White Oak Canyon – Shenandoah National Park, VA

The morning air is crisp, and the leaves are beginning their color change, the first day of autumn is officially here. Min and I set out to our familiar backyard, Shenandoah National Park. Instead of scaling the mountains and searching for high altitude vistas. We sought out watering holes, cascades and native brook trout that lived in these crystal clear, mountain streams.

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The route: From the parking area, we took a left up the Cedar Run trail and crossed the fire road to descend down White Oak Canyon Trail.

Our trip took us past Madison, VA close to Old Rag Mountain, however this time through the Weakly Hollow Road. From there we parked our cars, and headed to the intersection between Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon trail. Instead of going the traditional route straight up White Oak Canyon, I’ve found out from many reviewers of this hike, that the best way to go, is up the Cedar Run trail. It eventually connects with a fire road to close the loop with a descent down the White Oak Canyon Trail. The total circuit would be 8 miles. I definitely recommend this method of approaching the trail for anyone thinking of doing this hike, the climb up Cedar Run is gradual as opposed to the vertical climb up White Oak Canyon. This route also allows you to descend down the fire road instead of climbing it where there really is not much to see.

DSC_0078It was a perfect day for a hike, a cool 65 degrees F in the morning and sunny. The water level was relatively low and some of the of the creek beds were completely dry. Nonetheless, there was still plenty of water to enjoy the beautiful falls. We saw plenty of brook trout in the these streams as well.

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Salvelinus fontinalis (brook trout) are a native fish to the Shenandoah Mountains.

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are part of the Salmonidae family and more specifically, a type of char. Other members of this group include arctic char and lake trout. As such, brook trout require water temperatures less than 20 degrees celsius to flourish due to the higher oxygen content. In the mountains, the native fish live relatively short spans of about 3 years, although some may live up to 6 years. Typically, brookies found in the streams grow to around 6-12 inches, larger sizes can be reached if they make it to a lake where food is abundant. They spawn during mid to late fall. Brook trout are amazing fish. I am always in awe at how they are able to survive in such low waters and through times of drought and flooding. Year and year again, they return and swim in the streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

DSC_0097The loop took us a solid 5 hours with a swimming break in a pool in a small canyon. The water was absolutely freezing but we knew that this was probably the last chance we would have this year before it gets too cold. As cold as it was, the water felt amazing, to swim with the brookies was also an awesome experience. Some of the watering holes even have natural water slides to enjoy during the hotter months.

Overall, an enjoyable hike and highly recommended as a place to cool off in the summers. If I were to return, it would be in the spring or early summer months with higher water levels and with my tenkara rod in hand.

Watch a video of the falls above

Bear Church Rock – Shenandoah National Park, VA

I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to make it out to the mountains before spring ended. We got our chance on May 16, 2015 when our cousin from Toronto came to visit. It was his first time to Virginia and this would be his   his first hike through the Shenandoah mountains. It was a perfect day for the Bear Church Rock loop (8.5 miles) which initially starts on the Graves Mill trail before steeply climbing the mountain along the Staunton river trail. We included a detour to check out the Jones Mountain Cabin owned by the PATC (Potomac Appalachian trail Club). It was a hot day with some overcast mixed with bursts of sunshine and spring rain. The showers peaked as we reached the top of the mountain to cool us off. Heaven.

Robertson Mountain – Shenandoah National Park, VA

I ventured out with my friends Min and Ronan, to Shenandoah National Forest on the last day of January. We decided to take on the Robertson Mountain Trail which starts near the base of Old Rag Mountain. We left Richmond at 7:00am and began our hike at 9:30am. It was a chilly day at 22 degrees F and a solid 5 inches of snow covering the mountain. The view at the top was well worth it. This trip may have opened doors to future winter camping excursions.

Graves Mill Trail – Shenandoah National Park, VA

In late October of 2013, Sarah and I set out with our friend Ronan to the woods of Shenandoah. We found this hike through Hiking Upward, probably the best resource for hikers in Virginia. It’s a website that features detailed descriptions of almost every hike in Virginia. From the Jefferson National Forest to Pisgah National Forest, it covers dozens of trails and reviews them in many different aspects. Each trail is reviewed in several different aspects such as difficulty, isolation, scenery, and degree of camp friendliness.  Anyways, we decided upon the Graves Mill Trail which eventually meets up with the Bear Church Rock trail. The beautiful Rapidan River flows alongside for the majority of the trail. Native brook trout can also be seen in the clear, and cold mountain waters. We took a short break next to the river to brew some tea on this awesome fall day.