Virginia Part #2 : Sharp Top Trail @ The Peaks Of Otter

After hiking McAfee Knob on day one while in Virginia we woke up sore and stiff. Although, we were not going to let that hamper our plans for the day which were to hike Sharp Top Trail next.

IMG_9607

IMG_9598

IMG_9596

Across the road from the trail head is the Peaks Of Otter Visitors Center where we first stopped for a trail map, restrooms, and a chat with the park ranger.

IMG_9602

IMG_9601

Why??? Well, all the way to the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway we saw numerous and I mean numerous trucks full of dogs and bear hunters.

IMG_9589

And sure enough when we were pointed across the road to the trail head there were also signs warning us of the bear problems nearby.

IMG_9605

IMG_9611

We made sure before heading down the trail that our bear spray was on us at all times.

IMG_9609

IMG_9612

This was a hell of a hike!!!! Short, at just over 2 miles according to our GPS, but wow was it rocky and very hard to manage at times.

IMG_9672

IMG_9615

IMG_9617

About 3/4 of the way up you reach an area with big boulders once again that lead you up some steps and brings you to an old building.

IMG_9625

IMG_9628

IMG_9633

IMG_9639

Round the corner from this building and you will be speechless. Suddenly you are once again on top of the mountain looking at 360 degrees of beauty.

IMG_9642

IMG_9643

IMG_9661

IMG_9677

Simply amazing!!!!

We spent a good amount of time up here where we had a small snack before deciding to head back down by the way of the shuttle offered at the gift shop at the bottom. Down is so much more painful than up for both my husband and myself that we agreed with the rolling rocks we climbed to get up here that the shuttle would be the safest route back. This shuttle can be taken both ways or one way either up or down. For us one way cost $6 each. The shuttles run on the hour and the entire ride up/down takes about 15 minutes.

IMG_9678

My opinion of this hike is its rough on the knees and ankles. It took us just under 1.5 hours to get to the top and the trail itself is straight up. We saw no bear on this trail but I will tell you we did see them very nearby so some type of bear repellent would be a safe idea. If you are not a hiker and don’t have the proper gear to attempt this hike the shuttle is worth every penny to enjoy the view from the top.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Memories I Will Have Forever From Virginia: Part One….McAfee Knob

Memories….they are made everywhere. Many of my memories are from here in Wisconsin where I was born and raised for the past 40+years of life. However, this past week I made some more memories with my husband on a bucket list trip to Virginia where I know my heart aches to be……in the mountains.

IMG_9708

We live in the flattest state around(in my opinion) and I have seen almost all there is to see here numerous times. So when the chance comes that I get to escape the grind of every day life to go to my happy place I am the first one packed and ready to go. So let me share with you the past week in the mountains of Virginia.

For this vacation we drove from WI to Salem, Virginia to begin our adventure. Now you may wonder…why such an off the wall city like Salem? Well, I had a bucket list dream to fulfill and I wanted to make sure I could do this before we packed in anything else. My dream was to hike the AT up to McAfee Knob and get the iconic picture that you see in many, if not all, hiking magazines, on hiking websites and so on. Every time I would see this picture displayed I would tell my husband….some day I will get there. And as usual, he would just smile and say….I have no doubt you will. Love you honey!

The morning of our hike we left before sunrise to make sure we could find the trailhead and get a parking spot. I had read that parking was sometimes packed but was hoping it would not be too bad since our hike was happening Monday morning. We arrived with about twenty minutes to spare before the sun started peeking over the mountains. The lot had a fair share of cars but all looked to have been there overnight. The lot was easily located of the 311 and marked clearly.

IMG_9436

IMG_9564

IMG_9558

IMG_9565

IMG_9560

The trail itself starts across the street from the parking area. Again, clearly marked with signage once you cross the 311 carefully, since cars zip around this mountain road fairly quickly.

IMG_9440

IMG_9442

The view going up was so beautiful.

