White Oak Canyon: Two Novices Take A Hiking Trip
First, here’s a disclaimer: this isn’t The Ultimate Guide to Hiking. What this is is the account of a pair of novice hikers (me and my husband, Timmy) who wanted to feel outdoorsy and athletic, enjoy the beauty of Shenandoah National Park, and get some quality couple time—all while still arriving home in time for dinner.
Preparing For White Oak Canyon: The Boring Logistical Section
Step one, obviously, was figuring out all we could about White Oak Canyon. Foreknowledge turned out to be pretty important, because, once we got into the mountains, our cell-service was no longer reliable (or even existent).
What we discovered is this: basically, there are two main ways to hop onto White Oak Canyon trail. We could either start at the trailhead at the top (across from Skyland at Skyline Drive Mile Marker 42.6), walk down to the first main falls, and then have an uphill return the way we’d come, or we could park in the lot off of Weakley Hollow Road, drag our tails up the side of the mountain, and then have a steep descent back to the car. A certain amount of Googling revealed that the “best” waterfall for our viewing pleasure was located closer to the top, so we decided to start at Skyland and hike down.
We found this link to be particularly helpful:
Our White Oak Quest Gets Underway
We got on the road before 8 AM, trying to avoid being caught out in the weather if a projected late-afternoon thunderstorm materialized. (It didn’t) We also made a point of going mid-week, as we’d heard the trail is popular enough to be fairly busy on pleasant weekends.
Our first stop was at Sheetz on Rt.15 to load up on a few extra liters of Aquafina to add to our stash of homemade sandwiches and snacks. If you want a picnic lunch without the trouble, check with Sharon before you head out. We do picnic lunches, made up for you fresh in the kitchen at the Holladay House.
We figured out pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be relying on GPS to get us there. (NPS.org even made a point of warning us about it.) Skyline Drive is old school: the entrance we needed to use, Thornton Gap, isn’t actually located at a GPS-programmable address. Instead, Timmy Google-searched directions to Skyland, which is adjacent, and we used our best sign-spotting skills to navigate.
Thornton Gap: Entering Shenandoah National Park
We made good time and reached the Thornton Gap entrance in about an hour and a half. We forked over $15 for a week-long pass, and accepted the complimentary map of Skyline Drive from the park ranger. We took a few photos along Skyline Drive (viewable in the preceding post) and made a quick pit-stop at Skyland before setting out.
White Oak Canyon: The Saga Begins!!
Parking at the specifically-designated White Oak Canyon Parking Lot, we hoisted on our packs and set off. For the first half-hour it was a stereotypical, Ranger Rick-style nature hike. Gravel crunched like granola-breakfast-cereal underfoot, birds twittered, squirrels chattered, and the sun slanted down through the fresh green leaves overhead. I’d heard accounts of encountering bears, but we actually saw not even a single squirrel.
It had rained a few days previously, and the path occasionally grew mucky. That’s something you’ll want to think about when choosing your footwear: plan for mud, and uneven, rocky segments throughout.
About 30 minutes in, we encountered our first inkling of water: a waterfall in extreme miniature, trickling down over the smooth stones at the bottom of the creek. Here our childhood instincts to puddle-hop kicked in, and we stopped to dabble for a few minutes.
White Oak Canyon: “View” Of The Falls
About one o’clock (about two hours after setting out) we veered to the left to cross a footbridge, and descended to a spot marked “View” with an obelisk. I trekked out onto the rocks above the falls and plunked down to take in the scenery: clear, cold water spilling down over the craggy faces of the boulders and disappearing again into the trees far below us. Timmy, who doesn’t care for heights, edged dutifully out after me, and sighed audibly with relief when we headed back for solid ground.
The “Getting Back” Part Is Always The Hardest
The trail turned out to be much steeper than I’d surmised on our original descent. I had to take a few quick breathers, but it wasn’t unreasonably taxing. Despite these delays, we halved our original time and made it back to the trail-head in about an hour. This was partially because I recalled seeing a chocolate bar in the gift-shop at Skyland, and it was sounding tastier the more I thought about it. Consequently, I set a brutal pace.
Rudy’s: The Best Pizza In Sperryville, VA
After my candy splurge, we went in search of real food and wound up at Rudy’s– combination grocery store and pizzeria. Our server’s t-shirt proclaimed that Rudy’s served the best pizza in Sperryville. Not sure if this was a boast or an ironic wink, because they arguably serve the only pizza in Sperryville. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the pizza, and give them our thumbs-up. The restaurant itself was clearly well-loved, dinged and nicked around the edges, but we liked the gritty local-pizzeria feel. The menu was clever, featuring hiker-centric pizzas such as “the Old Rag” and “the White Oak Canyon.”
White Oak Canyon: A Summary…..
If you need a picturesque view to make your hike memorable, White Oak Canyon is your trail. Challenging without being overwhelming, and rugged without requiring extreme agility to maneuver, it combines all the best parts of hiking into one beloved old trail. If you’re like us, you’ll come back feeling “just enough” outdoorsy without being too exhausted to enjoy the rest of your evening.