forms Otter Lake appears on the right as the trail descends some steps to arrive at creek level just below the dam. The dam is not natural, but the water splashing over the dam is very pleasant to the ears. Soon after returning to creek level, the other arm of the Otter Lake Loop enters from the right via stepping stones across the creek. Do not cross the creek here, but instead continue downstream on the Otter Creek Trail. The final 0.6 miles of the Otter Creek Trail stay very close to the creek, clinging at first to the left bank and then crossing the creek one final time on stepping stones to cling to the right bank. At a couple of points only a retaining wall separates the trail from the creek. At 3.7 miles, the trail comes out at a small grassy picnic area at the rear of the James River Visitor Center. To continue this hike, climb the steps to the Visitor Center and walk down the concrete walkway, heading for the Parkway’s bridge over the James River. Upon arriving under the Parkway bridge, an interesting pedestrian bridge leads across the river to Battery Creek Lock, an old James River and Kanawha Canal lock built in 1848. After touring the lock, return to the north side of the Parkway bridge and turn left to begin the Trail of Trees. This short loop explores the forest along the north bank of the James River and features numerous small signs identifying trees along the trail. When the trail splits to form the loop, stay left to arrive at a fantastic overlook of the river. From this point, you can look upstream and watch the broad, powerful river flow through the James River water gap, the only point where a major waterway flows through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Past the overlook, the Trail of Trees features some interesting jagged rock outcrops, a bridge over a small creek, some steep hillsides navigated by wooden steps, and the interesting Putts family cemetery. Many of the headstones at the cemetery are illegible, but the few exceptions date to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. After closing the loop, retrace your steps back to the Visitor Center and prepare for the return route. Most of the return route retraces your steps along the Otter Creek Trail. The only chance for some variety is to use the other (west) arm of the Otter Lake Trail. This route is less scenic than the route you used earlier, but it is different and shorter. You will cross Otter Creek twice, once on stepping stones below the lake and again on a pair of wooden/iron bridges above the lake. Rejoin the Otter Creek Trail above the lake, and continue to retrace your steps 2.4 miles to the Otter Creek Recreation Area parking lot to complete the hike. Hike #21 Trail: Fallingwater Cascade Trail Location: Peaks of Otter, Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Bedford, VA Length: 1.6 miles Last Hiked: May 2009 Overview: A fairly challenging hike, but never excessively steep, to an interesting waterfall tucked in a deep, tight ravine. Trail Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/maps/peaks-of-otter-trails.asp Directions to the trailhead: The trail starts from a signed parking area at milepost 83.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This milepost is located northwest of Bedford about half way between US 460 and US 501. The hike: Located on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 2 hours south of Shenandoah National Park, Peaks of Otter is one of the premier hiking destinations in central and southern Virginia. The area’s main attractions are the views, which are fabulous since the area lies on the easternmost mountain at this point of the Appalachians. Other attractions just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway include the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, the Civil War historical sites in Appomattox, and The Natural Bridge of Virginia in Natural Bridge. Nearly every visitor will find a hiking trail at Peaks of Otter to suit their desires and abilities. Trails lead to all three of the peaks, Flat Top, Sharp Top, and Harkening Hill. Of course, these trails all require significant amounts of climbing. Some shorter trails explore the area around Peaks of Otter Lodge, located at the base of the peaks. The Fallingwater Cascade Trail, a designated National Recreation Trail, described here splits the difference in terms of distance, plus it leads to an interesting waterfall. At the southwest corner of the parking area, a wooden trail sign directs you to follow a gravel trail heading downhill and to the right to reach the falls. This trail forms a loop, so you could go either direction here. This description will heed the sign’s advice, following the shortest route to the falls. The trail immediately begins descending and soon passes the first of two wooden benches. I don’t know why a bench would be located so close to the top except perhaps to minimize the distance the materials must be carried, but here stands the bench nonetheless. The descent to the falls is moderate but long, sometimes using stone or wooden steps and sometimes just using the grade of the land. The forest is classic Blue Ridge forest consisting mostly of hardwoods such as maples but with a few hemlocks mixed in. As you get near the bottom, you can hear the waterfall to your left, but a dense understory of rhododendron prevents any views from this point. At 0.4 miles, the trail reaches appropriately named Fallingwater Creek, which is crossed via a wooden bridge after a sharp left turn. You are now right above the falls, as you will soon see when the trail starts heading downstream and the falls come into view on the left. Don’t get too distracted by the waterfall, as your view is obstructed by rhododendron and you are walking on bare rock. Focus on the trail: you will get a great view of the waterfall later. The trail descends to below the falls using a well-constructed set of stairs. At the bottom of the steps, a short spur trail leads left to the waterfall viewpoint. The falls are about 50 feet high, though part of that is a slide. The rocks around the creek set off the falls beautifully as do the large hemlock trees and dense rhododendron. During my visit in early May, the water volume was quite high, making for great audio as the water splashed down the rocks. The shortest route back to the parking lot is to return the way you came, but to see some different scenery, continue around the loop as the trail heads downstream. After descending a fairly steep bluff, the trail curves left and crosses the creek for the second and final time, again using a wooden bridge. The long climb out now begins. A couple of windfalls impede your progress, but they are only noteworthy because the rest of the trail is so well maintained. At 1 mile, the trail cuts through a medium-sized boulder field which creates an opening through which you can see the now much wider ravine to your right. The hardwood trees that dominate the ridge tops would make this view a spectacular one in the fall. Keep climbing, stopping to catch your breath when necessary, and soon pass the second bench. Astonishingly, this bench is also placed very near the top of the climb. At 1.4 miles you will reach an intersection. The trail going straight heads for Flat Top Mountain, but our loop turns left for the final leg back to the parking area. An occasional zoom can be heard from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located about 100 feet to your right through beautiful dense, mature, hardwood forest. The trail continues climbing but at a much more gradual pace. At 1.5 miles, you will reach the highest point on this trail. An easy 0.1 mile downhill glide is all that remains to return you to your car and complete the hike. Hike #22 Trail: Elk Run Trail Location: Peaks of Otter, Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Bedford, VA Length: 0.8 miles Last Hiked: May 2009 Overview: A short hike exploring the steep ravine containing Elk Run. Trail Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/maps/peaks-of-otter-trails.asp Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, located at milepost 85.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This milepost is located northwest of Bedford about half way between US 460 and US 501. The hike: For my general comments on Peaks of Otter, see the Fallingwater Cascade Trail description. At 0.8 miles, the Elk Run Trail is the shortest trail at Peaks of Otter. The many interpretive signs along this trail make this hike an excellent introductory hike to the Blue Ridge environment. From the back of the Visitor Center, two trails depart, one from either side of the amphitheater. The Harkening Hill Trail heads left and leads 3.3 miles over the summit of its namesake hill. The Elk Run Trail heads right and soon forks at an unsigned intersection to form a loop. To best follow the interpretive signs and make the uphill climb easier, this description will follow the trail clockwise, continuing straight now and using the right hand trail as the return route. The long gradual to moderate climb along small, gurgling Elk Run begins. The path curves left and right to ease the grade, crossing Elk Run twice on wooden footbridges. Areas of interest on the climb include a short section along an old road and another short section through a small boulder field. At 0.5 miles, the trail curves sharply right to cross Elk Run for the final time. You may think this crossing marks the end of the climbing, but in fact one more short but fairly steep bit remains to reach the high point of the hike, which is located near an old cemetery. Notice the different kinds of trees and plants that grow up here on the ridge as opposed to in the ravine along Elk Run. You have done nothing but climb so far, so you can guess what comes next. Sure enough, the trail curves right and heads straight down the hillside for the only steep section of this hike. The footing was quite good on my visit, so this descent shouldn’t be a problem. The grade lessens as the trail curves right. The Blue Ridge Parkway can be seen through the trees downhill to your left and the occasional car can be heard buzzing along. Soon creek level is again reached, and a small tributary of nearby Abbott Lake is crossed via a concrete pipe. 50 feet later, the loop is closed. A left turn will return you to the Visitor Center and complete the hike. Hike #23 Trail: Johnson Farm Trail Location: Peaks of Otter, Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Bedford, VA Length: 2.1 miles Last Hiked: May 2009 Overview: A moderate mountain hike to the restored Johnson farm site. Trail Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/maps/peaks-of-otter-trails.asp Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, located at milepost 85.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This milepost is located northwest of Bedford about half way between US 460 and US 501. The hike: For my general comments on Peaks of Otter, see the Fallingwater Cascade Trail description. Though it does not lead to one of the three major peaks, the Johnson Farm Trail leads to another point of interest, the restored Johnson farm. The farm is located about half way up Harkening Hill, so you will get a small taste of mountain hiking on this trail without completely busting your feet. The trail starts from the right (north) side of the Visitor Center parking area, not from behind the Visitor Center like some of the other trails at Peaks of Otter. After crossing a wide wooden bridge, the first 0.3 miles parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway, which lies only a few yards to the right. At 0.3 miles, you will reach a major signed trail intersection. The trail going right heads under the Parkway and quickly leads to Peaks of Otter Lodge. The two trails going left form the loop of the Johnson Farm Trail. The climbing is easier if you hike clockwise, so you should take the first trail heading left and use the second one as the return route. The wide dirt trail climbs gradually beside a small stream, which it soon turns right to cross. The grade intensifies somewhat now as the meat of the climb begins. On the bright side, this trail leads through a gorgeous hardwood forest, making this hike a dream in the fall. At 0.8 miles, the bulk of the climbing ends as the Harkening Hill Trail exits to the left, heading for its namesake hill. Continue straight to head for the farm. Past this intersection, the trail narrows as it clings to the hillside which rises steeply to the left and falls sharply to the right. Careful stepping will get you through this section with no problem. 1 mile into the hike, the trail comes out at the top end of the Johnson farm site. Restored to its 1930’s appearance, this site recreates a typical Appalachian subsistence farm at the beginning of the Great Depression. The site contains a white log cabin home, a small barn, an animal pen, a garden, and a spring house. Some interpretive signs give more information about the Johnson family and what life was like living on a mountain farm. After passing around the log cabin home, the trail exits the farm site on the two- track gravel path that would have served as the Johnson’s driveway. After descending about 250 feet along the steep driveway, the trail turns right to leave the gravel path. This turn is marked with a sign. You are now back in the hardwood forest after passing through the clearing at the farm site. After another brief steep descent, you will come out into a mowed grass area where the trail is indistinguishable. If this area does not look natural, that’s because it isn’t: this is the site of the historic Hotel Mons, a predecessor to the present-day Peaks of Otter Lodge. First built in 1857, Hotel Mons brought guests from around the world to this high corner of Virginia. The hotel succumbed to the depression in 1936 and served as a CCC camp for a few more years until it was dismantled in the 1940’s. Today, all that remains of the hotel are the sunny, grassy clearings you are now walking through. While these clearings are not natural, there is at least one advantage: one point along the trail yields a fantastic view of Sharp Top Mountain located directly ahead over the trees. On the other side of the large grassy clearing, the trail briefly enters the forest and then quickly closes the loop. Turn left and retrace your steps 0.3 miles to the Visitor Center parking lot to complete the hike. Hike #24 Trail: Harkening Hill Trail Location: Peaks of Otter, Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Bedford, VA Length: 3.3 miles Last Hiked: May 2010 Overview: A challenging, occasionally steep climb to the summit of Harkening Hill. Trail Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/maps/peaks-of-otter-trails.asp Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, located at milepost 85.