Approximately one year ago, I invested $80 in the America the Beautiful Pass for a year-long membership to the National Parks from May of 2017 to May of 2018. I was concerned at the time that I would not get the full value of my pass. Let’s see how I did!
As you can see, I used my America the Beautiful Pass for over three times its original value! It would have been even more had I bought the pass at the beginning of May when we visited Colonial Park ($28 in Jamestown and $10 at Yorktown)!
I have loved getting to know the National Parks service better over the last year, and I am looking forward to expanding my journey this year. Thanks for following along with my blog over the last year, and I hope you enjoy the upcoming year!
After an amazing trip last year to Shenandoah National Park, my dad quickly jumped at the opportunity to take a trip to the park again this May. We met up in the same way that we did last year. I took Amtrak from Union Station to Culpeper, VA, which is about an hour away from Shenandoah, where my parents met me. We stopped for lunch at the cafe we found last year, Before & After, before heading into the park for the weekend. There is nothing like a Peach Cream Soda and the mountains to make it feel like summer is just around the corner!
Last year, we stayed in a pet-friendly room at Skyland, but this year we decided to try a pet-friendly room at Big Meadows. Big Meadows is ten miles further south from Skyland, and we went the first weekend Big Meadows opened for the season. Unlike Skyland, Big Meadows does not have a view to the mountains, but we had an upgraded room for a lower price at Big Meadows. We had a small living room with a fireplace adjoining the bedroom with two double beds. The living room had windows all around, and there was a screen door to allow you to keep the door open at all times. There was also a small porch. Big Meadows included a refrigerator with our room, but you are limited to the Big Meadows Lodge Dining Room or the Big Meadows Wayside takeout/dining room if you do not plan to picnic for the weekend. We liked both Skyland and Big Meadows for different reasons, but I would be happy to stay in either lodge again.
I started my hiking adventures at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning with the White Oak Canyon Trail. This hike is 7.3 miles round trip with around 2,000 feet in elevation gain, and it features six waterfalls. I wanted to complete this hike in May to see the waterfalls at their best, and I was not disappointed! The tallest waterfalls range in height from 35 to 68 feet high, and each one is a little different! My favorite waterfall was the first upper fall.
This is one of the more difficult hikes in Shenandoah, and I really enjoyed it. Starting at 8:00 AM from the upper lot, I did not see anyone on the trail until 9:30 AM, and I was the first car in the parking lot. I completed this hike alone with no problems, but if you are hiking alone, you may want to start a bit later in the day to see more people. The trail has two parking lots, and I chose to start at the White Oak Canyon Parking lot on Skyline Drive and to hike down to the lower falls. It took me 3.5 hours round trip to complete this hike, and that included stopping at each set of waterfalls for photographs, enjoying lunch at the lower falls, and waiting for a large group of horses to pass by on one of the horse trails that crosses the trail. While this trail is dog-friendly, at only 10 pounds, Hudson would have had a little trouble on the more difficult parts of this hike.
After enjoying this hike, I headed back to Big Meadows to enjoy lunch with my parents, who had just finished enjoying the Lewis Falls trail with Hudson. We stopped at the Big Meadows Wayside for a lunch of fried chicken, which was the main thing my dad wanted to try on this trip to Shenandoah. He and Hudson both approved of this lunch. After a short nap, we continued on our hiking journey for Saturday.
Last year, we visited both the Hawksbill Summit and Dark Hollow Falls, and we decided to make return visits to both of these locations. Instead of hiking the Hawksbill Gap Loop Trail, this year we went with the slightly shorter Upper Hawksbill trail. This trail is 2.2 miles with an elevation gain of 488 feet, but the journey is far less sceneic than the Loop trail. Hudson hiked 3/4 of this trail by himself, but I carried him up the final ascent because it had a lot of gravel. He arrived at the top to take in the views and watch the hawks.
Pro-Tip: We had this mountain top to ourselves last year when we started the loop hike around 6:00 PM. We loved having it to ourselves, and I would recommend this hike later in the day for that reason.
After our trip to Hawksbill Summit, we decided to visit Dark Hollow Falls via the Rose River Falls fire road. This path is fairly flat and easy to walk along, and it is an enjoyable walk to see the falls. This year, with it being earlier in the season, Dark Hollow Falls has significantly more power than last year.
After our day of hiking, I had clocked in over 30,000 steps on Saturday! But what does one do after a day of hiking in the mountains?
During the evenings on vacations, we have discovered that we really enjoy completing puzzles! We started on this activity while visiting Dewey Beach, DE last year, and we completed an awesome train puzzle that was 1,000 pieces of fun. For our trip to Shenandoah, we did a 500 piece Harper’s Ferry puzzle! As we left Shenandoah, we picked up a National Parks 1,000 piece puzzle that we can work on at the beach this year! The National Parks store had some very cool puzzles if you enjoy puzzles.
As we sadly packed up to leave the next morning, we made the short .4 mile round-trip walk with 60 feet in elevation gain to Blackrock Viewpoint from the Big Meadows lodge, and the final views were a great way to wrap up a weekend in Shenandoah.
With a $25 admission fee to Shenandoah, this brought my total pass value up to $267/$80. As we headed down the mountain on this trip, we already were talking about returning to Shenandoah next year. Thanks for reading!