Switzer Lake – George Washington National Forest, VA

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A closer drive than Lake Moomaw, but less secluded

On the border of Virginia and West Virginia, at 2362 ft above sea level, lies the beautiful, Switzer Lake (aka Skidmore Dam, Skidmore Lake). The 118 acre lake serves as a water supply reservoir to the town of Harrisonburg, Virginia and watershed for the George Washington National Forest. When I heard that the lake did not allow gas motorboats, I wanted to go to check it out. We had actually planned for an overnighter but decided against it when the temperatures dropped.

It was significantly cooler in the mountains at approx 45F. We also forgot to load our food cooler in the car….. a small detail. Nevertheless we made the most of the situation. We met some nice folks from Louisiana who gave us their stack of fire wood after exchanging camping stories and canoe trips. We made a huge fire and heated some naan on the stones. It was a windy but beautiful day with the leaves at near-peak colors and the clear lake, sparkled in the sun.

For those who plan to camp here, Switzer Dam appears to be a much more popular camping location than Lake Moomaw (located in Bath County) due to the ease of access to the campsites, most of which are drive-in camp spots. The lake is also only 30 minutes away from James Madison University, and is a popular place to hang out. The lake is stocked with brook trout and the surrounding rivers and streams in the area also have healthy populations to fish.

I have heard conflicting stories about whether camping is allowed immediately next to the lake. I think the best way to find out is to call ahead and ask which areas are permitted. There are several campsites situated in the forest, just a tad farther from the lake that appear to be safe spots to camp.

Since this is not an official camp ground, Lake Switzer doesn’t have the benefits of regular site maintenance. So it’s up to us to keep this place clean. It kills me when I find beer cans, tin foil, fishing line etc at campsites. Remember to pack out whatever you bring in!

campsite

 

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