I have been living in the DC area now for almost 12 years. Every year, one of my favorite things to do is to take the short trip down to Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park, and spend time in the sun. Yesterday, the weather was perfect for just such a trip. We left the house at 1pm. Kind of a late start, but Skyline is just an hour away, so we still had plenty of daylight ahead. For us, its 11 miles down the Fairfax County Parkway to I-66, head east to Front Royal, and enter Skyline Drive just past South Street. The first thing we noticed was that the prices to enter the park had increased quite a bit. We used to buy an annual National Parks pass every year for $50. I'm not sure when the increase went into effect, but from the last time we bought one a couple years ago, the price has gone up more than 50%- it now costs $80. The annual Shenandoah Pass went from $20 to $30. Since we don't visit many other National Parks, we bought the latter.
We are blessed with the care of one loving, active Boxer/Shepard mix named Natasha. Tasha is sweet and friendly to all creatures, unless it is a dog, a chipmunk or a squirrel. Nevertheless, we decided it would be good to bring her along. She is truly in heaven when she is outside exploring the sights and sounds of this park.
We decided on a short trail that starts directly across from the visitor's center at Dickey Ridge. The trail runs north and south. If you go to the north, you can also explore a second trail that includes old homesites and a cemetary. We were headed that way when we discovered that pets are not allowed on that particular trail. So we headed south toward Snead Farm. It was a little bit longer than our original plans, but again, we had daylight to burn.
This trail is a fairly easy one, and it is quite well marked. The inclines were a tad bit challenging for us- not having been on a hike for quite some time. We kept the trail map that we had printed out from the internet handy, just in case. But in broad daylight, with the clear markings, and the well-worn paths, its virtually impossible to get lost. We encountered some like-minded couples, young and old, a few chipmunks, and a wild turkey hen, but not much else.
We quickly arrived at the site of Snead's Farm. And we asked ourselves who Snead might have been, and why the barn was still standing, but not the house. We peer into the barn windows and see the dark steps leading to the lower level. And we notice a storehouse, perhaps an old chicken coop, built into the side of the hill just on the other side of the barn. Then we notice the concrete steps that lead to nowhere. Seeing a homesite overgrown with vegetation always piques my imagination, as I picture where the bedrooms might have been, or where the kitchen once stood. I imagine what conversations might have taken place by candlelight in these rooms, and what sordid secrets might have died with the owners. Then a squawking bird brings me out of my romantic musings, and we punched foward on our hike.
The trail looped around to the west and then came quite close to Skyline Drive when it finally turned back north. Much to our chagrin, the trail continued to climb. We thought, this must be the proverbial hill that countless grandfathers traveled to school each day, barefoot, with their brothers on their backs. Our tiredness was rewarded though, with one of the most beautiful, clearest overlooks that I have ever experienced at Skyline. We could see for miles as we looked down over Browntown Road and the surrounding farms and hills. It was simply breathtaking.
After pausing there to take in the wonderful view, our tired legs started out again towards the car. It wasn't long before the trail made its downhill turn and continued mostly as such until we reached the trailhead from where we started. In all, we hiked 3 miles. It was invigorating, yet tranquil, and we felt reconnected. Tasha was petered out- like us, she had a been a bit sedentary of late. Suffice it to say that the three of us slept very, VERY well that night!
To get to Skyline, take 66 West and take exit 13, which is VA Route 79. Turn left and then take Route 55 West into Front Royal. Turn left onto Route 340, and the North Entrance to Skyline is a few feet away on the left. Pay your entrance fee and head on about 4 miles to Dickey Ridge Visitor's Center. Park there and start on your way! There are many other longer trails, including the famed Appalachian Trail, and even camping- you can make a weekend out of it. Either way, enjoy your summer weekends!