June 6, 2016

Hiking Near Big Meadows: Rapidan, Stony Mountain, and AT Segment - Shenandoah National Park (Apr. 2016 - VA)

Trails near Big Meadows Campground
Shenandoah National Park, VA. Milepost 51 on Skyline Drive.

April 16, 2016
Campground: 38.528538, -78.438684
Sunny and warm (in mid-April!), 70-80 degrees
Photos: my OnePlus One phone

The final post of my recent trip to Shenandoah concludes with the string of trails we hiked near our campground. When staying at any campground at Shenandoah National Park, a number of trails splinter off in any direction for your enjoyment. In addition, most trails can find their way back to the Appalachian Trail. Starting at the campground, we hiked a loop of trails that took us back to our tent in time for dinner. This trek had a signficant of early elevation loss, with us gaining it back at the last few miles of the trail. Take a trip with me as I share photos and the story of our route!

Big Meadows Campground --> Story of the Forest Trail --> Rapidan Fire Road --> Stony Mountain Trail (Wilderness) --> Rose River Fire Road --> Appalachian Trail at Fisher's Gap Outlook --> Campground

Story of the Forest Trail

I didn't take many photos of the trail out of camp. This trail leads to the visitor center, where we grabbed a bite to eat and finalized our plan for the trail set.

Planning hiking routes next to Big Meadows

My buddy Templeton led a good portion of the hike as I stuck behind and snapped probably too many photos.


Rapidan Fire Road

Rapidan Fire Road starts right off of Skyline Drive in front of the visitor center at Big Meadows. This path also allows visitors to instantly see the namesake of the area, the big meadows around which the road wraps.

Big Meadows Panorama View



The Civilian Conservation Corps worked this area heavily in the 30s. The fields continue to be maintained by park staff. As it was April, much of the field was either controlled burned or cut down, waiting to come back to life in the later spring.


Survey markers were visible in the field as we hiked the road. We had to investigate, but they were pretty boring and nondescript.


Once we cleared past the meadows, we walked along a steadily descending road with a steep drop-off on one side. Rows of trees stood guard as we marched along the center path.





Beautiful rock formations also snagged up and out, treating visitors to well-defined features. Colorful lichens hugged these rocks tightly as last year's leaves laid restless, blowing in the wind.





A ruffed grouse surprised us as we approached a set of rocks. It was quick, but I was able to snap a couple of photos with my max digital zoom. Equipped only with my camera on my phone, I wasn't having much luck getting high quality shots, but they were good enough for my memories.


Eventually, the treeline betrayed what its tight guard was hiding, allowing us to see the giants in the background over the cliffs. Suddenly, our path was put into perspective as we observed the majesty of the Blue Ridge.


Some deer joined our hiking party for a while. They were munching on the few green things on the ground that we could see as spring had yet found its way to the forest.


Despite all the brown tones, there were some trickling streams and patches of soggy soil. Some plants helped create a contrast of color in these areas. They huddled together to bring some green to the earthy hues. Some wildflowers even bloomed along the trail where the water moistened the earth.



At a sharp bend in the Rapidan Fire Road, the Stony Mountain Trailhead met us for our first spur to a new path.

Stony Mountain Trail - Our Official Wilderness Segment

We crossed a small wet patch as we crossed from Rapidan Fire Road over to Stony Mountain Trail. It appears a creek may be more of a prominent force here later on at other points of the year. However, for now, it was a home to many butterflies looking for a drink of water and some wildflowers that found some solace in the sun and soggy dirt.

There are some butterflies/moths here, honest! Look closely




After a very brief climb at the trailhead, the Stony Mountain Trail immediately lost elevation as we left the Rapidan Trail.




The rough path was our only stretch through formal wilderness at Shenandoah. I found the path well maintained, as trees of all sizes said hello with their many outstretched arms as we walked by.


We reached this point where some gorgeous broadleafed green plants were growing on an incline. A source of water at the top of the hill drenched the ground, allowing these guys to grow together and give a splash of color in the brown wilderness.


These green plants (which I have not identified yet) provided a nice compliment to the lichen-covered mossrocks up the hill.


Rocky terrain and big pits filled with leaves were the mainstays of this wilderness trek. It was a nice escape from the nicely manicured gravel stretches we had seen previously. We needed some wilderness. It's Shenandoah!


This wasn't true wilderness, though, as the path had been worked by trail crews.


Rose River Fire Road and Dark Hollow Falls

Our Stony Mountain excursion was short, only a little over a mile. We met up with Rose River Fire Road, which was almost entirely an incline back up to Skyline Drive.



The green and brown mossy road almost looked like a wilderness racetrack, as if deer and bears hosted their own circuits when people go to bed.


The sun blanketed us with its warmth, and water was getting low. We appreciated the nice weather after winter, but the uphill does get to you after a while and occasional breaks become your friend.


We finally met up with the Dark Hollow Falls. Rose River Fire Road runs right into the base of the falls, where many other adventurers visited and took a break near the refreshing brook.



I sat for a while and admired the falls as I filled my nalgene with my water filter. I gave a clinic to some of the passersby on water filtration, how the filters work, and why you filter water even in the high wilderness. It was a good chance to meet some of the other hikers enjoying the trails close to camp. Some fellas even fished downstream.


I sat at the base of the falls next to a sturdy bridge that allowed the creek to run under the fire road.


The falls run much higher, as Templeton went to explore its higher features. I took a moment to check the map while listening to water hitting rock as it flowed past my boots.




After our break at the falls, we hiked the remainder of the fire road up to Skyline Drive, almost entirely up the whole way back to the road.


Appalachian Trail Segment at Fisher's Gap

Our final segment was a small chunk of the AT back to camp. The small, silver-blazed trail was calm at first, as we enjoyed the scenic grandeur of Fisher's Gap Overlook. At the end of our afternoon hike, this was a prize well earned. I can only imagine how the AT thru-hikers feel every time they come upon a majestic view.




We studied an AT marker we happened upon. Its silver markings guide park goers and thru-hikers mostly parallel to Skyline Drive. I would love to return here soon and do the full 105 miles of the AT thru the park.


While hiking in my alma mater shirt, I brought the love of Oregon mountains to Shenandoah. I'd say it passed the test.



Our quiet trail turned angry, as the steepest climb we had yet to face greeted us in the final mile. We gained many hundred feet in that last stretch as the sun beamed its evening rays on our foreheads.




Green linings made the trail a pretty one. Sporadic evergreens gave us some emerald hues amid the thousands of bare branches visible in any direction.



Throughout the whole trip, crags spiked out, as if they were wanting to form new mountains on their own for AT hikers to challenge.


The campground was connected to this portion of the AT at the top of the hill, so we proceeded home to make dinner. #nomnom




Note: The image below is a slideshow. Tap or hover to get slideshow controls. Or visit the Flickr album.
Hikes at Shenandoah NP (VA)

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