Andrew and I woke up excited for this hike . . . which wasn’t actually this hike because we originally drove to our first Maryland hike at Annapolis Rock/Black Rock Cliff where one of the most popular vistas along the Appalachian Trail sits due to its extraordinary 180-degree views that showcase the setting sun. This trail was supposed to be our first hike in 2021 and I thought there was no better way to celebrate hiking in the new year more than to start off with brag-worthy beauty. The catch though: This is apparently what every single person on the planet had in mind, too, because when we arrived to the parking lot, it was rammed — as in waiting-line packed and cars circling the small lot like sharks who have found prey in the water. After driving three hours though, neither Andy or I was keen to give up so we drove around the lot and around the area, sure to find additional parking places, but ‘No Parking’ signs threatened towing at literally every few feet for miles. This left us with one option: to wait and so we did for about a half an hour for one spot — just one spot — to open. Turns out, we (and every single human on Earth) waited to no avail. I was mardy. Andy was mardy.
“I’m ready to go home,” I huffed to Andy. I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to hiking — If I cannot do the precise trail I planned and built-up in my mind, I am willing to put off the walk entirely. Andy is the opposite.
“That’s pointless,” he tutted. “Let’s just find another hike close-by.” I admit I was not much help as he searched because I was focused on cussing and circling then re-circling the parking area.
In the end, what we discovered were there are a several hikes near the area — some better for backpacking due to being thirty to forty to more miles; others, a short walk across and through historic sites, such as battlefields during the Civil War; and then others were beautiful with rocky cliff views but they verged on a bit too long due the time that had passed. By now, it was around 1:00 p.m. and it would get dark around 5:00 p.m. — That left four hours to find our next hike, drive there, and then walk it. That wasn’t much time . . . at least if you are a glass-half-full type of person like I was at the time.
Turns out, Greenbrier State Park is what we settled on:
- Almost five mile loop hike
- A teeny 710-foot elevation gain
- Level Three of Five difficulty
The issues, however: The park closed at something peculiar like 4:45 p.m. and cost a large seven dollars to get in. Listen, I’m not saying seven bucks in a huge amount of money, but what I am saying is paying seven dollars for a less than five mile-walk in a place that did not promise nearly one-one hundredth of the beauty from where we had come was, honestly, insulting. Plus, Andy and I have never even been to a state park in our own state of Virginia so driving three hours to pay seven bucks for some other state’s park was absurd. I don’t think ‘mardy’ goes as far to describe how we both felt at this point. In fact, there was a bit of a spat in a pull-off parking lot before entering the state park — and by the way, our dispute was not with one another but instead at the ridiculousness that lead us here.
Yet, time was against us as the park was set to close in a few hours so we laced up our hiking boots and began our walk. The start of our short adventure began around this clear-water Greenbrier Lake, which was tucked in the valley of the Appalachian mountains.
This forty-two acre man-made lake is said to be a popular because people can swim, boat, and fish in it. However, on this January day, the area was secluded and calm as the no-rippled waters. The calmness spread to the mind, body, and soul, too, and I learned — again — a valuable lesson.
Mountain air is medicinal and so, with a deep breath, Andy and I found ourselves cured.
I gave Greenbrier State Park quite some hell earlier but in truth it is lovely. Undoubtably, I still prefer national forests and then national parks, but any area that seeks to preserve land and its trees is an area that brings contentment.
There are nearly eleven miles of hiking trails here with several campsites. We chose the Big Red Trail — the longest of all. This one followed around a portion of the lake before the red blaze led into the forest.
The colors were stark with a noticeable contrast — the copper leaves against the white sky, the green moss against the grey-brown bark.
On the trail I found this massive wish rock — I’ve written about wish rocks before — They are rocks with a single unbroken white stripe circling their circumference. Wish rock in hand, I traced my finger over and around the line before making a wish and throwing the rock. Let’s hope dreams do come true . . .
Continuing around our loop-hike, we paused little as we crossed a stream and passed under tall trees . . .
That’s because when we arrived at the park, we were concerned it would close before we finished the loop — In fact, there were signs threatening the gates would be locked at closure time, regardless of cars left inside. Because of this, the feeling of hurry stayed with us, making it hard to fully appreciate our forest freedom and soon we found we were back at Greenbrier Lake and our starting point . . .
With rosy cheeks from our brisk walk, we did pause once to take in the sun as it set rather quickly, bringing an orange glow over the horizon through the forest . . .
“I’m glad we ended up hiking and not going home,” Andy told me when we got back to our car.
“Me too,” I responded and how true those words were can be seen in this picture when — as we drove home — the sun burst into colors at our side . . .