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This milepost is located northwest of Bedford about half way between US 460 and US 501. The hike: For my general comments on Peaks of Otter, see the Fallingwater Cascade Trail description. Since Harkening Hill is 700 feet lower than either Flat Top or Sharp Top, this summit is the easiest of the three major mountains at Peaks of Otter to obtain. Nevertheless, the trail to Harkening Hill still rises over 800 feet in 1.4 miles, so some climbing will be required. Many hikers use this trail as preparation to climb one of the other peaks. The first 0.8 miles coincide with the Johnson Farm Trail; see the previous hike for a detailed description. At the intersection where the Johnson Farm Trail continues straight, turn left to continue climbing on the Harkening Hill Trail. For the rest of the climb, the grade will be more intense, the trail will be rockier, and the trees will be shorter. Just past 1 mile, the trail briefly joins what appears to be an old road. The road is not an official trail, so angle left and then right to remain on the Harkening Hill Trail. More climbing will take you first past some granite outcrops and then through two grassy meadows. Most of Harkening Hill is covered with trees, so these meadows give you a rare good view of Flat Top to the east. At 1.4 miles, a spur trail heads left and downhill for 300 feet to arrive at Balance Rock. The trail is steep, but the large boulder sitting precariously on other boulders is worth the trip. Actually, there are a large number of boulders in this area, and a couple of them could be called Balance Rock. There is no sign, but I believe the official Balance Rock sits in front of where the trail peters out. To continue the hike, you will need to retrace your steps back uphill after viewing the rock. Back on the main trail, a little more gradual climbing will bring you to the summit of Harkening Hill, a large rock outcrop marked with a sign. When I hiked this trail on the first day of May, I left Bedford in the 90-degree heat of early summer. However, on the hilltop it was still mid-spring. The trees had just produced leaves, wildflowers carpeted the top half of the hill, and the temperature was very pleasant in the upper 70’s. If you want broad views from the hill, you will need to come in the leafless months, as the broadleaf trees covering the summit allow for only peaks of views the rest of the year. View or not, spend some time on the summit to appreciate your peak-climbing accomplishment. The trail has been all uphill to the summit, so you can guess what comes next. As you leave the summit, the trail curves left and begins its descent. The upper half of the descent takes place in stair-step fashion: brief steep descents are followed by brief flatter stretches. At 2 miles, a small opening to the right allows views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west. How extensive these views will be depends on what time of year you visit. The forest on the upper reaches of the hill is characterized by a dense, green understory and short trees, but as you descend, the trees get bigger, canopy fuller, and understory less dense. 2.9 miles into the hike, you begin a series of switchbacks as the Parkway can be heard and then seen downhill to your right. At 3.3 miles, the trail comes out at the amphitheater behind the Visitor Center. Pass through the amphitheater and through the Visitor Center to return to your car and complete the hike. Hike #25 Trail: Abbott Lake Trail Location: Peaks of Otter, Jefferson National Forest Nearest City: Bedford, VA Length: 1 mile Last Hiked: May 2010 Overview: A flat, easy hike around Abbott Lake. Trail Information: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/maps/peaks-of-otter-trails.asp Directions to the trailhead: From Bedford, take SR 43 north 14 miles to the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area. The picnic area is reached just before SR 43 intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn right to enter the picnic area. Follow the picnic area road to its final cul de sac, and park in this cul de sac. The hike: For my general comments on Peaks of Otter, see the Fallingwater Cascade Trail description. While there are numerous trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway that take you around small lakes, the Abbott Lake Trail is special for its great views of the surrounding peaks and its extreme ease of hiking. Indeed, the Abbott Lake Trail is the easiest trail at Peaks of Otter, a major hiking destination along the Parkway. Thus, this trail can be hiked by itself, or it can be hiked as an add-on to one of the more substantial hikes in the area. From the cul de sac at the end of the picnic area road, begin by climbing to the Polly Wood’s Ordinary, a small wooden cabin less than 100 feet from the lake. This cabin was operated as an inn by Mary “Polly” Wood from 1830 to 1855. Just beyond the cabin, the trail forks. The gravel trail heading left across the dam will be our return route. To get the developed part of the trail out of the way first, head straight on the blacktop trail with the lake on your left. Wherever another paved trail heads right for Peaks of Otter Lodge, stay left to remain close to the lake. Some benches provide great views of the lake with pointy Sharp Top looming large just beyond. At 0.4 miles, the pavement turns to gravel as you reach the west end of the lake. Ignore the trail that heads under the Parkway and leads to the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center. Instead, remain on the Abbott Lake Trail by turning left to stay near the lake. The rest of the hike passes through much more natural surroundings than what you have experienced so far. Just before crossing a new wooden bridge over one of the lake’s main tributaries, peer into the lake’s unusually clear waters and try to see some fish. On my visit, I saw numerous small guppies swimming around in the shallow waters of the lake. After crossing the bridge, the wide trail turns to dirt as it heads into the forest along the southern side of the lake. I noticed a pair of deer grazing just uphill as I entered the forest. The deer did not seem to care that I and several other hikers were just a few yards away. Once in the forest, you can look across the lake and see rounded Flat Top just beyond. At 0.9 miles, the trail comes out of the forest at an intersection. The trail heading uphill to the right leads to the Peaks of Otter Campground, but the Abbott Lake Trail turns left to cross the dam that creates Abbott Lake. On the other side of the dam, you will close the loop just above Polly Wood’s Ordinary. A right turn and short downhill walk will return you to the picnic area and complete the hike. Hike #26 Trail: Roanoke River Loop Location: Blue Ridge Parkway Nearest City: Roanoke, VA Length: 0.5 miles Last Hiked: May 2009 Overview: An easy leg-stretcher hike leading to a nice river overlook. Directions to the trailhead: The trail departs from a parking area at milepost 114.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The milepost is located southeast of Roanoke 2.7 miles south of SR 24 or 6.5 miles north of US 220. The hike: After it passes through downtown Roanoke and before it flows into massive Smith Mountain Lake, the rushing Roanoke River carves a small gorge through the porous Virginia limestone. Over top of that gorge soars the Blue Ridge Parkway as it makes its way around metropolitan Roanoke. While perhaps not the most scenic on the Parkway, this hike is unusual because you will see both the Parkway above and the river below. The hike starts on a blacktop trail at the end of a rock wall. The trail immediately heads downhill with a wooden railing on your left. Ignore the Fisherman Trail, which soon exits left and heads steeply downhill only to end at the river bank, and continue on the gravel Loop Trail. At 0.1 miles, the trail passes under the Parkway’s Roanoke River bridge. From this angle, the bridge’s age becomes apparent. The double truss design composed of painted steel would never be used on a bridge this short today. Unfortunately, due to trees below, the river is not visible from this point during the warmer months. Just after passing under the ridge, the 0.05 mile spur trail to the river overlook exits left. The stone overlook is worth the detour even though a moderate descent must be navigated to reach it. On my visit, the river was muddy and rapid due to the recent rain. Some rocks can be seen in the river bed and along the gorge walls. After viewing the river, retrace your steps to the main trail and turn sharply left to reach the main loop. As you get closer to the main loop, some interpretive signs describing the plants along the trail appear. You may very well miss the unsigned intersection that forms the loop (I did), so it is best to continue straight and hike the loop clockwise. The narrow dirt trail climbs gradually as it clings to the steep hillside. Don’t fall off the trail to the left: it’s a steep drop down to the river. At 0.25 miles, the trail curves sharply to the right as it climbs higher on the hillside. In another 0.1 miles, the trail curves right again and descends moderately to close the loop. Turn left and retrace your steps 0.15 miles, mostly uphill, to return to the parking area and complete the hike. Hike #27 Trail: Little Mountain Falls Trail Location: Fairy Stone State Park Nearest City: Martinsville, Virginia Length: 4.2 miles Last Hiked: March 2003 Overview: A moderately difficult hike featuring a waterfall and views from Little Mountain. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fai.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Martinsville, go west on SR 57 to SR 346. Turn right on SR 346, which dead-ends at the park entrance. Pay the nominal entrance fee, then bear left at the intersection immediately beyond the entrance station. Follow the park road 0.3 miles to a small gravel parking lot on the left. Park in this lot. The trail system begins on the right side of the road. The hike: Fairy Stone State Park derives its name from the hexagonal stone crystals found buried within its boundaries. The stones often occur in pairs and intersect to form X-shapes and crosses. Local people believed in angelic origins for the stones, but scientists explain that the stones formed under the heat and pressure exerted on the rock of the Appalachian Mountains during their formation. Be sure to stop by the visitor center, located just inside the entrance station, either on your way in or out for a close-up view of some of the “fairy stones” that have been unearthed at the park. The exhibit is viewable even when the center itself is closed. The park’s attractions are not limited to unusual rocks. The park contains 168- acre Fairy Stone Lake, which is popular for fishing, boating, and playing on the sandy beach in the summer. There are also two campgrounds and a set of 24 cabins available for rent. In addition to the above, the park makes an excellent hiking destination. With over 17 miles of trails, one can hike all day for a single entrance fee. The park is far from major population centers, so the well-marked and well-maintained trails receive comparatively little use. There are two main trail systems located within the park. The Stuart Knob Trail system, located on the north side of Fairy Stone Lake, features 4 miles of strenuous hiking and some nice overlooks. This loop hike is part of the Little Mountain Trail System, located on the south side of Fairy Stone Lake, and gives the hiker both mountain-top and creek-side scenery along its course. Begin by crossing the park road and picking up the trail as it immediately begins a moderate ascent. The Little Mountain Falls Trail is blazed with orange, but it is joined by the white-blazed Beach Trail and blue-blazed Turkey Ridge Trail at the beginning. The Beach Trail soon leaves to the left to descend to the campground. Continue ascending, and in 0.1 miles the Turkey Ridge Trail exits to the left, while an orange sign directs the Little Mountain Falls Trail to the right. The signs are not obvious, but this is the start of the loop portion of the Little Mountain Falls Trail. You will start with the right-hand trail and return on the left trail. The trail now assumes a relatively level course with the hillside to the right and a valley to the left. This is a special spot in early March, so listen for a chorus of bull frogs coming from the left. Look for a pond some 50 feet beneath you, and then stop to listen once you spot it. As you continue hiking around the hillside, the frogs will detect your presence and cease, at least momentarily. After you pass out of range of the pond, they will start again. 1.25 miles from the start, the trail will come in sight of a blacktop road to the right. This is a gated park road that now serves as the Mountain View Hiking and Bicycle Trail. Our trail does not cross the road but parallels it usually a few feet below the road level. Around the 1.5 mile marker is the most difficult climb of the hike, as the trail gains over 200 feet in 0.25 miles. Fortunately, there is an overlook with a bench near the top of this climb that provides excellent views to the east year-round. Once atop the hill, the trail intersects the blacktop road for the last time (this is the highest point on the hike) then veers left and descends to a bench marking the midway point of the trail. Past this bench, the trail traverses a level course near the edge of some cliffs for the next 0.3 miles and offers some nice views in the colder months. Turning sharply left, the trail descends steeply into the upper reaches of the ravine that contains Little Mountain Falls. For the next mile, the hike becomes a level creek-side excursion, occasionally crossing the creek on easy rock hops. The ravine is cool in the summer, and in the winter you may find small patches of snow even weeks after the most recent snowfall. The trail soon descends a steep section to arrive at the base of Little Mountain Falls. The cascading falls, accessible only by this trail, are about 30 feet high and fall in two separate cascades onto sandstone rock. An open area at the base of the falls allows for good viewing and even better listening. Past the falls, the trail continues heading downstream to where a tributary of the main stream enters from the left. The trail crosses the tributary via a rock-hop, then curves left to begin heading west back upstream. The trail now climbs moderately to reach a junction with the Turkey Ridge Trail. Another left turn takes you on a short connector trail which closes the loop. A downhill walk back to the parking area remains to complete the hike. Hike #28 Trails: Iron Mine, Whiskey Run, and Lower Stuart’s Knob Trails Location: Fairy Stone State Park Nearest City: Martinsville, VA Length: 3.2 miles Last Hiked: April 2010 Overview: An interesting hike past abandoned iron mines and great views. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fai.