On an unseasonably mild summer, August day, we headed east to the coastal plains (tidewater) region of Virginia. With the predicted forecast of highs of 82F with some overcast, we knew this was the perfect time to further explore the beautiful blueways in gloucester county. We had previously completed two of the blueways (Warehouse Landing & John’s Point) and decided to take on our third – Tanyard Landing Trail in Gloucester, Virginia.
Located just an hour away from richmond, this trail follows the gentle poropotank river, a small tributary of the York River. As a blueway, this trail is designed for non-motorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks. It is a great place to experience a small piece of the huge Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The wildlife is abundant, with blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, crabs, and even dolphins have been spotted in the poropotank river. It was a perfect day to flow through the arteries that make up the Chesapeake Bay. The occasional clouds, helped shade us from the summer sun and welcoming breeze, flowed through us. The air was fresh, with just a hint of salt. The bay grasses were healthy and plentiful. These are the buffer zones that are so important in keeping the bay clean. We meandered down the peaceful river in complete silence. The occasional fish would jump from the water, but otherwise, the only other sound was the wind through the grasses.
When you first arrive at the Tanyard Landing Boat Ramp, you will have the option of either going west down the trail or east to explore the river upstream. We actually did not stay on the trail, but headed east to explore the inner wetland areas. We spotted one other group kayaking but no one else was on the water. After the day of paddling, we headed to the nearby Gloucester village, a peaceful and quiet town with a population of 2951. The busiest section of town is the main street where most of the shops and restaurants are located. We returned to Olivia’s, our favorite restaurant in town, for crab cakes. For anyone looking for the complete, Virginia tidewater region experience: find a canoe/kayak, pick a blueway to explore, and then stop for food in Gloucester village. It’s what summer is Virginia is all about.
During the hot, summer months in Virginia, the watering holes of Shenandoah National Park are natural sanctuaries for those looking to escape the heat. No trail is better for this than the popular White Oak Canyon Trail. It is the second busiest trail in the park and for good reason – this hike is packed with picturesque pools, natural water slides and waterfalls flowing with pristine, mountain water.
The entire circuit, however, is no easy, feat. For those looking to complete the entire Cedar Run / White Oak Trail circuit, be prepared for a strenuous 8.2 mile hike that covers a steep elevation climb of over 2000ft in rocky terrain.
At the beginning of the circuit, is the Whiteout Canyon parking lot (which can fill up quickly during peak seasons). From here, as you start the trail, you will come to a fork in the road. On the left, will be the Cedar Run trail, and to the right is the White Oak Canyon trail. The entire circuit can be completed in any direction, however it is strongly recommended, to start up the cedar run trail. Completing the circuit in this direction has many advantages. The ascent up cedar run trail is a much more gradual climb with softer terrain. Once you reach the top, the horse trail and white oak fire road will connect you to the top of the white oak canyon trail where you can begin your descent towards the parking lot. Now you can relax and take in the numerous beautiful falls on this side of the trail (you will also have breath to enjoy them).
Obviously, one does not have to hike the entire circuit to enjoy a good swim. From the parking lot, it is a short 2 mile hike to get to the white oak lower falls. This is probably the most spectacular of all of them. If you’re looking for natural water slides, head to the cedar run falls on the east part of the circuit, where you can check out two awesome water slides. There are also several areas here where you can jump into the pools. Please be careful as this can be dangerous if you have not established the depth of the pools. I bring along a pair of swimming goggles to scout the water for depth and debris before jumping.
There are many other surprises on this circuit. The pools have healthy populations of native brook trout so bring your fly fishing rod. Consider a tenkara rod for these tight spaces up in the mountains. Wildlife here is also abundant and black bear sightings are common, but don’t worry, they tend to keep to themselves. The trail is so busy that the human voices will keep them away. But as always, just be smart and don’t agitate the wildlife, we are visiting their home after all.
On a hot summer day, there’s not a better place to be in Virginia. Be safe, and have fun.
What to bring:
water shoes (for swimming)
swimsuit and towel
swimming goggles (optional)
plenty of water
water filter (optional)
bug spray (especially around the ankles)
fly fishing rod (optional)
*As always, please help keep our parks clean. Take nothing but photos, and leave only footprints!
