Our post-Tofurkey Day outing was a circuit hike up White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park, and back down Cedar Run. The spectacular waterfalls that tumble the length of the canyon make this a very popular hike, so we arrived early and found just one other car in the parking lot. When we left 5 hours later the lot was overflowing out onto the road with 40-50 cars vying for space.
The trail meanders gently uphill for a while, crossing White Oak Run for the first time, and showing off a hint of the cascading splendors that await:
The trail then quickly becomes steep, as it parallels the run all the way up the canyon. The sound of rushing water makes the air crackle with excitement, and at every turn there are waterfalls small and large:
Some long, steep climbs feel like a pilgrimage at best, or a punishment at worst (I’m looking at you, Dead Woman’s Pass). The climb up White Oak Canyon, though, feels like a privilege every step of the way. The exuberant water sparkling in the sunlight, the rock walls spilling over with side springs, and the still-green moss and ferns clinging to life everywhere they can, all add up to ineffable and undeniable joy. Just before crossing over to the Cedar Run Trail we reached the upper White Oak falls, which flow out across a long soaring arc of rock.
From here, we traveled the White Oak fire road briefly before descending on the very steep, very rocky Cedar Run Trail. [This would not be a good first hike for someone just thinking about getting into hiking; as we descended we passed several people on their way up wearing sneakers and carrying no water, and they did not look happy.]
Though not quite as dramatic as White Oak Run, Cedar Run offers up beautiful tumbles of water all the way down, the best-known of which is The Slide:
For most of us, gratitude is not an effortless condition. Sometimes it flows naturally, and sometimes we have to consciously cultivate it. The air of White Oak Canyon is the perfect growing medium for a little sprig of gratitude. How lucky are we to even be able to contemplate this hike, know that it is possible, and choose to do it; to get into a reliable car (with heated seats!) and drive here; to have the legs and lungs to carry us up into this glorious place; and the senses to drink it all in? There is more freedom, fortune, and plenty embedded in that little series of thoughts, choices, and actions than there is water in all of White Oak Run.