Category Archives: Hikes

Bear Church Rock

IMG_3033I had an early start to the trail since the weather was going to deteriorate as the day went along.  I arrived at the trailhead around 8:15 and prepared to make the four mile climb.  I was the only one there and I figured that the impending weather would keep the trail pretty desolate.  I left the parking area and headed along the Rapidan River Trail for a half a mile.  The trail was nearly flat and offered nice views of the rapids caused by the churning Rapidan.

IMG_2926I reached the Staunton River Trail and began a steeper ascent.  Continue reading

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White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run

This is a cross-post with EveryTrail.com. See all of Keith’s EveryTrail hikes there.

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It was a cold day with intermittent rain and snow showers, but it was a great day to hike White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run.  The original plan was to hike Bear Church Rock, but we could not see the mountain summits through the clouds and decided on a hike that did not depend on better weather.

IMG_2749smallThe trail snakes its way up to the first of six major waterfalls fairly quickly.  Waterfall #1 (about 60 feet high) had streams of ice along the fall and the water plunged into a frozen pool of water at its Continue reading

A Cold Day on Elliott Knob

This is a cross-post with EveryTrail.com. See all of Keith’s EveryTrail hikes there.

I headed out on Tuesday to tackle Elliott Knob in Augusta County.  The temperature was a crisp 16 degrees at the start of the hike.  The trail followed some logging roads up the mountainside until the roads gradually turned into a trail as it moved alongside a fast flowing creek.  The creek produced several small waterfalls.

IMG_2500The first fall was about 8 or ten feet high.  The water spilled over the rocks quickly, engulfing several small downed trees.  The trees had icicles hanging from them, truly a beautiful sight. Continue reading

My head was in the clouds…

Another hiking excursion led me just north of Bedford, Virginia to Peaks of Otter. Peaks of Otter is one of the most popular destinations along the Blue Ridge due to the great views from several peaks, a mountain lake and a small waterfall. I was ambitious and decided to hike the Sharp Top Trail and the Flat Top Trail in a single day.

I arrived at the parking lot at 07:45 and began my hike. Notice below the picture of the parking lot upon my return at 12:45.

I began a steep ascent toward the peak. The leaves were vibrant colors and I was expecting some great photo opportunities. The trail was flatter in a few (very short) spots, but the majority of the rocky trail sloped upward at a steep pitch. The views began to change about a third of the way up.
The trail became foggy. A little at first, but then increasing at points to very short visibility. It may be a misnomer to call it fog, since it was actually the clouds that were settling onto the peak.

A little cloudy at first.

Then, a little thicker.

The cloud obstructed all views, including this view about half way up the trail.

I observed a deer just before the trail split near the top. I had surprised the deer (and she surprised me too) due to the low visibility. She scampered off before I could get a photograph.

I headed over to Buzzard’s Roost when I arrived at the split. The Roost would provide excellent views, if I wasn’t in the clouds.

I realized the futility of looking at the views so I decided to head toward the other point of interest on this hike while I waited for the clouds to lift. On February 2, 1943, a B25D Mitchell Bomber crashed into the side of Sharp Top Mountain killing all five crewmen. The plane was never removed from its remote resting place and a plaque was placed there several years ago. The bomber is off trail, but I had the GPS coordinates (or I thought I did). The GPS coordinates led me to a steep sloped rock that definitely did not contain a plaque or any wreckage. I snaked my way through trees and boulders trying to find the wreckage but was unable to locate any. I gave up and started to climb back toward the trail, noticing a nicely worn and sloped area that seemed almost like a trail. Every so many trees a yellow or orange ribbon appeared. On a hunch, I followed the ribbons back down the mountain slope and was led directly to the wreckage.

The wreckage was a sober reminder of the carnage of the Second World War. I thank God for these men who gave their lives for our country. The wreckage was badly decayed (due to the crash and 70 years of deterioration) but I could see the front of the engine (where the propellers would mount), part of a wing and the tail section.


After spending a few minutes praying for our troops, I began the climb back up to the trail. The climb is steep and was slick due to the wet leaves and rocks.

I made it to the trail and proceeded on to Sharp Top Summit. This section of the trail was steep (as is every part of this hike). Finally, I arrived at the summit. The summit is amazing! A large shelter rests on the summit. Steps and viewing platforms make the summit a great place to view the area below. Some areas of the summit offer a 360 degree view. Unfortunately, visibility had fallen to about 80 feet. This greatly limited my view.

