October 18, 2020 – It seems like the only normal thing in 2020 has been the autumn season. By late September, we had already experienced our fair share of chilly days in Virginia. This welcoming drop in the temperatures seemed to trigger the leaves to change color on time. Although tired from the busy work week, we needed to escape to the mountains, specifically to our backyard national park, Shenandoah National Park. We were going to take on what seemed to be a family favorite of late: the Black Rock Summit Trail. This easy 1.0 mile loop was where we took our son for his first hike, and now we were going to take our daughter there for her first hike.
We arrived at the park entrance to find a short line of cars. I think this was the first time I’ve ever had to wait in line to get into Shenandoah. It seemed like everyone wanted to escape quarantine madness and get outside. I don’t blame them. All along the way, people were pulling off at scenic outlooks to take photos of the fall foliage. The parking lot for Black Rock Summit was full when we arrived but we had no trouble finding parking on the side of the road. Our 3 year old son was able to hike the entire trail on his own this time which certainly helped! The paths on this trail are well marked and it is a short hike to get some amazing views, highly recommended if you have young kids in tow.
In the middle of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, you would never expect to find the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can explore these sand dunes and more. The park covers an area of 427 acres and is the most visited park in the North Carolina park system.
The temperatures can apparently be truly desert-like in the hot summer months. Reaching 110 degrees F and the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter. Our visit was in late September so there was virtually no one when we arrived. For our son, this was the largest sandbox he’d ever seen and he was thrilled.
* Make sure to bring plenty of water on those hot days. Sunglasses help too even if it’s not sunny, especially on windy days
I remember the simple days back when it was just me and my wife. If we wanted to take a day trip out to the mountains, such a feat could be accomplished within a moments notice. Some light packing, some food and water and we were good to go. These days, with two kiddos, a simple day excursion requires enough packing for an expedition – everything from maps, first aid kits, spare clothing, food, water, toys for the car, diapers, and the list goes on. Although it definitely takes more energy to embark on such trips, the reward is also greater. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s reaction to the marvels of our natural world. Every breath of brisk, fresh air seems to infuse them with energy as they are pulled from one discovery to another. Whether they are seeing a new animal for the first time – hearing the rush of the river as it crashes into rocks, or feeling the textures of different tree barks, I believe that there is not a better classroom out there.
One of the beautiful overlooks from Route 39
More views from Route 39 of the Maury River
For Earth Day 2020, we planned for a trip to the scenic, 936-acre, Goshen Pass Natural Preserve in Goshen, Virginia just outside of Lexington in RockBridge County. Elevation: 1,350 ft (411 m). We were blessed with absolute perfect weather. High of 64F and sunny. We knew that our prime spring hiking days were coming to a close so we wanted to get out there before the Virginia vegetation took over. Even this late in April, it was still perfect, the mountains were later to bloom than the city. Awesome. Mountain flowers were in bloom and the new buds emerging on trees, created an emerald backdrop with beautiful displays of every hue of green.
The drive from Richmond to Goshen Pass is about 2 hours from Richmond, and it is a pretty one. The gentle rolling hills, and well kept farms provide a peaceful journey as you course your way through the mountain. The natural preserve is Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. The region was acquired in 1954 to protect the gorgeous 3.7 long gorge along the specatcular Maury River. There is certainly magic here still yet to be discovered. There is an old-age chestnut oak forest, pine-oak-heath woodland and rare species of plants.
Picnic area off Route 39
These are stocked trout waters, special license required.
