Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Going on a Bear Hunt: Camping in Shenandoah

So the weekend before the Fourth of July we finally made it out to camp in Shenandoah National Park. We have never been able to get reservations before, but decided to just wing it and try a first come first serve site.  Apparently they actually have a lot of these sites that are not reservable.  The night we arrived the area had a thunderstorm and flash flood warning in effect, so the campground was pretty open.  We realize we're a little crazy for that.  But I felt like we'd have some good luck weather wise.

We headed to the nearest campground from the North, which is the Mathews Arm Campground located about 20 miles inside the park.  Needing a close bathroom for the pregnant lady and almost potty trained two year old, we picked a spot in the C loop immediately opposite the bathroom.  And the water spigot.  Apparently, Theo's favorite thing to do when camping is filling any water needs at the spigot.  

And even though we knew to expect rain, the weather was some of the best June weather we could ask for.  We planned to tour an underground cave and do inside activities on the rainy day and enjoy perfect hiking weather of about 65° on the sunny beautiful day.  Some of our favorite parts of our trip were:

Campfire:  Theodore was in charge of the s'more making, while Elijah kept up a cheering section for Brian as he tried to make fires with damp wood.  

Cavern:  There are several options for caverns around the Shenandoah area. We stumbled across a group-on just a couple days before our trip, so we definitely went with that one. We only paid for one ticket for all four of us.  The Shenandoah Caverns were the first time either boys had been to an underground cavern. The one hour tour was just about perfect for them, though I was terrified they would touch some of the structures which is against the law.  They are famous for their "bacon-like" features that were pictured in National Geographic years ago, and have popcorn walls as well.  Elijah pretended to eat most of the cave.  The location also had some other random exhibits including old animated store windows and a huge barn filled with parade floats.  It was odd, but the boys liked just about everything they saw.  Their soda fountain restaurant was also surprisingly cheap and good for a tourist place, though it was pretty packed with minimal staff.

Chip Factory:  While I normally have to stay away from potato chips because I have absolutely no self-control in regards to them, being pregnant is a pretty good excuse to have a few chances to snack on some.  We kept seeing signs for the Route 11 Chip factory and had to stop by since it was right beside the caverns.  They weren't frying during our visit, but if they had been you can view it all from the retail shop windows.  As it was, it was neat seeing all the machines used.  We sampled just about every variety they have and each left with a (small) bag in hand.

Ice Cream:  We don't consider ourselves on vacation if we don't have ice cream.  We found a good place on Lurray's charming Main Street called Stephan's Sugar Shack and each enjoyed a cone of their Hershey ice cream (except Eli, who still doesn't realize he missed ice cream while napping).

Hiking:  While I was pretty nervous to set out on a big hike with me being 32 weeks along, and Elijah still being accustomed to being carried occasionally or having a stroller to jump in and out of, I had faith we could accomplish one last big hike before the baby comes.  Since it was right off our campground, and should be beautiful after two nights of rain, we chose to hike to the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah, Overlook Falls.  We found the trailhead for Mathews Arm Trail at the back of the group camping sites, and took off.  It indicated we were 2.0 miles to the falls.  Eventually, we turned onto the Tuscarora/Overall Run Trail and continued downward to the falls.  The boys had a great time re-enacting "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" (that book never gets old in our house) as we sludged through mud (just a little), climbed over logs (none really covered the path), and carefully danced across rocks over a brook (that actually did cover the trail at one point).  We found just about every color of mushroom possible as Theo is very interested in them.  Elijah was excited for all the "eggs" he found (Brian called them gulls) while Theodore made sure to tell everyone about a bear sighting one of the other hikers mentioned to us at the beginning of the trail.  We, however, did not see one this day.

Eventually we came upon a pretty large waterfall, but not a 93 footer, so we kept going.  The last 0.5 miles of the trail were the steepest but led to a huge payoff as the view at the top was gorgeous.  And then you turn and see a beautiful waterfall!  The dog and I were fairly nervous one of the boys would fall off the cliffs surrounding this area, but luckily we got in a few photos and just enjoyed the cooling rushing winds as we rested all in one piece.  We made it from the trailhead to Overlook Falls in about two hours.  Despite stopping to snack on our way back UP the trail (and Brian carrying both boys at the steepest parts) we actually made it back to the campground quicker. Overall, we spent about four hours out there.

Views:  Being up on a skyline ridge, the whole 100+ miles of Shenandoah National Park offer wonderful views of the surrounding area.  Except when it's foggy and rainy and you can't see much.  But during the sunny parts of our visit we enjoyed pulling off and wondering around some of the different scenic overlooks.  At one point in the drive, we actually saw our first black bear as one crossed the road right in front of us.  We were much happier to see it while in the car than if we had been on foot.

More Ice Cream:  We ended our visit with a stop at the Apple House in Front Royal for some soft serve ice cream and a taste of their apple cider donuts.  Elijah slept through the stop again, even with a train passing right by us as we waited on the ice cream.  It was a good ending to a slightly exhausting, but great trip together with our two boys.  


Emily West said...

That sounds so fun! I'm sure the boys loved exploring. Great pictures. I can't believe you were hiking at 32 weeks.. Good grief!

Shannon E said...

I'd say that was my limit... three weeks later and I can barely do the hills at the zoo.