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Viewpoints, Waterfalls, FOLIAGE! Our Fall Visit to Shenandoah National Park, VA

October 22, 2015

 

Can you stand this weather? This marvelous sunshine and warmth is making me wish fall were here to stay…

 

With peak foliage upon us, we took a quick trip down to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia last weekend to take in the ephemeral colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

With Skyline Drive winding throughout this long and narrow park, you will be bombarded with viewpoints and 3000’+ mountaintops (the highest being Hawksbill at 4051’) all along your journey. Since it was a peak fall weekend, we were also bombarded with lots of people making the park seem a little smaller than usual. Generally speaking, don’t expect to get much peace and quiet until you hike farther away from Skyline Drive.

 

Populace aside, this park was quite scenic and reminded me of the Catskills in terms of topography and rolling hillsides…but that’s just this Yankee’s opinion ;)

With only one full day to take in this long and narrow park, we chose our battles wisely, first conquering a ridgeline on a mountaintop and then surveying an 89’ waterfall in a ravine. Not too shabby!

Our first stop was Bearfence Mountain, which featured a rock scramble along a ridgeline offering a 360º viewpoint within the span of 1.1 miles, including a quick stint along the Appalachian Trail. Talk about instant gratification! The scramble was super fun and the view was superb, but due to this hike’s shortness and accessibility, it was also ::cough cough:: congested.

 

Once we completed this trek, we were eager to reach our second hike of the day. After a quick 15 min journey down Skyline Drive, we arrived at the South River Picnic Area where we connected with the South River Falls Trail. [Map for both Bearfence and South Falls HERE]

 

This 4.7 mile round-trip hike features a wonderful walk down into a ravine along the South River, eventually leading you down to 89’ South River Falls itself. 

 ​Yea, I kinda liked this hike.

 

After passing the initial crowds coming from the parking lot, you’ll meander along the South River until you reach a colorful viewpoint of the falls.

Since this view marks the turnaround point for many at 1.3mi (2.6mi round-trip), you will get some well-deserved solace once you trek onward…yay!

 

Past the viewpoint, you have the option to reach the base of the falls by following a 1.4mi round-trip spur…can you guess what we did?

DUH. Look at how fabulous this falls is! With the setting sunlight illuminating the foliage and the cerulean skies reflecting in its sparkling pools, you can see why this was my favorite part of our trip. We could’ve hung out here for daaays

 

But as the sun was indeed setting, we began trudging our way up the ravine, back along a fire road (which seemed endless…), connecting to the AT once again (obviously we're section hiking ever-so slowly), and ultimately completing the 4.7mi loop at the trailhead. High fives, all around!

 

So with those two hikes, a visit to the Byrd Visitor Center, catching a glimpse of a bear family along Skyline Drive, and having a delicious picnic lunch at South Falls Picnic Area, we had an event-filled day exploring Shenandoah.

While we are aware Old Rag is Shenandoah’s most popular and most EPIC hike, we wanted to avoid it on a peak weekend. It can get extremely ::sniffle cough:: congested (yes, it's still funny), just like Bearfence, only for 9 miles instead of 1.1. Perhaps we’ll make it down there again in the future to tackle its infamy…on a weekday.

But for now, Operation Shenandoah was a success. Time to take in the remainder of the fall season north of the Mason-Dixon line…leaf-peeping, awaaay!

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