Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hiking Shenandoah National Park: AT at Lewis Mountain and South River Falls

Hey Everyone! This past Friday was Earth Day and each year I try to do my best to reduce my negative impact on our planet by either making green cleaners, planting a garden or just something simple as keeping all the lights off. This year I decided to go out and be a part of it. It was a great weekend to go out for a hike and I took the opportunity do just that!

I went up to Shenandoah NPS to hike South River Falls. The weather, honestly, could have been better, but I was happy to be able to go out and hike considering the fire that is currently engulfing a large section of the park. It has closed off many hiking spots along Skyline Drive, however they are doing the best they can to contain the fire as best as possible.
Friday night I drove up to Lewis Mountain to camp overnight. This is a great place to launch from for most hikes between the Swift Run Gap and Thornton Gap Entrances. Note, This campground is first come, first serve and each site can only be held for the day. So, if you plan on camping a few days in a row, you must re-reserve each day. It is $15 per site, per day.  It does have running water as well as a bathroom (with showers). They have fire pits and benches for weekender stays. I did see some RV's camping out but mostly tent campers were spotted. Also, if you have recycling, they are a great place to drop-off. We were happy to find a nice spot, however, most neighbors did not respect the 10p quiet time so it made it quite difficult to go to sleep early. If you have the ability to, reserve the Pocoson Cabin (primitive camping on the South River Falls trail- bring water as there will be none available). 

I was happy to finally test out my new REI tent and she worked wonders. Easy to put together and assembly took about 5 minutes. Very impressive. Personally, she is more of a 2 season tent and lends well to rain, which we did have that evening. Dis-assembly was just as quick - considering we did as 630AM. I recommend once you get home, reassemble to dry and wipe down and then pack away. The tent is on sale now with REI, so if you are looking for a great tent, this is one to pick. She sleeps two comfortably and it has a room for a child/dog as well as gear. And, she fit well into my Osprey Aura pack.
We departed from Lewis Mountain at 640AM, and drove the 2 miles down to the South River Picnic Area and parked. They have restrooms and trash cans as well here, so this is a great pit stop along Skyline as well just for a day trip out for lunch. We grabbed our breakfast from our packs, stuffed our bellies and headed out with day packs and water. We did the South River Falls loop, totaling about 4.8 miles (we followed the loop to the falls, hit the Fire Road and grabbed the AT for the remainder of the trip back to the first 0.03 miles of the beginning of the loop where we started. 
The entire trek was not bad. Considering we left so early, there was only another car at the parking lot when we arrived, and honestly, when we left at 1030AM, the parking lot had about 10 cars, so the earlier the better for this trail. We did not see many people on the actual South River Loop, most hikers we encountered were trekking along the AT. There were two parties of trail runners, but pretty isolated otherwise. Wildlife consisted of a party of female deer grazing on the nearby foliage at the first part of the loop (prior to the AT crossing). A few birds were seen and we did find a family of chipmunks along the lower part of the loop. Thankfully, no snakes or bears were spotted, like many had previously warned. It was about 66 degrees, so that may have been a factor.
I will say this small section of the AT is a great trail - not too many roots or difficult terrain. Also, this is a great section of the trail to trail run, as so many people had done that morning. It was a relatively easy section and would be a great opportunity to get acclimated to the trail. My suggestion is start at Swift Run Gap Entrance, park and hike up to the South River Trail and end at Pocoson Cabin and do the loop back. There are many options but this particular section of the trail provides a great chance to hop on for a challenging day hike as well. 
Overall, the hike was really great. I liked the ability to change scenery by going down the fire road (although nothing to look at), and the option of doing the full larger loop for 10.4 total miles. Unlike some of my past hikes, this one did not have many overlooks or places to really see well. It is fairly bland compared to the other hikes, so if you want a lot of vistas and outcroppings, this is not really one of those hikes. However, the falls are fantastic, and during the summer provide a great relief to the heat. So, this is a great hike for the summer - with the falls as a great spot to stop for swimming. 

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