When I made the decision to move to Arlington, VA I was most excited for one thing, and that was being close to the mountains. My whole life I have lived in New Orleans where it is very very flat. Below sea level to be exact. In fact, the highest point in New Orleans is this place called Monkey Hill. Monkey Hill is man made hill for kids to play on in Audubon park at this area called “The Fly”. Sure, as a kid it was awesome. We had the levees to run up and down too, but NOTHING beats the mountains.
As a child, my dad took my sister and I on several hiking trips and I fell in love. But hiking was always something I had to travel to do. Plan a whole trip to do. But now? I live two and half hours away from some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the United States. I cannot believe that in two and half hours from my house I can be in Shenandoah National Park.
This past weekend Matt and I took our dog Bear for our very first of many to come hiking trips. It wasn’t the prettiest of days but there was only a 20% chance of rain and we had a free weekend so we went. It was a foggy, misty day, but it felt amazing outside and we never broke a sweat.
We arrived at the park around noon. Yes, I know that it’s kind of late, but we woke up later than we wanted and made the best of it. Honestly, we still had plenty of enough time to explore the park. We entered through the Thornton Gap entrance. It cost $25 to get into the park, but it is worth it. Also, your pass is good for 7 days, so it is a great deal. You can tell they put the money to good use keeping the park clean and maintained. Through this entrance you can either head north or south on Skyline Drive, the main road that runs through the whole park. We headed south because we had done some research beforehand and chose two trails we wanted to do: Rose River and Hawksbill. Since Matt and I live so close, we are trying to come the park at least once a month and eventually explore almost the whole thing.
Our first stop was Hazel Mountain Overlook. It sits at 2770 ft and the view is beautiful. The day started out sunny and eventually became mere foggy. So when we stopped here, we still had a decent view.
Next we headed to Rose River. Rose River is south of Hawksbill, so we decided to start there then head back north to the exit. If you are looking on the map of Shenandoah, Rose River is not clearly marked. You can see the river, but there is no black dot marking the start of the trail. To get to Rose River Trail, park at the Fischers Gap Overlook and walk across the street. You will see a sign guiding you to Rose River. Rose River Loop Trail is 3.7 miles long.
One of the wonderful things about this trail is that it is a loop and you follow along the river almost the whole time. When you get to the entrance, you can either go right or left. It really doesn’t matter because it is a loop and you will end up at the same place. We chose to go right with the sign River Rose (the other way you can start is labeled Horse Trail). Either way you go, you start off going downhill then back uphill.
The first part of the trail is very flat and an easy walk. You are not following the river yet at this point so do not worry, you will get there.
We saw this cool tree and I climbed it for a photo opp.
We stopped for a moment to talk to this older gentleman and he said he saw Black Bear cubs and their mom! So, for the rest of the trip we kept our eyes out. Next, we came across one of the first waterfalls along this trail. It is beautiful.
The trail continues into two different trails. Make sure you take the one that follows the river and is going downhill.
We absolutely loved this trail. We were able to stop off at certain points and we let Bear (our dog) off the leash and let him swim in the river. We stopped a lot to take photos too. It is a very easy trail. There were people every age on this trail, so it is perfect for children or grandparents.
A little less than halfway through the trail you see another amazing waterfall. And it is safe to say Bear really enjoyed the view.
Shortly after we passed this waterfall we saw the Black Bear cubs! They were running up the side of the trail to get away from people. Black Bears call Shenandoah home, as long as you ignore them and keep moving they will ignore you. Bears tend to only attack if they feel threatened. We have a black lab mix named Bear, and we always joke that he is an actual Bear. I’m not gonna lie, our Bear looked very similar to the baby Black Bears, but awe are thankful our dog did not notice the cubs because knowing him he would have wanted to play with them. Unfortunately, we could not capture any pictures of the cubs because they were moving too fast.
For the first half of this trail you are heading downhill following the river. And then you cross this bridge at the halfway point. Once you past this bridge you start to head back uphill to the starting point and you vere off following the river. Shortly after the bridge, we stopped off to have lunch. We found this sitting area you have to walk at about 70 degree angle to get up to it. But it doesn’t go anywhere except to a nice place to sit, listen to the birds sing, and eat some lunch. We packed turkey sandwiches.
After our lunch we headed back on the trail. The trail is clearly marked with blue paint on trees every so often.
The way back was mostly uphill but not a sharp incline, it is still very easy to do. There was a tree that had fallen across the path we had to climb around, but hopefully the park has picked that up. We ended up back where we started and walked back over to our car parked at Fishers Gap Overlook. It was very foggy at this point so the view from the overlook was not that great but I’m sure on a clear day it is beautiful!
We got in our car and started heading back north. We had just enough time to do Hawksbill before we had to start heading home. Hawksbill is the highest peak in the park sitting at 4051 feet. There are two parking lots with two different trails that lead to the peak. You can park at Upper Hawksbill parking and take that trail or you can park at Hawksbill Gap parking at take that trail. We parked at Hawksbill Gap. This trail is moderately difficult only because you are walking at a sharp incline the whole way up. Hawksbill Gap parking sits at 3365 feet and Hawksbill peak sits at 4051 feet, so you are hiking up 686 feet. The trail is beautiful. It was later in the day and was more foggy than when we began our day. But it gave this trail an eerie but magical feel.
The whole way up was hard. Matt and I kept saying to each other how out of shape we were because the whole way up we were huffing and puffing. Bear did not miss a beat though. In fact, we traded off holding his leash because he would help pull us up the mountain. Once we reached the summit, we realized it was probably the worse day to go to Hawksbill because it was so foggy we could not see the view at all. But it was a very rewarding hike and we felt amazing after. This Hawksbill trail is 1.7 miles.
After this hike, we got in our car and headed home. It was an amazing afternoon and we cannot wait to go back to back and try out different trails. Also, we will definitely be hiking Hawksbill again to see that view on a clearer day. It is a quick hike up and down.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our first adventure through Shenandoah. If you would like to see more photographs CLICK HERE.