Shenandoah National Park is one of the parks thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail will cross during their journey between Georgia and Maine. However, I don’t know if the thru hiker ever really get the full Shenandoah experience if they only stick to the white blazes on the ridge following Skyline Drive and never try Blue-Blazing down on of the many hollows. While this could serve as the start of a spicy discussion of why I will probably never be a thru-hiker (JMT doesn’t count), I will save that clickbait post for another time. Instead, this post will highlight they typical Shenandoah experience with rushing cascades, crystal clear swimming holes, and rocky vistas out with views of the wide Virginian valleys. Maybe you’ll even see a black bear. All of which you’ll find on the Riprap Hollow loop.
If you are looking for an easy hike that provides for plenty of cascading stream views, the hike to Stiles Falls provides for a high views to work ratio. So it is a great hike for beginners or kid friendly hike. But it is a busy one for those same reasons.
The hike was closed shortly after we hiked here back in March, so I delayed in writing it up until now.
Being opportunistic is a good way to avoid the crowds when it comes to popular trails. It may mean getting up before sunrise, starting out late in the day, or still heading out when it’s rainy. With many of the frontcountry campgrounds still closed, certain trails are a little less crowded than normal. This included the Sherando Lake area, which is known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains and typically sees hundreds of campers a day.
There is nothing like having to cross a knee high stream to keep you cool on a hot and humid summer day in Virginia. Ramsey’s Draft provided exactly that as the trail cross the stream several times. While there are a couple longer backpacking loops here, we chose a moderate day hike loop that included Jerry’s Run.
It is clear how the popular peak of Big Schloss got its name, for schloss is German for castle. The peak appeared very much like one on our approach from the north on the Mill Mountain trail. It was indeed the highpoint in this popular area for backpackers, which is otherwise a monotonous green tunnel during the early parts of summer.
If you’ve read enough of these hike reports, a common theme you’ll find is that I love hiking next to running creeks, streams, and rivers. As we get into the summer in Virginia, they can also provide a perfect respite to the hot and humid weather in the form of swimming holes. So after a week of none stop rain, I was excited to go check out a hike featuring some swollen creeks and wide swimming holes.
Sometimes you just need to get out of the house and a short walk in the woods to get your heart pumping a little is just fine. While nothing spectacular, Poor Mountain Preserve did the job. The spring wildflowers were a nice touch as well.
A different season in Virginia can make the same hike a completely different experience. It was winter the last time I visited Rock Castle Gorge. When we returned for a spring hike, we found a completely new experience.
Foliage season is always a fleeting prospect. One day of bad weather and it’s all over. At least that’s how it seemed this year as a heavy wind storm with tornado advisory passed Southwest Virginia a few days after peak weekend. I headed out on the trails after the storm and found much of the foliage on the ground. At least Bottom Creek Gorge hike has some cascades and a waterfall to hold our attention.
My first hike when I first moved to Southwest Virginia was to the Cascades and it is part of the typical initiation for Virginia Tech students to the area. Through my years here, I’ve hike this multiple times and it is different in each season. With peak foliage upon us once again, I headed back for another hike.
In comparison to my report last week in the Northern Park of the Shenandoah and earlier this week in the George Washington National Forest, the Cascades are further west and predicted to reach peak foliage earlier. And indeed, I hit the peak right on for the first time on this hike.
My friends, Chris and Tori, had long talked about heading out to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp out and doing some bouldering. While my lackluster climbing skills and commitment to get better at climbing would steer me away from their bouldering activities, I said I would join them camping. One of my favorite hikes in Virginia is located in Grayson Highlands and I looked forward returning since my last trip out there was five years ago. I would go for a hike while they climbed. A sunny, but abnormally cool summer weekend at the end July finally motivated them to do the trip, so I couldn’t say no.
New lab member Natalie also joined us at the last minute, she had also been looking to hike in Grayson Highlands as well since arriving in Virginia.