April 3rd – April 6th, 2020
- Trails Hiked:
- Bearfence Mountain Trail (1.4 miles; includes a rock scramble)
- Dark Hollow Falls (1.4 miles; moderate difficulty)
- Mary’s Rock via Panorama (3.7 miles; moderate difficulty)
- Extra Stop:
- Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in West Virginia
**This trip was also an extended photoshoot for Elizabeth, so this post reflects that fact.
Shenandoah National Park is only about 4 hours away from Philadelphia by car, and after the long drive to Montréal in a fully packed car, this drive was pure luxury. It took very little convincing from Elizabeth for this road trip to happen. The conversation basically went like this:
Liz: “I wanna go to Shenandoah this weekend. Are you down?”
Me: “Yeah, why not.”
And two days later we were on our way. We dropped by the Enterprise in South Philly to pick up our rental car and about five minutes into our trip, we decided to take a pit stop at Dunkin’ for coffee and strawberry-frosted donuts even before getting on the highway. Honestly, a great decision.
There’s something about road trips and driving on what feels like an endless stretch of road. On the way there, the weather was beautiful, egging on Elizabeth’s country song blasting and singing. Ask me if I’ve ever heard “Country Roads, Take Me Home” that many times in succession.
Just to preface, we are not promoting going against social-distancing practices during this pandemic time. We rarely interacted with other people, and stayed in Ruckersville, a small town where we were able to keep our distance. Our AirBnb was on a lovely farm and our hosts were just as lovely, coming to our rescue when we somehow locked ourselves out. Also, this was a great way for us to get away from our everyday routines on a very low budget. Not only was the AirBnb only about $30 a night, Liz and I are pretty low maintenance, meaning we were extremely satisfied by canned soup, pasta, and grilled cheeses.
I think we both knew we loved travelling together and that we loved the outdoors, but this trip somehow exceeded all expectations right off the bat. Our first night there, we looked up sunset lookout spots and immediately hiked up to Little Stony Man to watch the sun melt behind the horizon. Easily one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. I mean. Wow. Also, minimal hiking is required to get there.
Maybe it was because neither of us were having a great week previous to the trip. Or maybe because we were in the middle of a quarantine requiring pandemic. Or maybe Shenandoah really is one of America’s natural treasures. Who knows? But sitting on those rocks, with the insanely violent wind, we screamed off the cliffside together.
Pure joy is a rare feeling.
This was a tough moment to top, but the rest of the trip was quite fulfilling as well. Shenandoah National Park is pretty easy to navigate, once you understand that the entire park is basically one long strip. Most of the trailheads are accessible from Skyline Drive, which has several different entrances and trails can be found based on the mile markers they are located on. As we visited during the Covid-19 outbreak, unfortunately, many of the most popular trailheads were actually closed (e.g. Big Run and Cedar Run). Thankfully, the park was putting out constant updates on its website and Instagram page about which parts of the park were actually accessible.
During our time there, we were able to hike the Bearfence Mountain Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, and Mary’s Rock. We both loved Bearfence, since it included a little rock scramble and Mary’s Rock was a medium-length hike with a nice summit. Dark Hollow Falls were beautiful, but frankly, slightly underwhelming and seems to be extremely popular with tourists (even during the pandemic). We planned our hikes with the help of the Shenandoah website and drove our rental car out to each trailhead’s mile marker with bags packed with sandwiches and water bottles.
With so much of the park closed, we also decided to drive to West Virginia (2 hours one way) to spend a single hour hiking at the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. Sort of a random detour, but (I guess) it was worth it. We also got to spend a nice evening in, with wine we had picked up from one of the many local vineyards. Barboursville Vineyard seemed to be a popular option for visitors, so we called in our order and picked up our three bottles of wine.
Bottomline, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone better than Elizabeth to take this trip with. I don’t know anyone who loves hiking or outdoor photoshoots more than she does. Or any other lactose intolerant person who would eat good bad cheesy Mexican food with me (after getting locked out) and then get drunk off lime Coronas and bottles of wine. Definitely a trip for the books, though I’d love to come back to camp, climb, and of course, scream off more cliffs into the summer sunset.