Our original plan was to hike a 3.0 mile circuit that started at the famous Swing Bridge over the Maury River. Despite the website, saying that this area was open, we arrived to find that the bridge had actually been boarded shut! Fortunately, this area is large enough to explore without the main hike. We drove back 2 miles on Route 39 to reach the Maury Memorial overlooking the Maury River. This area has a shelter, several well kept picnic areas, grills, portable restrooms and best of all, great access to the Maury River. We decided to spend the day here, catching crayfish, observing wildlife, tenkara fly fishing and just enjoying the outdoors. Surprisingly the area was really quiet. Other than one other family, we had the whole river access to ourselves. I learned later that this segment of the Maury River was popular for whitewater kayakers during certain parts of the year. This is certainly something I would like to check out in the future. The area by the swinging bridge appeared like a good put in for a fun run. I guess what they say is true, the Goshen Pass area is one of the most beautiful spots in Virginia.
Public access for hiking at Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is available via a parking area off Route 39 and swinging bridge across the Maury River, both maintained by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as an access point for the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). DGIF requires a WMA Access Permit for visitors age 17 years and older who do not possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license, or boat registration. Contact: the DGIF Field Office in Verona (540) 248-9360 or go to http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/access-permit/ for information on acquiring a WMA Access Permit.
Deep Bottom Park is special not only for its historic significance, but also for its position on a unique part of the James River known as — the oxbow. The U-shape bend of the river at this section of the James resembles the harness for an ox. The river in this section is also unusually deep, hence the name of the park.
“…Gabriel Archer, who along with John Smith and a band of other Jamestown colonists first traveled through here in May 1607, estimated the depth at “five or six fadom eight oars’ length from the shore.” ” – National Park Service, US Department of Interior.
This portion of the river is also part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake national Historic Trail, one of only two water trails designated as a “National Historic Trail”, the other being the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Captain John Smith trail consists of a series of waterways in the eastern USA covering approximately 3000 miles (4800km) flowing along the Chesapeake Bay. The waterways are of historic significance as they trace the 1607-1609 voyages of Captain John Smith on his expedition to chart the land and waterways of the Chesapeake.
Deep Bottom Park is a quiet and small getaway on the James River. About 20 minutes out from Richmond, the park provides access to the two boat ramps – one is a canoe launch facing Four Mile Creek, and the second is the main boat launch out to the James River. This section of the James River is uncharacteristically deep (hence the name of the park).
We were blessed with another beautiful spring day. The sun was out with temperatures in the low 60s F. Although not designed as a biking trail, our toddler found plenty of suitable ground to blaze through. We spent most of our time at the canoe launch, where we had the dock all to ourselves. From here, we were able to immerse ourselves into the surroundings and the wildlife welcomed us. We saw a large osprey, a large blue heron, fish jumping out of the water and countless frogs and tadpoles and everything in between.
From what I could see from the dock, the waterway up to Four Mile Creek, looked like a good one to paddle. The water was calm, and the wildlife viewing appeared promising. Whether your interest is history, wildlife, the river or fishing, there is something here for everyone. (Be safe out there, and always make sure you have your personal flotation device, PFDs).
Deep Bottom Park also offers picnic facilities, restrooms, and fishing are available at this site. The boat ramps are available twenty-four hours a day to launch and retrieve boats. The park grounds are open from dawn to dusk.
The transition period from March to April is one of the prettiest times of year in Virginia. Cherry blossoms make their display, snowing petals in the gentle breeze for just a couple of weeks before the landscape flourishes with green. It is also the nicest time of year to go scouting for new clear waters to paddle. The mountains to the west is where I have the best luck in finding such waters. While the coastal plains of Virginia offer incredible wildlife and scenery to paddle in, I’ve always been in love with the backdrop of a bare forest against a sparkling mountain lake. In my heart, Lake Moomawand Switzer lake hold the top two spots in my ranking of favorite Virginia mountain lakes, but I’m always open to see if they can be dethroned.
With two kids in tow, (Lake moomaw and switzer lake) are just a tad too far for a daytrip. (3.5 hours and 2.5 hours respectively). A quick look at a map of Virginia led me to investigate the Ragged Mountain Natural Natural in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At an elevation of 737 ft. This beautiful 980-acre region is home to the charlottesville reservoir, a gorgeous clear lake with more than 4 miles of shoreline. This area offers seven miles of trail through its oak, hickory, pine and maple forests. The densely wooded area is home to white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and dozens of species of birds including the popular pileated woodpecker in this area.
