A walk in the woods, a saunter through nature, a stroll through the fields — it’s that time of year most people love to get outdoors and take in the last of the beautiful weather before the season changes. Fall gives us a respite from really warm summer days and frigid winter temperatures.
So don’t hesitate to pack up the family, grab a lunch, and head for the closest venue to soak in the fall colors. It doesn’t have to be a difficult climb or torturous experience, but just a simple stroll. There are places up and down the Shenandoah Valley that are within driving distance to take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather.
Also, studies have shown that getting outdoors is good for one’s health, both physical and mental so take advantage of what the area has to offer.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park offers many hikes and two that are short and sweet and easy to access in the Dickey Ridge area near the Visitors Center on Skyline Drive. This is a great place to begin to visit Skyline Drive and the park at the Front Royal entrance. It is a great stop to begin walking with restroom facilities and helpful rangers with information.
The first trail is the Fox Hollow Trail, 1.2-mile circuit, that is easy, features old homesteads and a cemetery. The second is the Snead Farm Trail, a 3-mile circuit, which intersects with the Dickey Ridge Trail. Both trails begin and end near the Visitors Center, which offers amazing view.
A mile marker 79.5 farther south on Skyline Drive, the Loft Mountain Loop is an easy, 2.7 mile trail near Grottoes that makes use of a fire road, the Appalachian Trail, and the Frazier Discovery Trail. All skill levels will enjoy this trail.
Visitors may park at the Loft Mountain Wayside at Skyline Drive mile marker 79.5. Walk north along the drive for a 150 yard and then cross the drive to pick up the fire road. The trailhead is across the drive from the Patterson Ridge trail.
There is a fee to enter the park but rates vary by age and length of stay.
Sky Meadows State Park
In the Shenandoah Valley, one of the parks not well known is Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane provides a variety of hikes and walks for any level of ability. Walkers can select the length and difficulty they want to accomplish and follow the map given out by the rangers. Views are spectacular and can be viewed by walking about a mile or two. It is a very comfortable place to visit with children and pets. Cost is $5 per car and includes amenities – restrooms, exhibits, gift store, historic house.
The Woodstock Tower hike is a fairly easy hike in the Lee Ranger District of George Washington National Forest that leads to a fire tower with 360-degree views of the surrounding area.
The tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and provides a 360-degree view of the town of Woodstock, Fort Valley, and the seven bends of the Shenandoah River and is one of the best panoramas in the Massanutten range of mountains.
This area is part of the George Washington National Forest and has many hiking trails and camp sites. The hike to the tower is an easy 2 mile out and back walk, which most people can handle. This area is free with no parking or other admission charges.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park, located along the north bank of the Potomac River, starting in Washington, D.C. and ending in Cumberland, Md., offers great walks without much difficulty. The trail runs by the old canal towpath with interpretive signs. The area is also a biking and camping destination.
The canal was built between 1828 and 1850, and it operated until 1924. In 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas organized an eight-day hike up the canal’s towpath in an effort to save it from being converted to a parkway. His efforts succeeded, and in 1971 the canal became a national park, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Today, much of the canal has been drained of water and reclaimed by the forest.
Entrance fees are only collected at the Great Falls Entrance Station All other access to the park is free.. Eighty percent of the fees collected are returned to the park for projects.
Definitely plan which area to walk and cover as much distance as time and energy dictate. The path can be accessed in Shepherdstown, W.Va. and Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
So make your decision and select one or more of these walks and get back to nature. They can be short or long, depending on your preference, and most are easy and comfortable. Happy walking!