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Martinsville, go west on SR 57 to SR 346. Turn right on SR 346, which dead-ends at the park entrance. Just before reaching the official park entrance, turn left on Union Bridge Road (CR 623). Take CR 623 0.8 miles to the signed Stuart Knob trailhead parking on the left. The hike: If you followed the driving directions above, then you reached the iron mines on Stuart’s Knob by coming down the Goblintown Creek ravine on SR 346. However, the people who actually worked in these iron mines would have reached this point by riding a spur of the Norfolk Western Railroad up the ravine. Throughout the 1800’s iron was mined from Stuart’s Knob using the old-fashioned method of pick and shovel. In 1906, the operation was modernized with the introduction of air-driven jackhammers to dislodge the iron and a magnetized tipple to separate the iron from the other non- magnetic rock. Only 7 years later, the mines would be closed as it became cheaper to import iron ore from other countries than to mine it here in Virginia. (Socioeconomic comment: things have not changed much in 100 years, have they?) The mining town that had sprung up at the base of Stuart’s Knob became a ghost town soon thereafter. During Prohibition, these hills were used by moonshiners to hide their illegal alcohol producing operations from the authorities. In the mid 1930’s the CCC established a camp in the area and dammed Goblintown Creek to create Philpott and Fairy Stone Lakes. These lakes submerged the ghost town and the old railroad spur. The CCC also built many of the facilities that would form Fairy Stone State Park, one of the first state parks in Virginia. Included in the CCC’s construction projects were two trail systems, the Little Mountain Trail System and the Stuart’s Knob Trail System. The Little Mountain Trail System is described in the previous hike, and the Stuart’s Knob Trail System is described in this one. Although the Stuart’s Knob Trail System is good enough to be the primary hiking destination in most parks, it is the secondary one here due to its shorter length and its location away from the rest of the park’s main facilities. During my hike here on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I encountered only two other hikers; being the second-best can have its advantages. The trails at Stuart’s Knob are accessed by a common entrance trail which leads uphill from the information board at the trailhead. Stop as you climb to read some interpretive signs and catch your breath. At 0.1 miles, the trail forks as you reach a junction with the Iron Mine Trail, which is blazed in yellow. Before turning right on the Iron Mine Trail, take a minute to study the abandoned iron mine which appears as a tunnel heading into the mountain directly in front of you. Some of the smaller rocks around you were originally inside the mine, blasted out here and then discarded due to their lack of iron content. Some interpretive signs tell more about the mine’s history, but a metal grate bars entry into the mine. Starting along the Iron Mine Trail, the trail maintains a constant elevation with the knob rising to the left and falling to the right. At 0.2 miles, you reach the intersection that forms the loop portion of this hike. The Iron Mine Trail continuing uphill and to the left will be our return route. For now, turn right to begin the blue-blazed Whiskey Run Trail. The Whiskey Run Trail starts by exploring the low-elevation ravines that drain the north face of Stuart’s Knob. During Prohibition, remote, steep-walled, rhododendron choked ravines such as these were used to conceal illegal whiskey stills, hence the trail’s name. Producers of this whiskey would carry out their operations at night by the light of the moon, hence the name moonshine. Some more interpretive signs tell of the people who made moonshine here and the productions they undertook. Most of the forest on the north side of the knob is white pine forest with a few hardwoods thrown in. The forest near the beginning of this trail has taken considerable damage from the southern pine beetle, but the rest seems to be faring better. After passing another old iron mine, CR 717 comes into view uphill and to the right as the trail gradually curves left to cross the north, west, and south faces of Stuart’s Knob. Most modern sidehill trails are only a couple feet wide, but this sidehill trail was built by the CCC and hence is wide enough for two hikers to walk side-by-side easily. Over the next mile the trail will gain several hundred feet in elevation as it gradually climbs Stuart’s Knob. About halfway along this journey, an old quarry can be seen downhill and to the right. This quarry was used by the CCC to obtain rocks for some of their building projects. At 1.7 miles, you reach the first overlook. This overlook faces east and gives a nice view of Fairy Stone Lake, the state park’s beach, and Little Mountain in that order from foreground to background. The overlook also marks the trail intersection at which the Whiskey Run Trail ends and the Iron Mine Trail goes straight and left. Turn left to continue climbing on the Iron Mine Trail. After 0.1 miles of intense climbing, you reach another trail intersection where you should turn left to continue climbing Stuart’s Knob on the Upper Stuart’s Knob Trail. Note that continuing straight on the Iron Mine Trail here would shorten this hike to only 2.8 miles, but it would also miss a nice overlook. The grade lessens as the Upper Stuart’s Knob Trail continues climbing the knob using a single switchback. When I hiked this trail in early April, the area was made more scenic by some flowering redbud trees giving a pink glaze over the otherwise brown hillside. At 2.05 miles, the trail again forks with the Upper Stuart’s Knob Trail continuing straight and the Lower Stuart’s Knob Trail heading sharply left. The two trails rejoin in 0.25 miles, so the choice is yours. While the upper trail takes you closer to the knob’s summit, the lower trail actually gives the best view, so this hike will turn left and use the lower option. After 0.15 miles of level hiking, you arrive at the west-facing overlook. On a clear day you can see Fairy Stone Farms Wildlife Management Area in the foreground and foreboding Bull Mountain looming in the background. A bench at this overlook makes for a nice place to rest at the highest point on this hike. A short distance past the overlook, the Upper and Lower Stuart’s Knob Trails rejoin and begin to descend the knob. At 2.6 miles, the Upper Stuart’s Knob Trail ends at the Iron Mine Trail, where you should angle left to continue descending. Notice the areas of high relief on the east side of the knob (in front of you at this intersection). The Iron Mine Trail descends the north side of the knob using four switchbacks. At 2.95 miles, a spur trail exits right leading to another old iron mine. You can hike this trail if you wish, but the trail is steep, and the mine looks similar to the two you saw earlier on this hike. 3.0 miles into the hike, you close the loop as the Whiskey Run Trail enters from the left. Angling right here leads you back to the entrance trail at 3.1 miles. A left turn on the entrance trail and 0.1 miles of downhill hiking will return you to the parking area and complete the hike. Hike #29 Trail: Oak Hickory Trail Location: Fairy Stone State Park Nearest City: Martinsville, VA Length: 1.1 miles Last Hiked: April 2010 Overview: A short, moderate forest hike with great interpretive signs. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fai.shtml Directions to the trailhead: Follow the directions above to get to Fairy Stone State Park. After entering the park, bear right at the first intersection. Park in the first (gravel) picnic area parking lot on the left. The hike: For my general comments on Fairy Stone State Park, see the two previous hikes. While this trail is hardly a hiking destination by itself, it makes a nice add-on if you are coming to hike either of the two main attractions. Even better, it makes a great add-before, as the large number of informative interpretive signs on this trail will help you better understand what you see on the other longer trails. Begin by walking back out to the paved park road and turning left, looking for a wooden footbridge off to the right of the road. The trail starts by crossing this footbridge and then immediately heading uphill. After only a couple hundred feet, the trail forks to form the loop. The interpretive signs are meant to be read on a clockwise hike, and hence this description will turn left here and use the right trail coming downhill as the return route. The trail begins climbing gradually with the park’s campground road and a small stream to your left and the hillside rising to your right. All along this trail interpretive signs tell you not only about the plants and animals around you but also about how people work to maintain this trail and its habitats. At 0.3 miles, the trail joins an old logging road as it curves right away from the park road to remain beside the stream. At 0.6 miles, the trail crosses the stream, curves sharply right, and begins climbing a more moderate grade. Now roughly 180 feet higher than the picnic area at which you started, the trail reaches the highest point of the hike before descending into another steep ravine. Now heading downstream, the creek here is quite a bit wider than the one you were following earlier. Just when you think the trail might follow this creek all of the way back to the campground, the trail curves right and climbs moderately to reach a point along the rim of the ravine. A sign here describes mountain laurel, the shrub that surrounds you at this point along the hillside. This would be a very nice spot when the laurel blooms in June. Past the sign, the trail curves left and continues its downward course, this time over some wooden waterbars. All too soon, the loop is closed as the outbound trail comes in from the right. Retrace your steps first to the park road and then to the picnic area to complete the hike. Hike #30 Trail: Alpine Trail Location: Riverside Park Nearest City: Lynchburg, VA Length: 1.3 miles Last Hiked: November 2010 Overview: A short but dramatic sidehill hike along bluffs overlooking the James River. Park Information: http://www.lynchburgva.gov/Index.aspx?page=522 Directions to the trailhead: Riverside Park is located at 2270 Rivermont Avenue about 3 miles north of downtown Lynchburg. If you are coming from downtown, turn right to enter the park. Drive through the iron gate and follow the main park road past the tennis courts and playground to the large blacktop parking lot at its end. Park in the large parking lot near a wooden post that says “Alpine Trail” with an arrow and the universal hiker symbol. The hike: Most hikes at municipal and urban parks are characterized by short, crowded, highly developed trails, non-descript surroundings, and high levels of modern intrusions. As such, most small urban parks fall nowhere near the top of destination lists for most hikers. So why do hikers like me choose to visit these parks at all? We visit them because once in awhile we find a tiny but wonderful hidden gem of a hike. Such is the case with Riverside Park, located less than 3 miles north of downtown Lynchburg. The park was built in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s using the resources of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The park’s main attraction was and still is the stone James River overlook, which was built in 1931 using stones quarried locally. This and other sites that tell the tale of Lynchburg’s recreational history will be seen on this hike. Since the park consists of only 47 acres, you might not expect much of a hiking experience, but you will not soon forget a walk along the Alpine Trail. For one, built as one of the park’s original facilities, the Alpine Trail is the oldest hiking trail in Lynchburg. Also, as its name suggests the trail traces the top of sheer cliffs overlooking the James River. For the best river views, hike the trail in the leafless months. Due to the cliffs, the trail should be avoided during times of ice and snow; at all other times it provides a truly memorable clifftop walk. To reach the trailhead, follow the arrow on the wooden post beside the parking lot and begin walking along the gravel/blacktop road. You soon reach a large sign with a park map that says “Alpine Trail.” This sign marks the trailhead, and two trails depart beyond the sign. The trail going left is the main Alpine Trail, while the trail going right is the short Alpine loop. Since the main trail does not form a loop, I suggest hiking the short loop now and hiking the main Alpine Trail when you return to this sign. Taking the trail to the right, the trail descends somewhat and, after only 100 feet, arrives at the split which forms the loop. The climbing will be easier if you hike the loop clockwise by taking the trail to the left and using the one on the right as your return route. The trail descends very steeply at first, but soon the grade moderates as it curves right to enter a small ravine. The original Alpine Trail went all of the way to the river and provided visitors access to YMCA Island in the middle of the James. In its current configuration, this is as close to the river as you will get on this trail. The trail curves right and begins a longer gradual climb up the hillside. When I hiked this trail in mid-November, the peak fall foliage had just past, and only some bright yellow maple trees still held their leaves. The recent leaf fall meant that the trail was covered with leaves, so I had to watch my step on the steeper areas. At 0.4 miles, you close the Alpine loop and hike the short distance back to the trailhead. Angle right to remain on the east side of the paved road. Before you begin the main Alpine Trail, which heads downhill to the right, stop to investigate the overlook that made this park famous. Unfortunately, this overlook has seen its better days. The stones and mortar look weathered, and ivy grows over part of the wall. When you hike the trail under the overlook, you will see that the south stone wall is being held up by wooden beams. The trees between the overlook and the river even block most of your view. The overlook is a nice piece of history, but today there are far better viewpoints to be had elsewhere along the Alpine Trail. The main trail passes under the overlook to head northbound. The stones under foot here are flagstone pavers left over from the paving of Lynchburg’s streets in the 1920’s. The pavers add another dimension of history to this hike, but they can be slippery when wet or leaf-covered. For the next 0.5 miles the trail cuts into the hillside with the developed area of the park out of sight up the hill to your left and the James River some 100 feet below you to your right. Vertical cliffs lie between you and the river, so make sure you don’t fall off the trail to the right. Fortunately, there is only one spot that is a little bit challenging: a large step up onto a rock with only a tree to hold onto. Even better, volunteers from the Lynchburg fire department have constructed wooden fences to protect hikers from some of the sheer drop-offs. As you approach the northernmost point on the trail, the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge over the James River gets closer, and the rocks close in on the trail. After passing a bench that gives a nice view of the river and stooping under a rock overhang, the trail climbs a set of stone steps to arrive at an intersection with the paved but gated road, which heads left back to the main trailhead. A wooden post with the words “Alpine Trail” in blue letters marks this intersection. You could turn left and head down the paved trail to return to the trailhead, but the Alpine Trail continues straight and heads back into the woods. With the river at your back, this hike now turns into a more typical woodland hike. The railroad track that crossed the river now lies to your right. 