A Long Overdue Return To Big Meadows In The Shenandoah National Park

A Long Overdue Return To Big Meadows In The Shenandoah National Park

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After my short visit to Kings Gap State Park in Cumberland County on Memorial Day I was on the road again.  This time I  was driving 3 hours south to the lodge at Big Meadows in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s hard to believe I last  visited, and camped, here over 38 years ago.  More about that later. It was sunny and a perfect  day for a drive on roads that  I haven’t traveled in decades. 

I followed I81 to I66 and then took Route 522 and  Route 211  into the park

The reflective  drive took me past some nice rural landscapes especially on the Route 522 stretch in Virginia. 

The long winding drive up Route 211 brought back memories of the many visits to the park I made in my orange Ventura Sprint when I was in law school at Catholic University in Washington D.C. It seemed like yesterday when I first  entered the park at the Thornton Gap Entrance and drove south on famous Skyline Drive  through the tunnel.  I remember it so well, it  was a sunny October day 40 years ago!

After entering the park, I stopped at the first of many overlooks, the Tunnel Parking Overlook. It was nice to see the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains again. I recalled the first time I saw this impressive view.  

I stopped at a few of the many overlooks, this one overlooking the Shenandoah Valley to the west. 

on the winding 30 mile drive to the lodge at Big Meadows. The drive once again brought back many memories. 

It took almost an hour to finally arrive at the entrance to the lodge and campground at Big Meadows. 

I had camped here a few times while in law school.  I will be honest and admit  I hated law school. I found peace from the stress in these mountains. My last, and favorite visit, was with my baby brother Mike after my law school graduation. It was in May of 1983. (I am old I know) He drove down from Pennsylvania  with my parents and was driving back home with me.  We first drove to Shenandoah National Park and camped here in the rain. It was a good time.  I remember saying we will have to come back again soon. Is 38 years soon? But better late than never they say. 

I arrived at 3 p.m. and was told my room wasn’t available,  so I first quickly  explored the lodge that was built in the 1930’s. 

And then followed a trail to the campgrounds, where I had such wonderful memories.  The woods along the trail were covered with pretty golden ragwort flowers. 

I have never seen these flowers before. My visits to the park where when I was attending school from September to early May. I learned that this maybe of the aster family is one of the few members of this species that blooms in the Spring. 

I also saw some more familiar wild flowers growing on the trail including wild geranium and

pink azaleas.

The trail followed the access road to the campground. I walked past some of the camps  and memories flooded my mind.  It was nice to hear a couple of young college age females setting up their camp like I did so many years ago. 

I walked over to the ranger station and had a pleasant chat with a young ranger about my  visits to the park  long before she was born. She also gave me some advice on hiking trails and places to watch the sunset. 

On my walk back to the lodge I saw a few birds that were singing in the trees along the trail. 

It seemed only the catbirds wanted their photos taken.

And this robin catching a worm in the late  afternoon sunshine. 

I also saw some bees  on the wild betony flowers growing along the trail,

and this deer feeding on some vegetation in  the shade of the large trees near the trail. 

My room still wasn’t ready when I returned so I spent some time on the patio enjoying the view of the Blue Ridge mountains. Finally, after 4 p.m. I got my key and walked to my lodge.

I loved the room and wished I could stay longer than one night. I had already asked at the desk and was told lodge was booked all week. So I had to make the best of the 14 hours I had. Here is a link to some more photos from my ride to and walk in the Shenandoah National Park. Big Meadows drive and walk May 31 2021. 

After settling in my room I did another exploration of the lodge and its history. It was here on July 3 1936 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Big Meadows and dedicated the Shenandoah National Park.

  I was advised the dining room gets crowded between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. I was hungry, I had already walked over seven miles,  so I decided to grab an early dinner. I was pleasantly surprised with the amazing meal I was served. I started with a delicious lentil chili. The main course was awesome. Mushroom ravioli served with shaved Parmesan, a spinach alfredo sauces , shrimp and Texas toast. 

I couldn’t pass up this dessert either, a blackberry cobbler served with ice cream. It was as delicious as it looks. The meal was excellent and reasonably priced.

I left the charming lodge dining room very full and satisfied, and needing to burn off some calories. So I hiked up the Black Rock Trail  where I was told I could get a good view of the sunset.

After climbing to Black Rock, and taking in the view,

 I had some time until sunset so I hiked down to the Appalachian Trail located a few hundred yards below the ridge.

On my hike to the trail I came across  a chicken mushroom, a choice edible mushroom but it was too old to harvest and I am not sure if it legal to harvest wild mushrooms in National parks. 

It was a great feeling to be on the Appalachian Trail again, especially atop the Blue Ridge mountains. I have hiked small sections of the trail and it was a dream of mine to someday hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine.  I doubt I will realize this dream but I hope to spend many more  hours exploring sections of the trail. I hiked about a 1/4 mile on the trail and came to this young group of hikers getting ready to watch the sunset. 

I climbed back up to Black Rock and watched a spectacular sunset over the Shenandoah Valley. 

It was long overdue and finally allowed me to fulfill a promise I made to myself as a much younger man. I hope to return soon. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my evening walk and sunset. Big Meadows sunset May 31 2021. 

Shenandoah National Park is lovely. It is possibly the most wonderful national park I have ever been in, and, considering the impossible and conflicting demands put on it, it is extremely well run. Almost at once it became my favorite part of the Appalachian Trail. – Author: Bill Bryson







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