IMG_9450

IMG_9466

A bit up the trail you will come to a split. Signs are large and arrows point you in the correct direction. ***Now, I will tell you that many AT hikers recommend hiking the fire road up to the knob and then taking the AT back to the parking lot or vice versa since the AT is quite rugged. We did not do this. I did not train physically and drive for two days to hike any fire road for whatever reason what so ever. I came to hike the AT up to McAfee Knob and back and I am so happy we did.

IMG_9448

The trail we found to be difficult. Remember….we hike flat ground in WI almost all our life. This part of the AT was covered in rock, boulders, and roots in many places. Very little was ground and being we were headed to the top of of a mountain it was clearly up all the way.

IMG_9464

IMG_9478

IMG_9562

IMG_9489

IMG_9480

Eventually you will come to a crossing that again is well marked and will lead you across the fire road.

IMG_9485

Then you reach an AT shelter where you head up another clearly marked trail.

IMG_9550

Eventually you see the trail start to have huge boulders and you weaving around these while you make the last stretch to the top.

IMG_9497

IMG_9496

By this time I was tired. And I mean TIRED!!!! Hiking up the entire trail was difficult plus our GPS clearly did not agree with the mileage that was posted with all the information I had read regarding this trail. So if you attempt this hike and find your mileage is also different keep going…..you will be so happy you did. We finally reached the top of the knob and immediately we checked the mileage to compare.

IMG_9500

I soon forgot about this little issue because when I rounded the corner I felt like I wanted to cry. OK, maybe I did a bit. It was truly amazing in every way!!!!!!

IMG_9528

IMG_9506

IMG_9507

We had did it and we did it together. We arrived to find a few others but the longer we stayed the more others arrived. We ate a small snack and rested a bit before returning to the bottom by way of the AT once again. We saw deer, lizards, and many, many caterpillars along the way.

IMG_9549

IMG_9554

When we finally arrived back at the 311 parking lot we had clocked a total of 9.5 miles and almost 6 hours of hiking with I would say about 45 minutes were at the top exploring, resting and having lunch.

IMG_9567

Most importantly……I crossed something of my bucket list that I will cherish forever…..my own iconic photographs on the top of McAfee Knob with the love of my life.

IMG_9503

IMG_9501

IMG_9514

IMG_9519

A dream come true!!!!!!!!!!!

Miners Castle-Michigans U.P.

Miners Castle was one of the destinations we visited while hiking waterfalls in Michigans U.P.. Even though it is not a waterfall it was on the agenda since this is one of the first places my husband ever took me to get me interested in the great outdoors. I immediately fell in love with this area.

IMG_9129

Very easily accessible on the top portion of the overlook since there are paved sidewalks that lead right up to the overlook platform.

IMG_9130

This is the view from the upper overlook.

IMG_9132

IMG_9134

To continue down to the lower viewing platform you will encounter steps. Nothing too serious but none the less steps. So wheelchairs or anyone with a disability may have a problem reaching this area.

IMG_9131

IMG_9137

This is the view from the lower overlook.

IMG_9139

I would not call this hiking but if your in the area I would not pass this by since it is quite the sight. It’s very beautiful any time of year….even winter;-)

You will find ample parking, no fee to view from either platforms, and bathrooms are also located here but in the past we have found them locked in the winter months.

IMG_9128

 

Wagner Falls-Michigans U.P.

Wagner Falls in Michigans U.P. is easy to miss since you come upon it right on the side of MI-94. Parking is very limited and many people we found later in the day parking along the actual highway itself. We lucked out and actually got an actual parking space since we arrived early in the morning hours.

IMG_9100

IMG_9101

There are no restrooms here, no fee is charged, and most of the hike is on a wooden platform path.

IMG_9104

Again, as at most Michigan waterfalls, you will come to the end of the path and have to climb stairs to the viewing platform. Although, here there are not many at all and the falls can be seen a bit from the end of the path without climbing the steps.

IMG_9105

Our son and his friend even braved past the viewing platform since it was early and no one was here yet to try and capture a closer photo of this waterfall. Being a mom who believes rules are meant to be broken I told them to go for it…..mom fail…. I know but it is what it is.

IMG_9117

The falls were beautiful in the morning hours, the walkway was slippery due to the morning dew that had covered it, and the actual walk in was short and easy.

