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!
Cacia and I successfully made it to Manassas National Battlefield Park on a chilly and windy Sunday in April. Throughout our year-long journey of visiting the National Parks, we have become very aware that battlefields are not our favorite kinds of parks to visit. However, since Manassas is just a short drive away from DC, we did our diligence and took a trip out to the park. Unlike many other national battlefields, this one is free.
We made our first stop at the Henry House Visitor’s Center to get a stamp for Cacia’s passport and to pick up a map so we could take the driving tour. On a nicer day, it would be fun to travel the walking path around the battlefield, but on a fifty degree day it was a little chilly. The walking paths are dog-friendly, and there are plenty of trails throughout the park for a furry friend to enjoy.
After wandering a bit around this part of the park, we jumped in the car to head down to the Stone House. The house was closed because a volunteer missed their shift, but a park ranger happened to come by to do maintenance so we got to see the inside of the house. This house was similar to the Robert E. Lee Memorial House in Arlington Cemetery or the houses in Harper’s Ferry. The Stone House was used as a hospital during the battle, and you can see where two soldiers scratched their names into the plaster. It was an interesting house to visit and even had its own stamp for Cacia’s passport.
After visiting the Henry House and Old Stone House, Cacia and I began the battlefield driving tour. Compared to other battlefields we have visited this year, this driving tour was marked particularly poorly. If you don’t have a map, you will not be able to follow the tour. It jumps back and forth quite a bit, and the final three stops were all very far from each other. While it was a pretty and sunny day to drive around the battlefield, I would prefer to do more of the walking trails and maybe not see all of the park next time.
That’s it for this week! I’m currently enjoying Shenandoah National Park with the one and only Hudson dog, and I am looking forward to more National parks adventures throughout the summer.
After a cold March and a cold beginning to April, I was so thrilled by the two days of 80 degree weather that we had a few weeks ago! Desperate to continue on my National Parks journey, I convinced a friend that we should take a day to go hiking in Maryland, and we ended up at Catoctin Mountain Park.
After stopping quickly in the Visitor’s Center to grab a map, fill our water bottles, and go to the bathroom, we started along the Wolf Rock & Chimney Rock Trail. This trail is 3.2 miles with a little elevation gain and a fairly rocky path. We chose to follow the loop to see Chimney Rock first, and the first part of the trail was much more rocky than the second part. While this hike is rated as strenuous, I would place it more on the easier side of moderate.
The path to Chimney Rock follows along a road for the first part of the trail, but it eventually turns up the hill. This trail definitely has many hikers on a nice day, but we still were fortunate enough to enjoy a peaceful hike. We stopped at the Weis Market near the highway exit for the park to purchase a lunch of sandwiches, chips, and blueberries, and we enjoyed them from the Chimney Rock outlook. I would highly recommend packing a picnic, but make sure to take all of your trash with you.
After stopping at Chimney Rock, we continued on to Wolf Rock. Wolf Rock, unlike Chimney Rock, is not an outlook. It’s a unique rock formation that you can climb along. It’s not quite scrambling, but the formation is about 80 yards long if you enjoy climbing along rocks.
Once we completed the hike, we stopped back in the Visitor’s Center to refill our water bottles and check out the exhibit room. The room was fairly small and mostly displayed furs for you to touch and a taxidermy exhibit. Outside of the exhibit room is also a small gift stop area where you can stamp your passport and stock up on souvenirs.
Before stopping at Catoctin Mountain Park, we did a small hike in Cunningham Falls State Park, combining the Cunningham Falls Upper Trail and Lower Trail to make a trip to a small waterfall. There is also a small man-made pond to enjoy by the parking lot. This state park is $3 to visit and is next to Catoctin Mountain Park, which is free to visit. If you make the trip to one, you should make the trip to both!
Next weekend, my blog will feature a post for Manassas National Battlefield, and I will be enjoying Shenandoah National Park with Hudson the Poma-Poo and his parents.
May 31 will mark the end of my year with the America the Beautiful National Parks pass. I’m looking forward to sharing the value of my pass with you in a few weeks! Thank you for continuing to read my blog!