This is a view facing north just below the summit, overlooking the gorgeous orange and yellow leaves surrounding the mountain lake.

This is me at the summit, with the autumn leaves behind me (trust me, they are there).

Here I am posing with the Sharp Top sign next to the shelter.

Turtle Rock stands 80 feet ahead, just on the other side of the shelter (it’s right past the shelter chimney, trust me). I know that Turtle Rock was only 80 feet away because a bronze marker in front of me told me so. I had to take their word for it because I couldn’t really make it out.

I climbed back down the mountain after waiting for 45 minutes for the weather to clear. The weather did change: it got colder, windier and cloudier. I decided to fore go the climb to Flat Rock, since I wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. All in all, I had fun, but I can’t wait to go back to see what I missed when I had my head in the clouds…

Sharp Top Trail (and off trail to crash site): 4 miles, 2,340 foot of elevation change

Mount Rogers


We woke early and ate breakfast so we could get Mount Rogers early.  The hike was to celebrate our wedding anniversary.   Katherine was excited about the hike, especially the wild ponies that are said to be plentiful along the trail.  But I knew a thirty percent chance of showers might dampen her spirit.

Several short showers drenched our hour ride to Mount Rogers, damping Katherine’s spirit about the hike we were partaking in.  When we arrived at the Grayson Highlands State Park, we searched for a bathroom before hitting the trail.  We found a nice viewing platform at a picnic area at the far end of the park near the visitor center.  After taking a few pictures there and using the bathrooms, we finally arrived at the Massie Parking Lot.

The clouds looked menacing and the temperature was quite cool (46 degrees) while I put on my hiking shoes and loaded my backpack and Katherine collected the camera and its accessories.   I almost forgot our maps (which we would later need), but I returned to the car to retrieve them before we actually hit the trail.  Before we headed up the trail that connects the Massie Parking Lot with the Appalachian Trail, we observed a sign that warned that drastic temperature changes were common on the trail to Mount Rogers.  I thought to myself, “I hope Katherine isn’t freaking out about that sign since it is quite chilly already.”  I think she was…

The connector trail to the AT was short and laden with gorgeous views.  The trail itself was smooth and well-travelled, making it easy to navigate the uphill climb.  We stopped to take dozens of pictures.  The clouds and mountains off to the east made a beautiful view near the top of the connector trail.  Once at the top, the trail merged into the AT.  The AT was very wide and worn.  Alongside the trail were vast open plains with small bushes here and there, perfect for ponies.

But, no ponies we saw.  We were so busy looking for ponies that we missed the sign for the AT.  Now on a different trail that ran parallel to the AT, we were oblivious to the fact that we were about to make another, more serious, wrong turn.

The trail continued through Grayson Highlands State Park toward Jefferson National Forest without a pony to see.  I could see Katherine becoming a little worried that we might not see a pony as we exited the state park.  The trail split into two separate directions.  This seemed odd since I thought the trail would split into four or five directions based upon my map.  We determined that we were about 100 feet from the trail intersection we needed after looking around for a few minutes.

After a short break to wet our whistles, we headed up the Rhododendron Trail.  The Rhododendron Trail runs parallel to the AT and the two meet back together a little less than a mile up the path.  We stopped several times during this section of the trail to take photos from the many scenic spots.  Slight drizzles (lasting less than a few minutes) fell several times on us as we navigated up the trail.  One portion of the trail was completely covered in water, like a shallow lake.  We had to walk off trail to avoid wet feet.  Katherine still did not avoid wet feet.

