DC hasn’t been bombarded with Snowmageddon again and you’ve decided you don’t really want to be on the Wii, only watching football for the whole weekend, you’ve reached your self-mandated quota of Facebook checking or updates, or you’ve made the classic New Year’s resolution to do more exercise and the gyms are still packed for at least the next several weeks with all the other resolution-makers. Well bundle up friend, and join all the folks who love the outside all year round. Here are a several ideas and things going on in the area and a few things we’ve done recently including skiing or snowboarding, hiking, volunteer activities and the widely mentioned free days in our amazing National Parks this year including this weekend.
- On the AT in Virginia: The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have around 10 maps of various lengths on the Appalachian Trail (AT) through Virginia and 1 for Maryland’s 41 miles of AT. Maryland’s maps also have the Catoctin Mountain Trail on it. We picked up the first three of the the Virginia maps (known as Maps 7, 8, and 9) last time we were at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, WV, when we were close to finishing the Maryland section of the trail but you can get them online and in various retail stores like REI and Hudson Trail Outfitters. The first 17 miles on the Virginia map is a walk on the state border of Virginia and West Virginia, but I’ll skip down to a hike we did in late fall that is the very top / north part of Map 9, which is the hike on to Skyline Drive and in to Shenandoah National Park. We did an 11 miler round trip that starts bordering the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute just outside of Front Royal, VA goes up a couple of thousand feet on to Skyline Drive and into the park. It’s a bit strenuous, but you’re rewarded with great views and of Skyline Drive and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains as
well as tranquility until you come in to the park, about 4.5 miles in to the hike. There’s 5-6 parking spots right next to the trail. The Gmap version of the hike isn’t great and there seems to be some debate on where the actual trail is on the maps, but here is a place to park, just before Lake Front Royal on the shoulder of the road if you’re driving on 522 South from Front Royal. The spaces to park on the right of the road and the Appalachian Trail crosses the road but the trail leading in to the park is on the same side as the parking. Follow the white blazes to stay on the AT and you’ll hit Skyline Drive in about 5.5 miles. For more hiking, check out the other hikes we’ve posted in Virginia, Maryland and DC.
- Skiing and Boarding Report: Recently we headed to ski up at Whitetail in Mercersburg, PA, just over the Maryland line about 90 miles and an hour and forty minutes of mostly highway driving from DC. It seems to me to be the closest places to ski from DC and also seems to have a higher vertical drop than many of the other places to ski anywhere near the area. The folks there were all incredibly nice and the info. booth even gave us a coupon book to make our package $38 each from $86 each, which we had expected to pay. The slight downside to this place is the lack of accommodation in the area. There’s a new motel about 10 miles away on the way to Highway 70, and then the next closest town, Hagerstown, at about a 20-25 minute drive to the slopes. This was easy for us, but for those looking for ski in / ski out, they had some homes and condos next door that looked new, but no ads to rent them and nothing on the website about them. The temperature that day was high 40’s and there wasn’t a bare patch we saw anywhere since the slopes are dotted with snowmaking guns every few feet. They also have webcams on the site that allow you to view the slopes for yourself if you don’t believe the snow reports on their own. We’ll definitely be back this season and plan on bringing friends. They also have night skiing.
- Free National Park Entry Days: The National Park Service gives another shout out to the recession and increased vacationers looking for a less costly family vacation by offering more free entry days to parks that charge entry in 2011. Here’s what they have to say about it as has been widely circulated in the last few weeks in the news–America’s Best Idea – the national parks – gets even better with several fee-free days at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees.
Mark your calendar for these fee-free days in 2011: January 15-17 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday weekend) April 16-24 (National Park Week) June 21 (First day of summer) September 24 (Public Lands Day) November 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend) Making the fun even more affordable, many national park concessioners are joining the National Park Service in welcoming visitors with their own special offers. Here’s a tip – many of your 394 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee. So start Planning Your Visit!
- Volunteer on MLK National Day of Service: The kind-hearted folks at The Natural Capital have posted a bunch of volunteer opportunities around DC in DC, Virginia and Maryland in Rock Creek Park, 4 Mile Run and several other great locales where you may often enjoy recreational activity. If you pledged to volunteer more in the New Year as I have, one of these is a great way to get started.