Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Deal of the Year: Shenandoah National Park (Cedar Run-White Oak Canyon and Hawksbill Peak)

In an earlier post, I mentioned that we've been taking advantage of Travelzoo, Groupon and Living Social deals this summer as a way of trying new activities and restaurants, while simultaneously saving money doing so.  We scored some fantastic deals--the trip to Mountain Lake Lodge, a family white water rafting outing on the James River and a romantic dinner for two at Pescados.  But the best deal of all, turned out to be a Living Social special for the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park.  The Living Social deal was $75, which included one night's lodging in a premiere room at Skyland Resort as well as a bottle of wine, two glasses, two tickets for Luray Caverns and the gourmet, breakfast buffet.  (Note:  I priced these items individually--the room rate is $165, admission to Luray Caverns is $24 p/p and the breakfast buffet is $14 p/p.)  In all, we got over $330 worth of services and products, as well as two days of family fun, for $75 (plus the cost of dinner & gas).  Needless to say, this was too good a deal to pass up!

This photo of the Skyland Resort came from

So Bob, the kids and I packed up Scarlett (our red-hot minivan :-)) and headed for the mountains.  We decided to do one of my all-time favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park, the Cedar Run - White Oak Canyon Loop, before checking into the lodge.  Bob and the kids had never done this hike before and I was excited for them, because I knew they were in for a real treat.  The Cedar Run-White Oak Canyon loop is a very strenuous, 8.5 mile hike, but it is also stunningly beautiful.  There are at least 9 huge waterfalls and dozens of smaller ones along the route.  Check out: for more info. 

We began our hike at the Cedar Run trail head on Skyline Drive and proceeded to descend 2,500 feet along side a gorgeous stream.

Fortunately, due to a very wet summer here in Virginia, the stream was flowing fast.  Along the way, we saw dozens of falls, rapids and swimming holes.  However, it was an unusually cool day--with a high of 65 degrees in July--so it was too brisk to take advantage of the swimming holes.


Connor and Mikaela have climbed Old Rag before, which is a more famous, 8+ mile hike in Shenandoah Nat'l Park, but personally, I think Cedar Run-White Oak Canyon is a more difficult and an even more beautiful hike than Old Rag.  It may not have the views that Old Rag has at the summit, but on the other hand, just about the the entire hike is gorgeous.

This hike doesn't have "summit views" so to speak, but every so often, we'd manage to catch a glimpse of the surrounding mountains.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we crossed the stream, hopped onto a one mile connector trail and then began the long trek back up the mountain, this time via White Oak Canyon.

In my opinion, White Oak Canyon is definitely one of the most beautiful trails in the Park.  It's full of big rock walls,

and even bigger water falls.

The coolest thing about our hike wasn't the dozens of waterfalls we saw, but rather, it was the fact that we saw 4 bears!!!  Towards the end of our hike, we came across a sow and two cubs and then about a mile later, we came across a large male bear who was pawing at logs on the ground.  What a fantastic experience for us all!

After our hike, we checked into the lodge.  Ironically, since they didn't have our wine ready when we arrived, the manager gave us 2 more free tickets to Luray Caverns (which saved us $48!).   (Umm, I think we could have waited an hour to get our "fine" white table wine, but thank you very much!)

We ate a hearty dinner at the lodge and then went to our room.  The Skyland Lodge isn't the Ritz, but the rooms were very clean and comfortable (w/nice linens) and they all had gorgeous views.

The next morning we awoke and took advantage of the gourmet breakfast buffet.  I must have eaten at least $10 worth of fresh blackberries myself (yummers!).  After that, it was time to hit the trail again--this time we climbed to the summit of Hawksbill Peak, the highest point in Shenandoah NP.

Compared to the previous day's hike, this 4 mile loop hike was literally (and figuratively) a "walk in the park."

We climbed the mountain and stopped along the way to take in the views.

At one stop along the way, Connor took out his poetry journal and began to write.  Most of you who know Connor would be shocked to discover that he loves to write poems...but he does.  This past year in our homeschool co-op, Connor had two amazing teachers--Jeanne and Tara, who ignited in him a passion for all things written.  (I can't thank them enough)

When we got to the summit, both Connor and Mikaela made themselves comfortable, whipped out books from their backpacks (I didn't even know they were carrying) and spent an hour or so enjoying the view and reading.  Bob also got very comfortable and took a nap and I just sat there, with a big grin on my face, taking it all in.

Next up was a 45 minute drive to visit the Luray Caverns. 

Luray Caverns is one of the largest commercial caves in the world and despite the fact the cave gets tens of thousands of visitors annually, it is simply stunning. The cavern tour consists of a 1.25 mile hike on an underground trail which winds its way through a "forest" of stalactites and stalagmites. 

My photos don't even begin to show how beautiful and spectacular it was.  Many of the cave's features began forming more than 4 million years ago and some of them were 10 stories tall!  All four of us really enjoyed seeing the caverns and we couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to have been the person who discovered them. 

After our visit to Luray Caverns, it was time to head home.  We were tired, but extraordinarily content and amazed at just what a great deal we lucked into! It was even a better deal because we didn't have to pay for it.  My parents bought it for themselves, but ran out of time to use it before it was going to expire, so they gave it to us.  Thanks Mom and Dad for a wonderful mini-vacation.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

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