National Park Access Free

2014 National Park "Free Entry" Dates!! January 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 15-17th Presidents Day weekend; April 19-20th opening weekend of National Park Week; August 25th National Park Service Birthday; September 27th National Public Lands Day; November 11th Veterans Day

Saturday, June 28, 2014

#25 - North Valley Trail to Quantico Falls

Blackberries along the North Valley Trail

Yesterday was a special hike for a number of reasons. It was Friday, and I was able to get an evening hike in, which I always enjoy. It was hike number twenty-five, which gets me halfway to this year's goal. I hiked Prince William Forest Park, which is my local favorite. But most of all, my daughter Sarah joined me, and it was wonderful to share the time as we covered a beautiful five miles.

North Valley Trail provides for a great hike along the South Fork of Quantico Creek, joining with the North Fork a mile or so downstream. It's beautifully wooded, there is normally some wildlife to see, and during various times of the year different flora is in bloom. Today, blackberries were just ripening, bringing back memories of picking blackberries as a kid to have with vanilla ice cream or simply in a bowl with condensed milk.

North Valley Trail

North Valley Trail
North Valley Trail
There is a lot to see along the trail, with the waters edge nearby, the landscape from rock to woods, and remnants of an abandoned pyrite mine that existed here from 1889-1920. After we joined up with the North Fork, a summer rain passed through. We were nearly fully protected from the rain by the forest of trees. We stopped, waited out the passing shower and listened as a heavy rain pelted the canopy of leaves. Life in the forest.

We made it to the Falls. With the rocks wet, we decided against venturing out on them too much and took in our view from the top. 

Top of Quantico Falls

Riley at Quantico Falls
Quantico Falls was our destination and our turnaround point, but today's hike was more about the journey. A father, daughter, a summer rain... and of course, the family dog.

Sarah came home from New York City four weeks ago and leaves for Seattle four weeks from now. I'm happy for her and proud for her. She said she'll be hiking in the Seattle area and other parts of Washington State. I can't imagine the beauty she'll see. I hope I'll get a chance to go hike with her.

Thanks for making this a great hike, Sarah!
See you on the trails!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

#24 - Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail


Rails to Trails! The effort is gaining more and more "steam" across the country, and seems such a natural and historic way to create more trails for hiking, biking and other activities.

One railway that has partially transitioned to a trail is the Dahlgren leg of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. At 15.7 miles in length, the trail offers a scenic hike through rural areas of King George County.

My hiking partner at the start of the hike!
We planned today's hike to correspond with a picnic area dedication at the trail, which brought out enthusiasts from the local area. One person we had the pleasure to meet was Don, a member of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Historical Society. Don brought out a Pump Car and allowed us to take it for a spin on the .6 mile length of track.

However, the name of today's game was to get a nice hike in, and Bonnie and I covered six miles of the trail today.

Along the rails - the first .6 mile of trail

One of the local farms we passed - with corn needing more time

One of the many ponds and streams along the way
Within the first couple of miles, we were quite surprised how much the trail changed. From farmland to forest, narrow to wide, pine to hardwood. One thing that was consistent was how flat and straight the trail remained.

Interesting changes continued as we came across an area where some type of vine seemed to be taking over everything on the trail. We noticed it was growing across the trail to make one web of vegetation covering everything in sight.

While we only covered a portion of the trail today, we plan to be back to finish the complete leg. I was happy to be able to do my first rail to trail hike!

Our journey on the Pump Car? We hooked up with some help and took off down the line! Quite a smooth ride!

Keep hiking, friends!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

#23 - Harpers Ferry to Loudoun Heights - National Trails Day

Harpers Ferry from Loudoun Heights Overlook
Harpers Ferry is one of my favorite places. It seems there is so much to do there! It's certainly a great place for a hike, and yesterday, being a picture perfect day, everyone there seemed to be having a great time; whether in town, on the river, or on the trails.

