Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sherando Lake Recreation Area

 Carole and I took a short vacation to northwest Virginia. She wanted us to see a spot called Sherando Lake Recreation Area. We're always looking for new places where we can take our travel trailer, and this National Forest site seemed to have the things we like in a campground and forest setting. But reading about it on the Internet and seeing it up close and in person are different experiences. So we opted to make the four-hour drive north to check the place out.

It actually ended up exceeding our expectations. The campground itself is very nice and some of the sites even have electric hookups. We like this option, as it means that we don't have to carry our generator along with us. In addition, each camping loop has bathrooms with hot showers, which is another thing we look for since it means we don't have to tap into our onboard water tank to use for our trailer's shower.

And, of course, the presence of a lake makes for a good place to go swimming, paddling, and fishing.

What I had no knowledge of at all before we arrived was the quality of the hiking trails around the lake. I needn't have worried about that, since there is an extensive system of trails that lead from the Recreation Area up to, and beyond, the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. There are any number of trails one can use to create a vast combination of hikes of various lengths and levels of challenge.

After we ate lunch Carole went back to the lake to swim and I headed off to do a loop hike of about five miles. The hike I picked combine three different trails and a very brief road hike that would take me around the lake, up the heights of Torry Ridge, and back down to the lake. I was only expecting an average hike with average views, but I was rewarded with a loop that was far more spectacular than I had thought.

The trail follows the even terrain along the lake shore and then tackles the steep slopes of Torry Ridge. After a tough climb you come to the first overlook called, appropriately, Overlook Rock. This is a big quartzite cliff that affords a really impressive grandstand over the gorge and toward the high peaks surrounding the area. You look down from a considerable distance down on the lake.

After that, I headed on down the trail and came to the Torry Ridge junction and the high point of the hike. This spot was a forested spit of rock that was kind of neat, but I quickly headed on after making sure I'd hit the high point.Within about a half mile, though, I came to what I really wanted to see--a vast talus field that leads up from near the shores of the lake all the way to the top of the ridge. This talus field of shattered quartzite rock is impressive, and walking along it was a lot of fun.In addition,  it offered even better views than I'd seen from Overlook Rock.

From there I only expected a typical hike through second-growth forests back down to the lake but I was again surprised to find that the trail follows a very long cliff as it initially only slowly descends the mountain slopes. For about a mile one is rewarded with great views from pale quartzite spots along the trail before it finally begins to head down the mountain and into the valley.

My final surprise of the day was when I began to notice some vaguely familiar leaves in the forest around me. At first I barely noticed them, but then I realized that I was probably looking at American chestnut leaves. So I stopped to examine them more closely. Sure enough, I was pretty darned sure I had stumbled upon a patch of our native chestnuts. This isn't as rare as you would think, as the trees do occasionally pop up from root systems that have managed to survive over the decades since the chestnut blight killed off the vast chestnut-dominated forests of the Appalachians. But what did surprise me was how many of the trees that I was seeing. In quick order I counted a dozen or so of them, most of them less than ten feet tall. I have no doubt that this young grove will eventually succumb to the blight, but it was nice to see so many of them growing so thickly.

Sherando Lake Beach.

First good overlook.
Self-portrait standing at the big talus field.

Looking down from the talus field toward Sherando Lake far below.

Standing at the top of the talus field.
Great signage and infrastructure along the trails.
Along the line of cliffs on the way down.
American chestnut trees.
And the mountain laurel were in bloom.


Cathy VanPatten said...

Beautiful! Brings back so many fond memories of summer afternoons spent at Sherando Lake. We used to love hiking the trail around the lake, but we never ventured farther than that. When you are camping there, if you want to try some nearby hikes, check out Crabtree Falls. Excellent hike along a creek with one waterfall after another. And not far from Sherando, either.

HemlockMan said...

Crabtree Falls is on my to-do list the next time we visit. Also Wigwam Falls. And about a half-dozen other cool hikes I found out about while I was there.