“There is but one entrance by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly bay, 18 or 20 miles broad. The cape on the south is called Cape Henry, in honor of our most noble Prince. The land, white hilly sands like unto the Downs, and all along the shores rest plety of pines and firs … Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” – Captain John Smith (regarding his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608)
In one of his most well-known passages describing the Chesapeake bay, Captain John Smith’s words still resonate today. This is the largest estuary in the United States and home to an incredible ecosystem. There is no question that the a healthy bay benefits everyone, from a environmental and wildlife standpoint and of course economically. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this sentiment. The future of the bay is uncertain as a proposed budget, by President Trump would eliminate federal funding for the continuing cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency budget for the Chesapeake cleanup was $73 million. With the new bill proposed, this amount would be $0. Organizations like The Chesapeake Bay Foundation have been fighting the battle to restore the bay for many years. Click here to sign a petition to urge congress to preserve funding for the bay: http://takeaction.cbf.org
I used this golden spring weekend, to pull out the canoe from the basement and explore another part of the Chesapeake Bay and the Gloucester Blueways, this time, to John’s Point. We paddled the Ware Riverlast year, but wanted to explore another of the 5 total blueways that exist in Gloucester County. John’s Point is very similar to Warehouse landing, the boat launch is very well kept with a nice clean beach as your launch site. It was a windy day, and the proposed trail totaled 8.8 miles along the Severn River toward Mobjack Bay and back was formidable. This might have been possible in a kayak, but we opted to head west instead of east to explore the inner waterways and the beaches in search of crabs and oysters. We took breaks from the wind as we hopped from island to island, and combed our way through the beaches. We saw several ospreys, one egret, one loon and a red tailed hawk. The water was very clear and all along the beach were oysters popping out of the sand. I came out here to feel once again how special the Chesapeake Bay is. What John Smith said about the bay in 1608, still holds today. It is truly a national treasure worth fighting to protect for future generations to come.
Fall is the busiest time along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and it’s easy to see why. The crisp mountain air and the gorgeous colors have us strapping on our hiking boots as much as possible. This last impromptu hike was actually suggested by our friends. They are preparing for a trek through Patagonia and wanted to get some good hikes in to build endurance. They suggested a trail I had never been on, the Rip Rap Trail Loop in Shenandoah National Park. A strenuous 9.8 mile that starts at Wildcat Ridge, then meets up with the Rip Rap Trail to finish the loop. We entered the park through the familiar Rockfish Gap Entrance and parked in the Wildcat Ridge Parking Area.
The initial trail is a moderate descent down into the valley where we traveled along side the mountain stream known as Meadow Run. We crossed the streams several times and before beginning our ascent up to Chimney Rock. I would say that the first half of this hike is much prettier than the second half. I am partial however to hiking along the gentle streams as they meander through the valley. This hike is known for it’s beautiful watering hole at the bottom of the valley where two streams merge into one 50ft long watering hole. I’ll try to come back one day in the summer to camp and swim at this location. Peak fall colors seemed to arrive later than ever this year, attributable to the much warmer temperatures we have seen over the past years.
I often worry about how climate change will impact the fragile environment around us. This would mean hotter summers, longer mosquito seasons, a harsher environment for the brook trout that thrive in cold mountain streams. In Canada the effects can already be seen with ticks on the rise, as they are able to establish more stable populations in the increasingly warmer climates.
For those that have not seen it, Leonardo DiCaprio released his documentary “Before the Flood” last week. It highlights climate change and the barriers we face as a planet in addressing this pressing matter. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I thank DiCaprio for his efforts in raising awareness about global warming, an issue that affects us all.
The changing of the seasons is always a special time in Virginia. Although the summers can be uncomfortably hot and humid, I’m always sad to see it go. Before the official end of summer, we traveled out to the Blue Ridge Mountains in George Washington National Forest to hike Spy Rock, near Montebello along Route VA 56 West. The hike is of moderate difficulty at 3.2 miles and we paired it with a quick run up Crabtree Falls, the tallest waterfall in Virginia.
Montebello Trout Hatchery
In the mountains, the climate was noticeably different; it was at least 10 degrees cooler and the earliest hints of yellow and orange leaves signified that fall was already here. The trails at both hikes were packed filled with people as we expected on a pretty Saturday. We parked at the Montebello Trout Hatchery because the main parking lot was already full. This gave us a nice opportunity to examine the rainbows, browns and brook trouts that were being raised. While only the brook trout is native to Virginia, the browns and rainbows are a popular trout species to raise since they grow to massive sizes and promote a healthy fly fishing culture in the Virginia mountains.
