Camp Rapidan Hike Review

Hurricane Sandy made it snow in the Shenandoah Mountains! Did you know that? Because I didn’t until we showed up to hike to Camp Rapidan. We didn’t even see the snow until we were already in the park… We were driving along Skyline Drive on our way to Milam Gap parking area, and the snow seemed to continually get deeper.

A little history on Camp Rapidan (now often known as Camp Hoover):  President Hoover, using his own funds, built the camp as the first presidential retreat. As he was leaving the presidency, Shenandoah National Park was being developed and FDR became president. Because he was bound to the wheel chair (and possibly because he didn’t like Hoover), FDR did not want to use Camp Rapidan as his retreat and built Camp David instead. So, Hoover donated the camp to the park.

So, we obviously decided to do the hike anyway, even though I was the only one in boots and MM had cotton sweatpants on. At this point, we had not decided if we wanted to do the full 7 mile loop or just 4 miles out and back to the Camp. The trail starts across the street from the parking area on the A.T. Almost immediately after crossing the street, make a left onto Mill Prong Trail. This trail heads mostly downhill, which led us to believe that hiking in the snow wasn’t that bad. And as we got lower in elevation, the snow lessened some. At a few points, it was difficult to follow the trail between the snow on the ground and freshly downed trees on the trail. We followed some deer tracks for awhile, and then had to keep making sure we were actually following trail and not just the deer. After a while, we came to an intersection with the Mill Prong Horse Trail, where we took the right fork to head toward the camp. At this point, you track the Mill Prong pretty closely and I got a chance to play with a new effect that I learned to use on my camera to make cool running water shots.

I’m beginning to realize that I’m not very good at framing my photos… I also have a lot of problems with making my pictures level. Things I need to work on. But I did make the effect work pretty well. So we continued on from there to what’s left of Camp Rapidan. The horse trail opens onto a fire road. Making a left leads to some out houses across the bridge. The camp is to the right on this road and then immediately on the left.

Outdoor fireplace at the camp… interestingly, they didn’t use it for fires. It was mostly just used for photo ops.

One of the remaining cabins at the camp. There are only 3 left.

Historic Marker at the Camp… I like to take pictures of signs.

Remember how I said that hiking downhill in the snow made it seem a lot easier? … Yeah, that made us decide that we wanted to continue and do the whole 7 mile hike. So we continued on down the fire road that goes past the camp for a very short distance before the Laurel Prong Trail breaks off on the left. This trail had many areas where the trail was slightly flooded. It made for some interesting attempts at rock jumping.

The hike soon started back uphill. In the snow. This was not fun. We made MM go first and then walked in his foot steps. I think it would’ve been quite a sight to watch me attempt to follow his footsteps and Sara try to follow in mine. The hike started to drone on with snow and more snow. And uphill and more uphill. It was even more difficult to follow the trail. At one point, I was actually looking behind us because it seemed to be easier to find blazes in that direction than the direction we were actually heading. We did spot some bear tracks.

We were joking about how we could follow the tracks and find the bear… and then we spotted the tracks again later down the trail. Oh, and between the wind and snow of the hurricane, there were several trees that were blown into the trail and held down by snow. So, in a lot of places, you could actually just life the branches back up and they could stay. There was one narrow section of trail where a pretty large tree was blown into the trail and there was a steep drop off on one side and a somewhat steep incline on the other. MM went up around on the incline, but when I attempted, I fell twice. So, Sara and I ended up crawling under the tree… in the snow. Cold Hands! That was about the only excitement on this section of trail.

After what seemed like forever, we finally made it the the Appalachian Trail where we make a right turn. At this point, we found a log that we could all sit on and ate our lunches. We really should have found a spot a little earlier. It was a little windy once we got onto the ridge with the AT.

We thought/hoped that the trail would level out at this point. There was still a lot of uphill. Not fun. Then when it did finally level out, the snow was fairly deep. The trail did finally start to decline, which was a wonderful change. We saw 2 deer at this part of the trail. Anyway, we finally made it back to Skyline Drive, which was a glorious sight.

Overall, it was a nice hike that would probably have been pretty enjoyable if it weren’t for the snow on the ground. But the snow does make for nice trail pictures.

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