Spotlight On Virginia
In This Issue
- Hiking On Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway
- Visiting Historic Williamsburg, Virginia
- Jamestown, Virginia – Where America Was Born
Peaks Of Otter Hiking Trails On The Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the first developed tourist centers on the Blue Ridge Parkway was The Peaks of Otter and it dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Today it includes camping, a hotel, restaurant and Visitors Center with a number of trails to hike.
One hike, the Johnson Farm Trail takes you past a restored mid-1800s farm. The Johnson Family homestead includes the farmhouse, a barn, a spring house, antique farm equipment, a garden and orchard. While the grounds are always open for those hiking the trail, if you go during operating hours, park volunteers are on hand to answer questions and give tours of the farmhouse. Ask at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center about current hours.
There are a number of hiking trails at Peaks of Otter but The Johnson Farm Trail is a favorite because of the farm and because it connects to the Harkening Trail which passes Balance Rock. If you stop at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center (MP 85.9) a .3-mile connector trail leads to the start of the Johnson Farm Loop Trail. But starting there adds an extra .6-mile, round trip to that hike. To save that half mile park at the lower lot of the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which is just a half mile north of the Visitor Center. From there look for a paved path that leads through a tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway. You will find the start of this trail on the other side. You can also access the Abbott Lake Loop Trail from this parking lot but instead of crossing under the Parkway, keep walking along the paved path for this easy, 1-mile hike that circles the lake.
Because The Johnson Farm Trail is a loop, you can hike either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, but if you want to have less steep uphill climbing, hike in the counterclockwise direction, which is the way the trail sign is pointing. The farm is a reasonably moderate .75 mile hike up the trail, which is near the halfway point on this hike. If you continue on past the farm on the loop trail there is a fork off to the right that is the Harkening Hill Trail that will will take you to Balance Rock which is about a mile one way. Taking in the entire Harkening Loop Trail back to your start will be an additional 3.6 miles.
Shortly after starting the Johnson Farm Trail counterclockwise, the trail forks and you need stay on the left fork. Soon after that you will find yourself crossing an expanse of meadow and passing the site of the old Hotel Mons which dates back to the mid-1800s.
In 1857, a father and son named Benjamin and Leyburn Wilkes purchased the land, including the mountains around the Peaks of Otter area. They had been running a small boarding house since 1849 and believed that tourism was the future. The same year they purchased the land, they began construction on the first true hotel in the area, the Otter Peaks Hotel. Up until then, any lodging for tourists was done in private homes or small boarding houses. The most popular was run by Polly Wood, widow of Jeremiah Wood who was a grandson of the original settler of Peaks of Otter, Thomas Wood. The inn was known as Polly Wood’s Ordinary, and it still stands today on the shore of Abbott Lake near the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area. Polly Wood’s ordinary closed in the early 1850s not being able to compete with the new hotel.
Peaks of Otter Hiking Trails
Sharp Top Trail (1.5 miles to the summit) Strenuous 3 hours
Originates at the Nature Center across the Parkway from the Visitor Center. This is a steep route and you should be in good health. There is no drinking water on the trail, so take water with you. The summit offers an impressive 360-degree view of the Peaks of Otter area, the Piedmont to the east, and the Shenandoah Valley with the Allegheny mountains to the west. Add an extra half-hour to take spur trail to Buzzard’s Roost, large rock formations offering good views of the area. Note: There is concession-operated bus service (one-way or round trip) to within 0.25 mile of the top seasonally.
Elk Run Loop (0.8 mile) Moderate to strenuous 1 hour
Begins behind the visitor center. It is a moderately strenuous trail and is self-guiding with written displays describing the forest environment.
Harkening Hill Loop Trail (3.3 miles)Moderate 5+ hours
Begins behind the visitor center and across from the amphitheater. This woodland trail climbs to a ridge with good views. A spur trail near the summit leads to Balance Rock, an immense boulder balanced on a small rock. Connects to Johnson Farm Loop Trail.
Johnson Farm Trails (1.8+ miles)Moderate 2+ hours
A loop trail, approximately two miles long, which follows a section of the Harkening Hill loop trail. Beginning at the north end of the visitor center parking area, the trail leads 1.1 miles to the Johnson Farm, originally built in the 1850s.
