Sunday, July 6, 2014

White Rock Falls and Upper Sherando Lake

Yesterday was just a gorgeous summer day here in the Old Dominion, and I decided to go up to the mountains for a hike.  I hiked in a place that I have hiked several times, but not in the last 10-15 years: the White Rock Falls / Slacks Overlook Loop, with a side trip to Upper Sherando Lake thrown in for good measure.  My 9.6 miles means that I am up to 80 (non-urban) trail miles for the year so far.  This could also be my last hike as a 62 year old.

This delightful hike is off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Originally, I thought of going back to Shenandoah National Park, but on a three day holiday weekend, I thought it was likely to be crowded.  I think I made the right choice: other than when I got close to Sherando Lake, with its large campground and day use area, I saw only six other people (and a dog) on the trail.  Here is a view of the hike's track.  I started and ended at the blue star on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 18.5.  The loop portion of the hike, about 5 miles in length, was hiked clockwise.  When I got to the junction on the trail when I could go to the car and make it just a five mile hike, I turned north instead and hiked downhill to Upper Sherando Lake.  It was a perfect spot for lunch.  Then, I hiked back to the car from there.

Here is the elevation profile for most of the hike.  There were a few strenuous climbs but nothing like my last hike out of White Oak Canyon.  The grade was generally not punishing, although I did stop to rest and enjoy views at a few points.

With almost two miles left to go on my hike back out, my GPS gave me a false warning that the battery was dying, so I saved the track and then started a new one.  Therefore, the last 1.8 miles are recorded with a different profile.  Total elevation gain and loss was about 2,400 feet, so I got a good workout without killing myself.  This compares with 3,400 feet gained and lost on the White Oak Canyon hike four weeks ago.

My hike started with a descent through a dark and pleasant forest, eventually crossing a stream (which I enjoyed the "music" of for some time.)

In about a mile and a half, I reached White Rock Falls via a short and steep side trail.  The water is a bit low this time of year, and the falls at their best would be a pale comparison to the many cascades seen during my hike up White Oak Canyon, but it was still a pretty spot.

After climbing steadily, a short side trail led to this massive rock and cliff.  I continually kept alert for rattlesnakes, both here and elsewhere along the trail.

Not far from this point, I reached the only real views of the entire hike, and they were lovely.  If you ever wondered how the Blue Ridge Mountains got their name, wonder no more.  It was near here on a hike with friends many years ago - over 15, I believe - that we encountered the largest rattlesnake I have ever seen.  He watched us warily, and we studied him for a while, then left him in peace to continue his life.  Hopefully, most others will do the same when encountering a snake in the wild.

My pack was light, so I carried two liters of water, and finished the hike with maybe a cup of water.  I could have carried less and filtered water at many points, such as this stream crossing.  But it made sense to just pack it in.  At this point, I found a tiny salamander under a rock in the stream.

After crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and getting on the Slacks Overlook Trail, the rest of the hike was fairly easy - mostly level or gentle uphills and downhills through the woods.  At this point, I saw where pileated woodpeckers have had a field day with this tree.

Eventually, I came to Upper Sherando Lake and had a nice lunch while sitting on a bench on a fishing dock.  What luxury while out for a hike!  There were lots of people about here, including a number day hiking up the trail as I hiked down to the lake.  I also saw a little water snake while eating my lunch.  I think this is a northern water snake.

Here is a view of Upper Sherando Lake, taken from the earthen dam that holds the water back.  The lake (we would have called it a pond in Maine) is fairly small, and is popular with fishermen and women.  It was a great spot to relax in the sun for a half hour and have lunch.

From here, it was a steady uphill climb of 2.5 miles or so back to the car.  But at no time was the climb really steep.  It was a nice way to end a really fun hike on a beautiful summer's day!


  1. A long but beautiful hike. Looks like perfect weather and you got some great photos.

  2. I really enjoyed being out there for the day, and yes, it was perfect summer weather. Just a pleasure!