1 mile into the hike, you pass the Fink Truss bridge exhibit, a concrete, wood, and steel bridge relocated to this site. Past the bridge, the trail continues another 0.2 uneventful miles to come out into the open parkland at the restored locomotive exhibit. To get back to your car, walk in front of the locomotive (this is one of the few times it is safe to walk in front of a train) and turn right on the paved, gated park road. The odd-looking area to your right is more history: the concrete walls are from the city’s first public swimming pool, and the stone building is the original changing rooms/restrooms. Follow the paved road past the stone building and gazebo, then cut through the grass uphill to your left to return to the main parking lot and complete the hike. Hike #31 Trails: (numerous) Location: Peaks View Park Nearest City: Lynchburg, VA Length: 6 miles Last Hiked: April 2010 Overview: A moderate upland hike featuring a large number of red cedar trees. Park Information: http://www.lynchburgva.gov/Index.aspx?page=518 Directions to the trailhead: The easiest access to the trail system at Peaks View Park is from the Ardmore entrance. Starting from the intersection of US 501 and US 221, head north on US 501. The first time US 501 turns left at a traffic light, continue straight on Old Forest Rd. Take Old Forest Rd. 1.2 miles to Ardmore Dr. and turn left on Ardmore Dr. There is a traffic light at this intersection as well. Take Ardmore Dr. 0.8 miles to the signed park entrance on the left. Pass the barn and park in the first parking lot on the right. The hike: At 250 acres, Peaks View Park is second in size only to Blackwater Creek among the Lynchburg City Parks. What the park lacks in size it makes up for in terms of facilities. The many recreation facilities include three lighted tennis courts, seven multi- purpose fields (soccer, football, softball, baseball,) volleyball courts, a basketball court, and a disc golf course. In addition to the numerous picnic and athletic facilities, the park today also features 8 miles of dirt trails open to hikers and mountain bikers. In fact, due to the location of the trail system, you will likely meet more mountain bikers on these trails than you will other hikers. The mountain bikes help keep the trail well trodden, so if you meet people on bikes, courteously step to the side of the trail and let them pass. The main downside to hiking at Peaks View Park is the lack of direct access to the trail system. Indeed, to reach the dirt hiking/mountain biking trails, you must first hike 0.4 miles along a paved bike path through the developed area of the park. The park’s large number of baseball, softball, and soccer fields ensure that the developed area becomes very crowded on nice warm weather weekends. Thus, I highly recommend that hikers plan a weekday visit to Peaks View Park. To begin your journey to the trail system, pick up the paved path that leads to a concrete bridge over Ivy Creek. Immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right to begin walking northeast on the Ivy Creek Greenway, a paved bike path. For the next 0.4 miles you will be walking on this paved bike path with some athletic fields on your left and bubbling Ivy Creek on your right. 0.4 miles into the hike and at the 1.00 mile marker on the bike path, you reach Trailhead I for the park’s trail system, marked by a large information board. Turn left to leave the pavement and enter the trail system. The trail climbs the hillside using a single switchback and arrives at a fork that forms the beginning of the loop portion of this hike. To save the best forest for last, I chose to turn right here on the Slick Rock Trail and use the Grapevine Trail going left as the return route. You will soon come to this trail’s namesake slick rock, a small area of exposed bedrock over which the trail passes. Most of the forest in this park is reverting farmland, but unlike other such forests, the red cedar trees have managed to maintain their dominance versus their broadleaf opponents. The exposed bedrock indicates that the bedrock under these ridges is very close to the surface. Broadleaf trees need deep root systems to grow tall enough to outcompete the cedars for sunlight, and the shallow bedrock prevents such growth. Hence, the cedars can survive here but not elsewhere. The trail makes a sweeping left turn around the end of the ridge and soon ends at a trail intersection which presents two options. The challenging Roller Coaster Trail heads downhill to the right, but this hike stays near the ridgetop by angling left on the Ridge Cap Trail, which climbs steeply for a brief period to reach an elevation just a few feet below the crest of the ridge. Like many mountain bike trail systems, this trail system features a large number of trails packed into a small area. Every intersection is well- signed, so if you print off a trail map from the park’s website before you come, you should have no trouble navigating the trail system. The Ridge Cap Trail ends at a complicated trail intersection where this hike will turn right to begin the Rock Pile Trail. Note that, if you took a double left turn at this intersection, you would be on the Grapevine Trail, thus shortening this hike to only 1.8 miles. Interestingly, the Rock Pile Trail has no major rock formations on it. What it does have is numerous dips and humps designed to challenge mountain bikers. The contours can challenge hikers too, but careful stepping should get you through with no problems except perhaps when water tables are very high. 1.5 miles into the hike, the trail drops to cross a small stream without the aid of a bridge. Just after crossing the creek, you arrive at a major trail intersection, where the Rock Pile Trail ends. To continue this hike, you want to first follow the trail to Trailhead II (another point along the paved Ivy Creek Greenway from which the trail system could be accessed), then angle left to begin the Cyclone Trail. The Cyclone Trail is the longest trail in the park, and this hike will use its entire length. The length is due to the serpentine route consisting of three very broad switchbacks the trail takes to climb the park’s main ridge. This route may seem tedious, but it can have advantages. As you get closer to the ridgetop, the cedar trees thin out and the understory fills in with various bushes, most abundantly honeysuckle. This underbrush makes a prime opportunity for deer sightings. When I climbed the Cyclone Trail, I could hear some rustling in the bushes to my right but could see nothing. When the broad switchback brought me back to that area a few minutes later, four white-tailed deer went galloping from along the trail further uphill. At 2.5 miles, the Cyclone Trail reaches the crest of the hill and ends at an intersection with the Fire Road. Turning right on the Fire Road would take you to Trailhead III, noteworthy because it features a bench, garbage can, and the unceremonious end of the paved bike path. This hike will continue straight across the Fire Road and begin following the Lower Piney Trail. As its name indicates, this trail heads back into the red cedars. For the next 0.5 miles the trail maintains a relatively constant elevation with the hillside rising to your left and falling away to your right. I saw several more deer grazing in the thick understory while I was hiking this section of trail. At 3 miles, you reach another major trail intersection. Continuing straight is the Trailhead III Trail (called the Mimosa Trail on the park map) which leads downhill and along a small creek to its namesake trailhead. Uphill and to the left are the Upper Piney and Fire Road Trails, both of which retrace the route of our Lower Piney Trail albeit at a slightly higher elevation. This hike will go uphill and then continue straight on the Outback Trail as you pass the farthest point from the trailhead on this hike. True to its name, the Outback Trail takes you very near the rear park boundary, which is marked with a wire fence on your right. The forest here is very young with a grassy, shrubby understory. Soon the Outback Trail curves gradually left to stay within the park’s boundaries. At 3.3 miles, the Outback Trail ends at a junction with the Upper Piney Trail and the Tom Cat Trail. Turn right to begin the Tom Cat Trail and stay near the park’s rear boundary. A wealthy subdivision soon comes into view over the fence to your right. I chose this route through the park’s trail system partly because it is largely free of man- made structures such as these houses. In fact, this is the only point on this hike where the surrounding buildings come into view. The same cannot be said about some other trails in this park, in particular, the Mimosa Trail. Very quickly the houses fade behind you, replaced by a deep wooded ravine. At 3.7 miles, the trail drops steeply into this ravine to arrive at another trail intersection, where the Tom Cat Trail ends. Continuing straight would lead you back to the Rock Pile Trail and short-cut this hike. To see the best forest in the park, you should turn right and begin the Steve’s Bowl-A-Rama Trail. The trail climbs moderately as it passes through some nice second growth hardwoods including beech and maple. A sweeping left turn leads the trail gradually higher as you exit the ravine you entered back on the Tom Cat Trail. For the next 0.5 miles the trail stays just below the ridgetop as it darts in and out of one steep ravine after another. Perhaps it was just because I was more tired at this point, but the up-and-down here seemed much harder than the ravines crossed earlier in the hike. 4.8 miles into the hike, another sweeping 180-degree left turn takes the trail slightly downhill as the park’s softball fields come into view further downhill and to the right. Now the trail again passes through many of the same ravines you passed through going the other direction only minutes ago. At this elevation, the ravines are broader and less steep than they were earlier. At 5.2 miles, you reach an intersection with the Grapevine Trail, where you should turn right to begin the Grapevine Trail. Several wild grapevines can be seen climbing the small cedar trees along this trail, so once again the name fits. At 5.4 miles, the loop is closed as the Grapevine Trail ends at the Slick Rock Trail. Turn right and hike the single switchback down to the paved Ivy Creek Greenway. A right turn and 0.4 miles of walking along paved trail will return you to your car and complete the hike. Hike #32 Trails: Creekside, Blackwater Creek, and Beaver Trails Location: Blackwater Creek Natural Area Nearest City: Lynchburg, Virginia Length: 10 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: A long, but fairly easy creek-side hike through an urban natural area. Park Information: http://www.lynchburgva.gov/Index.aspx?page=510 Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Lynchburg, take US 221 west to Old Forest Road and turn right. Take Old Forest Road north 2 blocks to Monticello Ave. and turn right on Monticello Ave. Take Monticello Ave. east two blocks to the entrance to the Blackwater Creek Athletic Field on the left. Turn left and park in the only parking lot. The hike: Located in the heart of the City of Lynchburg, Blackwater Creek Natural Area protects 300 acres in a narrow strip along Blackwater Creek, a small tributary of the nearby James River. The natural area was dedicated in 1979, and the Blackwater Creek Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1981. The City of Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Division operates this and several other small parks around Lynchburg, but this is the only one with a well-developed trail system. Along with numerous short spur trails to neighborhood trailheads, there are several nature trails that make their way through the natural area. The main route is the Blackwater Creek Bikeway, a paved, level, 6-mile one-way trail that links to all of the other trails in the park. For those with less time or energy, the Freer loop offers an excellent 2.5 mile hike through mature forest along the north wall of the creek’s ravine. The Freer Loop is most easily accessed from the Page Trailhead on BUS 501 4 miles north of downtown Lynchburg. This hike uses portions of these two trails as well as the Creekside and Beaver Trails, the two other main trails in the park, in their entirety. From the athletic field parking lot, go downhill and turn right, looking for the sign that says “Creekside Trail,” which is marked with yellow blazes. This trail begins as a wide, sunny two-track dirt path. The existence of a relatively recent underground sewer line gives away this path’s history as an access road for the sewer district. The gurgling creek can at first be heard and then seen on the left. In 0.9 miles, pass under the Mill Street bridge over Blackwater Creek and arrive at a confusing intersection. A yellow blaze barely visible across the creek correctly suggests that you cross the creek on the top of a low-level dam and climb a wooden staircase. Some steel pipes allow water to pass under the dam during periods of low water, but after a rain the water may come up over the dam. In this case, you will have to cross the creek on the Mill Street bridge and follow a faint trail to reconnect with the main trail at the top of the steps. The water is deep and swift, so do not attempt to wade the creek. The trail narrows at this point and continues to follow Blackwater Creek downstream. Poison ivy is abundant near the rocks here, so watch your step. While you are hiking, look for the pointed chewed-off tree stumps, the end result of heavy beaver activity. I was even fortunate enough to see two of the crafters bustling along the creek bank while I strolled along my way. Keep your eye out and you may be as fortunate. 1.3 miles from the start, the trail passes under the BUS 501 bridge over Blackwater Creek, and then crosses the creek for a second time, this time on a high, safe wooden bridge. The trail remains on the south side for only 0.4 miles before crossing back to the north side of the creek, this time on a swinging bridge. Keep moving once you are on the bridge, hold onto the side ropes, and keep your eyes focused on the opposite side, and your crossing will be without incident. The trail now becomes a narrow path and ascends to cross a bluff some 50 feet above Blackwater Creek. Stay left along a portion of trail that was recently rerouted to avoid erosion. Two side trails enter from the left before, 3 miles from the athletic field, an intersection with the Freer Loop is reached. The Freer Loop goes straight and left, while the yellow blazes tell you that the Creekside Trail crosses Blackwater Creek on another wooden bridge. This is the beginning of the loop portion of this hike. The Creekside Trail will be used as the outbound trail while the Freer loop coming straight ahead will be used as the inbound portion. Cross the bridge and turn left as the trail returns to the old sewer access road. For the next 1.8 miles the sunny two-track trail proceeds downstream with the creek on your left. Ignore a bridge crossing back to the north side of the creek and remain on the Creekside Trail. 