With a heavy visit to the Johnstown Flood Memorial an hour earlier, Cacia and I came to the Flight 93 Memorial for the final leg in our southwestern and central Pennsylvania parks trip. This memorial is in the center of a quiet field, and it is still being completed.
The visitors center for the Flight 93 memorial is down a path from the parking lot and bathrooms. There are walls blocking the visitors center from the view, but you can walk in and see the exhibits and a look out to the field where Flight 93 crashed.
The museum and exhibits inside this visitors center are nothing short of haunting. Realizing that the terrorists only looked for cross-country flights (more fuel to burn) with a small number of passengers (less chance of being overpowered) was one of the scarier things to understand, and seeing the few remnants from the crash left me feeling very unnerved. I could not bring myself to listen to the voicemails left by the passengers on Flight 93 to family and loved ones, and there were many harrowing stories in writing as well. The exhibits are incredibly well-done and educational, but it was a difficult visit. Only families of the passengers on Flight 93 are allowed to visit the crash site, which seems like an appropriate way to keep this memorial.
Currently, the memorial is working to add the “Tower of Voices,” which will be a 93 feet tall tower that holds 40 wind chimes. There is no definitive date for this addition at this time, but it should be a beautiful tribute.
You may have noticed that I did not include any pictures in this blog, and that was because I just could not take any. This memorial is so powerful and dark, and I never thought about pulling out a camera until we saw a group of 100 tourists taking selfies. It felt insensitive to even consider taking photos here so I did not. This is something to see in person, even if it is very difficult to take it all in.
This blog marks the end of this southwestern and central Pennsylvania trip. While we will still need to make a trip back to see Friendship Hill, we had an overall fun trip to continue filling Cacia’s passport. Thanks for reading!
After our morning stop at the Allegheny Portage Railroad, the Johnstown Flood memorial visit in the afternoon was a much heavier visit.
The visitors center for the Johnstown Flood memorial is a two floor museum that also has a theater with a video about the flood. The museum is centered around an uprooted tree that is supposed to give realistic scale of the damage.
The first floor of the museum is full of pictures of the damage from the flood and a narrative journey of the dam failing. While the rich capitalists who visited the area were aware of the likely failure of the dam, the citizens of Johnstown were less aware of how real the threat of failure was. With over 2,000 people dying in the flood, and other floods in later years, it is a very sad and difficult museum to visit.
As a small child, I remember watching a PBS documentary on the Johnstown Flood, and I distinctly remember the narrator talking about running out of coffins, particularly for children. This museum is packed full of heart-breaking facts like this, and it was really a lot to think about.
The visitors center overlooks the location where the dam failed, and you can exit out to this area from the first floor of the visitors center. While we only walked along the outside near the visitors center, one can choose to walk closer to the dam area if interested.
While this memorial is a very heavy visit, the even heavier Flight 93 memorial is not too far from the Johnstown Flood memorial, and we made a stop at the Flight 93 memorial later in the afternoon. I will post about the Flight 93 Memorial next week.
After visiting Fort Necessity and making a few other stops, Cacia and I picked up the next morning with a trip to Allegheny Portage Railroad. This train connected Philadelphia and Pittsburgh together, while avoiding the mountains, with a mixture of canals and railroad track.
The visitors center housed an amphitheater and exhibit area, but the theater did not have any videos to watch during our visit. The exhibits focused on the expansion of the canals and the way the portage railroad worked. There was also a focus on what life was like in America during this time. Unlike our visit to Steamtown, this park focuses on what the railroad once was, and we did not see any trains except for the model one below.
While we would have loved to visit this park in warmer weather, we were incredibly disappointed that the paths to the Engine House and Lemon House were not shoveled, and there was about 4-6 inches of snow on the path to see these areas. At the end of March, it is no longer winter, and there was no warning online that these areas were closed. If you want to see this area, you may need to wait for a summer visit. If you do come in the summer, there are some dog-friendly paths to walk along.
After visiting here, Cacia and I drove to the Johnstown Flood Memorial next, which was a not too far away. Tune in next week to learn more about that.