Hiking Upper White Oak Canyon Trail & Appalachian Trail Loop
Since we are running out of new trails to go to in Shenandoah National Park, this week we plotted a course that is not recorded in any books/ on any websites. We did a 8.3-mile loop starting at Skyland Resort’s parking lot, crossing Skyline Drive to the White Oak Falls trailhead parking lot, going down the Upper White Oak Canyon Trail (passing across Limberlost Trail), turning onto the Whiteoak Fire Road, then the Big Meadows Horse Trail, and finally crossing Skyline Drive again at the Lower Hawksbill parking lot to hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Upper White Oak Canyon Trail
At first, we wanted to start along the AT, but we could not find the the entrance to go south from Skyland. We decided to go the other way around and discover where the entrance is on our way back.
White Oak Canyon Trail has several of the best waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, but the best ones can be found in the lower portion of the trail, so we only saw a few small ones.
Wildflowers on the Trail
We encountered these wildflowers along Upper White Oak Canyon Trail:
Common St. John’s Wort
Common St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a member of the St. John’s Wort family (Hypericaceae) and blooms June to September. Introduced to the U.S. from Europe, this wildflower now grows throughout North America. It can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including as an antidepressant. It favors fields and roadsides.
I found this flower in several places along the Upper White Oak Canyon Trail.
White Wood Aster
White Wood Aster, or Aster divaricatus, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to October. Native to eastern North America, it grows in dry open woods.
These are a fairly common in late summer-fall wildflower in Shenandoah National Park.
Scarlet Beebalm, Crimson Beebalm, Scarlet Bergamot, Oswego Tea, or Monarda didyma, is a member of the Mint family (Lamiaceae) blooms June to October. Native to North America, it grows mostly in the Northeast. The name Oswego tea refers to the Oswego native Americans living in upstate New York who taught early settlers how to make a herbal tea from the plants leaves.
There were many different kinds of mushrooms growing in the forest. These tiny little ones were so cute, I had to take a macro photo of them. They were growing all along a fallen tree.
Wildflowers on White Oak Fire Road
We then turned right onto White Oak Fire Road. This path looks about the same twisting and turning uphill for a while. We’ve been to it multiple times because it is such a useful connector trail. Every time we’ve been on this path it has rained. Our luck remained! It did drizzle for a little.
Woodland Sunflower, or Helianthus strumosus, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to September. A native wildflower, it grows throughout eastern North America. This flower favors woods, thickets, and clearings.
In Shenandoah, you can find Woodland Sunflowers near parking areas, meadows, along Skyline Drive, and in open, sunny areas in the forest.
Tall Bellflower, or Campanulastrum americanum, is a member of the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae) and blooms June to August. It enjoys rich moist thickets and woods. It is native and grows in eastern and central North America, but not east of New York state.
There were many of these growing along the Whiteoak Fire Road. I’ve seen them before on Snead Farm loop trail as well.
Hog Peanut, or Amphicarpaea bracteata, is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) and blooms August to September. A native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America.
The genus name Amphicarpaea means “fruit of both kinds.” The seeds of the upper fruit are inedible, but those from the underground fruit are edible when boiled. Hogs eat the underground fruit.
White Baneberry, Doll’s Eyes, or Actaea pachypoda, is a member of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and blooms May to June in rich woods and thickets. Here you see the white berries, but it also blossoms into a flower. Another native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America.
Continuing the Hike
We walked along the Big Meadows Horse Trail and then crossed Skyline Drive at the Lower Hawksbill parking lot.
The Appalachian Trail
The AT is quite rocky in this area going north to Skyland and we saw Appalachian Bellflowers in several areas. Along the way we saw some rocks with columnar jointing – signs of ancient lava flows. The best place to see columnar jointing in Shenandoah National Park is at Compton Peak.
You can climb to a couple overlook viewpoints from the AT in this section. This is the view from Timber Hollow Overlook. There was a lovely meadow looking out to Shenandoah Valley with many Woodland Sunflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Knapweed.
The day was getting very hot (in the 90s) as we made our way through the forest back to Skyland. Along the way we found a nice viewpoint and sat down to rest and bask in the breeze. We discovered that the AT comes out behind the Skyland horse stables – that’s why we couldn’t find it earlier!
Recommended as a Moderate Hike
It was an enjoyable loop trail with a variety of nature to observe – waterfalls, forest, wildflowers, mushrooms, ancient lava flows, and several viewpoints of Shenandoah Valley from the AT.