Sunday, April 24, 2016

President Hoover's Rural Retreat

Before there was Camp David, there was Rapidan Camp, also called Camp Hoover.  This is the spot, now deep in Shenandoah National Park, where President Herbert Hoover built a retreat from the hot weather and simmering politics of Washington DC.  He and his wife Lou came here often, with the President's main passion of fishing fully in play in the beautiful spot where Laurel Prong and Mill Prong meet to form the Rapidan River.

Yesterday, I led a "group" hike here.  Well, "group" is a relative term.  Two other signed up, but one of them did not show.  So my group was two people - counting myself.  No matter, and no matter that the fog at the start was so thick we could  not see 100 feet, or that it rained on and off for the first two hours of the hike.  Spring time hiking in the mountains?  Good enough for me!

Here is the track for the hike to Rapidan Camp, where three of the original buildings still stand in this National Historic Site.  The circuit hike was nearly eight miles.  The orange arrow (upper left) shows the starting and ending point of the hike, the purple arrow shows the direction of hiking (counter-clockwise), and the red arrow shows the location of Camp Hoover.

We saw hardly any wildlife (a gray squirrel and a slate colored junco), but we heard some birds, including a pileated woodpecker, ovenbirds, and phoebes.  And we saw some wonderful wildflowers. At higher elevations, there was hardly any green yet, but there was plenty at the lower points on the hike.  This hike has no real views, but given the fog, it would not have mattered.

Here are some photos of the hike.  Here is the rest of my "group," Lina at the start of the hike into the fog.  Note the lack of leaves on the trees at 3,200 feet elevation.  Our highest point was over 3,800 feet on the summit of Hazeltop Mountain.

There was a virtual forest of mosses on this tree branch.

We saw lots of trilliums on the hike - so beautiful.

We also saw several large patches of may apples in the woods.

It's pretty clear that a black bear found tasty grubs in this stump.

At lower elevations, there is significant greening - "Primavera"

A couple road horses in to the camp.

This was the Hoover's home.  They called it the "Brown House," as opposed to the White House.  Yeah, I could live here!  What a gorgeous spot!

Here are some ferns in their fiddle head stage.

This building is known as the "Prime Minister's Cabin," because Prime Minister McDonald of Great Britain stayed here for a visit and for a discussion of naval treaties.

This is not the remains of a building, but is an outdoor fireplace where guests could gather in nice weather and enjoy a campfire.

Known as "The Creel," this cabin was a guest cottage.

On the hike out, up the Mill Prong Trail, we enjoyed looking at Big Rock Falls.  By the way, Camp Hoover could be done as an out and back hike of about four miles by coming down the Mill Prong Trail and returning on that trail back to Milam Gap.

Here is some more green - skunk cabbage in the woods.

What a fun hike - whether you are a big group, a group of two, or going solo, I recommend this hike if you like nature, history, and walking.  I'll be hiking near here in another week, and will be very interested to note the changes in greenery.


  1. Great photos. Looks like a great hike for the two of you. : )

  2. It was a great hike. I'd planned on being back up in that same area today but decided to cancel. It's a long drive to hike in the rain.