We could not visit Virginia and not go to Shenandoah National Park, even if it was a full day trip. Will, Daisy, and I had visited 3 years ago for Will’s birthday, but autumn had not fully set in for that visit. Of course, this time, we missed the peak color, but it was still absolutely gorgeous.
We decided to head up in the middle of the week hoping that we would miss some of the crowds. Our bet did not pan out. The park was probably the busiest place we have been in all of our travels thus far, so we made our visit rather quick.
This was technically our first National Park of the trip, so we were excited to get our annual pass that we know we will use a lot, especially as we make our way out West next spring and summer. The annual pass is really a great deal – it is $80 and permits entry into any National Park. Compared to the $30 we would spend just to get into Shenandoah for the day, we know we will make out well on that deal.
We got the park right around lunch time. We drove through a couple of picnic areas before we found one that was not too crowded and set up for lunch. We knew there would be a lot of driving time, so we spent extra time walking with Little Bird and Daisy. It was a perfect fall day with a touch of crisp in the air.
After lunch, we made our way to the visitor’s center. We wanted to stamp Little Bird’s National Parks passport and get her a postcard (the only souvenir we have decided to get her at each stop). Due to COVID, there was only 1 visitor’s center open on the day of our visit, so as you can imagine, the place was packed. We had hoped to go on a hike nearby, but we nixed that as we got close because that is where all the people congregated that day. We made our stop very quick, then turned the truck south toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway have the most incredible views, and it is tempting to pull off at each overlook just to soak in more. It was incredibly interesting to see the variations in the fall foliage as we drove along. To the west, the colors were fairly drab and were past their prime, however, to the east, the colors were much more vibrant. As we descended in elevation the further south we traveled, the colors also intensified. While we had been sad to cut our time in Shenandoah short, we actually saw much more beautiful colors outside the park.
Since our original hike did not pan out, we found a trail further down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was quite a drive, so we hopped off the Parkway for a little bit to grab an early dinner and cut our drive time down a little.
We arrived at Otter Lake around 5:30 PM, and since we have a toddler who typically goes to bed by 7:30, we felt a little like we were playing with fire, but we put her in the pack and headed out for the 1-mile hike anyway (spoiler: someone got to stay up late).
The hike was a loop trail around the lake, and we opted to start by the waterfall. We are so thankful we went this way. Immediately after the waterfall was a creek crossing. There were flat rocks spaced evenly across the creek, however, it seems that the creek has taken a bit of a detour since the trail was constructed. The final rock to bank jump was a little dicey, as was the steep climb up the bank, then the necessary crawling over rocks and down to the trail really tested our abilities. We slowly made our way to the trail with dog and baby in tow—okay, Will skillfully had the dog and baby, while I barely managed myself, but we made it!
Once we made it over that slight challenge, the trail evened out and was a lovely walk around the lake. By this time, the sun was starting to dip a little and highlighted the leaves beautifully the entire walk. Of course, being by a lake, Will was able to scope out some fishing spots that he and Little Bird hit up the next day.
This hike was a great way to end our trip to Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made our way down the mountain and back to the campground and managed to keep Little Bird awake the whole way.