Firsthand Report and Pictorial: Winter Hiking at Shenandoah 3
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

On Friday, March 13, I decided to take the day off and head to Shenandoah National Park for an afternoon of hiking and photography. With a number of ski resorts calling it quits, it seemed like a good time to start the transition from skiing to hiking.

Shenandoah in the winter. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

After a lazy morning start, I didn’t end up hitting the road until noon. Normally I head for Front Royal, but I had picked out a hike near Big Meadows, so I took 15 to 211 and headed for the Thornton Gap entrance. As I approached the fog-shrouded mountains, I saw snow clinging to the treetops. The higher elevations had received a couple inches of snow overnight, and I was ecstatic -; after all, bad weather makes great photos. I had expected the leafless winter terrain to be colorless and drab, and knew that a bit of snow would make my photos much more interesting.

This excitement soon led to dismay as I approached the entrance station and saw the car in front of me turning around. A ranger at the entrance station informed me that Skyline Drive was closed due to slippery conditions; with mountaintop temperatures below freezing, there was some icing along the Drive, and more freezing precipitation was expected that evening. After driving three hours, I wasn’t prepared to just turn around, and considered parking there and walking into the Park. But the ranger suggested that the southern portion of Shenandoah might open later that afternoon, if I wanted to try driving there.

“What the heck?” I thought, and headed west and then south down to the Swift Run Gap entrance. From there, I was happy to see the southern part of Skyline Drive open -; the road to the north was blocked off. It was getting late, so I picked out a new hike and headed for the trailhead, starting my hike at 5 p.m.

Normally, this would not be a wise thing to do.

After all, the Park was deserted, temperatures were in the 20’s, the trails potentially icy, and I was starting a hike by myself near dusk, meaning I would be hiking at least an hour or two in the dark.

But I was prepared -; with plenty of layers of warm clothing, emergency gear, and ready to spend a night or two in the woods if absolutely necessary. The extra gear, combined with the heft of my metal-body SLR camera, lens, and tripod, resulted in a backpack that was quite heavy. It never seems so heavy on the way down, but most trails at Shenandoah start at the top, meaning the second half of the hike is always more strenuous than the first half.

I started hiking along a fire road, using that as a shortcut to reach the Doyles River Falls trail. I made stops at Upper and Lower Doyles falls, at times thankful for the extra layers of clothing, and at other times sweating and trying to stuff extra layers into my already-crammed backpack. The woods were very foggy, and you could see millions of dots of moisture swimming through the air. But it was peaceful, and beautiful.

After losing myself in photography for a couple hours and realizing that dark had settled over the mountain, I started the lonely hike back. I had a headlamp and flashlight, but the fog was so strong at this point that the lights largely reflected right back in my eyes.

This may be the first time I’ve driven along Skyline Drive and not seen deer. I didn’t see any deer on the trails, either. I did see quite a few birds dancing through the trees along the hike. Sometimes we would startle each other.

Some photos from the hike follow.

On the trail. Photo by M. Scott Smith.


On the trail. Photo by M. Scott Smith.


No adjustments were made to the color balance of this photo -; that is what it actually looked like.  It was already quite dark outside when I took this picture.
A 30-second exposure. No adjustments were made to the color balance of this photo -; that is what it actually looked like. It was already quite dark outside when I took this picture. Photo by M. Scott Smith.




















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About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

March 16, 2009
Awesome shots Scott! Looks like you had a good time.
The Colonel
March 16, 2009
Take a close look at the picture showing a little snow on a fallen rotting tree trunk...I think you did see a deer!
The Colonel
Connie Lawn
March 16, 2009
Fabulous boss. You certainly add class to your excellent website. Yours, Connie

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