It was a great week at the Ancestral Knowledge Wilderness Experience overnight program. Two people lit their first bow drill fires. We found a bear skull and partial skeleton. The river was great, the crawdads were plentiful. We ate some good crappies. Our exploration was rewarding. The weather and bugs obliged. Nobody wanted to go home. See ancestralknowledge.org for more great programs.
Ahhh... Cool, clean, clear mountain water, and soft white sand under foot. Rockcliff Lake at the Trout Pond Recreation Area is "almost heaven" indeed. I found it listed as a swimming area in my West Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer. It's about 2 hours from DC.
The lake is small, cozy. In less than an hour we circled it with the kids. A picturesque rock peninsula guards the dam end of the lake, protected with a sign forbidding scrambling. A small footpath leads past this sign. But a couple teens who ignored the warning were ordered off by park personnel who drove up within shouting distance on a 4-wheeler. This is the disadvantage of being within 2 hours of DC and its legions of lawyers -- by contrast, at southern Utah's Sand Hollow Lake, or Nevada's Lake Mead one can scramble and jump off of the geology at will - you can live at your own risk.
Walking up a gentle slope from the lake you pass a large picnic area with grills, facilities, a volleyball court and playground, before arriving at the campground. Divided by a small brook, the campground is tucked into a low canopied forest. Chestnut oak, red maple and black gum dominate. Making do almost without soil, trees share the floor of toaster-sized rocks with lichens, blueberries and mountain laurel. Skunks, not bears, prowl the campground at night, but the ones ran from our flashlight beams. There were a few deer around, but ticks were few, I found one large dog tick.
Sink holes present an interesting landscape feature there, and one of these has created the small Trout Pond that is considered West Virginia's only natural lake. The sink holes present as rocky depressions/pits, not as big gaping holes. Apparently hollowed-out limestone underlies the superficial bed of metamorphic rocks, and occasionally a roof will cave in. On a related note, the Lost River, which forms the western border of the George Washington National Forest in this area, mostly disappears into the ground for a few miles, before being born again as the Cacapon River several miles downstream in Wardensville.
Most types of boats are permitted on the lake, and fishing is as well -- it is stocked with trout and bluegill, at a minimum. Fishing permits can be obtained at the general store in Baker (but not in Wardensville), and online here; you'll need a trout stamp and national forest stamp, etc. The people we talked to were having little success. There was great whooping when somebody pulled in a small bluegill.
One downside of the campground is that, due to the soil/forest composition, the campsites are not quite as private as we would have liked. And, as with other National Forest campgrounds in the area, alcohol is forbidden.
Overall though, we found it to be a serene and refreshing place to spend the weekend as a family, and will be coming back. The sand, water quality, and scenery make a great combination. Furthermore, looking at a satellite image of the area, there appears to be a substantial band of rock not far from the lake, which I would like to explore for climbing.
Happy camping, and be sure to share your questions or experiences in comments below!
What a great destination, and so close! The Elizabeth Furnace Family Campground is a mere 1.5 hours from DC, and features great swim holes and good hiking, trout-fishing and rock-climbing. The campground sits along Passage Creek, which drains a valley formed by the two major ridges of Massanuten Mountain, which runs south from the far western end of I-66 through the George Washington National Forest.
Passage Creek features clear, clean water, relatively unfertilized by agricultural run-off. The swim hole at the campground was excellent, with a great jumping log as pictured below. There were a few other families there, but it was not overly crowded. I don't know if the 50% chance of T-storms was lowering turnout, but the camp host said the place was pretty full by his standards. There was still a bunch of sites available when we got there on Saturday evening.
We did see some medium-smallish trout and sunnies swimming around - the creek is stocked - and will probably get a fishing license next time we go. For a VA resident over, its $23/year for a fishing license, plus $4/year for a National Forest Stamp. The VA license is $47 for nonresidents.
Just after entering the National Forest, lookout for some cliffs on the right, and then park on the right at the large lot in 200 yards. There is also a small pull-off area opposite the cliffs that I used to drop off the people and gear. May Joy and the kids played in the water while I hung a top-rope on I Love Big Jugs, a 60' climb that starts off as 5.5, and ends with a steep, pumpy 5.8 section. This area is known as the Roadside Crag/Talking Headwall, and is a very family friendly place to climb. There is another climbing area about an hour up the hill called Buzzard Rocks, which I did not check out yet.
I liked the campground. We took site #2, next to the host's RV and the bathroom, which includes 4 showers with private, lockable entrances. There are 30+ sites, and they have good privacy, thanks to the dense vegetation, which included lots of black haw viburnums that were loaded with yet-green berries. Poison ivy is lush though, so you need to be wary, especially at night and with kids.
We did not find any ticks throughout our trip; however, we did not do much bush-wacking either. No mosquitoes. There were some tiny biting gnats that were a minor nuisance on legs and arms, although the kids never complained.