Dates: September 4-7, 2020
People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth, Anya, Jay, Lisa
9-4 (Travel Day)
9-5 (Shenandoah National Park)
9-6 (Shenandoah National Park, Monticello Kemper Park)
9-7 (Travel Day)
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 4
This was supposed to be our trip to be a part of Lisa and Jay's wedding in Virginia but that was postponed due to COVID-19. So we decided to make the most of the time of Labor Day weekend and still make a trip to spend time with them. We altered plans and decided to try out Shenandoah National Park. None of us had ever been and it would be a great way to camp and enjoy the outdoors without getting too close to anybody else.
We decided on an early start from the house to attempt to maximize some time at camp on Friday afternoon and evening. We had a goal of 5am but didn't quite hit the road til 5:30am. We made the first half of the trip moving well with a bathroom stop at a service plaza at 7:30 and then a gas stop in Ligonier Pennsylvania at 10:20am. We had plenty of sleepers to start after the early morning beginning.
We did lunch at Breezewood, PA where the Turnpike ends and I70 bends southward towards Maryland and the Virginias. They had a nice selection of different food items there and it was a great time to get Anya out to move around. Sarah began driving after here to give me a break.
Once we were in Shenandoah Valley on I81 we hit our first delays. There was an accident on the interstate towards the south end of the valley and we were eventually forced to detour off interstate on back roads to make our way down to Waynesboro, VA. This added a bit of time to our total. Sarah also had to make a Walgreens stop in Waynesboro for a prescription she had called in.
After the stop we made the remaining short drive to Misty Mountain Campground Resort just under 10 miles east of Waynesboro. We had researched numerous camping options around Shenandoah. The National Park campgrounds were already full when we began the plans. I finally found this place after some searching and they really looked great. They had a number of fun amenities, they had vacancy, the price was right, and a good location for us all. I followed them on facebook and they struck the right chord with us as a caring family run operation who looks out for their campers.
It was around 4pm when we hit the Campground. They ended up giving us an unexpected military discount because of Jay and Lisa and we had a great deal for the weekend. Jay and Lisa had also just arrived and we all set about setting up tents. There was the threat of rain imminent and so we made as quick work of the tents as we could. This was the first time in the tent for Jay and Lisa so some extra fun for them.
Thankfully the rain storm didn't come down too hard nor did it last long. During the latter minutes of it as we decided our next moves I set about taking a walking tour of the campground. It was a little bigger than the map had implied. I also wanted to see what their backcountry sites looked like at the south end of the campground. These definitely had a more remote feel to them if some quietness and seclusion is what we wanted. Downside would be long walks to the bathrooms and other amenities.
To prep for supper I got some firewood from the camp office. They sold typical-size bundles for $6.68. We grabbed three for the weekend. Probably could have used four by the end. We cooked pizza sandwiches over the supper and that was a hit for everyone. Anya sure kept us busy not wanting to stay still for much and wanting to explore. We had a playground and bounce area in one direction and a lovely creek in the other direction.
SATURDAY September 5
Anya had a pretty good night camping. She tossed and turned a bit but slept through the night for the most part. That is, until she was up at 6:30am. We kept her in the tent til 7am as long as we could, but then it was time to get out. Sarah and I both hopped out with her and we started our morning and got Anya some breakfast. We brought milk and cereal along again for everyone as well as Anya's favorite bananas. It was 58 in the morning and everything was super damp. A typical morning each day we were there.
The boys didn't get up til 8am and we had to wake them up. We had had plans to leave camp at 9am to make the drive up to Shenandoah. It ended up being about 9:20am by the time we left It was nearly a 2 hour drive up to the Front Royal entrance for Shenandoah. We made it up to the entrance at 11:15 and there was a bit of a line (it was Labor Day weekend after all). It was a $30 entrance fee this year.
We had planned to do lunches picnic style and so we brought sandwich materials and snacks. We made our initial drive into the park and hit an overlook and then proceeded to the Dickey Ridge visitor center and hit the big picnic area there. We were lucky to find a pair of tables together which suited us well. Weather was a beautiful partly cloud with temps in mid 60s.
After lunch we drove more and hit various overlooks for pictures. We decided to do a hike in the Hogback area and so drove to the Little Hogback overlook to start a shuttle hike.
After the hike we hit some more overlooks and then proceeded to the Skyland area. Lisa had wanted to check their shop there for wine selection and we also needed a bathroom break. We stopped in for 20 minutes and then hit the road again. We decided on one more hike at the Hawksbill area. Only Luke and I were interested. So the rest of the group drove onward to Big Meadows for a much needed gas stop and drinks while Luke and I hiked.
From Hawksbill it was about 4:30pm and we were deciding we'd had enough for the day. We drove down to the Swift Run Gap entrance and then headed east out of the park. We had discussed hitting breweries for supper but we had some concerns about eating in or at the restaurants. So we decided to hit up a food truck that was stationed in our campground. They had been passing out fliers with their menu and it seemed nice to support them. They called themselves Ms. B's Recipes. We tried their hamburgers, philly cheese steak and chicken tenders. We came back for dessert and tried fried oreos, fried twinkies and funnel cake with apple cinnamon on top.
