Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Social distancing hikes: Virginia

This is not the year to hike Old Rag Mountain. It's about to be August and the Covid-19 pandemic is raging unabated across the United States. Yes, going outdoors and hiking is one of the few safer activities left during this time. But this is not the summer to pack onto popular, crowded trails- the outdoors are far safer when we can all practice social distancing. If you're wondering what steps to take when you go out to stay safe, I've compiled some advice on how to decrease risk when you go out hiking.

Picking hikes that are unlikely to be crowded or choosing trails that are wider (such as rail trails or fire roads) are ways to ensure that you can continue social distancing while outdoors, decreasing our individual risk of contracting the disease while also decreasing the risk that we become vectors for Covid-19.

What hikes should you absolutely avoid? Skip Old Rag, Humpback Rocks, Whiteoak Canyon, Crabtree Falls, Stony Man, Marys Rock, and most of the other well-known hikes of the North and Central District of Shenandoah National Park this year if you're looking to social distance effectively on your hike.

Most of the hikes on this blog will see moderate amounts of traffic throughout the summer, but many will still have too many visitors for effective social distancing. Here's a list of ten hikes in and around Shenandoah National Park that you might consider instead:

The bends of the Shenandoah River below Veach Gap
1. Veach Gap             Massanutten Mountain generally sees fewer visitors than Shenandoah National Park and the two crowning glories of this mountain, Duncan Knob and Strickler Knob, are worthy destinations that probably won't be too crowded, either. Veach Gap, however, likely sees way fewer visitors while offering a uniquely beautiful view of the bends of the South Fork Shenandoah River and some interesting anticlinal geology.

Shenandoah Valley from Rocky Mount
2. Rocky Mount            If you do choose to visit Shenandoah National Park, the South District is by far the least visited area, being the farthest from Washington DC. The South District of the park also has numerous hikes to rocky peaks with good views that aren't usually crowded, such as this hike to a peak literally named Rocky Mount. The trail is single-track and narrow in places but you shouldn't have to share this hike with too many others.

Page Valley from Lewis Peak
3. Lewis Peak            This far-flung ridge of Rockytop in the South District of Shenandoah is a good spot to avoid crowds while enjoying lovely views of Massanutten Mountain and Shenandoah Valley.

Sunset on Trayfoot Mountain from Ivy Creek Knob
4. Ivy Creek Knob           Even stretches of the Appalachian Trail are usually quiet in the South District of Shenandoah. A nice view from the trail near Loft Mountain from what I've informally named "Ivy Creek Knob" caps an enjoyable and usually not terribly crowded hike from the Loft Mountain wayside and passes tumbling Ivy Creek en route.

Furnace Mountain views of Shenandoah Valley
5. Blackrock and Furnace Mountain           While Blackrock is one of the most visited viewpoints in the South District of Shenandoah National Park, Furnace Mountain is quiet and rarely visited, making this a good place to hike while social distancing. The views peak at Blackrock but Furnace Mountain still has very nice views of Austin Mountain, Trayfoot Mountain, and Shenandoah Valley.

Fork and Jones Mountains from the Doubletop Mountain Lunch Rock
6. Doubletop Mountain Lunch Rock         If you insist on hiking near the intensely popular Central District of Shenandoah National Park, you can still find some peace and social distance if you avoid Skyline Drive. This massive rock on Doubletop Mountain makes the perfect lunch spot with beautiful views of the Blue Ridge; it's rarely visited, so you won't have to mask up often or deal with crowds here. The catch? The trailhead, near Syria, can only be reached via a rocky road that is best negotiated with a high clearance vehicle.

View atop Robertson Mountain
7. Robertson Mountain from Skyline Drive          If you insist on visiting both the Central District of Shenandoah National Park and taking Skyline Drive but still don't want to deal with crowds, you're not entirely out of luck. The Limberlost Trailhead is the start of this lovely hike to the summit of Robertson Mountain. Most of the hike is on Old Rag Fire Road, so it'll be easy to distance from others; the final single-track stretch to Robertson Mountain's summit does not see heavy use, making this one of the few sweeping mountain views in the Central District that you can enjoy while social distancing during these Covid-19 times.

Fork Mountain from Bear Church Rock
8. Bear Church Rock            Another Central District Skyline Drive option is the long hike to Bear Church Rock from Bootens Gap. It's a long hike along ridglines to this tucked-away viewpoint but this is another good way to avoid the majority of crowds that descend on the Central District.

The Blue Ridge Mountains rise above the hills of Fortunes Cove
9. Fortunes Cove            The best way to avoid crowds while hiking is to avoid the Blue Ridge; Charlottesville hikers may find that Fortune Cove, a small preserve run by the Nature Conservancy, is a good spot to enjoy some hiking in the high foothills of the Blue Ridge without dealing with the crowds at Humpback Rocks or Crabtree Falls. The trails are narrow but you'll likely be able to enjoy this preserve without too much company.

Upper Shamokin Falls
10. Upper Shamokin Falls             "What about a waterfall hike?" you ask. Upper Shamokin Falls off of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a rarely visited gem that will allow you to see a waterfall while escaping the crowds. I would generally avoid waterfall hikes if you're hiking on a weekend though: such hikes tend to congregate large numbers of hikers around narrow access points to streams, preventing social distancing.

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