We merged back with the AT and stayed on it until the half mile spur trail to the summit.  After rejoining the AT, the trail proceeds over a rocky outcropping called Wilber Ridge.  The AT snakes around the side of the rocky knob while the Rhododendron Trail scrambles over the massive boulders.  The rain kept us on the more solid AT, but this section of the AT is not without its fair share of rocky paths, passageways and overhangs.  The trail exits the rocky knob and enters a large field with many small rhododendron bushes.  Once in the mountain top plain, several wild ponies came into view, several of them with foals.  Katherine excitedly pulled out her camera to snap some pictures.  This was the major selling point for the hike.  But as soon as she retrieved her camera from its bag, the rain resumed.  This time the rain was a cold drizzle that was harder than any of the other small showers that we had seen.  Upset that the rain had ruined our photo opportunity, we headed on into the driving rain after taking only a few pictures. The rain was cold.  The temperature had fallen some since we had climbed further up the mountain and were now over a mile above sea level.  The wind, which had also picked up since we were not sheltered by the side of the mountains, was driving the heavy drizzle into our faces.  It was quite cold.  My cheeks were wet and nearing the point of shivering, but we pressed on.

The rain stopped after about five minutes, but the clouds still looked ominous.  We hiked down a small slope and arrived at an intersection where three trails meet.  We took the appropriate trail (the AT) into a wooded area.  Small pine trees, no more than ten feet high, littered the landscape.  The trees slowly started to disappear, revealing dozens of campsites scattered in between the trees.  A few of the camp sites were occupied.  The trees became fewer and fewer as we continued along.

We climbed over a rise and observed three ponies on the path directly in front of us.  One was a foal that was maybe a year old.  Another, the foal’s mother, appeared to be great with child again.  The third, I’m guessing a male, was just off the path munching on grass.  As we approached, the little foal moved away – anxious about our presence.  The foal’s mother ignored us completely and continued to eat along the path’s edge.  The last pony walked up to Katherine and starting sniffing and licking her camera bag.  Katherine was quite excited about the personal encounter with this pony.  We continued on after spending fifteen minutes with her four legged friends.

The path continued for about another mile, passing a shelter that Katherine hoped had bathrooms (it did not), before arriving at the spur trail to the summit.  I warned Katherine that the trail would be steeper here.  We took a short break to eat a snack and started our ascent.  The trail became a stream bed for a small portion of the climb.  Water from the recent rain was flowing down the trail, making it hard to avoid getting wet feet.  But, although the sky still looked menacing, at least it was not raining on us.

The landscape changed to a dense forest filled with tall pines about halfway to the summit.  It felt like we were on an entirely different trail, but we finally arrived at the summit.

The summit had no views (I knew this, Katherine apparently did not).  There was only a small bronze marker placed on the rock that is the summit.  The highest point in Virginia, over 5,700 feet above sea level, was an arduous five mile trek through rain, wind, cold and wild ponies.   We posed for pictures and proceeded back.

We saw that everything had changed when we exited the tree line on Mount Rogers.  The sky, ominous before, had turned to bright blue with a few random puffy clouds.  The sun was bright and almost directly over us.  The hike back would be very different from the hike up.

Retracing our steps, we saw the same friendly ponies that tried to eat Katherine’s camera bag.  We saw the ponies that we could not stop for due to the downpour (but they were a hundred yards off the trail).  We climbed down the AT and saw about 20 more ponies near the entrance to Grayson Highlands State Park.  We paused for several minutes with three of the ponies that were especially close to our trail.  We also saw several ponies off the trail in Grayson Highlands State Park.

We finally arrived back at the car almost seven hours after we left – our legs sore and Katherine’s bladder full.  A great day of hiking.

Big Meadow Trail Loop

Rose River, Dark Hallow and Lewis Falls

9.3 miles, 2500 feet


The hike began behind the Big Meadow Visitor Center on a cold morning in March.  After stopping at  several wide vistas, we began our descent down to Fisher’s Gap.

Fisher’s Gap is the start of the Rose River Loop Trail.  The trail has a gentle slope at the beginning, but steeper grades remain for the sections before and after Rose River Falls.  Rose River Falls (67′) is divided into two falls.  The first fall is about 25 feet high.  After a small pool, the water slides down a trough in the rock ledge the remaining distance.  The lower fall was not very photogenic.The trail continued down for several hundred more feet before leveling out for a couple hundred yards.  The trail became very steep, passing several small cascades before reaching the bottom of the Dark Hallow Falls Trail.

Dark Hallow Falls (70′) is located at the top of a series of falls and cascades that start at the bottom of the trail.  We arrived at the falls after passing several large cascades and falls.  We climbed over the rocks and up to the base of the uttermost part of the falls, taking pictures along the way.

