Last year, more than 300 million people visited our national parks! Will and I are so proud of our National Park System, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and are thankful we were able to visit Shenandoah National Park two weekends ago. The park is about a two-hour drive west of D.C., but it’s so scenic that our time in the car went quickly. With our backpacking gear in tow, we left early Saturday morning to beat the crowds and have a little taste of adventure.
On the drive to Shenandoah, we passed apple farms, bakeries, and roadside stands. It was darling, and I told Will that we had to stop at one of the coffeeshops on our way home. Once you enter the park, you can understand why East Coasters travel hours to visit the park’s famous 105-mile Skyline Drive. The drive dates back to 1924, when cars were the craze, and the government saw this as the main feature of the park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Imagine that. This scenic byway, not the mountains or camping, was the highlight of the park!
We hiked Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike (really, just a bit of rock scrambling). Most day-trippers park and begin their hike at Old Rag Fee Station. Because we were camping overnight and wanted to avoid the busy parking lot, we parked at the Limberlost Trail Head and hiked up and down miles of quiet, scenic fire road.
It was nice just being with Will, the trees, and, on our way back, black bears! A baby black bear came within 10 feet of us, but where there is Baby Bear, Mama Bear is never far away, so we didn’t stay in that spot for too long.
Our final 3.5 miles were spent hiking up to Old Rag’s summit, which was very crowded. We did not expect to see so many people on this chilly November morning, but apparently, everyone had the same idea as us. The view from the summit was beautiful. We climbed up on the rocks that overlook the breathtaking Shenandoah Valley, its fall foliage in full display beneath us.
We camped near the summit in a cozy little spot deep in the trees, which I thought would protect us from the cold.
Unfortunately, the wind came quick, and it was so cold that Will was forced to make dinner and breakfast (what a treat for me!) while I did jumping jacks and squats to stay warm. I loved waking up to the beautiful sunrise and steaming coffee. 🙂
Prior to meeting Will, I had never been backpacking. He has taught me so much about what gear you need, how to set up camp, and general tips a lot of experienced hikers know. A few easy albeit important tips I learned, include:
- Always proper hiking boots and wool socks, which keep you from getting blisters by keeping your feet dry. (I really love my lightweight Salomon hiking boots, which are currently on sale at REI!)
- Tighten your backpack’s belt to carry the weight of the backpack on your hips (not your shoulders) and prevent you from straining your back.
- Look up! Most people look down with their neck and eyes to avoid tripping over rocks, but this will make your neck ache when you crawl into your sleeping bag later that night. Make sure you look up with your head and only use your eyes to look down.
- You can pack healthy snacks and meals. We pre-cut and freeze chicken the night before and, during our hike, it defrosts so that we can cook it in our Jetboil. We bring along a mini bottle of olive oil, as well as quinoa and kale, which easily condenses in a tiny bag. I also make egg muffins (recipe here), pack all-natural granola bars (Kind bars and Larabars are great), and bring apples for snacks. Oatmeal and peanut or almond butter make for a satisfying breakfast too.
Overall, we hiked 14 miles with a 3000 ft. elevation gain. My calves were so sore the next few days, but it was worth it! We are already looking forward to our next adventure. In fact, we are planning a road trip through Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire on our way to Montreal next week. If you have any recommendations, please email me or comment below!
The Daring Darling
P.S. If you want to check out a real backpacking, travel, and adventure blog, visit our friend Heather at Just a Colorado Gal! She shares so many incredible photos, adventures, and lots of advice.