Shenandoah National Park – Snead Farm Loop

Snead Farm Loop Wildflower Hike

After many winter months with little use for my macro lens, we wanted to go somewhere where we knew we would find wildflowers. The solution? To go to wildflower goldmine Snead Farm Loop, of course!

To start the loop, you park at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Here is a map of the area.

The view from the field in front of the visitor center is lovely.

The trail starts in the meadow across the road from the visitor center, off to the right. You follow Dickey Ridge trail for a little before reaching a fork. We turned left, which takes you by Snead Farm barn first, as well as a fire road that is usually full of wildflower treasures.

We were not disappointed.

Spicebush

Spicebush, Northern Spicebush, Wild Allspice, or Lindera benzoin, is a member of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae) and blooms dense clusters of little yellow flowers from March to April. Later, it bears shiny red berries. A native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America, favoring swamps and woods. Its leaves and twigs can make a tea and its dried powdered fruit can be used as a spice.

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara, is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) and blooms from February to June along roadsides and in waste places. This plant was introduced from Europe and now grows mostly in northeastern North  America. It was named “Coltsfoot” after the shape of its leaf. An extract from fresh leaves can be used for making cough drops and its dried leaves can be made into a tea.

Snead Farm Barn

The stone remnants of a house, a spring, this old barn, and a cellar remain in a meadow that has a stream running through it. According to Hiking through History Virginia: Exploring the Old Dominion’s Past by Trail by Johnny Molloy, Mr. Snead operated a farm and apple orchard here. The farm was incorporated into Shenandoah National Park in the 1960s.

This area is fun to explore. Even though you can’t go into the barn, there is a window you can peer into if you stand on your tip-toes. Last year some vultures were using the barn for a nest. When we passed by in the summer we saw one hanging out in the window.

Snead Farm is a relaxing place to stop for a bit and investigate some of the nature around. In one of the springs in Snead Farm meadow we found a couple frogs hanging out.

This first one was so still – floating in this position for 10 minutes! I think I saw it blink once. We tried to observe the frogs quietly, but it was probably intimidated by us watching it.

Green Frog

Green Frogs, or Lithobates clamitans, inhabit all of Virginia and are native to the state. They like to live in shallow fresh water, such as the freshwater spring we found them in. They can also live in streams, ditches, and on the edges of ponds. Their average size is 2.3 – 3.5 inches long.

I identified them by the green tinge around their mouths and their light patterning.

Shenandoah National Park has an amphibians list of frogs and salamanders you can find in the park that’s useful.

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After exploring for a while, we left the meadow and continued down the forest path. It was great to see a few wildflowers already growing.

Plantainleaf Pussytoes

Plaintainleaf Pussytoes, Woman’s Tobacco, or Antennaria plantaginifolia, is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) and blooms April to June. It favors dry open woodlands, meadows, and rocky places. A native plant, it grows throughout the eastern and central United States. The name comes from how the furry flower head resemble a cat’s paw.

Here you see them just starting to bloom. They can grow to be 6 inches high.

I just love the white woolly buds!

Mouse-ear Chickweed

Mouse-ear Chickweed, or Cerastium fontanum, is a member of the Carnation Family (Caryophyllaceae) and blooms March to September. This plant likes to grow in waste places, fields, and by roadsides. Originally introduced from Europe, it now grows throughout North America. The name comes from its fuzzy leaves.

At the intersection with Dickey Ridge Trail there were a bunch of little flowers ranging in color from white to dark purple.

Round-lobed Hepatica

Round-lobed Hepatica, or Anemone americana /Hepatica nobilis, is a member of the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae) and blooms March to June in dry rocky woods. It is a native wildflower, growing throughout eastern and central North America.

According to my reference book, they can also be pink, but I have yet to see pink ones. I’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for them!

This was the first wildflower we saw blooming in Shenandoah National Park earlier this year.

Dickey Hill

After turning right onto Dickey Ridge Trail, you walk a bit before reaching Dickey Hill. This is a great place to stop and take in the scenery of the mountains and Shenandoah Valley over lunch. In later months, wildflowers can be found here as well as in the meadow above the hill.

Paragliding

We were lucky this time – we got to see a paraglider take off from Dickey Hill and float around! He was happy for us to take pictures.

The suiting-up process was quick. His gear looked substantial, including a screen with GPS tracking. He had to wait for the right wind, but also for there to be no people passing on the trail below. This took a little while, perhaps about ten minutes. And then he was off! I was expecting that he would need to take a running jump, but it was really only a couple steps and then the unfurled the wing/canopy and the wind lifted him up and forward.

He flew around for quite some time. It seems you can fly for a few hours. We snapped a bunch of pictures of his serene flight.

I’d never seen any paragliders in Shenandoah National Park before, so I looked it up.  It is possible if you have a certification, a permit, and take off from an approved launch site. It seems you can do hang gliding from three sites, and paragliding from only one – Dickey Hill, or what they call the “Dickey Ridge launch site.”

Sun Halo

We were also fortunate to have the opportunity to see a 22-degree sun halo from Dickey Hill. Sun halos are fairly common and are caused by the refraction of ice crystals in high thin clouds. The way the ice crystals are shaped makes the light refract 22 degrees.

Recommended as a Wildflower Hike

As with every time we’ve been to Snead Farm Loop, I was thoroughly pleased with the variety of wildflowers and other nature that we saw on the trail. It’s a great place to come if you want to observe a lot of different aspects of Shenandoah National Park in a relatively short period of time.

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