Monday, November 10, 2008

Take a Hike!

I returned yesterday from a fabulous weekend of hiking at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Charlie and I decided to take advantage of a long weekend, and the need to unplug, by planning a mini-vacation somewhere close. Since Shenandoah National Park is about 50 miles west of Washington D.C., it made for an easy commute. We stayed in Front Royal, a small town situated at the north entrance of the park. We spent two nights at the Super 8 Motel for a bargain price of only $138.76. The Four Seasons it was not, but it was a comfortable room to spend the night. When we arrived around noon on Friday, we grabbed lunch across the street at Spelunker’s Frozen Custard and Cavern Burgers. If you are a health conscious individual, this is not the place for you. Charlie chowed on a cavern burger AND a chili cheese dog (which he later regretted) and I decided just to indulge in a vanilla custard cone. Wherever you decided to eat while in Front Royal, save room for a Spelunker’s frozen custard – it was decadent!

While the Super 8 advertises a free continental breakfast, it was rather sparse consisting of donuts, two selections of cold cereal, milk, orange juice, and coffee. For more substantial early morning fuel, try Wynn’s Restaurant located at 219 E Main Street. Here you’ll find good food at a bargain price (our bill came to $10.00). For an inexpensive lunch or evening meal try Main Street Mill located at 500 E Main Street. For dinner on Friday night our total bill came to $40.00 which included two beers, an appetizer, two entrees, and dessert. The food was good (I had the southwestern chicken breast while Charlie chose the half rack of baby back ribs) and what I found to be most surprising – the portions were realistic (unlike the gargantuan servings dished out at chain restaurants).

The real highlight of the trip were the amazing views and hiking found within Shenandoah National Park. This was my first trip down Skyline Drive and I was not disappointed by the clear views of rural towns and fiery orange and yellow trees surrounding the park. However, I was really geared for an aggressive workout of hiking and the Park more than delivered. On Friday Charlie and I only had a few hours of daylight to use and we chose to trek the Overall Run Falls trail as our goal for the afternoon. This trail is located within the Matthews Arm and Elkwallow Area of the park, situated around mile marker 22 (see map: This trail leads to the 93’ foot Overall Falls and is moderately difficult; roundtrip is approximately 6.5 miles. It provided a good aerobic workout while taxing our butt and legs which Charlie and I felt this immediately upon returning to the Jeep. I would recommend this trail for intermediate and advanced fitness levels. Be sure to pack water and a light snack. If you do not invest in hiking/walking poles, be sure to find a sturdy tree branch to assist you in your hikes (please find a branch already on the ground!). I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a walking stick (or two) for any uphill hikes. They not only reduce your fatigue (trust me, you will still feel fatigued even when using the poles) and increase your speed, but hiking/walking poles assist in stabilizing your footing which is essential, especially on the descents. We only passed one other couple on the trail which we attributed to it being a weekday afternoon, so we felt as if we had the place to ourselves.

While we didn’t encounter any wildlife on the trail, on our drive out we came to a screeching halt when I spotted a black bear at the top of a tree about 75 feet away to our right (fortunately there was no one behind us)! We jumped out and marveled how this magnificent creature could precariously balance himself on spindly branches at the very top of the tree and swiftly maneuver his way down! So much for my notion of climbing a tree if I ever encountered a bear in the woods!

On Saturday we traveled further down Skyline Drive to the Skyland area of the park. Our first hike was the Whiteoak Canyon Trail located at mile marker 43 (see map: This trail brings you to the Upper and Lower Whiteoak Falls, both spectacular to see; roundtrip is approximately seven miles. Another butt-kicking trail, we found our speed decreased some due to more people being on the trail – a lot more people. If you really want solitude for your hikes, I suggest planning hikes for weekdays versus the weekend. Since this hike involves an 1100 foot elevation change, I felt muscles in my legs, butt, and hips I never knew existed! It was quite a challenge, so I recommend this also for those at an intermediate and advanced fitness level.

Once we finished the Whiteoak Canyon Trail we traveled a little further down Skyline Drive to the Big Meadows area. We parked across from the Big Meadows Lodge, a little past mile marker 51, and hiked the Lewis Falls Trail; round trip is approximately five miles (see map: We packed our own lunch, however, Big Meadows offers a restaurant if you are interested in a sit-down meal. The Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland, and Lewis Cabins (further down Skyline Drive) offer lodging, but when Charlie and I inquired about lodging within Skyland we noticed a sign posted that reservations for 2010 would be taken starting January 3, 2009. Obviously the lodging at the Park is very popular so you will need to plan a couple of years in advance.

The Lewis Falls Trail is a must-see! The Lewis Falls are a splendid sight to see and well worth the precarious hike to get there. The trail map indicates it is a moderate hike, but Charlie and I agree it should be upgraded to a strenuous level as it was a challenge for both of us (speaking mainly of the hike back up the mountain). However, the views from the trail itself are breathtaking making it well worth the muscle soreness and fatigue! We returned via the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail runs throughout the Park so you have the option of picking it up at various locations or hiking it exclusively.

We returned home on Sunday still sore from the hikes, but well-rested nonetheless from a mini-vacation in the great outdoors that soothed our harried minds. For more information on Shenandoah National Park, please visit the National Park website:

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