The hike up Spy Rock took us along a rocky road for the initial segment until it intersected with the Appalachian Trail to take us to the top of Spy Rock. The view atop is impressive, allowing a full 360 degree view of central Virginia. We ate a quick lunch and made our descent and back into the car along VA 56 to Crabtree Falls. We then ascended the first mile up Crab Tree Falls to view the lower falls. The water was slow flowing at the end of summer but still a magical sight. On the way home we visited the Albermarle Ciderworks for a cool drink and dinner in downtown Charlottesville. I am sad to see summer go but excited for all the things fall has to offer: camping, changing colors, harvests and of course the start of the holiday season. Cheers to Summer 2016.
It was a particularly hot summer weekend in Charlottesville, with highs greater than 100 degrees F. We were on a getaway from Richmond and despite the heat, we somehow wanted to squeeze in a quick hike in Shenandoah National Park. During this time of year, the popular watering holes like White Oak Canyon, are packed, so we decided it was time to find a new trail.
In the heat and humidity, we had to be conservative with what we hoped to accomplish. Naturally, we chose the easiest hike in the park: Blackrock Summit, a quick 1 mile loop around the mountain and back. This was more of a walk than a hike. The elevation was minimal and the trail very well maintained. Despite the ease of the hike, the vistas were awesome. Climbing upon the rock bed at the top allowed a full 360 degree view of the park and surroundings. The formation of the rocks at the top were certainly unusual and even appeared out of place. With the help of some trail signs, we were able to learn that this was once the floor of the ancient Iapetus Ocean that predates the Appalachian Mountains. Over time, geological forces transformed the seabed into solid quartzite rocks. Overtime, this region too will become overgrown with vegetation and will look like the surrounding mountains.
We reached the top in the early morning and descended the mountain just as the sun reached it’s peak. We sought refuge in the canopy of the forest where it was at least 10 degrees cooler. We searched for mushrooms and marveled at the lush forest in the peak summer time. It had been too long since my last visit to Shenandoah National Park, this outing reminded that she always has something special to offer in every season.
The Rapidan River is one of my favorite rivers in Virginia, especially the segment which courses through Shenandoah National Park. The flowing cascades, peaceful scenery and good population of brook trout has earned this river a top 100 trout stream spot according to Trout Unlimited coming in at #38.
The Rapidan plays a significant role in history as well. Originally named the Rapid Anne river after Queen Anne of England it has since changed it’s name to “Rapidan”, a combination of the words “rapids” and “Anne”. The river was also the site of numerous, bloody, civil war battles. After the war, it’s beauty continued to attract visitors from all over. It even caught the eye of one of the US Presidents. During the Hoover administration (1929-1933), Camp Hoover was built by President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover to serve as their wilderness getaway, where they fished these pristine waters. The camp still stands today, although officially named Rapidan Camp now and open to the public, situated at the beginnings of the Rapidan River.
home of the brookies
I was glad that at 15 years old, our Jack Russell Terrier was able to join us on this trip. He thoroughly enjoyed himself although he did not swim much as the current was fast flowing and the waters frigid. We leisurely climbed from stream to stream casting our flies. Before we knew it, the sun was setting and we had been out for over seven hours. Although we caught nothing (no surprise), we had several bites and I got my brother hooked on the sport. He just told me the other day, he was looking for a rod.
While we have fished all of our lives, Tenkara is a whole new ball game. It is a form of traditional Japanese fly fishing without the use of a reel. This allows everything to be packed nicely into my backpack without the need for tackle box or much gear. Essentially it is just rod, line and fly. The rod itself collapses to just over 20 inches. I found Tenkara to be a much more active form of fishing which I thoroughly enjoy. First off, your main target is trout, and here in Virginia, they are found only in the coldest and cleanest mountain waters. A hike of some sort is almost always needed. Secondly, while you’re fishing, you’re constantly casting and moving from one spot on the stream to another. The only thing about this time of year is that it is tick season! I pulled one off myself and a couple off of our dog. Nasty little buggers that on rare occasions can serve as a vector for transmitting Lyme Disease. I always try to be good with tick checks before getting back in the car. Spraying your shoes and lower legs with bug spray will definitely help as well. Ticks are typically found south of the Canada-US border although of late, climate change has changed that, with reports of tick bites becoming more and more common in Ontario.