4.6 miles from the start of the hike, pass under an active railroad bridge that towers some 90 feet over the trail then under an abandoned railroad bridge that now serves as a bridge for the Blackwater Creek Bikeway. At 5 miles reach a paved bikepath that marks the end of the Creekside Trail. A nice bench at this junction makes for a good resting point before continuing the hike. Turn right on the bike path, known as the Point of Honor spur trail, and climb slightly to intersect the Blackwater Creek Bikeway. The hike turns right to head west on the bikeway, but a left turn and a 0.2 mile detour will take you to the Hollins Mill Tunnel, a railroad tunnel that used to serve as the main entry point into downtown Lynchburg from the west. The cool damp tunnel now serves to take the bikepath under Federal Street and to the James River. Heading west on the bikepath, the trail crosses Blackwater Creek on the bridge you saw from below earlier and then passes under the active railroad bridge. In 0.3 miles, head left on the orange-blazed Beaver Trail, which uses a single switchback to descend to creek level. The Beaver Trail parallels the north bank of Blackwater Creek for its entire length of 1.6 miles. At one point the trail ascends to a bluff some 80 feet above the creek, but the trail is level for the most part. Continue to look for beaver traces like those seen earlier. 6.6 miles from the start of the hike, the Beaver Trail ends at a junction with the Freer Loop, which goes straight and right. Either route could be chosen, but the shortest and easiest route is to take the left trail, which stays along the creek. The Freer Trail passes over some narrow, rocky ledges en route to its intersection with the Creekside Trail at 7 miles. This intersection closes the loop portion of the hike. 3 miles of retracing your steps along the Creekside Trail remain to return you to the athletic field and complete the hike. Hike #33 Trails: Upper Dam, Luge, Peak to Peak, and Monorail Trails Location: Liberty Mountain Trail System, Liberty University Nearest City: Lynchburg, VA Length: 2.7 miles round-trip Last Hiked: October 2009 Overview: A fairly difficult hike with a few steep sections leading to the LU monogram. System Information: http://www.liberty.edu/admissions/index.cfm?PID=15469 Directions to the trailhead: The hike starts at the Candler Mountain Trailhead, which is located across Candler Mountain Rd. from the Wingate hotel. Unfortunately, the only parking lot at the trailhead is the hotel parking lot, which is reserved for hotel guests. Other visitors should park at Liberty University and either walk or ride the Lynchburg city bus to the hotel. The hike: If you were a university, what would you do with 5000 acres of forested, mountain land that is too steep for constructing buildings? Build a trail system, of course. At least, that is what Liberty University did…eventually. Though the university was established in 1971, the trail system was not built until 2006. The lightly worn pathways still show the signs and problems of a young trail system, but the potential for a great hiking and biking destination can be seen already. The trail system consists of two-track old logging roads and single-track newly constructed trails. The system is still under construction, but right now 65 miles of trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers during daylight hours. As the system’s name suggests, some of these trails are quite steep, but others have only moderate elevation changes. Also, the trails close to campus are quite popular, while the more remote trails are seldom-used. Obviously, many different routes are possible through the trail system. Due to the expansive views it offers, the most popular destination is the gazebo atop the infamous (in some circles) LU logo. While you can drive to the gazebo, the drive is along a bumpy, narrow, occasionally steep, and somewhat congested gravel road called Monogram Road. Of course, hiking along Monogram Road is not such a good proposition either. Thus, people seeking to visit the gazebo should consider this hike, the shortest semi-loop hike leading to the gazebo that avoids long stretches along the road. The trail begins at an information kiosk just inside the woods. Immediately you come to a major trail intersection. The Candlers Climb Trail exits at a sharp angle to the right and heads uphill. Unfortunately, this trail now dead-ends just below the Snowflex, a year-round ski area. The two other options, the Upper and Lower Dam Trails, fork to head in similar directions. This hike will angle right on the Upper Dam Trail to take the shorter and more level route to the logo. The first section of the Upper Dam Trail cuts into the steep hillside as it heads east at a fairly level elevation. It takes a lot of effort to build trails on hillsides like this, so appreciate the fact that you are walking on more-or-less a level surface. Though the mountain has been untouched for over 30 years, the mixed deciduous forest is still quite young. Also, the close proximity of US 460 downhill to the left gives this hike very much an urban feel. At 0.5 miles, the Monorail Trail crosses at a signed intersection. The trail coming down from the right will be our return route, but for now continue straight on the Upper Dam Trail. All of the intersections are signed, but sometimes the signs are not oriented in a particularly helpful way. Also, yellow and red plastic diamonds displaying LU mark this and other trails in the Liberty Mountain Trail system. In another 0.1 mile, the Luge Trail, our route up the mountain, exits to the right. At only 0.2 miles, the Luge Trail is short but steep. The name comes from the fact that the trail ascends via a flat-bottomed ditch. While the name is clever, I suspect this treadway becomes a creekbed during a rainstorm, and hence this trail will become highly eroded in a few years. 0.8 miles into the hike, the Luge Trail ends at an intersection with Monogram Road in a saddle. This saddle is a major trail intersection, as no less than 8 trails (including the road) converge in this saddle. To continue to the logo, angle left on the gravel Monogram Road, then take a soft right to pick up the Peak 2 Peak Trail. As its name suggests, this trail heads from summit to summit along the crest of Candler Mountain. In particular, it leads to the top of the hill that features the logo. The Peak 2 Peak Trail departs the saddle and heads steeply uphill. When I was hiking this trail, waterbars were being installed to help prevent trail erosion. After a few hundred feet of heading straight up the hillside, the grade lessens as the trail uses a single switchback and then makes a final steep push to the summit. Unfortunately, a fairly new television tower stands at the very summit, but just to the left sits the gazebo at the top of the logo. From this point, you can see the entire upper James River valley. The city of Lynchburg lies to the right, Liberty University front and center, and Bedford in the distance to the left. In the background lie the rugged forested mountains of the George Washington National Forest. Since you can drive to the logo, you will likely not be alone here, but the view is well worth the effort to climb the mountain nonetheless. The Peak 2 Peak Trail continues past the logo, but since I was running out of daylight, I needed to get back to the trailhead while making the shortest semi-loop possible. Thus, I reversed course and headed back down the Peak 2 Peak Trail the way I came. To still form a semi-loop, instead of heading back down the Luge Trail, I continued west on the Peak 2 Peak Trail, which reenters the forest on the left side of Monogram Rd. The trail climbs to the next peak, but this climb is much shorter and less steep than the one to the top of the monogram. Soon topping the next peak, the trail descends rather steeply to arrive at road level again, only to leave the road again and climb toward the next peak. The 1971 Trail exits to the left at this saddle. Before reaching the next summit, the Peak 2 Peak Trail intersects the Monorail Trail. Unfortunately, this is a very confusing area, as the Snowflex construction has punched a hole in the trail system just west of here that has yet to be repaired. If you follow the well-worn Monorail Trail uphill to the left, you will arrive at a tall, steep dirt bank that forms the base of a new access road. Continuing straight on the fainter Peak 2 Peak Trail will lead you to the side of a graded, steep dirt bank above Monogram Road; you will need all 4 of your limbs to crawl down to the road. Thus, the only good option for now is to take a sharp right on the Monorail Trail and head downhill. Soon the trail crosses Monogram Road for the last time as it continues its moderate downhill course. At 2.2 miles, the Monorail Trail intersects the Upper Dam Trail to close the loop portion of this hike. A left turn and 0.5 miles of mostly easy walking will return you to the Candlers Mountain Trailhead and complete the hike. Hike #34 Trails: Upper and Lower Dam Trails Location: Liberty Mountain Trail System Nearest City: Lynchburg, VA Length: 2.2 miles Last Hiked: November 2010 Overview: A pleasant easy-to-moderate forest hike along the foot of Liberty Mountain. System Information: http://www.liberty.edu/admissions/index.cfm?PID=15469 Directions to the trailhead: This hike uses the same trailhead as the hike to the monogram; follow directions for the previous hike. The hike: For my general comments on the Liberty Mountain Trail System (LMTS), see the hike to the monogram. This is the perfect trail to hike if you just want a pleasant walk through the woods after a hard day of work or school. There is a fair amount of up and down, but this hike is the easiest one in the LMTS in the sense that it does not climb the mountain. Also, the large amount of foot and bicycle traffic keeps this loop well-worn and easy to follow. The first 0.6 miles of our hike uses the Upper Dam Trail and coincides with the hike to the monogram; see the previous hike for details. Where the Luge Trail exits right to ascend to the monogram, continue straight on the easier Upper Dam Trail. The trail dips through a couple of small ravines as it continues east along the foot of Candlers Mountain. The nice but young second-growth forest is dominated by maple and beech trees. A few smaller pines eke out a living in the understory. The Z Trail and Doc’s Trail exit to the right, in that order. Both of those trails climb to Monogram Road and provide alternate routes to the monogram and points deeper within the LMTS. At 1.2 miles, you reach a signed trail intersection where the Upper and Lower Dam Trails converge on the rim of a large ravine. The combined Dam Trail exits to the right and leads 0.3 miles into the ravine to reach Five Points, a major trail intersection where 8 trails come together. To continue the Dam Loop, turn left and begin the Lower Dam Trail. As its name suggests, the Lower Dam Trail retraces the route of the Upper Dam Trail but at a slightly lower elevation. Thus, if you were hoping that a loop called the Dam Loop would lead you to a lake, you are out of luck. Frontage Road, a rough dirt former logging road, can be seen and US 460 can be heard to the right. A couple of the streams crossed earlier are now large enough to require short wooden footbridges, and a few white paint blazes mark the path. Where the Z and Monorail Trails exit left and head back uphill to the Upper Dam Trail, continue straight to remain on the Lower Dam Trail. Soon you will see the ramp from US 460 to Candlers Mountain Road straight ahead of you, though you might not recognize it from this angle. As the ramp and water tower come closer, the Lower Dam Trail turns left to climb to its reunion with the Upper Dam Trail; a double white blaze marks this turn. A brief climb along the Upper Dam Trail will return you to Candlers Mountain Road to complete the hike. Hike #35 Trails: Turtle Island and Chestnut Ridge trails Location: Smith Mountain Lake State Park Nearest City: Bedford, Virginia Length: 3.2 miles Overview: Two moderate nature trails that provide excellent views of Smith Mountain Lake. Last Hiked: March 2003 Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/smi.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Bedford, take SR 43 south 13 miles to CR 626, the signed turn-off for Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Turn right on CR 626. Take CR 626 8 miles to the park entrance. Turn right to enter the park. Pay the nominal entrance fee, then turn left at the first intersection. Follow this park road to a small blacktop parking area at the signed trailhead for the Turtle Island and Chestnut Ridge Trails. The hike: The Smith Mountain lake area is best known for hunting, fishing, and retirement homes. The park offers a popular deer hunt in season, and the state’s second largest body of freshwater lures fishermen and boaters from across the state. The park also offers a small cabin area and a campground with primitive and hook-up camping available. On your way into the park, you passed several waterfront communities, some even with their own golf course. The warm climate of southern Virginia is becoming a popular retirement spot for middle-class people. In all of this, the park’s hiking options seem to get lost. There are no long trails in the park, but four short trails departing from two trailheads give hikers plenty of opportunities to view Smith Mountain Lake and its surrounding forest. The Lake View and Tobacco Run trails combine to form a 1.2 mile loop that departs from the Visitor’s Center. The trails offer some nice lake view and a look into an old tobacco barn, but they never lose cite of the Visitors Center or the park road. For a little more solitude, try the two trails located on the park road just before arriving at the Visitor Center, the Turtle Island and the Chestnut Ridge trails. These two trails could be hiked individually, but they share a common trailhead and are not that long, so it makes sense to combine them into one hike. The Turtle Island Trail departs the parking area, heading west away from the road. The trail immediately begins a moderate descent through hardwood forest and in 0.2 miles reaches the lake shore. The trail curves right to parallel the lake shore, ascending to top a bluff, then descending back to lake level. At 0.6 miles, the main trail takes a sharp right, while a spur trail to Turtle Island continues to the left. Take the spur trail, as the small island is well worth a visit. 