We were hiking in the Catoctin Mountain Park recently and I couldn't help but laugh about a situation we had about two years ago during one of our hikes in this gorgeous National Park system area. It was the day of the great big rattle snake!
The Rattle Snake
Our hike was over and we piled into the car, ready to get cooled down and relax on the drive home. We didn't have too far to travel. We lived somewhat locally and had both grown up in the general area surrounding this beautiful park. We hadn't gotten far from the parking lot when we saw a huge rattlesnake crossing the road. I had never heard the rattle of a rattlesnake and it had been discussed quite a few times that we wished that I would hear one in a safe environment so that I would immediately know what it sounded like were I to ever encounter one in the wilderness during one of our hikes. Without thinking we decided to stop the car and get out so that I could hear the rattle from a safe distance.
Very conveniently there was a pull off on the side of the road. I whipped the car into that pull off, watching the snake the whole time. We jumped out of the car and made our way to a safe distance from the snake. IT was watching us, but was never threatened enough to shake it's rattles in a warning. I snapped a few pictures but nothing. We were not going to push our luck, so we walked the few feet back to the car. That is when I realized my mistake!
Big signs dotted the edge of the turn around. The stated 'no stopping at any time' and big signs prohibiting any pictures being taken. Oooops! How could I forget that Camp David was nestled in these woods. I grew up in this area, I know about this fact but I had somehow just let it slip my mind in my quest to see the snake. We laughed about our snafu and quickly left the area and drove toward home.
The Park Police
We didn't even make it a half mile down the road before I saw a park police car sitting beside the road. I knew that they were there because of me. The pulled behind me and followed me. I laughed about how I could make a run for it and I could be out of the park before long. But I knew that was not to be. I knew that I was getting pulled over and furthermore, I knew that it wasn't REALLY the park police that would be pulling me over.
Sure enough, before long the lights flashed on. I was caught! I pulled over and remained calm. It was after all a mistake, even if it was a mistake at a federal level of security. Two 'park police' men got out of their vehicle. The were dressed for serious business. Flak jackets and numerous weapons, definitely NOT park police standard issue. One came up on each side of the car and they asked us to both put down our windows and I began to answer questions and I tried to not laugh when they tried to skirt the issue and use euphemisms instead of calling it Camp David.
"NO sir, I didn't pay attention to the signs until it was too late, my mind was elsewhere"
"Yes sir, I actually do know that there as you call it a 'military installation' in these woods'.
"Well you see sir, I was just trying to see a snake"
"Yes, I did take pictures with my cellphone"
They actually took my cell phone and inspected the pictures that I took. They could see when flipping through that we had been hiking on valid trails and to allowed places just a short time before. But it was still nerve wracking.
They finally let me drive away. It was obvious that I had just been thinking about one thing and not paying attention to my actual surroundings. We had a good laugh that day, but I know that in the future I will need to be careful. I am sure that my name is marked in some database system and a second infraction may not go as easily!
We were in the area of the New River Gorge National Park for our weeklong vacation. We wanted to see everything that the area had to offer. We had a list of things that we definitely wanted to see. But we also had a list of places that would be ‘nice’ to see if we were able to work it into our week. The Sandstone Waterfalls were one of the items on the it would be nice to visit list.
Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall in the New River Gorge National Park. It has a drop of about 15-20 feet. This waterfall spans the width of the New River, a width of 1500 feet and is divided by some islands. Located in the southern region of the New River Gorge National Park, Sandstone Falls would be easily to overlook. Many people associate the New River Gorge National Park with the New River Gorge Bridge and that would be an apt description. However, this National park offers so much more. There is hiking, abandoned towns, history and multiple waterfalls. The park is spread out over quite a few miles making some of the points of interest quite a distance away. The drive from the New River Gorge Bridge to Sandstone Falls took about an hour. It was a drive through gorgeous mountains and the last portion of the drive will take you along the edge of the New River. There are some places to pull off and take in the view of the river. We did this and as always the power of the New River blew our minds. One could just sit on the edge of the river and let the rumbling sounds of the rushing water soothe all worries.
