George Washington National Forest – Veach Gap Trail

Autumn Hike at Veach Gap Trail

In late October we went hiking on Veach Gap Trail in George Washington National Forest. The shuttle hike to the summit with the beautiful views and two campsites is 3.5 miles each way, or 7 miles round. However, we went a bit beyond that point to fill a gap in our trail log, hiking about 8 miles.

Wildflowers near the Trailhead

There were a few wildflowers growing near the parking lot, but we didn’t see any more on the trail. Sadly, it’s now that time of year when wildflowers become rare.

Goldenrod

I think that this is Sweet Goldenrod, Anise-scented Goldenrod, or Solidago odora, a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae). It favors dry fields and open woods. A native wildflower, it grows in eastern and south-central North America. The crushed leaves of Sweet Goldenrod give off a anise scent. A tea can be brewed from its leaves and dried flowers.

I struggled identifying it, though. Sweet Goldenrods normally bloom July to September. It is also possible this is Canada Goldenrod / Tall Goldenrod, but those usually have serrated leaves. This one didn’t. Canada Goldenrods bloom August to November, so the timing would make more sense. Still, it’s possible that it’s just a late blooming Sweet Goldenrod. I’ve found on multiple occasions that my Audubon Society wildflower book can be slightly off on timing.

Frost Aster

Frost Aster, White Heath Aster, Hairy White Oldfield Aster, or Symphyotrichum pilosum, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms September to October. A native plant, it grows mostly throughout eastern and central North America.

What helped me identify it was the white color, leaves both long and small (and slightly hairy near the stem), and a hairy stem.

Veach Gap Trail

It was a crisp autumn morning, and the freshly fallen leaves crunched under our feet as we made our way along the trail.

Veach Gap Trail

There were still colorful leaves on the trees, making for lovely fall scenery.

We came upon this plant on our path.

Eastern Bottlebrush Grass

Eastern Bottlebursh Grass, or Elymus hystrix, is a member of the Grass family (Poaceae). They flower June to August, and are normally green, but you can see they dry out to a beige color in fall. A native plant, Eastern Bottlebrush Grass grows throughout eastern and central North America.

The trail itself is not tough, with an elevation gain of about 1,000 ft over 3.5 miles to the summit, much of which is a relatively flat ridge trail. About 1.5 miles in you pass by a campsite next to an almost dried-out stream. It might be a good place to camp after there’s been rain.

Closer to the summit, after passing through a valley, the trail became steeper.

Veach Gap Trail

Climbing up, we got a lovely autumnal view of Fort Valley and Massanutten Mountain.

Veach Gap Trail

Near the top of the mountain we walked along a rocky ridge with sparser trees.

In one area the trees had clearly been struck by lightning. This stark tree stood out.

Tree on Veach Gap Trail

You can see that the lightning didn’t obliterate the tree, or burn it down, but went down the cracks in the bark. Perhaps it was conducted down this way because the water from the rain had concentrated in the cracks.

Tree on Veach Gap Trail

There were several trees like this. It was interesting to see and we took a bunch of pictures of it.

Broomsedge

Broomsedge, Broomstraw, Sedge Grass, Sage Grass, or Andropogon virginicus, is a member of the Grass family (Poaceae). A native plant, it grows mostly throughout the eastern and central United States in old fields, pastures, clearings, and along roadsides.

It looked distinctive, and I thought I could find it easily in my research, but this is not one of the grasses included in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers Eastern Region that I usually use to identify flowers and plants. I found out what it was by asking on the Capital Naturalist Facebook page. Alonso Abugattas Jr., who runs the page, as well as other members, are always so helpful.

Shenandoah River from Veach Gap Trail

Shenandoah Valley

Looking East from the top of the ridge there are three viewpoints, including one at a large campsite, with a great vista of Page Valley. Shenandoah National Park (SNP) is in the distance. Almost directly across from this point is the start of the North District of SNP and Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. For the longest time I thought that this was called Shenandoah Valley. Actually, you can call it Shenandoah Valley, but Shenandoah Valley covers a larger geologic and cultural area, including several smaller valleys.

Shenandoah River from Veach Gap Trail

Shenandoah River

You can also see the snaking South Fork of the Shenandoah River from the viewpoint. The South Fork winds through Page Valley and the North Fork winding through Shenandoah Valley, with the two converging just above Front Royal, VA to form the Main Stem.  The Shenandoah River goes on to meet the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, WV. If you’re interested to learn about why the river has this distinctive meandering shape, I’d recommend reading this page from NASA.

Recommended as a Hike

Veach Gap Trail was not too strenuous, but enough of a hike to get good exercise, and had gorgeous views at the top. On that warm fall day there were a lot of visitors, and I can see why. Even though there were many people, there are a few viewpoint spots at the top, providing enough space for plenty of people to enjoy the view. It’s a great option for anyone in the area looking for a good day hike.

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