0.05 miles from the trail junction, cross an arching bridge to reach Turtle Island. Though you would not guess it by the rocks that have been carted in and placed along the island’s edge, this is a “natural” island, or at least as natural as one can get in a man-made lake. The wooded island contains a few benches that make decent wildlife observation posts, especially for waterfowl. Back on the main trail, the trail follows a small inlet of the lake before, at 0.9 miles, it curves left and begins a moderate climb back toward the parking area. A short walk through dense pine forest with the park road close-by on the left returns you to the parking area and completes this trail. The Chestnut Ridge Trail departs across the road from the parking area at a trail information board. This is a figure-8 trail, and you are starting at the end of one of the lobes. The trail descends gently and almost immediately forks. Take the right trail, which heads rather steeply downhill, and use the left one as the return route. The trail soon reaches the lake level, and the first of several nice lake views, this one to the right, comes into sight. You will not find any chestnut here, long extirpated by the chestnut blight, but you will find some nice oak and a dense understory. The trail climbs moderately to rejoin the inward loop to pass over a narrow ridge, with the lake intermittently visible to the right and the left. When the trail splits, again take the right fork, descend to the lake level, and begin walking a narrow path only 3 feet above the water. The sandstone bedrock can be seen in places, and a couple of windfalls make hiking more challenging. 1.2 miles into the Chestnut Ridge Trail, close the farthest loop, and retrace your steps back along the isthmus connecting the two loops. When the trail separates, choose the right option one last time, and climb gently to reach the remnants of the log structure. There is an opening through which you can peer in, and doing so I startled a large vulture from inside the structure, which startled me equally. Knowing that vultures only eat dead animals, I crept in a little further and got a peak at the vulture’s nest, which contained two or three large eggs. Not wanting the mother to think I was threatening her nest, I backed away and continued hiking. From the log structure, the trail curves left and, at 1.8 miles, closes the final loop. A short uphill hike is all that remains to return you to your car and complete the hike. Hike #36 Trail: River Bank Trail Location: Staunton River State Park Nearest City: South Boston, Virginia Length: 7 miles Last Hiked: February 2003 Overview: An easy hike along the Dan and Staunton River banks. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/sta.shtml#trails Directions to the trailhead: From South Boston, go north on US 360 to SR 344 and turn right on SR 344. SR 344 dead-ends at the state park entrance. Pay the nominal entrance fee, assuming you do not have an annual pass. Follow signs for the state park Staunton River boat ramp, which will take you to the left off of the main park road after passing the park office. Park in the left side of the parking area for the boat ramp so you will not obstruct any boaters. The hike: Located in the heavily logged Piedmont of south-central Virginia, Staunton River State Park protects 1597 acres of land located in a peninsula between the Dan and Staunton Rivers. Thanks to a dam located just downstream, the rivers form the largest lake in Virginia, the John Kerr Reservoir. This feature makes the park boat ramp very popular with boaters and fishers in season. In addition, the park has only one vehicle access, (the dead end of SR 344), so the park allows for some privacy without being isolated. In addition to the lake, the park also features a set of climate-controlled cabins available for reservations on a weekly basis and a 48 site campground with RV and tent camping available. For the hiker, the park features 6 trails totaling nearly 10 miles. The main loop, the River Bank Trail described here, follows the park boundary for its entire distance. The park consists of a triangular piece of land between two rivers, so the park’s boundary is a river for over half the distance. The park’s other trails form short connector trails between the River Bank Trail and trailheads along the park road. From the boat ramp parking area, walk back uphill along the road for 0.1 miles and look for blue signs marking the River Bank Trail, which crosses the road. Turn left to begin hiking the River Bank Trail clockwise, following the blue paint blazes. You will be sharing the trail with horses, so be prepared for mud during the wet season. Heading east, the trail climbs slightly to cross the road that accesses the park’s cabins. With the cabin area on your left and the Dan River visible downhill to your right, the trail descends to arrive at an overlook of the confluence of the Dan and Staunton Rivers. Take a minute to observe the boats and birds in the lake, as this is one of the best views in the park. The trail makes a 180-degree right turn at the overlook and begins heading west parallel to the Dan River, which is now on your left. Staunton River State Park was one of the six original Virginia state parks in 1936, so the forest is a mature mix of maple, beech, and oak in the broadleaf forest and Virginia and loblolly pines in the needleleaf forest. 1.5 miles and a few ravines from the overlook, the trail climbs to a point about 50 feet above the river to skirt a small picnic area. The trail then curves right and in 0.5 miles arrives at a confusing, unsigned intersection. The blue blazes follow the trail to the right, but this has been designated as the horse trail. The horse trail could be followed, but it ascends to a point near the park road, gets rather muddy, and adds 0.5 miles to the hike. A by-pass has been created for hikers, and it goes left at this intersection through a large riverside picnic area. The two trails rejoin just inside the woods beyond the picnic area. Two short connector trails join from the right, but stay left to continue the River Bank Trail, which ascends and descends through several ravines, each one a little larger than the last. 1 mile from the picnic area, the trail gives one final view of the Dan River, then curves right and begins a moderate climb toward the ridge that separates the two rivers. The ridge is gained, and then the trail descends rather steeply for a short stretch. The park boundary can now be seen on the left, and an area of pine trees being harvested for timber can be seen just beyond the park boundary. The section of trail in the highlands between the two rivers will be the wettest area of the hike. 0.75 miles from the turn away from the Dan River, the trail crosses SR 344 at the park entrance, entering the forest directly across the road. The trail turns right and begins a gradual descent along a small stream toward the Staunton River. The trail maintains a nearly constant elevation 50 feet above the river, only dipping to cross an occasional tributary. Two more connector trails enter from the right before the trail reaches the Staunton River boat access road to close the loop. A right turn and short downhill walk along the road will complete the hike. Hike #37 Trail: Lakeshore Trail Location: Holliday Lake State Park Nearest City: Appomattox, Virginia Length: 5 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: A moderate hike that circumnavigates Holliday Lake and yields good wildlife viewing opportunities. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hol.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Appomattox, take SR 24 east 7 miles to CR 626. Turn right on CR 626. Take CR 626, a narrow paved road, 3 miles to CR 614. Turn left on CR 614, another narrow paved road. Take CR 614 1.5 miles to CR 692 and turn right on CR 692. CR 692 ends at the park entrance. Stay left at the entrance station. The park road curves downhill to a small circle containing some picnic areas beside the lake. Park in a small grass lot on the inside of this circle, three-fourths of the way around. The hike: The first question many ask about this park has to do with the spelling of the name. Does the second “l” in Holliday come from a family that lived in the area, or does the state of Virginia not know how to spell? The name can be traced back to this park’s founding days, when a 1937 local newspaper reported of a depression-era federal project to dam Holliday Creek. That dam created Holliday Lake, and management of the land was later turned over to the state of Virginia. In 1972, the land was reorganized into 250- acre Holliday Lake State Park and the surrounding Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. Of course, the town of Appomattox is not most famous for Holliday Lake State Park. Rather, SR 24 passes through Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Site, site of General Lee’s 1865 surrender to General Grant to end the Civil War. It will take several hours to see all of the points of interest in the park, but for anyone at all interested in history, this makes a great side trip to compliment this hike. There are also plenty of souvenir stores in Appomattox selling trinkets to commemorate the Civil War. Of interest to horse riders and mountain bikers will be the 12-mile Carter-Taylor Trail that forms a loop through the state forest. There is a trailhead inside the state park along the park road just before you descend to the lake. This is one of the few long- distance loops in the Piedmont section of Virginia. The trail is not too difficult for hikers, but the scenery will be a bit dull compared to some of the other trails in the area. The state park itself contains 4 trails open exclusively to hikers. The Dogwood Ridge Trail provides a 1-mile loop north of the picnic area. Two other short trails also depart the picnic area, but by far the best hiking option at Holliday Lake is the 5-mile Lakeshore Trail. The trail is well-marked and well-maintained, and due to the light traffic this park receives, wildlife viewing opportunities are excellent, especially near the lake. The trail’s beginning is not obvious from the parking lot. If you cross the road and go left of a small picnic shelter beside the lake, you will find, about 50 feet from the road, a blue sign that says “Lakeshore Trail.” The dirt trail begins heading north from this sign with the lake close by on the right. The bustle of the beach and picnic area is soon left behind, and a remarkable amount of solitude is quickly obtained. In 0.5 miles, the trail curves left around a peninsula of land and intersects a green- blazed trail that goes left. The green trail will take you back to the picnic area in 0.4 miles and could be used to create a short nature trail loop. Our hike continues straight, descends slightly, and at 0.7 miles intersects another trail that exits uphill to the left. This trail connects to the Carter-Taylor trailhead and should be ignored. The Lakeshore Trail bends right and begins a long, level stretch along the lake. There are a number of logs that stick out above the water in this stretch, and turtles love to sun themselves on these logs on spring afternoons. If you hear plopping in the water, that was probably a turtle that got scared by your approach. Sights and sounds like these are advantages to hiking this less-used trail. At 1 mile, come to the first of two wildlife observation piers that allow you to get in the middle of the lake and view things from a different angle. This is an excellent location for these piers, as one can look north into the marshy backwaters of Holliday Lake. Birds such as the great blue heron love the bushes and trees in this marshy area, and if you are as lucky as I was, you might see such a bird here. Moving past the pier, the trail embarks on the steepest climb of the hike, which takes it uphill around an erosion-problem area. At the top of this hill, the blue-blazed Lakeshore Trail joins the red-blazed Carter-Taylor trail for a very short distance before the Lakeshore Trail exits to the right to return to the lake. The two trails follow a power- line clearing for this stretch, so watch the blazes for the turn back toward the lake. Now along the creek that sources Holliday Lake, you can see some interesting clay banks on the far side of the creek. At 1.3 miles, the trail crosses the creek on a small wooden bridge, then turns right to head south along the far side of Holliday Lake. The trail climbs moderately to cross a bluff overlooking the headwaters of Holliday Lake, then descends to the other wildlife observation pier, which offers much the same view as the first. Past the pier, there is a section of trail with many windfalls, signs of some recent storm damage. Fortunately, the trail is wide and easy to follow in this section. At 2 miles, the trail curves around a small inlet to Holliday Lake and crosses another feeder stream on a long wooden bridge. There is a large log sitting in the shallow waters of this inlet, and 9 turtles were taking advantage of it as I walked along. My presence scared all but three of them off into the water. On the far side of the inlet, the trail narrows and follows atop a precarious ledge just above the waters. If you have kids on this hike, make sure to keep them close so they don’t fall in, as it would be hard to pull them out. 3.4 miles into the hike, come to a rocky area and descend some steps to arrive at the dam that creates Holliday Lake. Cross the outlet on this dam, and begin paralleling another feeder stream to the lake with a 4-H camp visible across the lake to the right. With the lake now out of sight, the trail crosses the feeder stream on a small footbridge and begins a long but gradual climb through a nice pine forest. At the top of this hill, the trail crosses a paved road that accesses the 4-H camp, and at 4.3 miles reaches an intersection. The Laurel Creek Trail, an alternative to the Lakeshore Trail, leads left and returns you to the trailhead in 1.3 miles, while the Lakeshore Trail goes right and provides a shorter return route. Unless the Lakeshore Trail is closed due to hunting, turn right and stick with the blue blazes. The trail now descends rather steeply, losing all of the elevation you just gained, and in 0.5 miles reaches the other end of the Laurel Creek Trail. Cross a marshy area on a final wooden bridge to reach an intersection with the Saunder Creek Trail, which leads left. Stay right here, and in 0.2 miles return to the picnic area and complete the hike. Hike #38 Trails: Goodwin Lake, Dogwood Hollow, Between the Lakes, and Otter’s Path Trails Location: Twin Lakes State Park Nearest City: Burkeville, VA Length: 4.9 miles Last Hiked: April 2010 Overview: A quiet forest hike circumnavigating Goodwin and Prince Edward Lakes. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/twi.