We spent the evening at our camp site. The campground had some live music on the lawn which added some nice ambience to the place. I was down by 10p laying with Anya. The others stayed up trying to play games under the lantern light.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 6
We gave ourselves an extra hour this morning not being in any great rush. Anya slept in slightly better til about 7:30am. Things were still very damp outside for the morning. We got breakfast and were in the vehicles headed for Shenandoah just after 10am.
Our original plans were to hit the South District of Shenandoah today. Having seen yesterday that most of the overlooks offered similar experiences we decided it was unnecessary to drive the whole South District. Instead we targeted a hike at Blackrock Summit hearing this would be ideal for us.
We entered the park from the south entrance and drove the 20 miles north to Blackrock and got there just after 11am. The parking lot was full and we joined a number of other cars parking in the grass alongside the road. We saw this at many trailheads with things being a bit overcrowded for Labor Day. The maps suggested a loop hike at Blackrock using the A.T. for the ascent and then a service road for the descent.
Coming out from the hike we were hungry and looking for a picnic option. Thankfully the Dundo Picnic Area was only about 3 miles down the road. We headed there and found it fairly full. We did finally come to a pair of picnic tables in the group camp area that were free. There was a group using the camp area but there was distance from them to the picnic tables. A gentleman from their group came over to say hi and was fine with us eating as long as we picked up after ourselves. We had another nice picnic lunch and then were on our way.
We decided we'd had enough of Shenandoah and so headed south out of the park again. Our next stop would be through Charlottesville to Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson home. Sarah had done some research on Kemper Park and the hiking trails there. We hoped to get a nice hike in and enjoy some more outside time.
We arrived at the parking and found it entirely full. This caused us to quickly shift gears. We drove up to the parking at Michie Tavern to change plans. We decided to drive over to the parking for Monticello and get out to see the visitor center and the bathrooms. We couldn't go up to the house itself as you needed to buy tickets and their was a reservation system going without any vacancy. You couldn't even hike up the trail to the house without a ticket. So we refilled out water bottles and hit bathroom here, and after a quick walk through the gift shop headed back out. We saw on the map a secondary (and larger) parking for Kemper Park and so headed there and found some parking.
We hiked the main Saunders-Monticello Trail which was basically like a crushed limestone road. It was fairly muggy out and probably around 80 degrees. We hiked this to the Pond Trail which we hiked just the east side of. We stopped at the pond and saw tons of fish all hanging by the shore looking to be fed. As we lingered the geese also came over looking for free handouts.
From the Pond Trail we hiked up to Carter Overlook. We then did the Umbrella Magnolia Trail which was single track trail through dense forest. This brought us back to the Saunders-Monticello which we hiked back to the car. This totalled just under 2 miles for the group and we enjoyed it. The Park was quite beautiful and well cared for.
We headed back to camp and got showers for most of us. We decided to try the Blue Mountain Brewery for supper. We tried a number of entrees including a bratwurst pizza with grilled onions and bits of apple. I went to pickup the food and found they were super busy. Our food wait was about 75 minutes. It was fun to try but we didn't get to try any of their beer.
The group played some Catan til dark and we enjoyed another nice campfire for the evening. Jay had to leave to head home around 8pm. We got Anya down about 9pm and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
MONDAY September 7
I had been waiting for the right morning to go out and get a hike or run in on my own. Our plans worked out perfectly to do it this last morning. Jay had already gone home for work and Sarah and Anya then slept in the other tent with Lisa. This gave me the freedom in our tent to make an early departure. I was on the road by 6:25am with the intention of hitting Humpback Rocks. I had done some research and found this to be a gem of a hike/trail run. I made a gas stop on the drive over and then hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to get to the trailhead.
I was back to camp and found Sarah and Anya up. Yet another fairly early morning for Anya. We did some breakfast together and then worked on waking up the others to start tearing down our camp. Luke was very helpful in working with Lisa for her tent. I set about working on our tent. The rainfly was still pretty damp from condensation so we were left with another wet tent teardown. I folded it lightly and threw it in the bottom of the back end with intentions of drying it out at home. It was 11:20 when we finally hit the road.
We drove into Waynesboro and did lunch at the Chick-fil-A. We used their outdoor seating and had a good time of it. After out lunch it was about 12:20p when we said good bye to Lisa and hit the road. I did the initial driving and we made great time driving til just after 4p when we hit a service plaza for bathroom and some drinks. I had Sarah then drive after that. She drove us all the way to Youngstown, OH. We did some driving through a storm in this section. We did supper sitting inside at a Wendy's there having to walk inside through the wind and rain. We got gas before leaving town and hit the road around 7p with me driving. We hit another service plaza for gas at 8:30pm. Along the way we found that the iPass in Sarah's van wasn't operating properly and we ended up paying credit cards at the toll booths. We made it home 10:15pm.