This weekend we started our epic East Coast 2014 summer road trip. Well, epic for two moms, almost one-year-old twins, and a 4-year-old. On Saturday we traveled to Pennsylvania. It was a long day in the car with one mission – trying to get as close as possible to our first destination – Shenandoah National Park. As it got later in the evening, we pricelined a hotel in the closest city and ended up in Chambersburg with a great room, hot breakfast the next morning, and a Starbucks across the street. Day one – great success.
Yesterday we woke up early, had Belgian waffles and yogurt, stopped at Starbucks for lattes and drove straight to Shenandoah National Park’s North Entrance in Front Royal, Virginia. Within minutes of entering the park, a young deer bounded across the road. Our first stop along Skyline Drive was the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Addie stamped our National Parks Passport, took a picture with a stuffed bear, and convinced us to buy her a t-shirt. She was quite pleased with herself.
We piled back into the car and set out to explore Skyline Drive and the amazing overlooks into the Shenandoah Valley. It wasn’t long before we spotted a black bear cub eating breakfast on the side of the road! It was amazing – she was just ten feet away from the car. We stopped to snap a few pictures from the car window while keeping our eyes out for mama bear. Knowing she probably wasn’t far behind, we didn’t linger.
Our next stop was the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows for a picnic lunch. It was a great opportunity for the kids to get out, stretch their legs, and check out wildflowers.
The sky was rather ominous at this point, so we decided to drive a bit further before hiking. Of course, not long after the sky began to clear and we got some beautiful views from the overlooks!
We parked at the Loft Mountain Information Center with plans to hike in the surrounding area. While Kendra and I packed up the twins, Addie got a great lesson about bumblebees and butterflies from a friendly park volunteer. She was so sweet to Addie, and took time to answer all of her questions.
When Addie was ready to go, we crossed Skyline Drive and started our hike!
Frazier Discovery Trail
Date: August 3, 2014
Distance: 1.58 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 552 feet
Our Hiking Time: 1 hour 12 minutes
Trail Blaze: Blue Rectangles (Frazier Discovery Trail) and White Rectangles (Appalachian Trail)
We opted to go right at the trailhead fork, which led to a moderate climb up a rocky trail lined with blackberry bushes. We snacked on the tasty berries as we walked. Addie discovered a lot of fairy homes (small holes in trees or under rocks) as we hiked. Evan crashed in the Ergo carrier while Kate took in the sites from the Dueter Kid Carrier. (This hike confirmed that we really need a second kid carrier – Evan and I were both sweating with him in the Ergo!) We almost stepped in a big pile of bear scat in the middle of the trail, narrowly avoiding a smelly mess. It was cool to point it out to Addie, and explain how to tell it was from a bear. I am not sure she was really impressed – after all, we were looking at a giant pile of poop.
After about .8 miles, the trail leveled out, turned left and merged with the Appalachian Trail. Almost immediately we came to an outcropping with an incredible view of the surrounding mountains.
We hiked another .2 miles before turning left back onto the Frazier Discovery Trail. There were awesome stone markers at every intersection that clearly marked each trail. As we started our descent, we came to the second outcropping of rock, with another stunning view.
The hike down the trail was beautiful – we walked through groves of trees, made rock cairns for fun, and taught Addie what to do if she ever lost us while hiking. Of course, she then wanted to practice her new skills over and over, so she kept asking us to wait while she hiked ahead out of our site. She cracks me up – brave kid.
The hike turned out to be the perfect combination of difficulty versus reward for Addison. She was proud to have hiked the entire trail on her own, without either of us carrying her at any point. (We really liked that too – she’s getting big and it’s enough work carrying a twin plus gear!)
When we returned to the Loft Mountain Information Center, we rewarded ourselves with ice cream! it was a great way to end our exploration of Shenandoah National Park. The kids fell asleep as Kendra and I admired the beauty of the last 25 miles of Skyline Drive, and pushed onward to South Carolina!
Know Before You Go
Entrance Fees: All entry fees are good for a week. Vehicles: March–November $15; December–February $10. Motorcycles: Year-Round $10. Individuals (on foot/bike): March–November $8; December–February $5.
Hours: Year round, though access to Skyline Drive maybe be closed depending on the weather.
Amenities: There are several places to camp within the park, as well as lodges and cabins that can be reserved. With two visitor’s centers, park goers can learn the history of the park and its inhabitants. There are plenty of places to buy food and souvenirs, public bathrooms, a gas station, and picnic grounds.
Directions to the Park
There are four entrances/exits to the park. We chose to enter through the north entrance at Fort Royal, and exit through the south entrance at Rockfish Gap.
To North Entrance – Travel on Interstate 66 to Front Royal, Virginia. Take exit onto Route 340 South and follow signs for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
To South Entrance – Travel on Interstate 64 to exit 99 and follow signs to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
To Thornton Gap Entrance – Travel on Interstate 66 to exit 43A. Take US Highway 29 South to Warrenton, Virginia (11 miles). Take US Highway 211 West to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive (28 miles).
To Swift Run Gap Entrance – Travel on Interstate 64 to Charlottesville, Virginia. Take exit to US Highway 29 North (14 miles). Turn left onto US Highway 33 West and follow 14 miles to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.