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  • Writer's pictureNina Dudko

A Day in the Shenandoah Valley

It’s taking a bit longer than usual for fall weather to kick in. This weekend is supposed to be in the high 70s and 80s. It’s unsettling because one day it will be low 60s and then the next day will feel like summer—I have no idea how to dress!

Despite the warmer days, the leaves are slowly starting to change colors to their deep lush reds and golden yellows. And where is the best place to see the leaves change in their true fall splendor? The Shenandoah Valley!

The mountainous valley just a few hours outside of Washington, DC is a great place to hike and admire how beautiful nature is. I guess the advantage of nice weather this weekend is that it’s perfect for a weekend hike up the many trails at the Shenandoah National Park.

Here's a close up of a butterfly that landed on my butt.

One of the beautiful trails you can hike is the White Oak Canyon Trail. A lot of travelers who come to Shenandoah hike up Old Rag, which is one of the most difficult hikes at the park. The White Oak Canyon trail is a moderate hike—you will work up a decent sweat, but not feel sore the next day.

I hiked White Oak Canyon back in August with some friends as a last summer hurrah when the weather stayed in the high 80s and 90s, but it’s a well shaded trail to protect you from the sun.

The White Oak Canyon trail has two starting points—one at the top of the trail and another at the bottom. When I went with my friends a few months ago, we started at the bottom, which is what I recommend for this trail. The hike up can be pretty steep in certain parts, so it’s much easier to hike up and then walk down instead hiking down and back up while exhausted.

I loved this trail. The alluring feature of this trail are the waterfalls. But these waterfalls have pools you can swim in! That’s right—you can swim right under some of the waterfalls. Granted the water is pretty damn cold, but once you jump in it’s not that bad—the worst part is that first jump in.

After a light swim (though the water might be absolutely frigid now), you hike up the winding woody paths to reach the top of the trail. Along the way are large boulders that make the perfect lunch spot—it just takes a bit of climbing to get there, but climbing appeals to my primitive instincts. The towering trees transport you to a fairy tale forest.

When you get to the top of the trail there is a huge opening where the green (well hopefully now brownish-red) canopy truly welcomes you to the Shenandoah Valley. The sounds of the waterfalls rushing behind you, birds chirping, and butterflies dancing around, this is the perfect escape to the busy city life. You disconnect completely from civilization despite the occasional airplane that flies over. Otherwise, it’s just peaceful.

Since the Shenandoah has so many different trails, it’s hardly crowded and even if the trails have a lot of hikers, everyone is pretty friendly and polite—people will let you pass them just be sure to do the same for your fellow hikers. Parking is about $20 for one car and there usually is plenty of parking given the trail variety.

The drive to Shenandoah is usually 2 hours, but you’re passing right through Virginia wine country! So after a nice long hike reward yourself with a tasting at the many wineries around Shenandoah. I’m a huge fan of Morais Vineyards and Old House, but you have oodles of options.

Happy hiking!

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