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near Skyland, Virginia (United States)
If you have never been to this beautiful National Park with its' rolling mountains and abundant wildlife, you definitely need to put it on your list. Firstly, make sure you download and print the trail maps. Although you'll get an overall map of the park, it doesn't have the necessary detail to really plan and execute. Go to http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/mapshiking.htm for the relevant maps. We used the Skyland and Whiteoak area maps. After driving a few miles of the Skyline Drive and trying not to run off the extremely winding road (just a note, it's better to downshift your gears and use the engine to slow down instead of the brakes given the amount of braking you'll do) because of the stunning scenery, we pulled into the Whiteoak Skyline Drive trailhead parking lot. From there, we entered the trail and were immediately immersed in the lush woods. A tiny stream trickled along the trail, which would eventually turn into the falls 3 miles down the way. Once we got to the upper falls, instead of following the trail, which takes you up a high ridge to look down at the water, we scrambled down the falls themselves. This is actually quite safe as long as the water volume is low enough. Stay away from the slippery shiny parts and you'll be able to actually sit under the cool, refreshing falls. Once we had done this we scrambled back on the trail and took it down a bit before deciding that we didn't want to do an out-and-back hike. We looped back on the Whiteoak Trail to take in the overlook and then cut across the falls to the Whiteoak Horse Trail (Whiteoak Fire Road). This is a wider trail that make side-by-side walking possible and is very pleasant, but not terribly exciting. We exited from there onto Skyline Drive and crossed, stepping up onto the raised stone wall to keep away from the traffic. Upon reaching Cresent Rock Overlook, we linked up with the Appalachian Trail by walking along the wall north and then picking up the link trail per the concrete marker which has an arrow saying that the AT is .1 miles away. You have to find the steep downward trail which will then take you to the AT marker that indicates north and south running trails. We got on the Northern trail and proceeded towards the Skyland Stables. The AT is a beautiful, narrow trail carved into the side of the mountains and is the most serene trail of the day. We encountered a four foot long Northern Copperhead laying on the trail, apparently resting after ingesting a meal, which was apparent from the large bulge about midway down the snake's body. There was also a significant amount of black bear scat on the AT. We ended the hike at the stables and made our way back to the car. On the way back down the mountains we came across an adult blackbear, with a throng of people trying to take pictures of it and then later on, a cub running across the road, also with one or two people stopping to take pictures. Both situations were bad news with kids and adults stopping on the very dangerous road and then trying to approach a wild animal as if it was a zoo...If I see a bear cub, I'm thinking that momma is very close by and about to prove that in a fight on human versus bear, the bear will always win. On the drive home we stopped at Jenkins Orchards (355 Yancey Rd Woodville, VA 22749, (540) 987-8192) to pick up a bushel of fresh peaches.
Opening to Walk down the Falls