Frazier Discovery Trail

Frazier Discovery Trail (Loft Mountain)
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive mile 79.5
Distance: 1.3 miles
Views: Great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Trailhead: Park at Loft Mountain Wayside at mile 79.5 on the Skyline Drive. Follow the sidewalk north to the end of the parking lot and cross the road to find the trailhead.
Type: Circuit (connects trails to form a loop)
Dogs: No furry friends allowed on this trail (bummer!)
Notes: Entrance fees apply at Shenandoah National Park (SNP); easy to moderate climb to a rocky outcrop with amazing views. Restrooms and food next to parking area.

Difficulty and length:
This circuit is about 1.3 miles and most recently took me about an hour to complete. I had Baby Sunshine on my back in her pack (Deuter Kid Comfort II), so that slowed me down a little bit. I would rate this one as as being on the easy side of moderate. There is a steady uphill climb (almost always have to go up for a good view), but levels out here and there for nice little breaks. You can modify this hike to make it longer and more difficult (see ‘tips’ section below).
Getting there:
The Frazier Discovery Trail on Loft Mountain is in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park (SNP), but getting closer to the Central region. It takes about an hour to get to from the city of Charlottesville. From Charlottesville, I typically enter the park via the South entrance. I take 64 west to exit 99 towards Afton. After coming down the ramp, hang a right and follow the signs to enter the park. You’ll drive for around 26 miles or so from the South entrance (Rockfish Gap Entrance Station) of the park. Park in the Loft Mountain Wayside parking area.

Frazier Discovery Trail at Loft Mountain is a wonderful family hike in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park. Park at Loft Mountain Wayside Restaurant parking area at mile 79.5 on the Skyline Drive (See ‘Getting there’ above). Walk to the north end of the parking lot and cross the Skyline Drive to find the trailhead (see pictures below). The trail is well marked with cement post markers and blue and white blazes (AT) all along the way, so it shouldn’t be hard to stay on the trail and headed in the correct direction.

Once you get across the road, you’ll notice a fork in the trail. You can choose to start either right or left. I typically start out by heading left on the trail, so these details will describe the hike starting on the left for your ascent. About 25 minutes into the hike you will reach the viewpoint. I know everyone’s hiking speed varies, but this gives you a rough idea of how long it may take you to get to the views.

At the viewpoint there is a large rock outcropping with beautiful views of the mountains and the Skyline Drive. Bring a snack or simply bask in the sunlight and take in the stunning views. Either way, take a break and enjoy the views, this is the Blue Ridge Mountains baby.

When you are ready to head back to your car, simply continue on in the direction you were headed when you approached the rock outcroppings. After a little bit, you will see double blue blazes (click here for photo) on a tree and a cement trail marker (photo) that shows that you should hang a right to head down the mountain to complete your loop and arrive back at your car. Keep an eye out, because another 5 minutes or so down the trail is another great viewpoint on your right (photo below).
Keep an eye out for blue blazes on trees (to follow the Frazier Discovery Trail) and for the cement trail markers. They will point you in the correct direction; be sure to always follow the Frazier Discovery Trail arrows on the cement trail markers if you want to follow the hike described here.

Tip: You can make this circuit longer by following the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a loop around the Loft Mountain Campground. See this map from the National Park Service that shows various Loft Mountain hiking options – This is a great addition for those with more time and more energy. Or better yet, get a campsite, stay the night, and start your hike from your tent door first thing in the morning.

My Experience:
This hike is perfect if you want to set out from a good ‘base camp’. What I mean by ‘base camp’ is a facility with bathrooms and burgers! I love that the trailhead is right across the Skyline Drive from the Loft Mountain Wayside parking lot. You have restrooms and food adjacent to your parking spot, which can make hiking (especially with little ones and grumpy husbands) much easier.

I’ve done this hike a few times, but the most memorable have been with my mom, Idaho (her trail name). The first time we ventured out on the Frazier Discovery Trail was Mother’s Day a few years ago (a family tradition – we always take a mom hiking on Mother’s Day). My mom and I had a blast on our hike. We told stories, laughed, and stopped to take goofy pictures along the way. After our hike, we stopped for some food at the Wayside restaurant. We met some young AT hikers who were trying to find a ride to Rockfish Gap (South Entrance to SNP). Of course, my mom immediately says, “Oh, we’ll take you”. And that started a new ‘tradition’ of also picking up hitchhikers on Mother’s Day (My mom cannot say ‘no’ to people!). We dropped the boys off without incident (other than an extremely smelly car as they hadn’t showered in weeks) and had a fun story to share.

