Shenandoah National Park, Definitely for the Dogs
I hadn't been to Shenandoah and Skyline Drive since I was a kid with my grandparents, and years of being away had made me forget how absolutely wonderful a place it is. There is something about being in nature and lush beautiful forests that has a way of filling me with a sense of infinite possibility. For a kid like it me, it's just a wonderful kind of soul food that stays with me long after a camping trip is over and gear is unpacked.
We camped at Matthews Arm campground and found a great site that was still available. The park was busier than usual, due to a free weekend promotion for Virginia residents, but it was still quite pleasant and very enjoyable. We failed to factor in that it was August and most likely people had been using the site we picked (and other's near it) since late-Spring, so firewood was quite scarce. We ended up purchasing some from Elkwallow Wayside and while it's not typically my style to buy firewood, it definitely freed us up to spend more time on Saturday hiking and checking out as much as possible.
Shenandoah is very pet-friendly, and we found it easy-breezy having Zoey with us. All pets need to be on a six foot leash, so zip-leads are out for Shenandoah. Lots of people had their dogs with them, and Zoey got to make a few friends on Hawksbill and South River Falls. This was her second camping trip, and I'm continually impressed with her ability to roll with the punches and be okay with changes in her day to day routine. She sometimes seems to be part mountain goat, and is a great hiking buddy. Shenandoah is home to over 500 miles of trails and is a fantastic place if you like challenging hikes or if you prefer to take it a little easier. As far as trails go, almost all are dog friendly, and those that are not are clearly posted and include Fox Hollow Trail, Traces Trail, Stony Man Trail, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls Trail, Story of the Forest Trail, Bearfence Mountain Trail, Frazier Discovery Trail, Old Rag Ridge Trail, and Old Rag Saddle Trail. These trails include portions that could potentially be dangerous to pets, and I don't know if I could imagine anything worse or more nerve-wracking than trying to navigate difficult terrain with an injured pet.
We started our day with Hawksbill and opted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail which was great fun, and let us avoid the crowd/monkey rodeo that had begun to form at the base of Hawksbill Trail. The Appalachian Trail intersected with the route to the top of Hawksbill about half-way up the mountain, and from there we made our way to the top. The view was spectacular and we packed a picnic lunch to snack on and enjoyed a completely random mix of tuna fish, pita bread, trail mix, and bananas. Bizarre yes, but it gave us a good energy boost to continue on with the rest of our day.
Our second hike of the day was South River Falls, and quickly John and I noticed we were spending a lot of the first portion hiking down, which we knew would set us up for a little bit of a challenge on the way back. It was a lovely hike though, we had a babbling brook next to us and very lush green forest, mossy stones, and rocky outcroppings, and the view of the falls was fantastic. I definitely am a believer in all that ion business that people talk about near waterfalls. I don't think it's possible to feel sad when you're looking at something that beautiful.
I felt bad for John, as he is prone to blisters, and had gotten a monster one on his left heel. The hike back was a little miserable as temperatures climbed (as we did) and we quickly went through a good portion of our water that we had packed. Zoey does well drinking from a pouring bottle, but it does tend to be a messy way to get water in her. The route we took back was pretty much a vertical hike, on what turned out to be a horse trail, and while a little intense, the slight masochist in me had a blast panting my way back up the trail. I'm a little nuts like that I suppose. I was very happy to see a water fountain with a low spigot which was perfectly Zoey's height. We made like camels and rehydrated. John's blister though, was totally ridiculous, and one of the worst I'd ever seen. We opted to head back to our campsite and get his foot cleaned up. From there we built a rocking fire, cooked some great minimalist campfire food, drank some beers, and took it easy.
As far as camping goes, Shenandoah is a great place to bring your dog. The scenery is beautiful, there are tons of ways to fill your day, lots of hiking adventures, and it makes for a great weekend (or longer) vacation to recharge your batteries. Leave no trace, bring tons of water, pack snacks, and have fun in one of the largest and most enjoyable parks for both you and your dog. For other camping ideas and a travel bargain, check out Seneca Rocks, WV.