The parking lot at Sandstone Falls is adequate and we had no difficulty finding a parking spot. We could hear the rumble of the falls and we were ready to get our first glimpse of natures glory. So we headed off to the trailhead. This trail is actually a boardwalk that will carry you across channels and over islands to various overlooks. It is a super easy hike and just what we needed after the awesome but intense hike down and back up Kaymoor Miners Trail to the abandoned coal mine. The boardwalk is handicap accessible and is only a quarter of a mile long, making it something that can be completed and enjoyed by anyone with any skill level. The level boardwalk was recently redone and was awesome! Periodically along the boardwalk path there were larger areas that offered vantage points where we could stop and see various areas of the Sandstone Waterfalls. We stopped at each area and took in the beauty. It is awe inspiring and we allowed the nature to wash over us at each overlook.
Along the boardwalk there are steps down onto the islands so that a visitor can actually access the waters edge. Of course we went to the rivers edge. We did not get into the water, but there have been multiple accidents here at the falls over the years, so use precaution. One of the areas that allow you to step off of the boardwalk is the Island Loop Trail.
Island Loop Trail
I would highly recommend this trail if you are in the area. This trail will take you on journey around one of the island at the Sandstone Falls. This one half mile trail is level, there will be little to no inclines. There will be some rocky areas, but they are easily navigable. What you will get in return is close up view of the river and a walk through an island that once had a grist mill and was farmed. Sadly, we could see no evidence of that history and instead you can see how nature is reclaiming the island. It was still an amazing hike because of that abundant nature. The beavers were doing their job quite well as we saw quite a bit of evidence of their hard work and we could even spy a beaver dam in on of the channels between islands.
A drive to Sandstone Falls might be a bit longer than you are planning but if you are visiting New River Gorge, the trip is well worth it! For us, it was the perfect recovery day after a few intense days of hiking. The easy boardwalk made it an enjoyable retreat to a powerful piece of nature.
We were ready to get out into the woods to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature so we headed to the Catoctin Mountain National Park! We decided to park at the Owens Creek Picnic site and hike from there. The first trail we hiked was the Browns Farm Trail. Our hike took us down an educational trail that sparked out curiosity and interest. History and nature surrounded us and we were in our glory.
Browns Farm Loop Trail
The Browns Farm Loop Trail in the Catoctin Mountain National Park is a short easy hike. The trail meanders in a loop from the parking lot. At the trail head there is an information booth that has the self guided tour of the loop trail available for anyone to pick up. We grabbed one and headed off down the trail. The trail was not overly used by other hikers and we were able to listen to the sounds of nature and breath deeply the smells of a mountain forest.
Along the trail there are markers. They are labelled with a number and a title. At each marker you can stop to read the corresponding information of the self guided tour. This farm tour took us on a stroll through an old farmstead high in the Catoctin Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain chain). It shows the diversity of the area and the unique characteristics that made it an opportune place for a farmstead. There is a pine grove, wetlands, a stream and a hardwood forest and a natural spring.
Along the way there are small remnants and reminders of a life once lived on this mountain top. There is a Buckeye Tree, which is not native to the area. One can only speculate that it was brought here to be planted by the family that started this farmstead. The location of the house and the nearby well is easily identifiable, even without the sign marking it as the Farmhouse. It is just a short walk away to reach the remains of the farms bank barn. The foundation is visible buried into the bank hill. The feeding trough still stands near the foundation, a testament to the livestock that once lived here.
We hiked here in the fall and loved seeing the remnants of an old stone wall peeking out from the undergrowth beside the trail.
One can only imagine how life must have been on a mountain top farm 100 years ago. It was definitely a slower more quiet existence that one can only dream of.
Browns Farm Trail
The Loop trail is not the only place to hike. The Browns Farm Trail branches off of the Browns Farm Loop and will take you another ½ to 1 mile further. It is an out and back trail that is a stroll through the woods with only one slight incline. Along that route you will see more foundations and more stone walls. These are not marked and we could only speculate as to what their uses were when the land that we were walking on was a working productive farm. It is worth the time to take that extra walk. The nature is amazing!
We had a delightful hike. We learned more about a history and an area that we didn’t know about. The farmstead families in this area are a forgotten piece of history and these trails will bring it to life. This is definitely a great hike to take. We live locally and we will be back for sure!
I was quite nervous about hiking the Kaymoor Miners Trail. OK, I was absolutely petrified! We had visited the area a few months earlier and we had heard fabulous things about the Kaymoor Miners Trail. It was supposed to have anything that someone could ask for. Waterfalls, gorgeous views and abandoned ruins of a coal mine, it had it all. It sounded like something we would love We had known that it was a must do hike. So on that visit, we made our way to the trail head to hike this trail. We even started down the trail anxious to see what this trail was all about. It didn't bother us that the trail was marked as strenuous. We had been on difficult trails before! We had this!
