Though Stewart Campground on the Navy’s Northwest Annex in Chesapeake worked out pretty well for our short visit to Norfolk area, it’s southern position meant driving through the downtown area and the bay bridge tunnel to intersect I-64, at least if we wanted the shortest route by time. And considering that I had planned an aggressive 230 mile run up and over to Shenandoah National Park, we definitely wanted the shortest.
We find that two hours is a great drive, three is OK, but four begins to push the comfort level. Yeah, that may sound a bit weak, but driving a connected rig measuring 50′ feet with the tow vehicle, and nearly 30 thousand pounds gross weight is simply more stressful, particularly when you have either city traffic or winding mountain roads. And of course, this day we would have both.
The trip had been mostly unremarkable until the last hour wen we encountered both drizzle and road work on US-33. They had a lane closed down and had positioned the traffic cones so far over that we were driving partly in the oncoming traffic lane along the winding road up to the skyline parkway. With trucks barreling at us from the other direction, it made for some tense driving, but once we turned onto the park entry road things calmed down considerably. We paid for our $80 annual national park pass at the guard station, knowing that though we would probably not see 21 national parks like we did in 2015, we would be visiting enough to justify the expenditure rather than pay for individual entry fees.
There are three big rig accessible campgrounds in the Shenandoah National Park, and after careful research we selected Big Meadows for our stay. It would be the shortest route not involving back tracking, had the best reviews (though only by a touch), access to some great day hiking trails, and had a robust camp store and lodge should we need a bit of civilization. We were taking a bit of a chance by not making reservations because there were no online reservable sites available for our full three or four day stay. Instead we relied on the two large loops designated for walk up reservations.
This worked out just fine; upon arrival the ranger provided us a list of a dozen or so site options and let us explore them, set up camp, and come back later in our tow vehicle to fill out the paperwork. We drove through the “C” loop, selected our top pick there, but continued on to the “I” loop just in case. We liked the spacing and old growth trees all over the I loop much better than the slightly more compressed and open aspect of the C loop, but the available sites were heavily rutted and laughably unlevel, and I didn’t want to spend the weekend heavily canted back and to the left.
Once settled in we took a spin up to the lodge to use the WiFi and make a few phone calls since there was no cell service within the campground at all. But considering our arduous drive we made no attempt to do any hiking or other exploration until day two. By then we were recharged enough to make the two mile moderate hike down to Lewis Falls, a beautiful 81 foot waterfall northwest of the campground.
That little hike was a warm up for our last day, when we did the somewhat more arduous and longer Rose River Loop Trail to see the Rose River and the Dark Hallow Falls. We prepared much better for this run, having packed more water, snacks, and a meal. In addition to a beautiful walk along brisk running streams, we had the luck of seeing three black bear, a mother and two yearlings, a couple of hundred feet off the trail just as we were leaving Dark Hallow. We neared the completion of our hike just as the cold drizzle started, making it to the warmth of our trusty Geo Tracker only a bit wet.
We cut our original four day stay down to three once we learned that our great friends Hans and Rachel were living in Burke, VA, along the way to our next stop in Annapolis. and Sunday would be the best day to stop by for a visit. More on Burke, Annapolis, and a couple of Moose Lodge parking lot camping nights next post.