Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mill Creek Nature Park

Normally when I hear the word "nature park," my mind jumps to thoughts of easy dirt walking paths, crying children in strollers, and poorly behaved doodle dogs on flexi leashes.  However, I took a trip to Mill Creek Nature Park at the recommendation of one of the commenters on this blog and was pleasantly surprised.  Although dubbed a "nature park," this system is home to some gorgeous waterfalls, steep trails, and a fantastic single-site campground.  The added bonus?  We didn't see a single other soul while we were there on a quiet winter Sunday.

Although we didn't traverse the entire trail system, the nature park seems to have two separate trail systems; one set of extremely well marked loops (the lower loop was all woods, with no views) and another system that is less well marked, but took us to a campground and some gorgeous waterfalls.  I think that we would have found an overlook if we had wanted to add a few more miles to the hike in the second system.  It's not too far of a drive from Blacksburg either.

You can see a trail map for the second trail system here:

We hiked from the parking area to both waterfalls via the butternut, waterfall, and catwalk trails.  We then retraced our steps to the juncture of the catwalk and waterfall trails, this time continuing on the catwalk trail until reaching the butternut trail and bearing left. The waterfall and catwalk trails were steep, albeit very pretty

We also did the easy lower loop trail which can be seen on a map here:

First waterfall off of the catwalk trail

Casey at the first waterfall

Casey and I at the first waterfall

The second waterfall was tougher to photograph, but this is a bit of it.

Tinker Cliffs - Long Overdue

I'm usually a little bit delayed in posting my hikes, but this is a bit extreme even for me.  I took some friends and colleagues up to Tinker Cliffs back in September and realized that I never posted about our expedition.  It was steeper than I remembered, especially at the steepest part for a few tenths of a mile, but that's likely a direct result of my relatively sedentary desk job that takes up most of my week.  

Group at the top.  

Sarah, Bryan, and Nyko

Casey and I at the peak

Monday, September 11, 2017

Long Point Trail

When I finished my Master's degree in May, Casey's family was kind enough to give me an exceptional graduation gift to send both Casey and I on a whitewater rafting adventure on the New River.  For as much as I love to hike, I'm not a true adventurer at heart and although I was extremely appreciative of the gift, I was more than just a little terrified.  However, I'm also about as frugal as they come and the thought of putting a gift like this to waste was not in the question, so we booked our adventure with ACE adventure resort last weekend.  When we arrived it felt reminiscent of summer camp as a kid.  There was a lake filled with giant, bouncy, water toys, a long gravel road with a grassy camping area at the top, a dining hall, a ping pong table, corn hole, and a big pavilion filled with picnic tables.  The whitewater trip on the lower New turned out to be surprisingly a ton of fun and I made it through the full day without taking a swim (although everyone in our raft did get plenty wet).

In any case, the resort also coincidentally happened to be just down the road from my cousin, so we met up on Sunday and he showed us around.  He took us to Long Point Trail, an easy 3 mile, nearby hike with an astounding view of the New River Gorge Bridge.  Being an amazing naturalist, he was kind enough to help me learn to identify some common plants.  I'm embarrassed to say that for as much as I hike, until yesterday, I couldn't so much as identify a white oak versus a red oak.

View of the New River Gorge Bridge

Casey, Paul, and I at the overlook

A white oak leaf

Chestnut oak leaf

American chestnut tree leaves

Beech tree leaves

White oak bark


Red oak leaf

Elliot Knob

This one is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the little town of Staunton, VA.  Casey and I have found Staunton to be a great place to visit.  It's close to a mid-point between our two homes and such a cute little town.  Before we did this trip, we spent the night in the Old Staunton Inn, an adorable bed and breakfast within walking distance of a winery and some fun places to eat.  Once we had filled up on warm breakfast after our evening about town, we hit the road for this hike.

Elliot knob is a longer day hike, but more than doable in a day for a adult or child of average fitness.  Where it lacks in rock scrambling, it makes up for in a variety of sights.  The hike boasts small waterfalls, a few creek crossings, some scenic views, and a neat old watch tower that at least when we were there had a wide-open gate and no signs labeling it as off-limits to climb.

Even more, on our particular journey up the mountain, we met a redbone coonhound whom we named Staunton and then later, his friend, a treeing-walker coonhound whom we named Barkley.  Barkley and Staunton were clearly well-loved hunting dogs with GPS transmitters, so we left them to do their thing on the mountain, but they made for some excellent hiking buddies.

Me at Old Staunton Inn

First meeting Staunton, the redbone

Staunton decided that he would join us on our hike up the mountain

Staunton surveys the trail as we head to check out the waterfall

Mr. Staunton at the waterfall boasting lots of GPS collars

Staunton decided to join us at the waterfall.

And then there were two.  Barkley joined us for a short while before both dogs loped off into the woods after a scent.

View on the trail up

Terrifying stairs up the watch tower

View from the watch tower

Even more terrifying stairs back down from the watch tower

The watch tower from the safety of the ground

Dragon's Tooth

I'm a few weeks overdue on this one, so just some photos for today.

Sarah and I at the top

Sarah at the overlook

The "slot" if you want to climb your way up the rock.  I forgot how rocky this little hike is.  It's got some good little rock scrambling parts.

Pretty view and you don't even have to climb the tooth to see it

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wind Rock

I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know if this is the first time that I've been to wind rock during the day.  During my college years, my friends and I would make frequent nighttime trips to wind rock to look at the stars and talk about life, but I don't recall ever visiting this little overlook during daylight hours.  To be fair, wind rock does make for a pretty perfect nighttime hike because it's hardly a hike at all.  In two tenths of a mile from the parking area, you've already reached the overlook.  No rock scrambling is required, and if you wish to camp, there's ready-made, free campsites available right next to the overlook.  Granted, during the nicer season, these campsites are often occupied if you arrive late, but still, it's a nice after-dark destination.  Just now did I learn that it's also a pretty nice daytime destination.  Casey and I encouraged his family to accompany us on a detour before going to the Cascades so that we could show them mountain lake and wind rock.  The road was as treacherous as ever, but we made it to the parking area and marveled at the views.  If you're looking for a great effort:reward ratio, this one is right up there along with Buffalo Mountain (it's even easier!).

Sign at the beginning of the hike (the hike is all along the white-blazed AT)

The overlook

Casey's family

me and Casey

The whole group of us at the overlook

The Cascades

I've taken two trips here in the past few weeks, so I figure I may as well lump them into one post.  I took the first of the two recent trips with my new coworker who is just becoming acquainted with the area.  Having come from the other side of the state, she hasn't had the opportunity to do much hiking in recent years, so we decided that a trip to one of the most iconic hikes near Virginia Tech was in order!

Sarah and I at the Cascades on my first of two trips up
The more recent trip was just this past weekend when Casey's family came to visit.  They've been to the Cascades before and loved the hike, so we made a return voyage when they were in town.  As always, the hike was gorgeous and felt almost reminiscent of a jungle.  And of course, as is also always the case in the summer, the place was a zoo.  But, if you're willing to overlook the droves of people, it's still a pretty impressive sight

Part of the "jungly" seeming path up

Casey and Max behold the waterfall

Casey and Max at the waterfall

A leap of faith