We continued on up the remainder of the trail and to the Big Meadow Visitor Center, where we stopped for lunch.  We headed west through a series of trails until we reached the top of the Lewis Falls Trail.

The trail was extremely steep, with many switchbacks, but we finally arrived at the falls.  Lewis Falls (81′) is located in an area were there are cliffs on all three side of the falls, making a climb to the base basically impossible.  A viewpoint had been built by the park service that provided nice views of the falls.  Standing right above the falls also yielded great views of the Shenandoah Valley.

A steep climb up another trail led us back to our car.  Worn out and tired, we headed home.

South River Falls, Dry Run, Hightop Mountain (2/28/12)

South River Falls (4.4 Miles / 1,420 Feet)

The trail to South River Falls is steep and long, but well worth the hike.  The view of the 83 foot falls was beautiful from the observation point, but they were even more impressive at the base.  The trail continued on for almost another mile to get to the base.  Trying to get the perfect picture, I ran out onto the rocks and found another icy rock.  I slid and almost fell in the river (for the second straight hiking trip).

The climb back up was long and difficult.  After eating a smll lunch, I headed out to Dry Run.

Dry Run (5 Miles / 800 Feet)

The Dry Run fire road passes by the Lost Cliffs.  A short climb off trail leads to spectacular views.  Dry Run also contains several waterfalls, all of which are off trail.  The uppermost falls (about 60 feet high) were a third of a mile off trail.  A large tree was down, blocking the middle of the falls.

Hightop Mountain (4.4 Miles / 940 Feet)

The climb up Hightop Mountain was steep and long, but the view was very good.  The temperature fell and the winds picked up on the summit.  A long day of climbing climaxed with a rush down the mountain so I could head home in time for supper.

Moormans River, Turk Mountain, Little Calf Summit (1/25/12)

Moormans River (3 Miles / 340 Feet)

It was a chilly January morning when I headed out to Shenandoah to hike some trails.  I passed the reservoir and the blacktop disappeared and became smooth dirt.

The smooth dirt road disappeared about a half of a mile before the parking lot.  The road was filled with rocks and icy mud puddles.  I finally made it to my destination and prepared for my three mile hike.  I put on several extra layers since it was 32 degrees.The trail began as rocky as the road.  The trail turned to cross Moormans River a short distance from the parking lot.  I noticed the absence of a large number of rocks suitable for crossing the river.  One foot became drenched as I tried to cross on the small rocks that were there.A very short distance up the trail was another crossing.  This crossing had even less rocks.  I decided it was better to make my way upstream on the opposite bank.  This proved to be quite difficult due to the rock topography so I searched for a place where I could cross.  I found a nice group of rocks and attempted my crossing.  I stepped on the smallest and wettest rock that was in the middle of the river only to discover that the rock was ice covered.  Into the river I fell.  I worked my way back over to the river bank I had come from and followed the river until I found a second set of rocks.  This rocks were bigger and, more importantly, dry.  I maneuvered my way across only to discover that the path crossed the river 20 feet upstream.  Back across the same rocks I went.

I got back on the path, now on my side of the river, and followed it to Big Branch Falls.  Big Branch Falls were pretty impressive.  The trail led to a large boulder at the base of the falls, giving me an unobstructed view of the falls.  The hike back took longer than expected, but I was able to find several placed to cross the river without getting wet. 

Turk Mountain (2.2 Miles / 560 Feet)

The hike to Turk Mountain is listed as fairly easy, but that is not entirely accurate.  The net elevation change is not very great, but the total elevation changes is much more significant.  A pretty good view can be seen just before reaching the summit.  A field of boulders lie next the path and a easy climb onto the rocks yields significant views.The boulder strewn summit yields even better views.  The Shenandoah Valley stretches out to the west while views of Skyline drive can be seen to the east. 

Little Calf Summit (1 Mile / 360 Feet)

Cars parked in a large lot at Beagle Gap made me wonder what is going on there.  So I stopped on my way back from Turk Mountain (and this time no cars there).  I started off through the meadow  when the trail entered a wooded area.  Once in the wooded area, the trail became extremely steep.  About a half mile later I emerged in another meadow with many views.  A sign notified me that this was Little Calf Summit (apparently there is the actual summit a little bit further away). The wind picked up making the 47 degree day feel like 30 degrees.  After taking the necessary photos, I headed back to the car.