I went there to get a good hike in, celebrate National Trails Day, and check out the Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival. I had mapped out a 10 mile hike, to the Loudoun Heights Overlook, and spent the day enjoying a great hike and the days activities.

I started my hike moving along the Shenandoah side of town, exploring Virginius Island.

Harpers Ferry - toward Virginius Island

Along the Shenandoah
Harpers Ferry from the South
From there, it was to the Appalachian Trail - which would lead me to Loudoun Heights. I headed south on the AT, which runs along the span of the bridge that crosses the Shenandoah River.

AT Bridge Crossing

AT Bridge Crossing
Once across the river, the trail starts off innocently enough. However, with its incline and distance the trail is rated as difficult - and I found this to be true.

Appalachian Trail South

Appalachian Trail South
Appalachian Trail South

Up, up you go as you work your way to the Loudoun Heights trail head. The scenery is beautiful; the trees shading you from direct sun.

At about the two mile mark, you veer off the AT onto Loudoun Heights trail. I really enjoyed this portion of the hike, as the incline subsided, the trail became more narrow, and there was beautiful scenery all along the way.

Loudoun Heights Trail to Overlook
Loudoun Heights Trail to Overlook

Loudoun Heights Trail to Overlook
Loudoun Heights Trail to Overlook
After a couple of hours hiking, I arrived at the Overlook. What a spectacular view! A perfect place to sit for awhile, watching people on the river go by, trains going in each direction, the confluence of the two rivers, with the town sitting snugly in between.

First Look
It's wonderful, the things you see in a day at Harpers Ferry. The wildlife, rock formations, people out enjoying themselves, the rivers, the Appalachian Trail, and C&O Canal. Perfect for a day hike - and more if you've got the gear.


The day's hike over, the touring of town done, I made my way over to the Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival for a cold beer, a camp chair, and some music. The end to a perfect day.


Keep hiking, friends!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

#22 - Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

Part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
Week after week, hiking has become a means to enjoy the outdoors, rid the stress of the week, and simply enjoy the experiences that are offered through natural beauty, wildlife, and history. It is uplifting and, on most occasions, leaves you feeling stronger, refreshed, and clear of mind.

But every once in awhile, it has a different effect. Instead of clearing the mind, it gives you more to consider, and causes you to pause. This was the case with the battlefield I visited today.

Assault at Muleshoe Salient
It was a beautiful day. I went to the battlefield simply to cover the 7 mile loop the area provided. Upon parking at the exhibit shelter, I started reading about the battle here in Spotsylvania, the Mule Shoe, the "bloody angle", the desperate hand-to-hand fighting. It slowed my pace. As I moved along, I stayed on the trail in respect for those who laid dead or dying in these fields. 32,000 in all.

It seemed appropriate the stillness of the area. The only sounds were those of the breeze through the tree tops. Most of the fields were covered with wildflowers and plant life, made fertile in part, I assumed, by the large amount of blood shed here. Butterflies flew from flower to flower.

There were remnants of farm houses, overrun by both Union and Confederate forces - the occupants lucky to escape with their lives.

Willis and Lucy Landrum's Farmhouse - at the edge of the battlefield
Landrum Farmhouse - two chimney's remain

Harrison Farmhouse
McCoull Farmhouse
The trails led me across fields, through woods, over rolling hills and grassy knolls. It was the last leg of the hike that took me to the first battle of Spotsylvania. On Laurel Hill. Union soldiers from Maryland were the first to attack here.

To Laurel Hill
Laurel Hill
A marker for the Maryland Brigade - first Union forces to assault Spotsylvania defenses
Laurel Hill
I finished up my hike feeling I had relived many of the events that happened here between May 8th - May 21st, 1864. I could not get over the fields. Lush green, abundant growth. No sounds but the trees blowing in the wind, birds chirping.

Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield is a great place to spend a half day, with a 7 mile loop. Plan to go at a slower pace.

Keep hiking, friends!