Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Within Arlington Cemetery, at the top of a very large hill, exists the Arlington House and Robert E. Lee Memorial.  If you are looking to visit this site, you need to arrive before August of 2017, as the house section is about to close indefinitely!  The house has a few rooms to look at, a small museum for Robert E. Lee and his family, a gift shop, and a small garden.

To get here, get off of the Blue line at Arlington Cemetery, and keep walking toward the large stone staircases and walls you can see directly in front of you.  Make a right, follow the sidewalk to the top of the hill.  You will go up a few hundred steps, about .3 miles, and the Memorial is at the top of the hill.  It is not the easiest thing to find, and we did not see any markers to point you in the correct direction.

Pro-Tip:  As of last fall, Arlington Cemetery stopped being dog-friendly.  You’ll have to leave your favorite companion at home for this one!

I did not take any pictures of this site, but it’s similar to going through a house in Colonial Williamsburg.  It was two floors, and we saw about 7 rooms.  The house stays cool so it’s great on a hot day.  The museum is a small 5-10 minute excursion as well, focusing on the history of the family.  The Lee family fell behind on taxes, and the government took their property, now home to the cemetery.  The site has some great historical information and was worth the trek up many steps.

Around 5:00 PM, all flags are taken down in the park.  We watched this ceremony, which was a nice touch.  The view is also great from the House, and you look out over D.C.

You can also see L’Enfant’s tomb

Thanks for reading my blog!  I’m enjoying my National Parks adventure in the DMV area so far, and I am looking forward to continuing writing more.  You can subscribe for more information or ask comments in the questions below!

Shenandoah National Park

After a long week in the concrete jungle swamp known as Washington, D.C., I was so excited to finally make a return trip to Shenandoah National Park!  I visited Shenandoah in elementary school with my parents, and we drove down part of Skyline Drive.  Now with a 10 pound Pomeranian Poodle in tow, we decided to meet up in the park for a weekend trip.

While I drive, I don’t have a car in the city.  I took Amtrak from Union Station to Culpeper, VA, which is about an hour away from Shenandoah.  There are no rental car places so I did need to be picked up, but the actual park is only 75 miles from D.C.  If you are coming from D.C., Sperryville just outside of the park has some limited food options, and we found a GREAT cafe called Before & After to stop at for lunch.

After lunch, we started up to the park to check in.  We stayed in a pet-friendly room at Skyland, and the view was spectacular.  We had a view right over the mountain and overlooking Luray.  It was great to be centrally located in the park, and I immensely enjoyed leaving technology behind for the weekend. You can stay in rustic rooms, cabins, or camp within the property.  Eating can be a challenge, as the rooms do not have any way to cook, but we managed to make it work for the weekend.

After getting settled into the room, we began our first hike at the Hawksbill Gap Loop.  This trail takes you to the highest point in the park at 4,051 feet, and it’s an easy to moderate 2.9 mile hike.  The views are phenomenal, and we were happy to be the only people at the top.

Hudson and I posing at the Hawksbill summit.  Little dogs can do big things!

Can you believe those little dog legs made it all of the way to the top?  Hudson was such a trooper on our trip!  You can see behind me that there is a compass in the wall at the peak.  The compass labels and points the direction towards the other peaks in the park.  It was very fun to know exactly what we were looking at.  The Hawksbill loop was my favorite hike we did this weekend thanks to the great views from the top.

The next day, we set out to hike the Rose River Trail.  This trail was a little different, as the final viewing points were two waterfalls, not a peak.  This 3.7 mile hike only has an elevation change of 908 feet, but with slippery rocks and some mud, it remained a little more than easy.  We really enjoyed this hike because you are allowed to enter the water, and Hudson enjoyed wandering near the little waterfalls.  The first large waterfall you pass is the Rose River Falls

Rose River Falls

There were also a few butterflies by the Rose River Falls, which made me very happy.  These falls are about 1/3 of the way through the loop hike.  At the near end of the hike, you come to Dark Hollow Falls.  While the Dark Hollow Falls are taller, since they are accessible via a fire road, they are more crowded.

Dark Hollow Falls

While I was ready to keep hiking, my parents were done with the wilderness after this hike.  We spent some time at the Big Meadows Wayside, which was a store and casual restaurant, and we enjoyed some ice cream as a treat after this hike.  We later walked the 2 mile round trip path from the store to the campground so I could check out campsites I would like to try in the future.  (I have never camped so we will see if I manage to pull this off this summer!)  In doing this, we found out that this is one of the big places to stop and watch the sunset!  We didn’t get any pictures that do the sunset justice, but it was beautiful.

In the morning, I decided to finish off my trip with a solo hike on the Stony Man Loop, which went a little awry when I got mixed up and ended up on the Little Stony Man trail somehow instead.  The trail head for the Stony Man Loop starts in Skyland, making it a great quick hike for a first or last day.

View from the Stony Man Loop Trail

By some miracle, I did have enough cell reception to call and get picked up at the other trail head.  I wouldn’t recommend packing a hike in when you are trying to catch a train, but it all worked out in the end!  The views were worth it!

While it was sad to head back down the mountain to the Amtrak station, my parents, Hudson, and I had a great weekend trip to Shenandoah.  With a $25 entrance fee, my National Parks pass proved it’s worth again.  After spending $20 to enter Assateague Island last month and $25 here, I am at $45/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.

