Sunday, March 9, 2014

Eight Hikes for Spring

Beagle Gap sunrise
Spring is coming- it's almost the start of one of the most beautiful times of year in the Appalahchians. Streams are full, fed by snowmelt, and by early April, wildflowers will be popping up over the forest floor. I've compiled a short list of hikes you should hike this spring- and when you should do them- to get the most of this year's Appalachian Spring.

1. Doyles River/Jones Runs Falls

After this winter's heavy snows, the three waterfalls along this 6.6-mile loop should be flowing much heavier than usual. Go anytime between March-June; water levels may start dwindling by June, though, dependent on weather.

2. Big Branch Falls

Anyone who visits this waterfall in August knows that these falls run pretty dry in the summer. While it's probably best to avoid this hike right after a rainstorm, as it involves a few tricky river crossings, spring is the best time to catch a reasonable flow at Big Branch Falls. Hike this 4.8-mile trail in late March and April to see the redbud, dogwood, and columbine in bloom along the trail.

3. Robertson Mountain

Robertson is a tough mountain to hike, but you'll get a double reward in the spring when you couple the peak's sweeping views of Berry Hollow and Fork Mountain with the forest of blooming white-and-pink mountain laurel. This 7-mile hike is one of the steepest in the park, but it's a good way to get a comparable view to Old Rag while skipping the crowds on Old Rag Mountian itself. Come in mid-May to early June to see the mountain laurel.

4. Humpback Mountain

If you've hiked on this mountain but never gone past Humpback Rocks, this spring is a good time to explore the views further along the trail and the wild azaleas and pink lady-slippers that bloom along the trail. It's an eight-mile hike best done in May when the flowers are blooming and the green line has reached the top of the mountain.

5. The Priest via Crabtree Falls

The Priest and Crabtree Falls are a top Virginia hiking destination in any season, but in the spring, they become even more beautiful as the water level in Crabtree Falls is bumped up a notch and the Catawba Rhododendron blooms. This is close to the northermost reach of the flower, which is arguably the grandest of flowers in the Southern Appalachians. Come in May for the rhododendron blooms; if the nearly ten mile hike to the top of the Priest is too much, you can do the 3.5-mile round trip to the top of Crabtree Falls.

6. Rapidan Camp Loop

This is a hike that has spring written all over it: the gorgeous trillium bloom atop Hazeltop in April and May, the tunnels of mountain laurel at Laurel Gap bloom a month later, and the rushing waters of the Laurel and Mill Prongs are always full in the spring, making Big Rock Falls much prettier as well. Come anytime between April and June; you're bound to find some flower, whether it's trillium, azaleas, or mountain laurel, in full bloom, making the 7.5-mile loop trip to President Hoover's former summer residence much more interesting.

7. St. Mary's Falls

While many people may prefer this as a summer hike, when the swimming holes near the falls are a good respite from the heat, this is a beautiful hike in the spring as well, when the waters of the St. Mary's River are full to brim. Avoid hiking after heavy rainstorms or on very cold days as the four-mile hike requires multiple tricky river crossings. Come anytime April-June.

8. South River Falls

When in full flow, South River Falls is almost certainly the prettiest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. The best bet for sufficient flow is in winter to spring; do this 3.8-mile round trip or 4.5-mile loop anytime between March and May. In April and May, you'll find plenty of pretty wildflowers along the trail to keep you company.

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