We did not have that! On that hike, we got to the waterfall and the steep rock scramble and I totally wimped out! I became frightened and worried about my balance and stability and we turned around and did not complete that hike. I regretted it almost immediately and began to try to come up with ideas to allow me to traverse that rock scramble safely. I came up with the idea to start hiking with trekking poles. Best decision ever!
Time to Hike the Kaymoor Miners Trail
I had been hiking with my trekking poles for a few months between our first visit to the New River Gorge and the Kaymoor Miners Trail and the second visit. The time had come, we were back at the New River Gorge for our vacation. It was time to put those trekking poles to use and hike the Kaymoor Miners Trail. I was so excited to experience this trail that we decided to hike this trail on our very first day of our vacation.
We started out on the trail and we were loving the trail. It was easy, deceptively so; but I knew what was ahead of me. We got to that rock scramble area and it didn't seem quite as difficult. I paused for a few seconds and then moved forward. I went carefully and slowly but it wasn't that bad and the rock scramble was relatively short.
We kept hiking and before long we were at the intersection of the Kaymoor Trail. The Kaymoor Trail in this area sits on a shelf on the side of the mountain. This is the first visible evidence of the old mine. You can see buildings and mine entrances at this level.
Kaymoor Miners Trail: Stairway
After exploring this area, we took a deep breath and headed down the stairs. The signage near the stairs makes it very clear that there are 821 steps that will take the brave person down the side of the mountain. The signs also included a brief description of what we would see at the bottom of the steps. There was no question in my mind! We were going down those stairs!
hThe stairs were tough. Going down them was surprisingly rough on my muscles. Climbing back up the steps? That was difficult also! I was breathing like a freight train!
But on my word! The beauty at the bottom of those steps is incredible! The ruins of the abandoned mine are all around you. There are traces of the lives and work that took place here evident with every step we took! It was worth every muscle ache and every gasp for breath as I climbed back up!
I was so afraid of this hike, and it turned out to be the best hike of our entire visit. Was it difficult? Absolutely! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! The Kaymoor Miners trail has it all. It's a great workout. It has fabulous scenery. It has abandoned buildings. It has amazing history. It has the peace that nature brings. This trail is top notch!
A visit to The New River Gorge National Park would not be complete without a visit to the town of Thurmond, WV. Before we visited the area, I did my due diligence and researched many of the attractions and trails in the area. We only had a short time during that visit and I wanted to see as much as I could and to hit the most important locations. As soon as I saw the words ‘abandoned town’, I was hooked! Thurmond was one of the ‘musts’ for this trip!
The town of Thurmond was once a bustling boom town. The steady flow of money from the local coal mines and the railroad station in town fueled the economy. Over the years the coal mines began to shut down which caused a decline in the financial wealth of this community. Simultaneously, the rise in popularity of the automobile brought around a steep decrease in passenger train travel, which further hampered the economic prosperity of the town. Slowly, people began to leave the town for more prosperous towns. In the 2010 Census, the population of the town was listed as 5 and most of the buildings are now owned by the National Park Service.
The Commercial Area of Thurmond, WV
The first thing you will see as you drive into the town is the train station. This station has been completely redone and serves as a visitor center for the National Park. It is the focal point of the town. This is still a flag stop for Amtrak service. So if you want to begin and/or end your vacation in Thurmond, you can definitely arrive by train!
To tour the business area of the this abandoned town you will be walking along the railroad tracks. The commercial area of town is nestled between the side of the mountain and the railroad tracks. These railroad tracks are still owned, operated and used by CSX, so please be careful. It is fascinating to walk by the businesses and imagine how life was in this town during the heyday when it was a bustling center of activity that while small was so prosperous that it was able to support two banks.
The Coaling Tower
There are still remnants of the bygone era of steam locomotives. The coaling tower still stands tall and proud at the end of the commerce section of town. Along with some of the outbuildings that supported the thriving railroad. Proud of the history of this town, in recent years they have held a Thurmond Train day for rail fans.
