Thursday, July 30, 2015

Upper Shamokin Falls

Upper Shamokin Falls
2.5 miles round trip, 620 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Free

Upper Shamokin Falls is a very satisfying short hike near Charlottesville; in fact, it may be the easiest access point from Charlottesville to a substantial waterfall. The hike takes you from the Blue Ridge Parkway through the grounds of the Wintergreen Resort to the falls, which cascades in two small drops down the greenstone of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As with most waterfall hikes that start from Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway, this hike is downhill in, uphill back; do note that the trail is quite rocky and steep at points in the descent to the falls. This trail may be difficult to access during the winter, when the rocks on the trail may be very slippery; as a general rule, waterfall flows are highest in the Blue Ridge during winter and spring, so this may not be as good of a late summer or fall hike.

I headed out to the falls with a few friends from Charlottesville on a hot, humid June afternoon, the type of day that seemed to ask more for a lazy lounge in a swimming hole than any actual physical activity. From Charlottesville, we took I-64 west to Rockfish Gap, left the interstate at exit 99, turned right onto US 250 at the end of the ramp and then shortly after right at the sign that pointed towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park; we made a final right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading south. We followed the parkway past hazy views of Rockfish Valley, Big Levels, and Shenandoah Valley, traversing Afton, Elk, Dobie, and Humpback Mountains before reaching the small pull-off for the Dripping Rock Trailhead on the left (south) side of the drive. Driving time from Charlottesville was about 40 minutes, with about 20 miles of driving on I-64 and 10 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From Dripping Rock Trailhead, we followed the Appalachian Trail south directly from the parking area. A hundred meters from the trailhead, the trail came to an unmarked junction; as the AT veered left, we took the right fork. On this trail, we descended briefly, passing houses that formed part of the Wintergreen Resort, and crossed Laurel Springs Drive; upon crossing the drive we passed a sign indicating that we were hiking on the Old Appalachian Trail. We continued following the Old Appalachian Trail and observed a number of interesting summer biological features of the Blue Ridge: the parasitic plant Squaw Root and a great number of millipedes.

Squaw Root
After another short stretch on the Old Appalachian Trail, we came to a small sign on the left of the trail that pointed towards a narrow trail leading towards Shamokin Gorge. We followed this trail, which was at first fairly flat but then began to descend fairly steeply as the trail neared the stream. Parts of the descent were quite rocky and required a bit of mild scrambling; the trail also became more faint, making it necessary to pay attention to trail blazes. Along the way, we passed the intersections for the Chestnut Springs Trail and a path back to Laurel Springs Drive, but we continued straight along the Shamokin Gorge Trail, which continued to generally follow the stream. Finally, the trail swung far to the right from the stream and made a switchback before descending to the foot of the falls.

Lower part of Upper Shamokin Falls
The falls were not very tall, composed of a layered top drop and a taller bottom drop of about 20 feet; however, the tumbling waters of the fall constrasted nicely with the summer colors of the verdant forest. We enjoyed the view at the shallow pool at the foot of the falls before scrambling up the loose greenstone on the left side of the falls for a view of the upper drop.

Upper drop of Upper Shamokin Falls
Peering down the lower drop
Despite it being a weekend and despite the waterfall being a fairly easy and short hike less than an hour from Charlottesville, we saw just one other party at the falls. For the most part, we had the gurgling waters of the gorge and the falls to ourselves, sharing our experience only with the occasional millipede.

No comments:

Post a Comment