With so many famous parks to see in the pacific northwest, It was difficult to choose one to explore. In a split decision between Olympic National Park and Mt Rainier, we opted for the latter. Mt Rainier holds the title as the fifth national park in the United States and is famous for the subalpine meadows, old growth forests and 25 glaciers. The centerpiece: the stratovolcano that towers over 14 000 ft, known as Mt Rainier. Apparently, summer is the best time of year to visit, when the skies are clear and the best views can be obtained. In the early spring, it was wet, rainy and foggy. One step into this landscape and we knew we were in temperate rainforest.
The land is certainly different from the eastern forests that we are used to in Virginia and Ontario, the ground is lush with vegetation and water seemed to be present in all nooks of the forest. Small streams seemed to course their way through the entire forest. The evergreens, towered above us and created a canopy unlike any that I’ve seen. As with most things, our time here was much too short. Magical park.
There is never a shortage of waterways to explore in Virginia. In a short 1 hour road trip from Richmond, one can reach the largest estuary in the United States; the Chesapeake Bay. Here, fresh water from over 150 rivers and streams of New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia meet the Atlantic Ocean to create a brackish water ecosystem teeming with diverse wildlife and vegetation. There isn’t a better way to connect with this landscape than by canoe. We decided to paddled through the south arm of the Ware River, one of five canoe trails that make up the Gloucester Blueways. The county established these Blueways as a way to encourage visitors to the area and to encourage preservation of these precious lands.
The population of bald eagles and osprey has been healthy in recent years and we had were within sight of them the second we reached the put in. The salty waters of the Mobjack bay was surprisingly clear and calm as we embarked on our excursion.
A sense of calm and stillness surrounded us as we approached the wetlands. We were protected from the wind by reeds and twists of and turns of the stream. I was stunned by the vast array of wildlife we encountered. From blue crabs, to herons and even a red-tailed hawk, each bend of the river presented a new surprise.
There is certainly something very special about the wetlands. For years the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been fighting to protect these lands. These regions are especially important in preserving the clarity of the Chesapeake bay. It is the final stop for all of our river and stream runoff from land before it reaches the bay. The major pollutants of the bay are in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus. Such elements are crucial to life, however an overabundance can be detrimental. When these elements are in excess, they contribute to algae blooms which clouds the water and inhibits sunlight that is crucial to the growth of bay grasses. The decline in oxygen from dying plants can cause dramatic pH changes which can kill off crabs, fish and more plants. Today, 300 million pounds of polluting nitrogen reaches the bay each year, over 6 times the amount that reached the bay in the 1600s.
Bald Eagle in flight
While the war effort in cleaning the bay is underway on many fronts. Many believe that the oyster will be the savior of the bay. The eastern oyster is an incredibly resilient species, although years of disease, pollution and over harvesting have caused numbers in the bay to decrease to less than 1% of what it once was. This shift in oyster population has also contributed to the decline in the health of the bay. Oysters are able to filter up to one gallon of water in one hour. They play a vital role in preserving the clarity and hence the habitat of the Chesapeake Bay. In the recent years, the news has been promising with oyster populations making a bounce back and with them, the blue crab population. Both iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay.
I had some time at the end of this trip to reflect on some tripping gear as well. This was my third outing on the prospector, and so far she has been handling like a dream. At only 52 lbs, she’s a breeze to load onto the car and take anywhere. She is responsive and feels comfortable on all different types of water. The comfortable yoke design also makes her almost a joy to portage…but i wouldn’t go that far. I’ve also been quite happy with the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera I’ve been shooting with. I’ve realized that I normally shooting in fairly wide angles at an average of 16mm. Although I haven’t used many other lenses other than my portrait 35mm, I can definitely see the utility in the zoom lenses >250mm in capturing wildlife. The eight bald eagle sightings on this trip convinced me to at least look into some of these lenses.
The scorching Virginia summers often steer our canoe trips to the cooler mountain lakes, however this is spring, and anything is fair game. It was actually a refreshing and chilly day as we paddled, at temperatures in the 50s F. Let’s see how long these cool temperatures last. With the north arm of the Ware River and four more routes to explore on the Gloucester Blueways, there’s still plenty to see. Long live the Chesapeake Bay.