Our 4Th National Park Adventure
By Paul Strubell
The tradition continues. As many of you who follow this series know, I set a tradion in motion on my sons first birthday, when we visited Badlands National Park. It was a father / son trip and while there I decided we should make it a tradition.
The following year was 2020 and Covid-19 had shut many places down. We opted to stay close to home and keep it simple. Visting Indiana Dunes National Park for his 2nd birthday. For his third birthday, we took a fantastic trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, camping amongst the elk and mountains for three epic nights.
This year we decided to visit a few parks on an 8 day road trip that consisted of adventures to Mammoth Cave National Park, New River Gorge National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Daniel Boone National Forest.
We set out from our home in Iowa, getting a few hours out of the way before grabbing a pizza and a hotel room for the night in Troy, Missouri.
We had reservations the next day to stay at the Mammoth Cave campground and to do the cave tour the following morning. The campground was pleasant. It has spacious sites with study picnic tables. We were one of only four parties in our section, so it was quiet during our visit.
We made our way to the visitors center and took in the educational attractions and got Cole his Jr Ranger badge before joining the guided historical tour that took us over 300 ft under ground.
After lunch we hit the road toward West Virgina and camped at Kanawha State Forest campground outside Charleston. Nice sites, but also a little on the spooky side if I am being honest. The drive in felt a little ominous and the restrooms were utiltarian at best. We managed to get a great meal in us and a decent sleep in anyway.
After breakfast at the campground we picked up a twisty gravel mountain road that was very scenic. We travelled about an hour ranging in an out of cell signal before eventually linking back up with the Interstate and arriving at New River Gorge National Park in Fayetteville at lunchtime. We walked through the visitors center and along the many boardwalks and trials in the area and had lunch at one of the many picnic tables.
It was a quick stop but we wanted to see the famous bridge over the New River. Then it was back on the road towards Shenandoah National Park in Virgina, where I had rented us a cabin for the next few nights.
We arrived in Shenandoah and our cabin around 4:30pm. I purchased a few bundles of firewood from the general store at Lewis Mountain.
The cabins there are rustic but do have private bathrooms and showers for each unit. Because of bear activity they encourage you to cook and eating outside. Each unit has a picnic table under a covered porch and a fire ring as well. We cooked our diners over the open fire both nights and enjoyed all our meals out there. They also provide a bear box and locking trash and recycling bins at each unit. We did not see any bears on our trip which means the prevention tactics are working.
One of the big reasons I opted to rent the cabin was to break up the number of days we would be camping in the rooftop tent on this trip, but I was also aware that Shenadoah is a motorist park. Skyline Drive offers beautiful views and acts as the main throughway to the parks many wonderful hiking trails and overlooks. Staying in the cabin meant I would not have to pack up and set up camp each day as we would have the car to use for transportation instead of housing.
We set off early in the moring for the Bearfence Mountain Trail. This was a beautiful trail that merged along the historic Appalachian Trail at times. We did that section pretty quickly, so we picked up a more challenging section of trail called “The Scramble”.
We saw a few other hikers on The Scramble. One woman who had taken a wrong turn and needed to be sorted out to get back on a suitable trail for her ability and a group of young men who were very impressed Cole was navigating the difficult terrain. He handled it all very well and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunny view of the mountains to both the east and the west from the summit.
We headed back to the cabin for a late lunch and an afternoon nap. We cooked diner outside and sat by the fire before turing in for the night.
The following day we hit several hiking trails in the morning before going to Big Meadow Visitors center to pick up another Jr Ranger Badge and grab some lunch.
After lunch we did one last hike and made an early dinner. We wanted to have time to drive along Skyline Drive for sundown and to try to see wildlife but we didn’t have much luck.
This trip was heavy on education and information. There were not as many wildlife sightings as some of our previous stops.
Shenandoah was the highlight of the trip and we had a very nice time hiking the trails and staying at the cabins on Lewis Mountain.
The following day we checked out of our cabin and headed back to New River Gorge to see the southern part of the park. We hiked trails and had sandwiches at an overlook.
The day was still young so we pressed on to Kentucky and the Daniel Boone National Forest. We found a great campsite there. It was right along a creek that we spent the afternoon hiking up and down. We slept great in the cool fall air.
The next day we hit the highway and grabbed a hotel before heading home.
Another successful birthday trip in the books. Continueing the tradition and baking in those core memories.
Cole and I have already started talking about options for next year on his 5th birthday. His excitement lets me know the tradition is magical for both of us.
Itinerary: 8 Days / over 2000 total miles
Day 1) Fairfield Iowa to Troy Missouri – 181 miles (hotel)
Day 2) Troy to Mammoth Cave National Park – 345 miles (National Park campground)
Day 3) Mammoth Cave to Kanawha State Forest – 309 miles (State Forest campground)
Day 4) Kanawha to Shenandoah (via New River) – 230 miles (Lewis Mountain Cabin)
Day 5) Shenandoah (Lewis Mountain Cabin)
Day 6) Shenandoah to New River to Daniel Boone National Forest – 444 miles (National Forest campground)
Day 7) Daniel Boone to Bloomington, IL – 377 miles (hotel)
Day 8) Bloomington to Fairfield – 187 miles