As much as I love road trips, there’s something about driving several hours and knowing you still have several more to go that makes you want to spend a little less time behind the wheel and a little more time exercising. Add the incredible mountain views along Interstate 81 in western Virginia, and I soon found myself unable to sit down any longer. I decided to get off at the next state park for an unexpected autumn hike and soon found myself at Claytor Lake.
Nestled in the Appalachian Foothills, Claytor Lake State Park provides a great afternoon getaway with fun for the whole family. While not among Virginia’s most unique parks (as the state’s are voted best in the nation), it still offers a little outdoor tranquility for a weekend out. Hiking, biking, boating, and fishing are all available to visitors, along with a host of other activities. The Historic Howe house also offers exhibits describing the park’s history and natural features.
Since I still had several hours of driving left ahead, I decided to just stop in for a quick autumn hike. The Claytor Lake Trail was closest to the entrance and offered a great view of the lake. Right from the start of my quick autumn hike, I noticed that the trees seemed unusually bare, with a thick layer of leaves covering the forest floor. It seemed strange given the time of year, but I would later find possible clues as to why.
I had to pay close attention to the map as I continued hiking, since the thick cover of leaves made navigating the trail difficult. Unfortunately, the area was mostly wooded and offered limited natural reference points to guide my way. One of those few that did exist was a rather large open field, the rim of which marked a curve in the trail. Some of the nearby trees were less bare in this area, allowing me to enjoy a quick break from the mostly gray, barren foliage surrounding me. Beyond the clearing, I allowed the blue trail markers to lead me on.
Continuing ahead, I came across a few surprisingly steep hills. Every trail in the park received an easy rating on the map, so the change in terrain was rather unexpected. Soon after, however, I found clues as to why the trees seemed unusually bare; I came across a section of forest that seemed to have suffered significant damage from a possible recent storm. Most of the trees were without branches, and several (including a rather large one) had toppled over. The light breeze sounded unusually loud in this area, reminding me of a few past breezy hikes through the desert. Some nearby trailers confirmed that I was still on track for my quick autumn hike, so I continued along the trail.
Shortly thereafter, I began to catch glimpses of Claytor Lake, foothills rising above its bank on the other side. It was a serene setting despite the numerous trees partially obscuring my view, but the trail soon curved around the back of a hill. With the lake out of site, I continued up and down more steep hills before seeing a whitetail dove running near the trail. Sadly, I was unable to pull out my camera in time to capture it.
A little ways further, I began to catch glimpses of the lake again, this time with a thinning tree line. The trees soon gave way to a full clearing, one that featured cabins, docks, and, of course, an unobscured view of the lake and foothills. The lake seemed to stretch on for miles, which I found fitting given that it’s nearly 10 times larger than the park. My quick autumn hike had yielded some rather impressive views, and I took a moment to enjoy the serenity before rushing back to the car to finish my trip.