Adventures and photos by Christin Healy
I get it, Outside is where the bugs are. It's where it can be too cold or too hot, where you can't press a button for your morning cup of coffee, where you can't turn a handle for a 10 minute hot shower, and where (gasp!) you may not be able to get online. Americans, on average, spend over 90% of our lives in the Great Indoors. From the morning routine, to the gym, to the office, to the restaurants; we barely have a chance in our day-to-day to feel the sunshine warm our face, or the wind blow over our skin.
Luckily, there is a change in the air. A growing number of us are discovering that finding time to get out there, to wander and explore this amazing planet, to live with less and experience more, to hear the wind rustling through the trees, the leaves crunching under your feet, and the simplicity of a moment of silence, save the distant sounds of birds calling in the distance, can truly be life changing. And the best part of it all is just how simple it can be to get outside.
Epic adventures in far away and remote corners of the world are incredible, no question about it, but to appreciate all the wonders of this world, sometimes it's as close as your own backyard. In the past few weeks, I traded in my passport for my car keys, hiking poles, and some of my favorite gear, and hit all my favorite spots in my own backyard. So, from paddling sessions with some of my favorite people, to pre & post work sunrise/sunsets, to venturing a little further into the Blue Ridge on the weekends, here are some of my favorite spots almost right outside my front door.
Beaver Creek | Charlottesville, VA
Surrounded by rolling farmland, peaceful views of the Blue Ridge, and grassy banks bathed in sunlight, there are few places I would rather take in the last few moments of the day than Beaver Creek. Admittedly it's getting pretty chilly here in Central Virginia, but luckily I have a few adventurous humans in my life that are totally up for some cold weather kayaking, sunset watching, and frozen pond exploring. With promises of hot chocolate and snuggly blankets, my friend Meredith and her son Tam met up with me and my trusty adventure pups for our little micro adventure that, while decidedly chilly, beats "Netflix and chill" any day of the week. Below are some of my favorites from our winter paddling outing.
Spy Rock | Montebello, VA
Spy Rock is a true local's hike through and through, and with only 1.5 fairly easy miles to one of the best views east of the Mississippi, it's been top of my list of places to take those new to hiking, or simply a spot to head to when you want a pretty high effort to reward ratio. So, a few Sundays ago, I grabbed a few more adventurous (and dexterous!) ladies and we headed out for a lazy Sunday stroll - complete with growlers full of frosty summit rewards - and headed to the trailhead at the Montebello Fish Hatchery. As sometimes happens, mother nature had other plans, and the top was so windy we could barely stand, let alone relax and take it all in. One celebratory handstand and we were scrambling back down to the safety of the woods. It was short, but every bit as sweet :)
McAfee's Knob | Troutville, VA
If you are anything like me, once you have mastered exploring your own backyard adventures, your thoughts start to drift to loftier goals...to getting out a little longer, venturing a little further into the unknown, and climbing those far away peaks that dance around your dreams. The next few adventures you will find yourself further away from the crowds, testing your limits a little more, and reaping all the rewards that come with a journey into the backcountry.
A few weeks ago I headed to McAfee's Knob for sunrise. In the warmer months on the weekends this place is an absolute zoo. It's one of the most iconic spots on the AT, and with thru-hikers and day hikers flocking to this photogenic rocky outcrop to get their shot, I stay away completely during peak season. A pre-dawn hike during the week in the winter is a completely different story. You are almost certain to find yourself blissfully alone, with plenty of space at the backcountry campsites. If you are camping, the summit is an easy 1.5 miles from the tent site, or from the parking lot, 4.1 miles each way. If you are new to hiking in the dark, this is a perfect beginner trail as it's well marked and close to the parking lot. Bonus: the view of the sunrise from the top will have you hooked on sunrise hikes from day one. It was a blustery morning, but watching the sun fill the valley and light up the Blue Ridge is something you won't soon forget.
Skyline Driver | Elkton, VA
Next up is one of my very favorite backcountry hikes in all of Virginia. With the trailhead right off of Skyline Drive, and the most perfect camping site on the most picturesque rocky outcrop, it's one of those hidden gems that holds a special place in my heart. This 9.5 mile trail that begins at Two Mile Run Overlook is the perfect combination of challenging elevation gain and peaceful strolls through the woods, with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge on the summit to reward your efforts. I have never seen another soul on this one, so it's the perfect spot to simply unplug and just ponder life.
The memories of a walk in the woods, the smell of grass on a warm summer day, and the sounds of the salty waves crashing on the shore are seemingly little things, but they are the moments that we will carry with us for years to come. So yes, outside is where the bugs are. It's also where the adventure, the spirit of exploration, a feeling of serenity, and a sense of wonder live. It's where you learn about yourself, form closer bonds with friends and family, and discover all the wonders that live outside those four walls in which we spend so much of our time. So get out there friends, I can't wait to hear what you find.
Editor's note: This piece was created as part of a multi-brand campaign celebrating Backyard to Backcountry adventuring (#BY2BC). For more inspiration, check out #BY2BC on Instagram.