This year, I was lucky enough to have my birthday fall on a Saturday – hurray! Steve asked me what I wanted to do on my day, and I knew that I wanted to hike and that it was a golden opportunity to drag everyone out a little further than our usual orbit. I mulled over a couple of different options, including Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah River State Park, before deciding on Shenandoah National Park – and specifically Big Meadows, which I’ve been wanting to hike since last Thanksgiving.
We drove out to the park in the morning on my birthday. My original plan was to get a nice early start, hike Big Meadows, have a picnic lunch and then hike the Story of the Forest Trail before heading home. Of course the early start didn’t happen, and we rolled into the park around 11:30 with two hungry kiddos in the back seat. Lunch first, then!
I packed us a picnic with a thermos of homemade soup, a baguette, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese spread, sliced veggies, and some fruit for the kiddos. There was more to the picnic, including cheese sandwiches for the kids, but that stuff got inadvertently left at home. Fortunately, the kids were happy to chow down on my homemade vegetable soup and the baguette, and Nugget – who loves vegetables – crushed the cucumber and cherry tomatoes. So no one left hungry.
After tummies were filled, we headed back across the street and started our hike through Big Meadows.
There’s no actual hiking trail in the meadow – just a cris-crossing network of herd paths with a few entry points. We found one and plunged in.
The meadow isn’t flat – there are lots of little rises and dips. I was reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description of the prairie in Little House on the Prairie: “Laura and Mary looked around them. They stayed close to Pa. Low bushes grew on the sides of the hollow—buck-brush with sprays of berries faintly pink, and sumac holing up green cones but showing here and there a bright red leaf. The goldenrod’s plumes were turning gray, and the ox-eyed daisies’ yellow petals hung down from the crown centers. All this was hidden in the secret little hollow. From the house Laura had seen nothing but grasses, and now from this hollow she could not see the house. The prairie seemed to be level, but it was not level.”
As we got deeper into the meadow, it got wetter and muddier. We encountered a few standing mud puddles and several mucky areas that we couldn’t squelch through without covering ourselves in mud (pro tip: don’t wear your hiking sandals to bushwhack a meadow on a cold October day after a summer of near-constant rain; learn from my mistakes).
Certain people LOVE puddle-stomping. Not naming names, but I’m grateful for kids’ wellies.
There were also a number of large boulders in the park. It was necessary that we stop at every.single.one and either take a (long) rest or do some singing and dancing on top of the boulder. This is why hiking with kids takes forever.
But it’s so worth it! I love watching them grow and explore and learn to respect nature – hiking has given our family so many gifts. The thing about hiking with kids is that you have to let go of distance and time expectations and just go with the flow. If we dragged them through at an adult pace, they’d quickly grow to hate hiking. So we go at their pace, we stop and admire the plants and flowers they like, we play tracking games, pack snacks, and don’t worry if a hike is shorter than we’d like or if we turn back early. If it had just been adults in our party, we’d probably have circumvented the meadow. Instead, we just wandered and poked around – and we all had fun.
We also found a cool painted rock nestled in a little hollow on one of the boulders:
So pretty! The kids took turns holding it, and then we put it back for the next hikers to find.
Big Meadows was lovely! Definitely worth the wait of almost a year – and we’ll be back. I’d love to see the meadow a riot of wildflowers in spring!
What’s a hike you’ve been anticipating?