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From Burkeville, take US 360 west 2.5 miles to CR 621. Turn right on narrow paved CR 621. Take CR 621 1.1 miles to CR 629 and turn left on CR 629, following signs for the park’s Day Use area. Take CR 629 0.8 miles to the Day Use Area entrance on the left; this is located just past the park office. Turn left to enter the Day Use Area, pay the nominal entrance fee, and park in the large gravel parking lot for the swimming area. If this lot is full, you could also park in the nearby picnic area parking lot. The hike: Though you would scarcely know it by looking at the park today, Twin Lakes State Park has its origins with the same Depression-era federal land purchase that gave us Shenendoah National Park. Unlike its mountainous counterpart, this land was unsuitable for the national parks system, so it was transferred to the state of Virginia for a state park in 1939. In the 1950’s, the park fell victim to the segregation doctrine of separate but equal, and the two lakes were treated as separate parks. Prince Edward Lake was used by white people, and Goodwin Lake was used by black people. That doctrine was ruled unconstitutional in 1964, and the two parks were merged to form present day Twin Lakes State Park in 1986. Today this small-town park sees relatively light traffic except mostly from locals looking for some recreation. The park boasts a small, homey campground, numerous picnic sites, a kids’ playground, two lakes (of course) for fishing, and several hiking trails. The trail system is laid out in three loops, two of which encircle lakes while the third forms a small loop beside the campground. This hike will use all three of the loops for a grand tour of the park. The hike starts at a wooden post bearing a blue “Goodwin Lake Trail” sign at the left rear corner of the parking area. For better or worse, the Goodwin Lake Trail is the most developed trail in the park, as evidenced by its gravel surface, numerous benches, and several long, wooden bridges. The trail undulates gently as it treads just above the lake level on the right. At 0.1 miles, you will cross the gravel parking area for the Goodwin Lake canoe launch and reenter the woods on the other side. The trail makes a sweeping right turn as it crosses the main tributary to Goodwin Lake on one of the long wooden bridges. I crossed this bridge when it was so new the stickers were still attached to the ends of the lumber, and it should serve hikers well for a very long time. Now heading up the west side of Goodwin Lake, the trail passes through numerous small ravines. These ravines would create some steep and wet spots but for more bridges taking you over the lowest and steepest areas. As you head around a small inlet, you reach an area where the trail has been relocated further up the hillside in order to prevent erosion. Near 1 mile, the trail comes out at paved Twin Lakes Road, where you must turn right and walk along the side of the road to continue the hike. Remember to walk on the left side of the road so as to face oncoming traffic. The sunny road crosses the dam that creates Goodwin Lake. If you just wanted to hike the 1.5 miles Goodwin Lake Trail, you would turn right after crossing the dam and follow the trail through the picnic area back to the swimming area parking lot. This hike continues along the road as it climbs gently to reach the park office you passed as you drove in. Across the road from the park office and beside the campground entrance, begin the Dogwood Hollow Trail, the second trail on this hike. The Dogwood Hollow Trail is a short lollipop loop trail located adjacent to the campground, and hence it is more popular with campers than hikers. The trail begins by heading through second-growth upland hardwood forest before it soon descends gradually into a broad ravine. The main creek can be seen through the trees on the right; it is the same creek that forms Prince Edward Lake, the second of the twin lakes available in this park. The trail never reaches the main creek but instead heads up a smaller side ravine. Where the trail forks to form the loop, continue straight to hike the loop counterclockwise. This trail is blazed with a few blue paint blazes, but they are sufficiently infrequent that one may not be present when you need it. The trail continues heading up the ravine with the creek through the trees to your right and the hillside rising steeply to your left. 1.7 miles into the hike, the trail begins climbing the hillside. The climb is only moderate as a pair of broad switchbacks eases the grade. At the top of the hill where a short side trail leads directly to the campground, the trail turns sharply left as it begins a moderate descent back into the ravine to close the loop. Turn right and retrace your steps uphill back to the park office to complete the Dogwood Hollow Trail. To continue the hike, head around the right side of the park office and walk down the gravel park road you drove in on an hour or so ago. Pass the swimming and picnic area parking lots on the right (returning to your car in the swimming area parking lot at this point would create a 2.3 mile hike) and pick up the Between the Lakes Trail, which exits the gravel road to the left just past the swimming area parking lot. This two-track trail doubles as a park maintenance road, and as its name suggests, it leads to the second lake in the park, Prince Edward Lake. At 2.5 miles, the Between the Lakes Trail ends along the bank of Prince Edward Lake at an intersection with the Otter’s Path Trail, which circumnavigates the lake. You could go either way, but this description will turn left and circle Prince Edward Lake clockwise. A bench at this intersection makes a nice place to rest and watch the lake just past the midpoint of this hike. The Otter’s Path Trail is the most primitive trail in the park, and it is also the trail that is most likely to provide solitude. The park map lists the trail’s length at 4 miles, but based on my hike, it is closer to half that. The trail starts by heading across the dam that forms Prince Edward Lake, using an old but sturdy wooden bridge to cross the spillway. On my hike, I saw a large number of monarch butterflies fluttering around the dam area. On the other side of the dam where an unmarked trail exits uphill to the left, stay right to remain on the Otter’s Path Trail near the lakeshore. Some orange paint blazes soon reassure you that you are on the right trail. Your approach may cause some turtles to plop off of logs into the lake water as the trail heads up a shallow inlet of the lake. After curving right to cross a tributary of the lake without a bridge, you will come to another trail intersection where you need to turn left to stay on the Otter’s Path Trail. The trail continuing straight leads to the cottage area. This intersection is marked by a wooden post, but the sign is oriented in such a way that you could easily miss this turn if you were not expecting it. After gradually climbing along the tributary for a few hundred feet, the trail curves right and takes on the steeper hillside as it climbs through some of the nicest forest in this park. Several large beech trees can be seen in this area. At 3.1 miles, you will cross the paved Cedar Crest Conference Center access road and reenter the woods on the other side. For the next 0.4 miles the trail descends gradually to return to lake level. Some parts of this trail have been damaged by erosion, but the effects are not bad compared to some other trails. Once back at lake level, the trail intersects what appears to be an old access road, as indicated by a wooden gate that now stands in the middle of nowhere. As indicated by the blazes, you should turn left and head into a small stand of pines. The pine needles underfoot here make for a soft, cushy trail surface. After crossing a couple of small lake tributaries, the trail climbs steeply to regain the ridge. Fortunately, the ridge is less than 100 feet higher than the lake, so the climb is also rather short. 3.8 miles into the hike, the trail angles left to join an old logging road, which soon curves right to descend gradually back to lake level. Just before reaching a creek crossing that looks wet in season, the trail abruptly turns right to leave the road. This turn is signed with another post identical to the one you passed near the cottage area earlier. The trail soon crosses the creek without the aid of a bridge, but at this point the creek can usually be jumped over with ease. The park map indicates that the Beaver Point Trail exits to the right near this point, but the woods seemed to have reclaimed this path on my visit. The final 0.7 miles of the Otter’s Path Trail lead along the west bank of Prince Edward Lake. There are a large number of steep but shallow ravines that must be navigated, and the lack of bridges such as were present on the park’s other more developed trail make these ravines somewhat difficult to hike. When you reach the gravel boat launch area, angle uphill and look for another wooden post that marks the trail’s point of reentry into the woods. At 4.7 miles, you will reach the end of the Otter’s Path Trail as you close your loop around the lake. A left turn on the Between the Lakes Trail will lead you uphill as you retrace your steps back to the gravel park road. A right turn and brief walk along the park road will return you to the swimming area parking lot and complete the hike. Hike #39 Trail: Bald Cypress Trail Location: First Landing State Park Nearest City: Virginia Beach, Virginia Length: 1.5 miles Last Hiked: April 2003 Overview: An easy interpretive walk through a magnificent bald cypress forest. Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fir.shtml Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Virginia Beach, go west on US 60 first on Atlantic Ave, then continue west on US 60 as it turns left and becomes Shore Drive. The entrance to First Landing State Park is 3 miles past the left turn on the left. Enter the park, pay the nominal entrance fee, and follow the park road straight. The park road dead-ends at the Visitor Center parking lot, where this hike begins. The hike: Perhaps the best-known attraction in southeast Virginia is the “historic triangle” comprised of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. This hike easily fits into a history-themed trip, as the ground contained in this park is the first the Jamestown settlers would have stepped on in the New World. To recognize this, the Virginia Department of Natural Resources recently renamed Seashore State Park as First Landing State Park. The state park is located about 40 miles southeast of the historic triangle mentioned above. Likewise, equally popular attractions in southeast Virginia are the beaches of Virginia Beach. The waters are a bit cool until mid-April, but a walk along the beach is pleasant any time of year. The state park is located only five minutes from the beach, so this hike fits into a beach trip as well. In fact, although the park does not border the ocean, the state park trails give visitors a great opportunity to see the ocean dunes of southeast Virginia in their natural state. In addition to cabins and a campground, there are over 19 miles of well-marked and maintained hiking trails in the park, so visitors have a lot of options. Bikers will want to explore the Cape Henry Trail, a 6-mile gravel bike path that begins at the Visitor Center and ends only steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Long hiking loops can be made by combining the bike path with either the White Hill Lake Trail for a 6 mile loop or the Long Creek Trail for a 10-mile loop. For the visitor with less time, some excellent scenery can be found by hiking the Bald Cypress Trail, which forms a 1.5 mile loop just southeast of the visitor center. From the front of the visitor center, look to the right for a sign board that reads “Bald Cypress Trail.” This trail is marked with red blazes. Numbered posts along the trail conform with those in a trail brochure available in the Visitor Center for a small fee. Pass through a wooden turnstile and soon come to the first of several marshy areas on the right. Bald cypress trees, identifiable by the knobs that stick up from the ground surrounding the trunk, dominate the marshy areas, while maples take over on the higher dune terrain. The ponds throughout this hike create ideal nesting grounds for mosquitoes, so make sure to wear several layers of bug repellent in the warmer months. In 0.3 miles, come to two junctions in quick succession with the Osmanthus Trail, which is marked with blue blazes and goes left both times. This trail extends the hike by 3.1 miles and takes visitors to some more marshy areas. Our hike stays to the right on the Bald Cypress Trail at both of these intersections. The trail now climbs some 50 feet to a slightly higher dune area, then descend to another pond. This pond featured a large turtle on my visit, and turtles, snakes, and frogs are very common sites throughout this hike. 0.75 miles from the start, the Bald Cypress Trail crosses the wide graveled Cape Henry Biking Trail. The yellow-blazed High Dune Trail continues straight ahead across the bike path, but this hike angles left and remains on the red-blazed Bald Cypress Trail. Just past this confusing intersection, the trail comes to an extremely wet spot that may be difficult to cross after a rain. Hikers have made a faint shortcut that goes off to the right just before the puddle, but don’t use that unless the official trail is impassible. The shortcut intersects the official trail on the other side of the wet area. The trail passes over a dune and intersects the other end of the High Dune Trail, which goes steeply uphill to the right. 