Flat Top & Fallingwater Cascades Trails (6.5 mile) Moderate to strenuous
Was designated a continuous National Recreation Trail in April 1982. Flat Top rises to an elevation of 4,004 feet with many scattered rock outcrops. On this trail, hikers climb and descend 1,600 feet from the Parkway trail heads. Fallingwater Cascades Trail is a loop trail which takes hikers along cascades on Fallingwater Creek with its huge rock outcrops with rhododendron and hemlock forest. This trail descends 260 feet from the Fallingwater Trail Parking Area and experiencing this mountain cascade is well worth the effort.
Abbott Lake Trail (1 mile) Easy under 1 hour
The least difficult of Peaks of Otter trails, is a one-mile loop around Abbott Lake. The trail through a woodland forest and open field, offering close-up views of the lake. Trail is ADA Accessible.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia. The area is an interesting blend of American history and popular tourist attraction. The colonial town is the anchor of a historic triangle in Tidewater Virginia that includes a restoration of the Jamestown colony (the first successful English settlement in North America) and the Yorktown Battlefield National Park and Museum celebrating the victory that brought an end of the Revolutionary War.
Within just moments walking through town you get a sense that you have been transported back in time some 300 years. If there weren’t groups of tourists that at times disturb the illusion, the feeling would be overwhelming.
The historic town of Williamsburg is a 300 acre area that encompasses several hundred restored or re-created buildings from the 18th century, when it was the capital of Colonial Virginia. A living interpretation of a colonial period American city, the historic district includes three primary streets and their connecting side streets that represent the accurate character of 18th-century America. While it is faithful to the period with costumed employees who work and dress as people did back at that time, it is also a current residential neighborhood with private residences mixed into the historic buildings.
Conceived in the 1920s, the restoration and re-creation of colonial Williamsburg was championed as a way to celebrate our countries revolutionary patriots and the history of the early United States. The project got its start with seed money in a grant from John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
Major buildings include Raleigh Tavern, the Capitol building, the Governor’s Palace (all reconstructed), as well as the Courthouse, the George Wythe House, the Peyton Randolph House, the Magazine, and the functioning Bruton Parish Church (all originals). Four taverns have also been reconstructed for use as restaurants. There are historically accurate craftsmen’s workshops for trades, that include a printing shop, a shoemaker, blacksmith, a cooperage, a cabinetmaker, a gunsmith, a wigmaker, and a silversmith.
Colonial Williamsburg is also intertwined with America’s second oldest college, William & Mary, which has its campus attached to the west side of the historic district. A newer commercial area that includes a number of upscale shops and a campus book store and coffee shop that connects the two properties.
The Jamestown Colony, Virginia
The United States of America owes much of what it is today to a strip of land between the James and York Rivers as they flow into the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. This strip of land is where the first successful English colony was established in America, was one of the locations where the political foundations of the American Revolution were laid and where the final battle for independence was fought and won.
In 1607 three English ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, sailed into the Chesapeake Bay and 104 settlers set out to establish an English settlement in North America. They named it Jamestown. Many of those first settlers died of disease and from Indian attacks but new arriving ships brought more settlers and by 1610 the colony was firmly established. An extended peace was established after the marriage of colonist John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan the regional native chief. During the 1620s, Jamestown expanded from the area near the original fort into a small town. It remained the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699 when the capital was moved eight miles northwest to the larger settlement town of Williamsburg.
Thus began the successful English colonization of North America. Within less than another one hundred years, on that same strip of land General George Washington of the Continental Army would defeat the English army under the command of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. That victory established the security of America as a new nation.
Visiting this area of Virginia is as near as you can get to traveling back in time to explore the beginnings of our nation.
The Yorktown area features the Yorktown Battlefield National Park along with a truly impressive American Revolution Museum. On the property of the museum stands a reconstruction of a 1780’s period farm as it would have looked at the time of the battle along with a Continental Army encampment featuring live demonstrations.
Not far from Yorktown is the Jamestown Settlement historic site. It features a demonstration Powhatan tribal village developed from actual drawings of the historic period. An informative museum dedicated to the history surrounding the Jamestown settlement and the people that made it possible, along with a replica of the original Fort James. Tied up on the river next to the fort are reproductions of the boats Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery that carried the first settlers to this new world. Also nearby is the archaeological site owned and managed through a private/public partnership between Preservation Virginia and the National Park Service to excavate and explore the actual site of the original fortified town.
If you really want to see where this nation was born come and visit Tidewater Virginia.