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Hiking Trail Guide: Fox Hollow Nature Trail in Shenandoah National Park
What about you?
How often do you hike?
Get ready to stretch your legs
So, you decided to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and decided to enjoy what Shenandoah National Park has to offer. You want to stretch your legs and get some exercise but it's been a while since you've walked any great distance, right? You found out that there are over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park but you wonder which trail is right for you.
I find myself in a similar situation every year. I have made the mistake of trying to take on a trail that is too challenging for my fitness level at the start of a season. That takes all the enjoyment out of the activity and may do more harm to the body than good.
My first hike most years
Having lived in this area for five years with some experience on several local trails, I have found that the Fox Hollow Nature Trail in Shenandoah National Park is a good trail to stretch the legs and offers a good general warm up for those muscles that have not been used in a while.
Fox Hollow is a short trail with a total distance of 1.2 miles. To access the trail, park at the Dickey Ridge visitor center at mile post 4.6 on the Skyline Drive. The visitor center has a restroom and would be a good place to fill your water bottles because the water fountain is available most of the year except during the winter months. The trailhead is located just across Skyline Drive to the East.
More detailed information from the National Park Service
- Fox Hollow - Shenandoah National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
Fox Hollow hiking map and trail information.
Once you get there...
At the trail head, which is directly across from the Visitor Center, there is an information board with a map and a brief description of Fox Hollow and other trails which can be easily accessed from there. Also, there are detailed guides available for $1.00 each (on the honor system.)
Start on the trail by walking left from the information sign. The trail starts out fairly level, then it becomes a more noticeably steep downhill trail. If you didn't feel like you used your muscles on the first part of the trail, you will certainly notice them by this point. Anyone not used to walking may think that walking downhill is easy but that is not always true. As strenuous as it is to walk uphill, it is just as strenuous to control your speed and keep your balance going down hill.
The trail is well maintained, but you will notice a few things to make you pay attention. Sometimes there will be small rocks in the middle of the trail or a tree will fall and force you to climb over it since it may be blocking the way. For this reason, it is a good idea to resist the temptation to run on the trail.
You may notice something else: Have you heard any cars lately? When you first start down the trail, you may hear for some time some traffic on Skyline Drive. At first you are fairly parallel to Skyline Drive, but as the trail continues, it goes away from the road and you hear more natural sounds: Gentle breezes, birds, deer. You may even notice that you are in a place where you will not be disturbed by a cell phone because the signal may not reach there and even the GPS will get lost. THIS experience is something you may not be used to either. It may take some getting used to, or you may welcome it, depending on your state of mind.
The start/finish line
Points of interest as you go along.
The first thing you will likely notice as you continue down the trail is an old spring. Something about this spring I will never forget served as a reminder to always pay attention to your surroundings, especially when hiking. It was on a sunny, warm day in the Spring of 2010. I came across the old spring and looked inside. Taking a sunbath in the water on top of the spring was a black snake. Upon seeing that snake, I realized I was not that much in need of water, so I just let it be and fortunately the snake did not even seem to notice me. WHEW!
The other major landmark on this trail is the Fox family cemetary. The area was a family farm before it became part of Shenandoah National Park and the headstones are still readable, mostly dating back to the early 20th century. Looking at it today with all the trees it's hard to believe that it was ever a farm or that people actually lived back "deep in the woods". Stopping at the cemetary is a good way to catch your breath and cool off and prepare to continue. By the time you get there you will have walked about half a mile, downhiil.
The trail continues downhill just a little while longer, crossing over a stream and sometimes wet grass. (This is true if it has been a rainy period. In times of less rain, the stream crossing may be just a trickle or non existant.)
What you may see along the trail.
Guess what's next!
THE RETURN TRIP
Hahahaha! Yes, it's not all downhill. Soon after the crossing the stream, the trail makes it's return to the Visitor's Center. By now you have dropped about 300 feet in elevation, so get ready to climb that 30 floor building. This is where you will really experience a good workout. The climb back to the beginning of the trail, while not extreme, is steep enough to get you to breathe deeply and notice an elevation in your heart rate to a healthy workout level. To get the most out of this walk, do so at a pace that is comfortable for you. Try to maintain a slow but steady pace. You are not in any race, unless you really want to be or need to be. Stop one or more times to rest. Observe and enjoy your surroundings - nature! You may encounter other hikers or you may not. Your legs are getting a good workout using different muscles than you used on the first part of it. Before you know it, you hear the sound of vehicles on Skyline Drive. After one brief, steep climb you welcome the sight of the Visitor's Center where you left your car.
The trail is mostly shaded and there are few if any spectacular views, but when you get back to the start of the trail, turn around and you will see a very nice view of the Mountains and Valley in front of you. When you feel up to it, cross the street to the Visitor's Center where you probably left your vehicle and admire the view from there. If you want to, go in and learn more about the park from the exhibits, information desk and gift shop.
First hike 2016 - March 10
I parked my car at Dickey Ridge Visitor's center, and the Center was still closed for the season. Fortunately, I had filled my canteen with water before I left my house, because the water fountains were not turned on yet. The temperature at the entrance to the park was 79 degrees, and 74 where I parked the car. Even though the temperature was not too extreme, I did get thirsty even on the short walk, using nearly half a litre. Water is more important than one might realize.
It looks like the trail has been well maintained. There appear to be no significant rough areas and the growth along the trail seemed to be cut way back. It was a pleasure to walk on the trail. The leaves were not out yet and only some tiny buds were visible on other vegetation, but that will change, probably by the end of March.