87 degrees. That’s what weather.com was calling for as I sat at my computer last night contemplating my route for today’s run. I had been thinking about the dry dusty ridges of the Tuscarora trail but when I saw the weather that changed. A good 16-17 mile loop out in Sky Meadows and G.R Thompson with a swim in Thompson lake right before the biggest climb of the day. That was more like it. As I look back over the summer I realize that most if not all of my long run routes were determined by one common factor. A good swimming hole. So here you go, just in time for the last few hot days of summer, or as a guide for next summer, my top 10 hot weather runs, with their accompanying swimming hole. I will note that while I have a good sense of direction I am not very good at remembering trail names! So if you are one of the 3 people who reads this blog and you actually want to give one of the runs a shot feel free to call me and I can give you directions or just go for the run with you!
1. Cedar Run, Shenandoah National Park. Park at the end of Weakley Hollow road, using the same parking lot as White Oak Canyon. Start up the White Oak Canyon trail, the more popular hike, but take your first left and follow the trail markers for Cedar Run. The waterfalls may be less impressive than white oak but the deep freezing swimming holes make it a better spot to cool off any day, with a 25 foot cliff jump, and natural waterslides along the way. There are various loops you can do depending how far you want to go including, old rag mountain, a loop that takes you down white oak canyon, or a straight out and back up cedar run that takes you to the top of Hawksbill, the highest Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.
2. AT/James River Foot Bridge, Snowden VA. Some of my best College memories are here. Just 20 minutes outside of Lynchburg the AT Crosses the James River via the James River foot bridge. At roughly 100m long and 50 feet above the river, with no bottom in sight this is one of the favorite hang-outs for college students, locals and thru hikers. A hot day might see 50 people laying out on the bridge with beach towels and plunging the 50 feet or so down to the cool water below. Aside from the AT there are also countless trails and fire roads spider webbing out from Snowden into both the James River Face Wilderness and Thomas Jefferson National Park, making it one of the best places in Virginia to get in a good mountain run.
3. The Billy Goat Trail/Great Falls Park MD. While the Virginia side of Great Falls is amazing and host some great races including The North Face Endurance Challenge, in my mind the MD side has it beat. The Billy Goat Trail follows the river through and above Mather gorge providing some amazing views, gnarly technical terrain and swimming holes at every corner.
4. Passage Creek/Buzzard Rocks. There are countless runs to do here but my favorite is roughly a seven miler over buzzard rocks. Park off of FT Valley road, next to passage creek. There is no trail head here but you can see buzzard rocks straight above you across the road. There is also an open boulder field climbing straight up the mountain side. Cross the creek, and climb the boulder field. It is less than a mile but extremely steep! I will challenge anyone to race me up it. When you hit the ridge follow the the white blazes of the buzzard rock trail to the south, your right, until you meet the Tuscarora trail. Go right and fly down the mountain until you get to Elizabeth’s furnace. From here follow the road back to your car. There is an awesome swimming hole that y can’t miss right at the end!
5. White Rocks trail/ Cave spring falls, Shenandoah NP. This swimming hole can be reached from either Buck hollow or Ashby road. Either way there will be some STEEP climbs. But it’s worth it. This is one of the best waterfalls in the park that no one ever seems to visit. If the water was a little bit deeper, and the falls were jumpable this would be my all time favorite swimming hole.
6. Fredericksburg Quarry. Located at right in Fredericksburg VA, this place holds one of the best cliff jumping spots in NOVA as well as some of the best trails. Park off of Fall Hill Ave/Riverside Rd and cross the road onto the unpaved canal trail. The quarry is just over a mile ahead of you, and there are several amazing swimming holes in the Rappahannock River along the trail as well. If you run the outer perimeter of this mountain bike park you can get 10 + miles in, as well as a 60 foot cliff jump!
7. Panther Falls. Located just off the Blue Ridge parkway halfway between Lynchburg and Lexington VA, this is another spot where some of my best College memories were made. From the falls, which can be quite popular, run out Panther Falls road for some of the best gravel mountain roads that VA has to offer. If you going long, it only takes about 4 miles to reach the AT and get some serious single-track in as well.
8. Overall Run, Shenandoah NP. Park at Matthews Arm campground and run the Overall Run trail past Overall Falls, one of the highest and most spectacular in Shenandoah! Continue on the trail past the falls, and after some steep descent you will find some nice cold swimming holes to ice your trashed quads in. From there you can run a loop following Beech ridge trail? Or do an out and back on the popular Jeremy’s Run.
9. Quaker Run Rd/ Rapidan River. Follow Quakers run road out Cigelersville and into the Shenandoah NP. At the bottom of the first steep downhill there is a parking area by the river, or creek really. From here you can hit the single-track, or continue up the road alongside the river where locals have built rock dams at every turn to build some awesome swimming holes.
10. Thompson lake loop. Located right in my back yard in the GR Thompson Wildlife management area, this is at least a once weekly run for me and my dog Kira. Park at the top of the mountain off of freezland road and descend 3 miles and almost a thousand feet to Thompson Lake. After a good swim head up the trail on the opposite side of the lake, if it’s not too overgrown until you reach the AT. From here you can head back to your car, roughly a 7 mile loop, or head north into Sky Meadows State park and keep tacking on the miles!