We arrived at Reagan Airport on a Thursday evening on an uneventful flight.
(Connecting flight was in Memphis, which has several good local BBQ places in the airport) We stopped in Fair Lakes, a few miles outside of DC, at a very nice super large Whole Foods store for a few supplies en route to Shenandoah. We made it to Lewis Mountain Cabins by 9:30pm. The cabin seemed just fine (more on this later).
We were up and at em in the morning and ready to go after eating oatmeal in our cabin(I had my backpacking stove for heating up water). We decided to hike the Cedar Run/White Oak Canyon Loop-- a 9 mile hike with 2500 feet elevation gain. This hike featured 7 or 8 waterfalls/cascades. It was a bit more difficult than what we had imagined. To be honest, we didn’t think much of the hike at all. There are far better waterfalls and hikes right in our backyard(Ozarks/Arkansas). We were surprised by how few people that were at Lewis Campground and on the trails, considering it was Memorial Day weekend. We did see a 5 foot long black snake near the end of the trail. I wish I had a video of my wife attempting to run past it.
We had a nice meal at Big Meadows Lodge. I had the mushroom, tomatoes, and southern cheese grits. Wife had roasted turkey , stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry dressing. My daughter had the rainbow trout. All of these were decent and certainly acceptable for national park food.
We then went back to our cabin at Lewis Mountain. This is when things got interesting. The camp store/rental office had already closed at 6pm. There were bugs everywhere in our room. I’m talking thousands of them. We were so tired; we just took our baths and laughed about it. We then realized that they had installed a light in the attic to attract the bugs into the ceiling at night. Sure enough, by morning they were all gone. There seemed to be two kinds of bugs. One of them looked like termites. I decided not to make a fuss about it and never did mention it to anyone. My wife and daughter were fairly irritated at me. Just today, we got a call/apology from Aramark(the concessionaire) . They noticed the problem after we left and said they had closed that cabin due to an “extreme and severe bug situation” LOL I have stayed at many primitive historic national parks lodges/cabins, but this one was a doozy as far as “roughing it” and the condition of the room. The room would be filled with bugs each day by mid-day. Crawling all over the walls, but not getting into our food at all(hopefully). By morning they would be gone. They didn’t seem to be on the beds either. We left the lights off as much as possible as this seemed to really stir them up. Without the bugs, this would have been a decent nice two bedroom cabin.
We drove to Charlottesville and visited Monticello, Montpelier, and Ashlawn( President Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe homes). Monticello was good, but was not a good value to me. The tour was short and you get to see just the bottom floor of the home. You can pay more and see the top floor, but it wasn’t offered the weekend we were there. The grounds were very nice. The café at Monticello was a bit better than what I expected. Ashlawn is a very simple house and not much to see, but was interesting. Montpelier turned out to be better than I had anticipated. Again, very nice grounds there too. At both Montpelier and Ashlawn, very little seems to be known as to what the original structure actually looked like. So, they probably aren’t as “original” as you might expect. I think the plantation homes in Natchez and New Orleans are far better than these and less than half the price to tour them. Plus, they offer a whole lot more information. The tour at Monticello was very short and very crowded(20 to a group is too many). We ate at Mellow Mushroom(pizza) in the evening near the University of Virginia and found it to be very good.
We had breakfast at Big Meadows Wayside, which is an interesting place in its own right.
We had originally planned on hiking Old Rag hike, but after the strenuous hike on Cedar Run/White Oak, we just didn’t have it in us for another serious hike. So, we decided to try Hawksbill Summit. It was a nice hike 3 miler and just what we looking for. Nice views from the highest point in the park. We stopped on our way back at Pinnacles Picnic area. This was supposed to be a good spot for a picnic. Why they call it Pinnacles, I’m not sure. Not anything that I typically think of as a pinnacle. Memorial Day crowds seemed to arrive on this day. The picnic area was swarming with people and flying bugs. We were swatting so many flies and gnats that we ended up eating in our car. We then headed for Luray Caverns. Now, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when we arrived, there were literally a thousand people waiting in line to get in. The entrance price is ridiculous($72 for three people). The cave itself is amazingly decorated. I have visited most of the major caves in the US(Carlsbad, Mammoth, Oregon Cave, Timpanogos, etc). I have never seen this many people in a cave nor a cave this decorated. It seemed that most of the crowd was India decent. I felt somewhat like I was at Disneyland. They even were selling drinks and other items as we stood in line. We finished the evening with a meal @ Skyland Lodge. I would for sure stay at Skyland if I were to return. It seemed newer and far superior to Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain. The menus at Skyland and Big Meadows are nearly identical. Blackberry Ice Cream Pie might be the best thing on the menu.
Drive back towards DC airport. We have been to Washington a couple of times, but still was fun to just drive around the monuments. We ate at a place called Chopt Salads before heading to the airport, which was really good.
Overall impressions- Nice and much greener than what I had imagined. Perhaps the mist/fog keeps things wet enough here to stay a bit nicer/greener than other places. This is my 30th national park to visit. I would probably rank it somewhere around 26 or 27 on my favorites list of the ones I have visited. Certainly glad we did it and enjoyed it, but it isn’t one of those that I would go back to. We did see many deer and a bear(maybe for 3 seconds), before it scampered off. Also a couple of wild turkeys.
Monticello, Montpelier, and Ashlawn were great, but I think other plantation homes in the south are nicer and far less expensive. I did find the tree at Montpelier(a gift from Lafayette 250 years ago) to be very cool thing to see.
The mirror lake in Luray Caverns is the best I’ve ever seen(above or below ground).
I wish I would have taken a picture of the bugs inside the cabin.
Here is a link to my photos
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We arrived at Reagan Airport on a Thursday evening on an uneventful flight.