0.1 miles past this junction, a side trail leads left to join the Fox Run Trail. Stay to the right as the Bald Cypress Trail heads east parallel to the park road. 0.25 miles later, the trail ends at the Cape Henry Trail adjacent to the Visitor Center. A left turn will return you to your car and complete the hike. Hike #40 Trail: Union Advance Trail Location: Antietam National Battlefield Nearest City: Sharpsburg, MD Length: 1.2 miles Last Hiked: May 2010 Overview: An easy to moderate hike featuring the famous Burnside Bridge. Battlefield Information: http://www.nps.gov/anti/index.htm Directions to the trailhead: In west-central Maryland, take I-70 to SR 65 (exit 29). Exit and go south on SR 65. Take SR 65 10 miles to the signed park entrance on the left. Turn left to enter the park. Stop in the Visitor Center, pay the entrance fee, and begin the Tour Road. The hike begins at stop #9 on the Tour Road. The hike: September 17, 1862: the bloodiest day of the American Civil War. The site was Sharpsburg, MD, a small farm town just 4 miles from the Virginia border. In an attempt to win a meaningful battle on Union soil, earlier that month General Robert Lee had divided his already outnumbered Confederate troops into two parts. He sent one part to Harpers Ferry, VA to capture the Union garrison stationed there; this would give Lee supply and communication lines back into Virginia. The other part he sent north into Maryland. On September 13, a Union soldier found a copy of Lee’s orders, which was promptly forwarded to Union General George McClellan. Realizing he had the advantage, he chose to attack Lee’s forces while they were divided. On September 14, McClellan marched his army west and fought his way over South Mountain east of Sharpsburg. Lee almost chose to retreat to Virginia, but instead chose to make a stand at Antietam Creek just east of Sharpsburg. The area made an ideal defensive location because it featured high ground with clear lines to shoot in any direction. The battle that ensued was long and bloody. Early action took place in East and West Woods as well as a cornfield. The fighting in the cornfield was so intense it is now referred to simply as The Cornfield. Later assaults came along Sunken Road (later renamed Bloody Lane for the number of casualties taken there) and the Lower Bridge across Antietam Creek. The Lower Bridge would later be renamed the Burnside Bridge after Union General Ambrose Burnside who took control of the bridge, and that bridge would later become the iconic image of Antietam. Both sides took heavy casualties in the battle, but the outnumbered Confederates would be forced to retreat into Virginia. The Union army took so many casualties that it was unable to pursue Lee and perhaps end the Civil War. Another two and one-half years of fighting and major battles such as Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chancellorsville would lie ahead before the Confederacy would finally surrender. Today, the fields outside of Sharpsburg are preserved as Antietam National Battlefield. The Visitor Center features a short documentary film, some ranger talks, and an observation lounge from which much of the battlefield can be seen. A park driving tour and many short hiking trails take you past all of the major battlefield sites including the The Cornfield and Burnside Bridge. In fact, the park tickets sold today bear the Burnside Bridge’s image. On the mid-May morning when I visited Antietam, a light steady rain was falling, making hiking much less pleasant than usual. To be honest, I chose to hike the Union Advance Trail described here partly because it features the famous Burnside Bridge but mainly because it is the shortest trail in the park. The trail starts at stop #9 on the driving tour. Begin on the left (east) side of the circular-shaped parking area. An overlook here with interpretive signs gives a great view down at the Burnside Bridge some 50 feet below. At this overlook, you are standing where the Confederate soldiers would have stood as they tried to prevent their Union counterparts from crossing the bridge. With such clear sightlines and high relief, you can see why so many Union casualties were taken in their attempts to secure the bridge. Exit the overlook on the paved trail which heads gently downhill and crosses a small stream. At the intersection after crossing the stream, turn left to continue descending more steeply to arrive at the west side of the bridge. Turn right and cross the stone bridge. Notice the wooden slats on the side of the bridge. Most of these slats are not original: many of the original ones were used as grave-markers by Union soldiers to honor their fallen comrades. On the east side of the bridge, the Union Advance Trail goes left and right. To hike the trail in the same order as described in the downloadable podcast, you should turn left here and use the right trail as the return route. Stops on the podcast tour are marked with tall, beige, plastic posts. The trail starts on a gravel trailbed, but that soon turns to mown grass. The grass was not particularly tall on my visit, but it was tall enough and wet enough that my shoes and socks were soon dripping wet. At 0.4 miles, the Sherrick Farm Trail exits to the left as our trail turns right and ascends moderately for a brief time, soon to top out just below the ridgeline. Most of this trail passes through open grassy areas, but a few short sections on this ridge dip into some young forest. At 0.7 miles, you arrive at an opening in the forest which gives a great view of the bridge from the east side. Now you are standing where the Union soldiers would have stood as they prepared to rush the bridge. Think of how intimidating this view must have been with the Confederates dug into the steep hillside across the creek. Past the opening the trail curves right and descends moderately to arrive back at creek level, passing a small memorial in the process. Upon reaching the creek, the trail curves right and passes a USGS station used for monitoring water flow. At 1.1 miles, you arrive back at the east side of the Burnside Bridge to close the loop. Cross the bridge and retrace your steps back uphill to the parking lot to complete the hike. Hike #41 Trail: Cunningham Falls/Hog Rock/ Blue Ridge Summit Loop Location: Catoctin Mountain Park Nearest City: Thurmont, MD Length: 5 miles Last Hiked: May 2010 Overview: A moderate hike featuring a major waterfall and major vistas. Park Information: http://www.nps.gov/cato/index.htm Directions to the trailhead: From Thurmont, take SR 77 west 2.2 miles to the park entrance on the right. Turn right on the park road to enter the park. Immediately you will reach the Visitor Center on the right. Park in the large blacktop parking lot beside the Visitor Center. If this lot is full, you could also park in the large gravel parking lot on the left as you enter the park. The hike: As I drove in SR 77 on a warm sunny mid-May afternoon, the tall, mature trees and lumpy rock outcrops lining the road told me I would be in for a treat. They told the truth. The hiking I undertook that afternoon would be the best of the year so far, and I wished it hadn’t taken me so long to come to this park in rural Maryland. An interesting and detailed history of the land entitled CACTOCTIN MOUNTAIN PARK, A Historic Resource Study by Dr. Edmund F. Wehrle can be downloaded free of charge from the park’s website. Like most major parks in the region, Catoctin Mountain Park has its roots in the Great Depression. Land acquisition for a “recreational demonstration area” on this site began in 1935 as part of a New Deal program to buy and rehabilitate submarginal farmland. Work on Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was interrupted by World War II, during which the land was used for military purposes and as a presidential retreat. After the war, a dispute arose between the state of Maryland and the National Park Service over ownership of the recreation area. Ultimately, a compromise was reached in which the state took over the southern part of the area and the Park Service retained control of the northern part. The southern part was renamed Cunningham Falls State Park, while the northern part was renamed Catoctin Mountain Park. These are the two parks you see in this area today. With the tallest waterfall in Maryland, several great overlooks, and well- maintained trails, the loop described here has everything you could hope for in a mountain hike. Even better, at only 5 miles in length and 690 feet of elevation change, this loop does not overwhelm you with length or difficulty either. In early October, the large number of oak, maple, and beech trees would make this hike great for leaf peeping. Adding the 0.3 mile spur trail to the whiskey still (not described here) would even let you add a little local history if desired. From the Visitor Center, cross the park road and walk through the gravel parking lot, looking for the Falls Nature Trail which leaves the right side of the lot near its rear. A red wooden sign that says “Cunningham Falls Round Trip 2.8 Mi.” marks the beginning of the trail. The trail crosses a small stream on a wooden footbridge and immediately begins climbing. The first 100 feet are steep, but the grade moderates considerably after that. For the next 0.9 miles the trail climbs moderately through a maze of rock outcrops. Tall, old maple and beech trees merit your attention as you climb. The thick canopy from these trees and the bedrock so close to the surface prevent the growth of any significant understory. An occasional car can be heard on SR 77, which parallels this trail downhill and to the left. 1 mile into the hike, you reach the highest point of the Falls Nature Trail and begin a moderate descent. At 1.2 miles, you reach a major signed trail intersection. We will eventually take the trail leading uphill and to the right to continue the loop, but for now turn left and begin the 0.2 mile spur trail to Cunningham Falls, the highest waterfall in Maryland. Very quickly the spur trail reaches SR 77, where you must turn left and walk 100 feet along the shoulder of the road to reach the handicap parking area for the falls. There is a blind turn just beyond this location, so be careful when walking along the road. Once safely at the parking area, begin the wheelchair accessible boardwalk leading to the falls. Note that you left Catoctin Mountain Park and entered Cunningham Falls State Park when you crossed SR 77. After only 0.2 miles of walking the boardwalk along the stream, you arrive at a viewing platform for Cunningham Falls. Water cascades 78 feet from rock to rock, finally ending in a small plunge pool surrounded by boulders. I hiked this trail when water tables were at their normal levels for the spring, and the volume of water was moderate but not overwhelming. I suspect this waterfall becomes a trickle during a drought, so it is best to plan your visit during the wetter months for best waterfall viewing. Some benches at the platform make for nice places to rest and view the waterfall in the cool, shady forest. The boardwalk dead-ends at the waterfall, so you will have to retrace your steps back across SR 77 to the signed trail intersection mentioned above. Continue straight at the intersection to head for Hog Rock, the next point of interest on our loop. The next 0.25 miles are the hardest of the hike, as the trail takes on the hillside directly with no curves or switchbacks to ease the grade. After one particularly steep section with rock outcrops jutting out on either side, the hard climbing is over. The next 0.75 miles are a gradual uphill climb as the trail weaves around, under, and over more rock outcrops. At 2.6 miles, you reach Hog Rock, which is marked by a wooden sign pointing the opposite way from which you are coming. From here, a spectacular vista opens up to the east and south. Immediately below you is the valley containing the Visitor Center, and just beyond that is the wooded arm of Catoctin Mountain that contains Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock, two other points of interest in the park. Beyond this ridge, the Maryland Piedmont stretches as far as the eye can see. Take some time to enjoy this view, a handsome reward for your climb. At Hog Rock, our hike joins the Hog Rock Nature Trail, a short 0.7 mile loop that connects Hog Rock to a parking area along the park road. You could use either arm of the nature trail’s loop, but the right arm is shorter. At 2.8 miles, the two arms come together again, and at 3 miles you reach the blacktop Hog Rock Parking Area on the park road. Cross the road, walk through the parking area, and pick up the trail leaving from the midpoint of the parking area to continue the loop. 3.3 miles into the hike, you arrive at Blue Ridge Summit Overlook. Unlike Hog Rock, this point looks out to the north and west. Thus, the view from here is mainly forested hills with a few quaint, idyllic farms dotting the area. A few rocks make comfortable places to sit and enjoy a trail snack while admiring the view. Past the overlook, the trail descends steeply as it leaves the ridgeline and heads back for the valley. The park’s trail guide describes the trail up as “steep inclines” and this trail as “moderate downhill,” but this section is as steep as anything you climbed up earlier. Also, there are some loose rocks underfoot here that could slide you, so step carefully. At 3.9 miles, the descent ends. A short, moderate climb brings you to an intersection with the trail to Thurmont Vista. Turning left here would lead you 0.4 miles uphill to the vista, while turning right would lead you 0.1 miles to the park road and the trailhead for the Charcoal Trail. Continue straight to remain on our loop. For the next 0.6 miles the rocky trail maintains a relatively constant elevation with the park road downhill to the right and the ridgeline uphill to the left. At 4.6 miles, you will cross the steep trail to Wolf Rock, which is uphill to the left. The final 0.4 miles is a long, moderate descent that culminates in some stone steps just above the blacktop Visitor Center parking lot. Reaching this parking lot marks the end of the hike. Hike #42 Trail: Charcoal Trail Location: Catoctin Mountain Park Nearest City: Thurmont, MD Length: 0.5 miles Last Hiked: May 2010 Overview: An easy hike detailing the region’s charcoal-producing history. Park Information: http://www.nps.gov/cato/index.htm Directions to the trailhead: From Thurmont, take SR 77 west 2.2 miles to the park entrance on the right. Turn right on the park road to enter the park. Follow the park road 0.9 miles to the trailhead parking lot on the right. The hike: For my general comments on Catoctin Mountain Park, see the previous hike. Today we usually think of charcoal as ideal fuel for a summer cookout, but our ancestors had a much more industrial use for this product: making pig iron. Fast-growing American chestnuts would be harvested from Catoctin Mountain. Since wood is incapable of producing the high temperatures needed to make iron, the chestnut wood was slowly burned by charcoal-making experts called colliers. The colliers would sell their product to the Catoctin Iron Furnace downstream, which in turn would produce usable iron from iron ore. This charcoal-making history is the feature of the short trail described here. The American chestnuts have long ago been obliterated by the chestnut blight, but they have been replaced by the old, beautiful oaks, maples, and hickories you see along this trail today. The Charcoal Trail makes a great warm-up or cool-down before or after one of the more substantial hikes at Catoctin Mountain. Begin at the information board at the right center of the parking lot. The wide dirt trail maintains a constant elevation as it heads into the beautiful, mature forest. You quickly arrive at the first of four exhibits, all of which are described by interpretive signs. This first exhibit is a storage bin used to store the wood before it was burned into charcoal. Later exhibits include a cart for transporting wood, a hearth where charcoal was made, and a hut used by the collier for living quarters while engaged in his trade. Make sure you read all of the signs to learn as much as you can about the charcoal- making process. Just after passing the hearth, the trail turns sharply right as it joins an old collier road. These roads were traversed by wagons such as the one you passed earlier as they carried coal down to the furnace. Imagine what a rough, rocky ride this must have been riding on a horse-drawn cart! The trail heads slightly uphill on the old road as you pass the last exhibit, the collier’s hut. A final dip and subsequent climb will return you to the parking lot and complete the hike. While you are in the area, be sure to try out some of the other short interpretive trails at Catoctin Mountain Park, including the Hog Rock Trail, the Spicebush Trail, and Whiskey Still Trail, each of which have a distinctive highlight that will tell you more about the area’s history and/or present.
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