It had been a long time since I’ve used our Deuter Kid Comfort Active (child backpack carrier), actually haven’t used it since Utah (September 2019). Our 2.5 year old has also gained some weight since that time, but we have all been cooped up and ready for a decent hike. We started at the main parking lot and made a 3.0 mile round trip to the floating bridge. This hike is certainly not as remote as Shenandoah National Park, as you can still hear cars on the inner roads but it is still certainly peaceful.
The trails were laid out clearly without any brush (another reason why I like spring hiking). We sat down and had a small snack at the floating bridge before making our way back across the dam and to the main parking area. In front of the parking lot are several picnic tables with a great view of the lake. We sat down and had lunch in the brisk spring breeze after working up a sweat. Down at the canoe launch are actually several canoes and kayaks that people just leave there unattended on the racks. I told our son that we would be back to paddle this lake one day, when it wasn’t as cold.
Whether you come here for the trails, water or wildlife, there is something here for everyone. It is a great trail for kids too, as it is not too strenuous. Stay healthy, stay safe everyone.
Directions (open 7:00am to sunset)
Physical Address: 1730 Reservoir Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22903
From I-64 in Charlottesville, take Exit #118B/US 29 North. After 0.4 miles, take the first exit for US 29 Business. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Fontaine Avenue. Go 0.3 miles on Fontaine Avenue to Reservoir Road and turn right. Follow Reservoir Road for 1.7 miles to the sign on the right just before Camp Holiday Trails. This is the lower parking area. To reach the upper parking area, continue past the lower lot, stay right and pass the yellow gate, and travel up the paved road to the top of the dam and park by the kiosk and tool shed.
The City of Charlottesville owns and manages the land, parking areas, and trails at Ragged Mountain. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority manages the water and related infrastructure.
Dogs are not allowed at Ragged Mountain natural area (other than approved ADA service dogs).
On my last day of break, I wanted to take the family out to explore the freshwater tidal marsh areas of R. Garland Dodd Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia on the Appomatox River. The park spans 176 acres and offers something for everyone of all ages. Apart from the beautiful 2.7 miles of walking trails, there are 2 baseball fields, 2 basketball courts, a football field and 6 tennis courts which are all lighted. There are also 4 soccer fields and two different sets of playgrounds, and numerous shelters.
The main attraction to the park is the floating boardwalk through the Ashton Creek Marsh. In the heart of winter, the place seemed desolate but still very beautiful. I imagine that in the summer, this place would be teeming with wildlife; birds, turtles, and dragonflies to mention a few. We enjoyed the very short hike down to the first Marsh Overlook where the floating board walk begins. Interestingly, at this location is another playground area which seems to be almost hidden in the woods. Our son very much enjoyed the floating boardwalk, as he hopped over the panels to avoid the small gaps. With walking stick in hand he explored the marsh and the plants, marveled at the ducks as they flew in formation and observed the sporadic movements of the dozens of tadpoles.
At the age of 28 months, he is a very capable hiker on flat terrain such as this. Towards the South Gully Bridge is a beautiful outlook on the Appomatox as the marsh opens up into flowing river water. This area is interestingly of historic significance as well. This land was the southern end of the Union position during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. These were a series of battles fought at the town fo Bermuda Hundred during May of 1864 during the American Civil War. There is evidence of the Union Army’s earthworks in the area however relic hunting is prohibited in the park.
The park is listed as “at Point of Rocks”. The Point of Rocks is a plantation home that was built in 1840 of historic significance during the civil war. It was named after the 60 foot high sandstone cliffs on the Appomattox River. The house had signficance as an observation point during the war for Union General Benjamin F. Butler. It was used for a time as a hospital as well. The home today is owned privately by descendants of John Strachan, but part of the land is part of the park today.
