I haven’t been on a group hike in ages and I should really make it out to them more! Last weekend, me and one old, three new friends drove out to SNP for a day hike. It was an 8 mile out and back with about 2,000 ft of climbing. We skipped the half-mile out and back to a cabin, but it is posted on hiking upward as an 8.5 mile hike.
The Graves Mill parking lot was a solid two hours from Washington and ended up closer to three with traffic on the return trip. There is a Sheetz close to the parking area, so we grabbed snacks (and returning, washed up) there.
The parking lot and trail were pretty crowded. There were several groups and couples on the trail, and so we rarely went 20 minutes without seeing other people. Since I was with a group myself, the lack of solitude didn’t really bother me. The trail starts out along a beautiful stream with gentle waterfalls and then starts climbing pretty good. The trail is fast and in excellent shape, very few technical sections. We got to see a bunch of wildflowers, but this hike is probably best in early summer when the mountain laurel are in bloom; there were quite a few laurel tunnels.
The forest was very young with skinny, short trees but also lots of fern and green underbrush–very pretty! And the view from Bear Rock was pretty fantastic. (See photo above.)
This would be a great running trail since it’s in such good shape and the climb isn’t too bad, with a few nice flat sections along the stream. There were some single-track sections, but also a lot of wide trail so that friends can hike/run side-by-side, which was nice! It was definitely an easy hike and great for groups and beginners. Even with a group of five, and stopping for lunch, we kept our average pace at 2 miles per hour — which is hard for group hiking. That said, we did take our time going up and then sped down the mountain. The non-technical trail made it a very fast return down the mountain.
I tend to avoid SNP because it’s more crowded, but it’s so much closer to Washington than most of the GW forest and it does have some great trails. I really should give more of them a try!