I headed out to hike the Doyles Falls and Jones Run trails just before 9 am. About two hours later, I arrived at my destination in Shenandoah National Park. There were no rangers at the south entrance station, just a sign posted on the window to pay as you exited.
I arrived at Brown Gap (near mile post 83) at 10:45 and loaded up for the day’s hike. I had plenty of water and several granola bars. I had googled the weather for Charlottesville and it was going to be 50 degrees. I figured it would only be a few degrees lower since Brown Gap is only 30 or 40 miles away and 1,000 feet higher up. Well, that was my first mistake of the trip. It was 35 degrees. I threw on a light jacket (the only coat that I had in the car) over my sweatshirt for a little added warmth and walked across Skyline Drive to the Brown Gap fire road.
Brown Gap fire road runs 1.9 miles to the Doyles River Trail. It intersects the trail about a third of a mile above the first waterfall. The fire road was wet, there was little mud or puddles. As I started walking, I realized how cold it really was. But I warmed up after about a half mile of hiking. It took only 30 minutes to go down the gently sloping fire road, despite having the climb over or around several downed trees.
I crossed the vehicle bridge over Doyles River and turned right onto the Doyles River Trail. A couple of hikers were resting on a rock near the intersection. I asked “how’s it going?” and they replied “fine” while turning their eyes away from me. I understand, don’t talk to strangers. Heck, I’m wasn’t out there to meet new people. Just thought I’d be nice and say “hi.”
I continued on, not deterred by the hikers who were as frosty as the weather. I forded the river and continued downhill. I took a short break for pictures at a small five foot cascade, drinking some Gatorade and snapping several photos. I continued down the trail, knowing the bigger payoffs were still ahead. I didn’t have to wait long because around the next corner was the first of three major waterfalls.
The Upper Doyles River Falls drop 28 feet into a small pool and then trickles another five feet. We (Katherine, the kids and I) have already hiked to this waterfall. We did not continue further down the trail to the second waterfall only a third of a mile downstream. The waterfall is is a great waterfall for pictures (especially when there are no leaves on the trees) and has a wonderful place to sin and rest. I spent several minutes taking photographs. I worried about falling in as I climbed out over the wet rocks to the middle of the river. The water was icy cold and it would be a long hike back to the car if I fell in.
But I climbed out into the river anyway to snap a few more pictures. As I grabbed my gear, the unfriendly hikers that I had passed came strolling down the hill to the base of the falls. My cue to leave (and I was starting to get cold standing still).
Another third of a mile down the trail was the second of the two main waterfalls on Doyles River. This waterfall plunges 63 feet. The view wasn’t any less picturesque, but the contours of the canyon made picture taking harder. I was able to get several good pictures, but it took a while to find some good vantage points. There were many jagged and wet rocks near the base of the falls, making any attempt to climb out unfeasible.
As the path made a sharp right into Jones Run, a deep chill hit me. On the south side of the path sat a mountain, blocking out the sun. Since Doyles River Canyon was sunny, it was rather comfortable. The the absence of the sun made a huge difference. But that was not the only difference. There were many dead trees strewn about. It was almost as if I had left the green pastures and entered the valley of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23). The trail felt like walking through a graveyard on Halloween night between the first uphill path, bone chilling cold and the presence of such death and devastation. I picked up the pace, as I felt kind of uneasy and uncomfortable. I stopped to take several pictures of a fallen tree that been completely hollowed out. But I quickly moved on and did not linger.
I continued upward, seeing a large cascade of water, probably 100 foot high. Surely this was Jones Run Falls. I couldn’t see a way to get a great picture of the whole cascade, so I snapped a couple from a distance.
But this was not the waterfall. Hiking a hundred feet higher I observed the third major waterfall of the trip. This fall, just like the other two, was fairly easy to get access to. Jones Run Falls plummets 42 feet. I took a rest there and watched the falls. After a bottle of water, several granola bars and about twenty pictures, I headed back up the trail knowing that no other scenic vistas awaited me.
The final leg of the journey gave me the biggest surprise of the day. As I walked along the trail, I heard crunching underneath my feet. Upon further inspection, the crunching was ice from the rainstorm the previous day. It had frozen overnight and had yet to thaw. That’s how cold it was.
I met up with the Appalachian Trail at the top of the Jones Run Trail. 1.3 miles later I was back at the car. The Appalachian Trail offered an excellent view of the area I just hiked. There would have been no view had there been leaves on the trees. You could see the dark shadow from the mountain covering the valley of the shadow of death.
Finally back at the car… I had hiked about 7 miles and 1825 feet of elevation change. The hike took 3:25 minutes. All in all, an excellent hike.