On my last venture to the Frazier Discovery Trail there was a felled tree across the trail. That usually isn’t a problem, but when you have a 16 pound baby in a pack on your back, it’s a little challenging. I took it slow and had Idaho spot me. We made it over the log without any scrapes or scratches and with lots of laughs.
Bonus Tip: I feel like this is ALWAYS my bonus tip for a hike in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s seriously the best tip ever…take 250 back to Charlottesville instead of 64 East so you can stop for an adult beverage. I usually boast about all of Virginia’s amazing wineries, but it’s time to give beer some love. Some of my favorite breweries or tap rooms on the way home from SNP are: Pro Re Nata, Starr Hill Brewery, and Blue Mountain Brewery.

Bonus Bonus Tip: Check out this link to Shenandoah National Park’s information page about food and gas along the Skyline Drive – This will tell you about food and restroom facility openings and closings. Loft Mountain Wayside is open mid-April through early-November.

Fall views:

Little Calf Mountain

Little Calf Mountain
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive mile 99.5
Distance: 1 mile
Views: Grassy meadows and valley views
Trailhead: Parking area at milepost 99.5 on the Skyline Drive
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Dogs are welcome with a leash
Notes: Entrance fees apply at Shenandoah National Park (SNP); short, uphill trail through grassy meadows and trees; nice view at the top.

Difficulty and length:
The distance to the Little Calf Mountain summit from the parking area is about a half a mile. Round trip, this hike is around 1 mile. It’s an uphill hike, but I find the gentle grade makes the hike very pleasant. Easy to moderate rating on this one. Most recently, it took me about 35 minutes to get from the parking area to the summit of Little Calf Mountain. It was my first hike with Baby Comfort, so I had some extra weight and kept stopping to check on her, since she was only 3 months old. This is a great hike for families and children. Just the right driving distance from Charlottesville and just the right length for most. I would allow an hour and a half for this hike, which would include some time for frolicking and eating lunch in the grassy meadow at the top.

Chilly day on top of Little Calf MountainGetting there:
Little Calf Mountain is about a 40 minute drive from Charlottesville, Virginia. From Charlottesville, take 64 West to exit 99 towards Afton. Follow signs to enter the Shenandoah National Park at the South entrance (Rockfish Gap Entrance Station). Drive for about 5 miles north on the Skyline Drive to the Beagle Gap Parking Area at mile 99.5.

This is a short hike with nice views and a grassy meadow in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park (SNP). Park at Beagle Gap Parking Area at mile 99.5 on the Skyline Drive (see ‘Getting there’ above). Look for the opening in the fence marked with a white blaze and you’ve found the trail head. The hike begins with an uphill walk through a grassy field.

After about 5 minutes or so of walking, you will enter the woods and continue following the white blazes. After about 20-25 minutes, you’ll find the trail opens back up to a grassy meadow, this is the Little Calf Mountain summit.

This is the perfect spot for eating lunch and daydreaming. The views are pretty amazing, but your panorama may be interrupted by some towers on a mountain across the way. Bear Den Mountain has towers on top that you may want to keep out of your photos. Once you are finished with the views and your lunch, turn around and retrace your steps back to your car (image below shows Beagle Gap Parking area from your descent).

Little Calf - Beagle Gap parking areaTip: For a longer hike, continue on the Appalachian Trail (follow the white blazes) to the summit of Calf Mountain. There aren’t the same great views at this summit, but you will get a little extra distance in.

My Experience:
This is my go-to hike when I don’t have a lot of time, but I still want a quick trip to Shenandoah National Park. Since the trail is so close to the Southern Entrance into SNP, it’s perfect for those who don’t have all day for a hike. I’ve done this hike countless times with many friends and family and it always seems to be a good fit for folks who don’t hike often.

Most recently, I hiked this trail on Mother’s Day as my first hike with my 3 month old baby girl (her middle name is Sunshine, so we’ll call her that on my blog). It was my first time using her Tula baby carrier, so I took awhile adjusting and checking on Baby Comfort here and there. Miss Sunshine is a great hiking partner and she spent most of the time sleeping. I have to admit, I got a little out of breath this last hike, but hey, I was carrying my baby up a mountain and had just delivered about 12 weeks before that, so I’m cutting myself some slack! Spending the day in Shenandoah National Park and then stopping at Pollak Vineyards afterwards, was my perfect Mother’s Day.

Little Calf - relaxingBonus Tip: Take 250 back to Charlottesville, VA rather than 64 and stop at one of Virginia’s vineyards. A few of my favorites on the way back to Charlottesville are: Veritas Vineyard and Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, and Pollak Vineyards.

