Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails through Virginia’s spectacular mountain scenery. We reserved four nights just outside the park in Luray at Spacious Skies RV Park, excited about three full days to explore the park.
Our first day found us back on a section of the Appalachian Trail. We were curious to see the overnight shelters distance hikers frequent, so we chose a 6-mile out and back trail called Mary’s Rock and Birds Nest 3 Shelter.
It was a rocky, uphill path to Mary’s Rock but the view was worth the climb. We continued on until we reached the shelter known as Birds Nest 3. While it was pretty rustic, it would certainly provide welcome relief to weary hikers eager to escape bad weather. At one end was a large fireplace while a raised sleeping platform stretched across the back. Tucked away at a discrete distance was another treat…an outhouse. I didn’t peek inside assuming it was likely pretty rustic, but figured it would offer a bit of hard-to-come-by privacy after miles of wilderness.
That night the temperatures dropped and the rains began. Hard rains…relentless rains. Perhaps day two was a good time to drive a part of 105-mile Skyline Drive that winds along the spine of the park.
It was obviously not a day for sightseeing, so we went back to our trailer and got the laundry done. The rain and cold continued into the next day. Our Shenandoah National Park visit was a bit of a bust, and we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beautiful campsite we had, but we did have one great hike and a good laugh about our “drive through the park.”
A short drive to Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park allowed us a chance for a short hike with a link to one of the country’s most iconic national trails.
The 2.3-mile Massie Gap and Wilburn Ridge loop trail overlaps a portion of the Appalachian Trail, the nearly 2,200-mile path that leads thru-hikers from Springer Mountain in the state of Georgia, north to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
We read that we could expect spectacular views and, if we were lucky, glimpses of a wild Grayson Highland pony or two.
From atop the rock outcropping (behind Reg in photo with trail marker above) we could see forever. We rejoined the Appalachian Trail section and continued on for a short bit until a steep downhill (requiring a steep return ascent) turned us around.
We bumped into a couple from Montana the other day while hiking an off-the-beaten-path trail outside of Camp Verde, Arizona. Both raved about the nearby Bell Trail, claiming the hike was beautiful and led to an intriguing feature not to be missed. “Be sure to go to the end of the trail to see The Crack,” they advised.
The trail became rougher and rocky as it climbed higher. Soon we found ourselves among towering red rock cliffs, with the creek far below us. As we came around the last bend there it was. We saw several groups of people gathered above it…The Crack. Reg found a perfect lunch spot and we settled in to watch who might be brave enough to take it on.
From our perch we could see the deep channel the creek cut between the rocky cliffs. What appeared to be a deep pool of water flowed between rapids both upstream and downstream, creating a tempting swimming hole after a long hot hike. We had heard that only the bravest jumped from the cliff, a plunge of about 20 feet.
We heard whoops and screams as a few hardy folks made their way to the water’s edge and took a dip. Cold was the consensus of the courageous few.
We hit the trail at 7:30 this morning in anticipation of what our guidebook described as “one of the hardest days of the path.” We left Hartland Quay just as the sun was rising, and set our sights on Bude, 15 miles away.
We continued on, racking up a total of 10 major descents, crossing creeks that flowed into the ocean. For every drop in elevation, the path climbed right back up the other side of the ravine, leaving us huffing and puffing most of the day.
At the end of the day, according to our guidebook, we had conquered 4,500 feet of ascent… and as everyone knows, what goes up, must come down! The math makes my feet hurt. We have never, on any of our treks, experienced such elevation gain and loss in any one day. But we did it today, and now that this day is nearly behind us, we will sleep well, hoping that this was the hardest day for us.
We were thrilled when author George Mahood posted an enthusiastic shout-out for Reg’s book – Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows on his Facebook page. You can read George’s kind words by clicking the above link.
George has published a handful of books himself, based on his own entertaining and often outrageous adventures. I hope you’ll check them out. Happy reading!
Sunshine speckled the trail to Hunters Cove as we set out from the Cape Sebastian State Park Viewpoint. Our guidebook warned of strong winds that have kept the Sitka spruce that grow on the point at shoulder height, but this morning all was calm. As we hiked around a bend, the view north opened up to reveal an impressive sea of fog hugging the coast below us. Our downhill path would, no doubt, lead into the thick of it.As the fog lifted, we were able to see the steep cliffs and the surf below. The trail continued downhill through the forest and would eventually lead to Hunters Cove and a view of a collection of rocky island outcroppings. We didn’t make it quite that far since we had left our lunch in the car, but we walked long enough that the return trip offered clear views of the coastline we had missed earlier.Once back at the car, we drove a few miles down the highway and found our own spot (with a pretty good view) for our picnic.