The Residential Area of town
We walked through the commercial area of the town and walked by a few buildings that were obviously residential in nature before we came to a winding road that led up the side of the mountain. It was a hot day when we were there, but we decided to walk up a bit of the hill to explore. Oh my word! I am so glad I did. Abandoned house after abandoned house stood at the side of the road a testament to the lives that had been lived in this town. The houses have been secured by the National Park service, so they are not readily available for entry. However, it is possible to walk onto the porches and peer in some windows.
Remnants of lives once happily lived are evidenced in the flowers that were once carefully planted but now grow wild. As we wound up the hill and back down, we came across the town church standing proud on the side of the mountain. Oh, if walls could talk!
Thurmond, WV quickly became the absolute favorite part of our visit to this area. It is not often you get to walk through an abandoned ghost town that is still almost fully intact. The history and vibe of the area was something to behold! We explored that town as fully as we could! We have both on many different occasions since we have been home have made the remark that we will go back to that town to explore more!
For more about this area, check out The New River Gorge Bridge.
I have heard so much about the New River Gorge Bridge! Jason had always wanted to see the the bridge and I had grown interested through hearing about him talk about this bridge. We were in Western West Virginia to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and realized that the New River Gorge was only an hour away. We had to go! Completed in 1977, The New River Gorge Bridge opened as the worlds longest single span arch bridge. It held that record for 26 years. Even now, it remains the fourth largest single span bridge. The bridge was built as a means of traveling from one side of the gorge to the other. Before the completion of this bridge traversing from one side to the other required a 40 minute trip down to the bottom of the gorge and back up the other side. The new bridge reduced the travel time to roughly one minute.
National Park Service Visitor Center
We arrived at the new river gorge around lunch time. We couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on this bridge that we had heard so much about! We immediately headed to the National Park Service Visitor Center parking. I knew that the actual visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, but the website had indicated that the boardwalks and overlooks were open. While it would have been nice to be able to see and learn more about the bridge , I was grateful that I would still be able to visit the overlooks. After all, that was what I came for! We parked in the parking lot at the National Park visitors center. We were ready to get our first taste of the New River Gorge Bridge!
There were signs that indicated the direction to the overlook. The path quickly turns into a wooden boardwalk. The walk is easy and in just a few short moments you will come to the first overlook. We could see the bridge and we stood in awe for a bit.
AThis boardwalk trail was not over though. There are a series of steps that head down to a second overlook. We didn’t have to ponder long. Although as we headed down there was a bit of trepidation about the return climb up the steps. Halfway down the steps there is a nice area that includes some benches if you need a break. We reached the bottom and the view was spectacular. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized exactly how deep this gorge is and how utterly mammoth this bridge really is.
The hike back up isn’t too bad. We were out of breath but it only took a few minutes. We decided to walk a bit around the visitor center area and we came to a second overlook. This on also had some neat displays showing information about the bridge.
After we had explored all we could see we headed out. It wasn’t until the next day that we explored the bridge more fully.
Fayette station road
The road that up until 1977 had been the primary means to get from one side of the gorge to the other is called the Fayette Station Road. It is still open and the visitor center offers audio tours of this road. I knew from my pre-trip research that we could stream the audio tour in lieu of going into the visitor center (which was closed). Perfect! We happily headed on this tour. The audio tour is well done. It gives the history and background of this road that winds down and then back up the mountain utilizing switchbacks while carrying you by sheer rock walls and waterfalls.
Along the way there are ample opportunities to stop to view the New River Gorge Bridge. Each different view and angle only reinforces the mammoth proportions of this bridge. At the bottom of the gorge there is camp/day use area with plenty of parking. This allowed us the chance to view up close the river that runs through the gorge. We saw kayakers drop into the water, fisherman fishing and swimmers enjoying the cool temperature of the water on a hot day. We took the opportunity to walk back to the bridge that spans the water at the bottom of the gorge. It was here that we were given a full view of the bridge.
andThe Fayette Station Road has a few pull offs that are at trailheads. We hiked one of the trails for a bit, enjoying the flowing water of streams and the gushing waterfalls that the trail took us too.
The overlooks located at the visitor center and the views of the new River Gorge bridge from the Fayette Station were spectacular and made the bridge experience a most amazing part of this trip! The new River Gorge is definitely a must see location!
For More West Virginia travel, visit the Museum of American Glass in Weston, WV and Thurmond and abandoned town in the New River Gorge Area.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!