Monday, October 7, 2013

Hiking Virginia during the shutdown

This year's government shutdown comes during one of the busiest times of year for many businesses in the Virginia mountains. Thus, Shenandoah National Park is closed at the exact time that the maples, poplars, and hickories are bursting into bright color. Many communities around the park will likely suffer this year when less tourists come for the October fall foliage.

However, even though Shenandoah National Park is closed for the moment, the Blue Ridge Mountains aren't stopping their fall show. If you've planned a trip to see the Blue Ridge in bright color, don't cancel it. You can see plenty of beautiful fall scenery without driving Skyline Drive or hiking Old Rag. And if you travel to the Blue Ridge area, you can help support the many small businesses and communities of the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley. Here are some alternative options to popular Shenandoah activities:

Instead of Skyline Drive, take SR 231 from Madison to Sperryville or US 340 between Waynesboro and Front Royal. Skyline Drive is undoubtedly beautiful, but the two major roads running parallel to the Blue Ridge to the east and west offer superb views of the mountains and also pass through cute, quaint towns and a rolling pastoral landscape along the way. US 340 takes you through a chain of towns, including Luray, Elkton, and Shenandoah. While these routes lack the overlooks and pullouts of Skyline Drive, you can expect to see Old Rag and Doubletop towering over farmland on SR 231 and the Shenandoah River winding through the Page Valley between Massanutten Mountain and the great peaks of the Central District on US 340.

Hike on Massanutten Mountain, in a state park, or in George Washington National Forest. So you can't hike Stony Man or Hawksbill- if anything, that's more incentive to discover other, less well-known but equally beautiful Virginia hikes! Although National Park Service units are closed, trailheads in US Forest Service units, such as George Washington National Forest, are still open. That means you can still hike to Strickler Knob on Massanutten Mountain, which has views equal to that of the Shenandoah Central District peaks, or to Spy Rock in George Washington National Forest near Montebello. Charlottesville residents can also try hiking in Albemarle County's Byrom Park or at the Nature Conservancy's Fortune's Cove site. D.C. and Northern Virginia residents can substitute trips to Great Falls with hikes at Raven Rocks, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Bull Run Mountains, or Sky Meadows State Park. Baltimore residents who can't go to Catoctin Mountain Park or Harpers Ferry can instead check out Rocks State Park in their backyard.

Most importantly, don't let the shutdown keep you from enjoying Virginia's most spectacular month!

Download the UVA Hike App for Android (if you're a Charlottesville resident) to find nearby, non-SNP hiking options. Also, a note for Charlottesville residents: although Big Branch Falls is technically off limits during the shutdown, the hike along the South Fork Moormans to Blue Hole from the Charlottesville Reservoir is still open.

To clarify: Shenandoah National Park is closed at all entrances. Skyline Drive is not accessible and parking areas at Old Rag, Berry Hollow, and Whiteoak Canyon are blocked. Your car might be towed if you attempt to park alongside the road near Old Rag or Berry Hollow. While some people have successfully entered the park through lesser-known entrances (Madison Run, Graves Mill, etc.), this is not recommended as park rangers may turn you away or even ticket you. Also, the park is thinly staffed, so help may be hard to find if you run into trouble. While I encourage you to visit the area this fall, please stay out of the park itself. Maintained recreation areas (Campgrounds, picnic areas, etc, such as Sherando Lake, Elizabeth Furnace) in George Washington National Forest are closed, too, but some trailheads in the national forest remain open. The Blue Ridge Parkway itself remains open although facilities along the road are closed.

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