Whether you come for the views, the sports or the history, there is certainly plenty to explore at R. Garland Dodd Park. (30 minutes away from Richmond, VA)
A nice Tuesday off had our family seeking the outdoors for a nice change of scenery. We head to our closest state park, Pocahontas for a stroll through the forest and playground with our toddler.
It is obvious to me that he feels the same sense of freedom and bliss that I experience when I am outside. It’s probably only natural that we all humans feel this way. We have evolved and have been wired to spend our time outside. The energy that is poured through the body when you are outside is certainly palpable.
Interestingly, the act of physicians prescribing “outdoor time” for their patients has picked up significant momentum in recent years. Especially in Canada and Europe. Keep in mind that this is distinctly different from an exercise prescription. The mere act of being outside has been linked to help treat, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety and several other chronic maladies.
Even on this cold and cloudy January day, this little kid is happy as a clam to explore treasures of the forest.
The winters in Virginia continue to get warmer and warmer. We have not yet had our first real snow fall yet and it is mid January. 2019 was the 2nd hottest year in recorded history, falling just behind the year 2016. The effects of climate change have made itself blatantly clear all over the world. The australian wildfires, rising sea levels and record shattering heat waves. This past weekend, it was 70 F in Richmond, Virginia! It was unsettling warm and sunny, we made the most of this situation and decided to venture to a new local park at the recommendation of a friend. We made our way to Three Lakes Park in Chamberlayne, Virginia.
Our son was eager to run once again in open space. He had been cooped up and had a mild case of cabin fever. He grinned from ear to ear as he sped through the forest. Nothing beats real world interaction to solidify things that he has read in his books. He was able to identify several birds and ducks as different parts of the tree. While we were walking, I realized that everything seemed just a little bit easier. I then realized at 27 months, he is now able to hike on his own! We completed a circuit just under 1 mile and he was able to walk the entire way! He even found a little hiking stick to call his own. After spending some time throwing rocks in the lake, he spent his energy on the large playground until the Nature Center opened at 12:00pm.
There’s no question that the future of our planet is at stake. We are all stewards of the planet, and we can dictate its course. We can either change the speed at which it is damaged, or change the speed at which it is recovered. Most importantly is the fact that the future is in the hands of our children. Get them outside to enjoy the beauty of our planet, so they know what it is exactly that they will be fighting to protect. A small act performed by millions can change the world. Start with your local conservation organization.
The James River Parks System is a municipal park in Richmond, Virginia. It is 550 acres of heavily wooded land along the James River. Hundreds are drawn to this park each year for the biking trails, swimming holes, beaches, fishing and of course paddling. The park system is a big part of what strengthens Richmond’s name as “the River city”. The Huguenot Flat Water posting is the the most western part of the park. It is a popular launching site for canoeists and kayakers, providing 2 miles of flat water paddling before the river starts to churn once again.
It’s the middle of October, and finally starting to feel like it, with highs in the upper 60s we wanted to take to the water. After hearing about his successful canoe run on at Pocahontas State Park, Minh’s uncle wanted to take him for a spin on the James. He was nice enough to load the Ol’ red prospector, and pack the food. It’s actually been a while since we have both been on this canoe together. It’s hard to believe that this was the canoe we drove up to Erie, Pennsylvania to pick up in March 2016. When we arrived at the parking lot, I realized that I actually haven’t been back to this flatwater segment in over a decade.
The air was crisp and the water calm as expected at this time of year with little rain. We paddled to the north bank and built a fire in Brian’s trusty snowpeak fire pit. We explored this beach that would normally be underwater in the summer. We searched for shells and firewood. Minh thoroughly enjoyed it. He was also much more calm and stable in the canoe this time around. This outing reminded me that you don’t always have to go far to have some fun.
*Always remember to check water levels before paddling trips. Know your sections of the river, where you plan to put in and out! And of course, don’t forget your PFDs. Have fun.