Lower Hoop Hole trail
Left: Aden and Matthew prepare to jump again. Right: What better place for lunch than your own boulder tucked away on the hillside.
Lower Hoop Hole loop. 4 miles.
It was the lure of the swimmin' hole for grandsons Aden and Matthew on a warm summer day that took us up into northern Botetourt County for this four-mile loop.
And with just those four miles to cover for seven-year-old hikers who have done nearly twice that with us, we decided to go up to the right, and thus have about three-fourths of the walking done before we got to the pause for jumping, swimming and eating.
The trail seems to have undergone some improvements since we were on it last, with new wooden steps at some of the steeper spots on the climb (walking counterclockwise), and a pretty re-routing of part of the section along the ridge after the turn-offs to the upper loop.
Aden said he knew when we were getting close to the swimming hole when he saw "those crazy-looking trees," as tangly rhododendron does surround and hide the spot in the stream where the water is deep enough that you're not quite sure if you can see the bottom.
In their race to beat each other to the finding of the spot, the little hikers went on by, and it was up to The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All to call them back to the short steep drop to the spot, a spot that brings out such grandmotherly instincts as worries about snakes, broken glass, slipperiness and making sure jumps are far out into the hole to assure missing the rocks along the wall of the eight-foot leap.
The last of which she seemed to have forgotten about since last time, as witness her dismay as the two rock scramblers headed up that way: "They're not jumping from there, are they!?" she asked me at just about the time they took their first of several plunges.
The water was judged as "coooold" by both, and after three or four jumps and a bit of exploring upstream, they came back to join us for lunch. Well, not join exactly, but instead to find a big and private boulder up the hillside a little to unpack and eat.
The Day Hiker's cautious approach was accompanied by praise for the boys (and their parents) for their automatic and thorough leave-no-trace approach to lunch in the woods.
The short walk down was concluded with a brief inspection of the big map display to clarify the direction and circular pattern we'd walked.
August 7, 2010 Hike
How to get there: North on U.S. 220 from Roanoke to just beyond the James River; left onto Va. 615 for about 8 miles to the parking area on the right.