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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#43 - Rockfish Gap - Appalachian Trail

Autumn. A season that lasts three months, yet such a short window when it comes to enjoying the favorites of the season. Apple _____ (butter, cider, pickin'), the cool of the morning giving way to the warmth of the sun; long shadows and colors, pumpkins.

It seems we have just a few weeks to enjoy these Autumn days. Less than that really, with busy work weeks. "Didn't get to the mountains last weekend? Better go now, you'll miss it!"

That's just what we did this past Sunday. The day was bright and sunny, we had heard the colors were still to be seen (though past peak), so it was now or never to go catch a glimpse of Fall for this year.

We decided to drive out to Rockfish Gap, as there are a number of things to do in the area. We stopped along the way, stretching our legs before getting started.

Knowing there would be crowds, we hoped to find less traffic and our own views along the AT. We mapped out a 5+ mile hike to Glass Hollow - and weren't disappointed as we made our way along.

A beautiful hike as we made it to the overlook. To our surprise, we were the only ones there. We relaxed there for awhile, taking in the views.

Finishing this circuit, we explored other areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, the sun setting lower in the sky, colors changing and shadows beginning to lurk. A marker identified we were 2 million steps from Georgia, 3 million steps to Maine.

We left the Blue Ridge Mountains just as dusk set in. It was later than we'd planned, but decided it didn't matter. It had turned out to be a beautiful day - and our one glimpse of Fall for this year.

Glass Hollow Overlook

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#42 - Bald Cypress Trail - Virginia Beach

Sand dune at Virginia Beach
Not far from the sand dunes of Virginia Beach, there is an oasis that contrasts greatly with the oceanfront and commercialism nearby. Known as the site of the first landing of the Jamestown colonists in 1607, First Landing State Park offers over 20 miles of trails through forest and swamp - with a few surprises along the way.

This is the northernmost point in the United States where Spanish moss flows freely; draped across the bald cypress that thrive in this environment. It is a beautiful, yet eerie, hike back through time. The fresh water here has been used by native Americans, the first colonists, mariners, pirates, and soldiers throughout time.

It was a perfect day to be outside, with colors just beginning to burst, long shadows from the Autumn sun, and salty air from the nearby ocean and bays.

I followed the trail down along the Lynnhaven River, which ties in with Broad Bay. All of this joining where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay.


With saltwater on one side of the trail, freshwater on the other, and color all around, this made for an interesting, beautiful day hike.

I could have gone on and on, but the day was getting ahead of me. Six miles is all I would log. I cut over to the Cape Henry Trail, a multi-use trail for hikers and bikers, to begin my return loop.

Back in my car, I glanced over to the ocean, wondering if those first settlers, short on supply, knew what they had started...

Keep hiking, friends!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#41 - Billy Goat Trail

Lockhouse 16 along the C&O Canal

How can you not love Billy Goat Trail! Located on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, adjacent to the C&O Canal, this trail offers A LOT OF EVERYTHING!

"Section A" of this trail is classic! However, often overlooked, is "Section B" and "Section C". Include the Great Falls overlook at Olmstead Island, and you have ~ 9 miles of some incredible hiking!

For a hike that gets better and better, park at Carderock and start with Billy Goat Trail Section C, moving to B, then A.

Start of Section C

Section C is mostly wooded, running along the rivers edge. A nice, easy trail!

The Potomac River - with a small stream feeding in.
Section C loops back out to the C&O Canal, heading west before ducking back in as Section B. This section has aA few more rocks to navigate with nice views of the river.

C&O Canal looking west

Section B of the trail

This section has a lengthy rock section, this being one portion.

Small Creek Crossing

All of the rain had fallen in the morning. It left a damp, colorful, clean wooded area that started to show the onset of Autumn.

Section A; with its ruggedness, scrambles and views offers a fun hike. To this point I had gone roughly 3.5 miles and was ready to get into this next section. While it is only 1.7 miles in length, they estimate 2 hours to complete. With a photo or two taken, and a short break to enjoy the view, it took me about 1.5 hours to complete this section.

Section A of the trail starts from the Canal area and immediately heads down to the river area.
Some of the initial scrambles...

At this stage, you work your way from blue blaze to blue blaze...
A stream crossing as you cut inland working your way further up river

Up and down, as you climb following the maze of blue blaze

Colors and views abound...

Hands and feet required.

 I find it difficult to show scale in some instances, particularly ascents and descents. The most challenging descent (or ascent coming from the opposite direction) along Billy Goat Trail is this 40ft rock ledge.
40ft descent...

Down I go!
Looking up...

Upward from near the bottom

Great Falls National Park is just across the river in Virginia.
Once you finish Billy Goat Trail you continue up along the C&O Canal to the Great Falls Overlook on Olmstead Island. While it makes for a long hike, it's worth the additional mileage.

Great Falls
But the treat, after a long, sometimes strenuous hike, is the walk back along the C&O Canal. No more twisting, climbing trails to hike, just enjoy the solitude and beauty as you log the 4 miles or so back.

Keep Hiking, Friends!