Shenandoah National Park
In an effort to take one more trip for the year and enjoy the fleeting Fall foliage, I joined some friends for some camping and hiking at a nearby favorite forest: Shenandoah National Park. After a colorful car ride into the mountains and along Skyline Drive, we ended up in Big Meadows campground and grabbed a walk-in campsite for 4 people. This is the only park campground open this time of year, and to our surprise it was completed full by dark. After a passing shower soaked our things and foiled our sunset views, we still managed to get a fire going and cooked up some burgers.
We awoke to a brisk 38° morning and rushed to get the fire going for cooking breakfast. It was late morning when we headed out for the Old Rag Mountain trailhead and eventually made it to a full parking lot causing us to have to pay for overflow parking. The sun barely broke through the cloud cover as we made an hour trek to the first summit, stopping for snacks and taking our time on slick rocks. It was slow moving all the way toward the summit of Old Rag as we waited in some small bottlenecks caused by slippery scrambles and cautious hiker. However, the views all the way to the top were amazing. The end of peak foliage could be seen all over the mountains, and it was perhaps the best display of colors I’ve seen in this park to date. From the summit we saw more clouds roll by beneath our feet, and waited out the scattered showers. The climb back down the south side was much easier, and maybe even a little boring even after the first part of our day. About 10 miles late we had completed the loop and were back at the car- only to decide to stop at the local restaurant/pub for a much needed early dinner.
It was dark and there was a steady rainfall as we left the pub and headed back toward Big Meadows. The combination of rain, cold and exhaustion lead us to deliberate and finally choose to just pack up and make the 3.5hr drive back home to our own beds. It was a little disappointing not to get another night of fire, but such is the risk you take by not being completely prepared for mountain weather. Overall, I was really pleased with the 24 hours we enjoyed in the park, as I am almost every year when we go to visit those old mountains. It was especially memorable to have shared this one with friends.