Warning: Lots of poison ivy along this trail in the summer – watch out!

Spring views:

Summer views:

Fall views:

Winter views:


Hiking while pregnant

Hiking while pregnant or 7 Tips for Hiking Mamas

Hiking in SNP during pregnancyAs I enter into the last two weeks of my first pregnancy (Yay – 38 weeks!), I really want to post about hiking while pregnant. If you were a hiker pre-pregnancy and want to continue hiking, follow these tips to make it an easier and more comfortable pregnancy experience. For all my East Coast friends, winter is still hanging around, but spring will be here before you know it and, hopefully, these tips will give all you mamas-to-be the tools to decide if hiking while pregnant is for you.

I could honestly go on forever about the joys and difficulty of hiking in various trimesters and seasons while pregnant, but for the sake of organization and readability, let’s go with a quick list of things to consider before hiking while pregnant.

All you non-preggo hikers, share this post with someone who may find it helpful!

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
I can’t emphasize this one enough. As mamas-to-be we need to increase our water intake on a daily basis anyway…add strenuous activity and the need for extra H20 becomes extremely important. If carrying all that extra water-weight on your hike sounds exhausting, let someone else do the heavy lifting!

2. Bring a Hiking Buddy
I always recommend a hiking partner, pregnant or not. The need for a buddy becomes very important when you are expecting. Not only do you have someone there with you in case something goes wrong, but if it’s a super, awesome hiking friend, they will also help lighten your load. Don’t feel guilty asking a hiking partner to help carry your pack or water. Have you seen your adorable baby bump? That little boy or girl is adding some extra weight to your total body mass and if you want to drag that all up a mountain – well, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

3. Double your Snacks (or triple, no judging here)
Alright, this one may just be me, but I’ve been pretty hungry most of this pregnancy. Not only are we growing a human (which takes a lot of energy), but those intense hunger cravings in the 2nd trimester are no joke. I went from vegetarian to ‘give me that cheeseburger, now!’. Remember, if you go hiking, you are burning extra calories and babe is taking nutrients that it needs from you, so be sure to replenish with snacks that fuel your work and sound tasty.

4. Stretch
Loosen up before your hike with some quick warm ups and light stretching. Avoid those night-time leg cramps we often get during pregnancy by hydrating and doing some good stretching after the hike. I find that it’s best to focus on the calves and hamstrings after a good mountain climb.

5. Restrooms
Let’s be honest with ourselves…it’s just not that easy to squat anymore! Center of gravity shift, extra weight (mostly in the front), and general clumsiness are something most of us experience during pregnancy. Squatting in the woods behind a bush or tree for a quick pee is getting less and less feasible as our bellies grow. Plan hikes around open facilities in our State or National parks. Or be sure there is an open gas station or rest area near the trail you choose so you have a nearby option before and after the hike.

If you get stuck out on a trail and nature calls, be sure to use a tree trunk to help you balance as you squat. Find a smaller, sturdy tree, that you can wrap your hands around for balance and support as you lower your growing body to do your business. If your hiking partner is willing to help you back up after your tinkle, let them!

Additional Tip: East Coast mountain mamas – Hike on the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) and plan your route based on sections that pass an outhouse/shelter. This will be a lifesaver for those of you in your third trimester who are using the potty often.

Hiking during 2nd trimester

Hiking during 2nd trimester

6. Slow your pace
Don’t over do it; it’s okay to slow your typical hiking pace. Our lungs are being squished by our growing sprouts and we need to give ourselves a break. Please don’t judge yourself or others for needing to slow down. Hike at a pace that is comfortable for you and take breaks often. The last hike I went on was only a mile, yet I slowed myself down and allowed myself to take breaks when I felt out of breath or tired. Listen to your body. If it’s tired, stop and take a break. If you need to, turn around and head home. Now is NOT the time to push yourself and over do it.

7. Shorten your hike
It’s okay to choose shorter hikes as you progress in your pregnancy. I found that in the first and third trimester, the shorter the hike, the better! Nausea won the first trimester for me, especially in the heat and humidity of Virginia summers. My hikes were short and some planned longer hikes, were cut short when I just couldn’t go any further. And that is OKAY.  In the third trimester, especially as you draw nearer to your due date, I find it’s a good idea to stick to shorter trails so you can quickly and easily make it back to your car should something urgent come up. These babes decide when the want to show up, not us!

As always, be sure to check with your doctor before doing any physical activity (especially hiking). We are all different and each pregnancy is unique. Listen to your doctor and listen to your body. Don’t over do it. You and babe come first.