IMG_9111

 

Miners Falls-Michigan U.P.

One of our favorite waterfalls in Michigans U.P. is Miners Falls.

IMG_9145

Parking here is ample when it’s not the busy season…..we visited on Labor Day weekend and it was packed!!!!! Bathrooms are available right in the parking area and a few picnic tables are also in this area to rest or have a picnic.

IMG_9144

It’s an easy hike into the falls with a crushed gravel/dirt path through the woods.

IMG_9147

That is until you hit the stairs that lead to the actual viewing platform for the falls. There are a good number of steps so strollers/wheelchairs will have problems from this point onward. And no, you cannot see the falls without taking the steps.

IMG_9148

This waterfall is quite magnificent….with a thunderous roar and a mist of spray while viewing. Many have trouble photographing this waterfall due to this mist…..as I did also while here.

IMG_9150

IMG_9156

This waterfall/trail is free along with free parking.

 

 

 

Our Visit To The DeYoung Family Zoo In Wallace , MI

Once again my husband came up with a spectacular idea to make my weekend a bit more fun while taking it easy and letting this muscle strain heal…he suggested we take a trip to Wallace, MI and visit the DeYoung Family Zoo.

IMG_8786

I have a love/hate relationship with zoos since I sometimes feel sorry for the animals penned up and not free to be in their normal environments. Although, I do love the zoos that offer a place for animals to rehabilitate from injury or even survive as happy as can be in the case of a birth defect. I have found that its best not to know and just enjoy the zoos we visit to the best of my ability since let’s face it, zoos have been around forever and will always be a popular place for families to enjoy whether I like them or not. In this instance this is by far one of the more rustic non commercialized zoos I have ever been to. For a reasonable entrance fee you can enjoy a natural setting with animals and very little hype when it comes to snacks, gift shops, and extras around every corner.

IMG_8785

There are no paved sidewalks in this zoo and no big guard rails to keep you at a distance from the animals. However, every cage is double fenced and found easily with hand painted signs through out the area. It’s like hiking through a jungle full of various animals.

IMG_8829

IMG_8830

IMG_8834

IMG_8838

The do offer food to purchase and feed the animals in the feeding area. Although, we only saw one place to buy food and that is in the same building you enter and pay admission in. So save yourself some time and buy this at the same time you pay your admission fee.

IMG_8848

IMG_8850

There are also signs posted along the way when special feeding times are for the large animals if you enjoy this type of thing. Crowds gathered for the hippo were amazing so this is something you will want to make sure you grab your spot in time.

IMG_8857

IMG_8856

IMG_8863

It was a nice change from the zoo in our area here. All dirt trails, tons of trees, and nothing for your children to beg you to buy throughout the entire zoo.

IMG_8800

IMG_8825

IMG_8815

IMG_8804

IMG_8865

I would highly recommend this zoo if your looking to get away from the big city and enjoy a few hours of animal adventure.

Get here early for good parking since parking is limited. Bring your own snacks or a picnic lunch since snacks/food is also very limited. And remember bug spray since this is Michigan and bugs are everywhere!!! And if you forget the wipes/hand sanitizer…no worries, they offer soap and water right on the premises to clean up after the feeding area.Oh, and I almost forgot….grab some tissues/toilet paper since all the facilities are porta potties and some where out of toilet paper while we were here.

IMG_8789

Rocky Mountains N.P., Grand Tetons N.P. or Shenandoah N.P.

I need some help from all my fellow hikers out there in cyber land. We are trying to plan our next big adventure and we all have different thoughts on what direction to go. And this time our plan is to drive and not fly. So this is really going to be an adventure. Although, our last vacation was also an adventure in itself flying…that is after we finally got off the ground, found our luggage twice, and rented a car to drive the remainder of the way home since the airlines could not seem to get us home for two more days. So driving it is because I am not ready to board another airplane any time soon.

IMG_20170112_1530132_rewind

So I need some advice, thoughts, suggestions, and any information you can share in regards to these three national parks or their surrounding areas. Best hikes, best places to stay, things to do, and any things not to do.

Comment or email me at rednatural1973@gmail.com.

Thank You!!!!