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I spent the first weekend of March skiing at Snowshoe. The weather was perfect for spring skiing, mid 30’s dipping into the low 30’s at night - cool enough for some beautiful snow to fall. But this past weekend the spring-like temperatures made me want to camp, hike, and spend every possible moment in nature.
My boyfriend, Chad and friend, Joe, each avid fly-fishermen, packed up to hit Bath and Highland Counties for some camping, fishing, and enjoying the annual two-weekend Highland County Maple Festival. The second weekend is next weekend Friday 18-Sunday 20th.
As I am not a fisherwoman, but instead a enthusiastic hiker, our camping spots always have to serve dual purposes: somewhere Chad can either fish, ride his motorcycle, or be near a historic site to tour. I am pretty easy to please; if there’s a babbling brook and a hiking trail, I’ll stay anywhere.
The George Washington National Forest Recreation Area called Hidden Valley fit the bill. There is a 30 camp-site, rustic federal campground for $10 a night. The free day use area is .75 miles down the road that dead ends at the Antebellum Mansion now the Hidden Valley Bed & Breakfast. (So if camping isn’t your thing, you have a beautiful option that is right beside the Jackson River.) http://www.hiddenvalleybedandbreakfast.com/
This campground is close to the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs - the famous springs of The Homestead. You can have a soak for $17. On Friday night, we arrived late enough that we didn’t want to cook so we stopped at Cucci’s on 220 in Bath County for a bite. Chad and Joe each got huge burgers and I ordered the small veggie pizza. We were fat and happy when we left. The crust of the pizza was crisp and chewy and the veggies (mushroom, peppers, onions and broccoli were the perfect mix of my favorites.) The pizza was enough to lunch on the following day. http://www.yelp.com/biz/cuccis-of-hot-springs-llc-hot-springs
On Saturday, I opted to hike most of the day with my trusty hiking partner, Griz, in tow. We started on the Lower Lost Woman Loop (the significance of this name was not lost on me) connecting to the Cobbler Mountain Trail and finally connecting to the flat rail-trail: Hidden Valley. The Lower Lost Woman Loop was moss covered, boggy and filled with slick roots. It was a short entertaining trails - make sure you where your hiking boots. Tennis shoes will not only be ruined but they won’t support your ankles.
The Cobbler Mountain Trail has a steep accent to the ridge line and then is gentle mountain trail that connects with a stream. Griz loved this as he swam and drank a lot of water, as the day was unseasonably pleasant. We only met one other couple hiking, it was pleasantly absent of people. I must note that all the trails are blue blazes and you have to pay attention and carry a map because there are old blazes still very visible where the trails either reroute or veer off onto a totally different trail. Signage is acceptable but this winter was hard on the posts. Many of the signs were knocked down. However, the trails were well maintained.
The Hidden Valley Trail ends at the day-use parking lot so we trekked back via the road to the campground. The loop is about 6 miles long and enjoyable. The Hidden Valley Trail is flat enough for bikes and kids and definitely more popular than the other more challenging trails.
After a day of strenuous hiking and fishing - the guys hiked as much as I did and we spent the evening beside the campfire listening to the spring peepers. Our only complaint with the Hidden Valley Campground is that the generator hours are not enforced - our trailer camping friends ran their generators entirely too much.
On Sunday morning, we slept in and then broke camp to head 35 minutes down the road to Monterey, Virginia where the main portion of the Highland Maple Festival resides. Maple Camps are open to the public and scattered through out the Valley that looks like a gentler version of Switzerland’s Valleys - earning its nickname “Little Switzerland.”
I had it in my heart that I would eat fresh pancakes and even fresher maple syrup - some likely boiled down from the Sugar Maples we slept under just the night before. We went into High’s Restaurant on Main Street to find bottomless pancakes for $8. Joe and I each partook in the joys of maple syrup and pancakes. I “won” by polishing off two plates of pancakes (6 monsters that put me to sleep on the ride home.) http://www.highlandcounty.org/for-the-visitor/dining/
We then walked around town looking at the various craft, food, and famous maple syrup vendors. Since I grew up just across the state line from Highland County in Pocahontas County, WV, I saw quite a few familiar faces. I was pleased to happen upon a friend, Rachel Taylor who with her husband, Adam own Forstmore Farm - Maple & More out of Dunmore, WV. Rachel and her father were manning their booth where I tried Whipped Maple Cream for the first time. Let me tell you - that stuff was amazing. Rachel says she uses it for icing on her homemade cinnamon rolls. They also offer traditional maple leaf candy and the novel idea of Maple Syrup Cotton Candy. Check them out next weekend or at their farm in Dunmore immediately of Route 92. https://www.facebook.com/frostmorefarm/
My run-in with old friends and familiar faces wrapped up with a bag of freshly fried potato chips and pork skins. As we headed back to Roanoke, it started to rain. I was instantly lulled to sleep by the familiar curves of 220 S as Chad drove us into the “real world” away from the places I so enjoy and find such comfort in the warm and friendly hospitality of small mountain towns.
Please take a map or at least a picture of the signage starting at the trail heads - that served me well when the blazes got confusing.
Lower Lost Woman Loop - http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gwj/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=79372&actid=50
Hidden Valley Trail - http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/HiddenValley/ (this link shows a loop connecting Cobbler Mountain and Hidden Valley.) The Lower Lost Woman Loop connects to the campground - this is why I included that trail.