Even a little dog like Hudson can have fun hiking and swimming in the Shenandoah National Park.  While I wish the trip could have been longer, we will have to return soon.

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Colonial Park- Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne

My friend and I booked a trip to visit Colonial Williamsburg for three days in May, and based on research and reviews, we assumed that was only enough time to see that. However, thanks to some well timed rain, we ended up with time to see two national parks as well!

My visit to Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne in mid-May inspired me to buy the America the Beautiful Pass, but I didn’t actually have my pass yet for my visit. Nonetheless, I thought it was important to include them since my annual pass journey is from May 2017- May 2018, and maybe longer!

Our first stop was Yorktown Battlefield on Sunday evening, and the park is open until dusk. As the visitors’ center closes at 5:00 PM, we ended up not needing to pay to visit this site. I’m not saying you should avoid contributing to the parks, but we had no way to do so either. There were some things to do in the center, but I can’t speak to them.

Now, I should place a caveat right here: I am not a battlefield person. One time in junior high or elementary school, my father insisted that we go to Gettysburg. It was hot and humid and terrible, and he wanted to walk all of the battlefields. (Dad still talks about this trip.  He liked the battlefields.) To be honest, I don’t really get battlefield sites. I understand the importance of them, but areas like Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne are more my speed.

You drive to the Yorktown visitors center on the Colonial Parkway, which is also part of the National Parks.  (I don’t understand the parkway park thing, but maybe I will figure it out eventually!) After parking in the visitors center parking lot, we stopped at the victory monument, slightly down a path and away from the battlefield and parking lot. It was big.

Yorktown Battlefield Victory Monument

There are two marked driving tours with strong signage and so we spent 3 hours driving through the site. If you are really adventurous, we saw a lot of people biking the trip as well. The driving tour has lots of signs labeling things and explaining what happened where. There was also a small stream to ford across, which was supposed to be educational (It mostly provided comic relief). Some signs were hard to read from weathering, but they were brief and had good information. The wooded areas are so peaceful and beautiful, which is an added bonus.

After a successful evening at the battlefield, we committed to visiting Historic Jamestowne Monday morning. This site is not to be missed, in my opinion, and it should not be confused with the Jamestowne Settlement, which is a pricey private site. The visit to the Historic site is $14, but with a parks pass, it is only $7 (The other $7 goes to a Virginia preservation group.) We had absolutely perfect weather on a sunny 80 degree day. There is limited shade so a spring or fall visit is probably best.

Historic Jamestowne is mostly remnants of some of the first building structures in the United States, but it is just so incredible. While plenty is left to the imagination, there are enough partial structures to keep your visit entertaining and intriguing. There are lots of tours you can join, or you can walk around on your own. As we had just missed a tour, my friend and I just walked the area. When you first walk into the park, you come up to the Tercentennial Monument, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the settlement.

The Miniature Washington Monument… So much for my weekend escape from D.C.

In the middle of the settlement is an active archaeological dig that excavates millions of artifacts, and the team working there still finds new things. The dig was, sadly, not active for our visit, but it was still very cool to see. The museum, which is fairly new, features artifacts that have been found on the dig site. It is exceptionally well done and is included in your $14 admission fee. The museum is not overwhelming and worth your visit, plus there is an entire exhibit on cannibalism. (It was well done but it did creep us out.)

The settlement was built on the water for transportation reasons, but it also makes this site extra beautiful! You can walk along the water, and there is a cafe where you can sit to look out at the water. It’s serene and peaceful.

My favorite part of this trip was meeting Pocahontas. I took a picture with her because I am a millennial and grew up with Disney princesses. So obviously I needed a picture.

Hanging with Pocahontas

To make the trip perfect, the gift shop also proved to be excellent. I buy my parents a magnet for every place I visit, and I successfully found a magnet to add to the collection. My friend also found a really fancy National Parks passport to upgrade from her childhood one, and now we must continue to collect all of the stamps!

Once you are done at the settlement, be sure to jump back in the car to continue towards the glass blowing facility. There are artists actively making things and a little gift shop to make purchases of this handmade art as well. It’s fun and also right on the water.

While this National Parks trip was partially unplanned, I wouldn’t dare recommend someone visit Williamsburg without seeing these sites as well! We had 2.5 days and spent 1.5 days in Colonial Williamsburg, and a half day at each National Park. We saw everything we wanted to see and more in this timeline, and we had great weather too!

If you are looking to make the trip from D.C. (or the greater DMV area) to Williamsburg, you will read a lot of terrifying stories about traffic.  We left at 6:00 AM on Saturday, arrived at the Southern Pancake and Wafflehouse just before 9:00 AM.  Despite eating on our drive in, leaving that early in the morning required some warm food and protein to wake us up on a rainy day.  We were less lucky on the return trip, as we had planned to leave at noon and left closer to 1:30 PM on Monday.  We sat in and extra hour and a half of traffic starting near Lorton, VA on the way back.

This trip can also be done on a tight budget (at least from D.C.)!  For a 2.5 day trip, eating every meal out, splitting a hotel, and buying a Mother’s Day gift, I spent $253 total.  The big expenses were the hotel and Colonial Williamsburg passes ($169 per person).  If you don’t have a friend with a car, Amtrak also stops here, and you can get tickets for as low as $70 round trip from Union Station.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Thank you to everyone who already subscribed and liked this blog! I can’t wait to continue sharing with you. My next post will be for Assateague Island in National Seashore, MD.