We started the day early and were in the Lodge for breakfast by 8:15. We both slept better at Shenandoah than at the KOA, likely due to better mattresses.
The Big Meadow Lodge breakfast food was unremarkable. I got an omelet and dad got some pancakes. The coffee and service were good.
Next up, we stopped at the Harry R Byrd Visitor Center and Wayside market to get various sundries and ask about the best hike. I got Nick a pressed penny, Sarah some socks and postcards, a keychain and National Park stamps for me. I also grabbed a book on the best short hikes in Shenandoah. We also filled up on gas at $3.55/gallon. This is only about $0.25 higher per gallon than outside the park. I thought this was a deal compared to the Grand Tetons expectations of a $1.00+/gallon.
After discussions with the Ranger and referring to the book, we settled on a level 1.3-mile hike called Limberlost.
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The trail had many benches for sitting. It was an easy walk and with the use of hiking boots and sticks, we made it through without an issue.
After our hike, we stopped for lunch at Skyland.
As the name would suggest it had a great view of the valley and sky. It overlooked Luray which was where our server was from. Along with taking care of our dining needs, she filled us in on Luray and her 40-minute commute. We got salads and pan-fried Brussels sprouts.
Next, we headed out of the National Park to the small town Luray. The best thing I can say about Luray is their cell signal is stronger than the NP. I used this to text Sarah some pictures and provide proof of life. After visiting the Luray visitor center for bathroom and “museum” fun, we stopped at a local grocery store and grabbed some snacks on our way out of town.
During the drive to and from Luray, we stopped several times for views off Skyline Drive. It was pretty.
We got back to the hotel around 3:30 PM. We sat on our patio and chatted the afternoon away.
Around 6 PM we went to the lodge to grab dinner and watch the sunset. We decided to watch the sunset first and we claimed our spot on the balcony chairs and used the intermittent internet while we waited for the changing colors of the sky.
It got kind of cold, but we lucked out and sat near the just-lit fire inside the lodge after the sun went down. It was a cozy spot to sit and relax.
It was so nice by the fire that I was glad that we ended up having to wait for a table in the dining room. It was slow moving and the wait to longer than expected. The menu wasn’t wowing us, so we decided to go to the tavern instead and grab a pizza.
Dad got carded at the Tavern by D’An!
We came back to the room and sat outside watching the stars and talking. It was very close to Yellowstone’s level of stars and was a great end to the trip.
I knew Dad would get a kick out of the International Spy Museum, which was relatively close to our campground. I knew Dad would get a kick out of it, so we planned a day to go see it.
Waking up at 7AM, we headed to Washington DC to check out the Spy Museum. The drive was an easy hour and a half. We found free street parking because it was Sunday. Our tickets were for noon, but Dad was eager to see it and they let us in early at 10:30. This was my second time to the museum. I contend you need at least 8 hours to see it all, likely over 2 or 3 trips because saturation sets in after a couple of hours. I probably still need one more trip to really soak it all in. They had added a few things since my last trip in 2019. (I would definitely recommend checking it out if you love history and are in the area.)
It was really neat to see the museum with Dad this time around. One, he had more patience reading the signs than the kids did (granted Nick was around 10 when we went as a family, so his tolerance was much lower then). Two, I got to see part of Dad’s work that is now on display in the museum (VOA as “white” propaganda; radio briefcase from the 1970s, a radio jammer). He has become history. It was neat to see it with him.
We became masters of disguise. I actually like this as a look for him and changed my contact picture on my phone to match.
My disguise was good enough not to be caught at the East-to-West Germany border.
We claimed success on our missions by 3PM. I had the spy skills of Technical Know-How and Strong Memory. Dad had Keen Observation and Technical Know-How.
On our way out of Washington, I saw a sign for an All You Can Eat Blue Shell Crab meal. Knowing this is one of Dad’s favorite things, I pulled off the highway and we checked it out. We ate at The Blue Ridge Seafood Restaurant.
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I only went one round with the crabs (about 10). Dad went two rounds. The Old Bay and the amount of effort were too much for me. The sides of hush puppies and fries carried the meal. ($40/person on the crab meal.) It was a fun place with a live band playing.
We had already packed up from the campground and were now off to the new cabin in Shenandoah.
We raced sunset for the hour-and-a-half drive, but we made it to the lodge just in time. It was an older-style lodge, but still welcoming. This is a nature lover’s primitive motel; it was clean and had a tv, but WiFi seemed to only work at the Lodge. Our view from the room was majestic. We finished the day with a beer in the lodge’s tavern.
There are cabins, tent sites, RV sites, RV rentals, and a hotel on this property. There is a small pool and playground by the hotel, and another larger pool and a small playground by the water/back of the RV sites. There are a couple of bathrooms/showers on the property, which also house the laundry rooms. The laundry rooms were a mix of credit card and quarter machines. The first week we were there, the credit card machines were not working. The laundry room closest to the hotel had 2 quarter washers and dryers, and the one closest to the water/back of the property only had 1 quarter washer and dryer. Washers and dryers were $2/load and the laundry rooms were open 24/7. There was not change machine in the laundry rooms or the camp store. The camp store was located in the hotel and had a decent selection of snack foods, souvenir type items, and a few RV selections. The one thing we really loved, was that it is open 24/7. They also accept mail.
The pools were closed until May 21, so we did not get to enjoy them. The beach was just a short walk from our site, so we did go there a few times. The water was too cold to swim, but the boys had fun playing in the sand and wading to look for shells. The water goes out pretty far during low tide, so we were able to see some sandworms and clams as well. The campground had a stand of hammocks to enjoy that overlooked the water.
There is also a restaurant called Jackspot on-site, although they were only open Thursday-Saturday while we were there. Ben and I went there for a date night and had drinks and shared a burger and fries (really good!). It has amazing views overlooking the water. There were a few covered sections of the patio and some outdoor heaters as well.
Although there wasn’t as much to do here (unless you love fishing) as other spots we have stayed at, the location wasn’t too bad. The closest grocery store is a Food Lion, about 10 minutes away, although it is a smaller store and the prices are a little higher. There is a Walmart 40 minutes away as well. (Both on the campground’s side of the Bay Bridge, as paying $14 each way to cross would be crazy). There was a small hardware store (OBS) about 30 minutes away as well. There were a few walking trails about 10-15 minute drive away. The historic downtown of Cape Charles was about 18 minutes away. It was a cute area, with a beach area and some food and shopping options.
It was also great for bird watching. There were always gulls and pelicans in the Bay and we had a hawk fly overhead with a fish in its talons one day!
The campground was really good about maintaining the property. They were building new platforms for some of the newer cabins, cutting grass, painting, picking up garbage from sites (place garbage at end of your site, or there were also dumpsters). I did not see the hotel rooms, but it looked more motel-like in structure than hotel. There was ice for sale and golf carts for rent. Fires were allowed, but I did not see firewood at the store. We bought ours at the grocery store ($7.99/bundle). The campground also had a few activities planned each week (need to check with the office/camp store for the weekly pamphlet if you are staying longer than a week for the new events). The campground/hotel offered WiFi, which actually worked pretty well for us. We had some connection issues with our Sprint/T-Mobile, but were able to use the campground’s WiFi to stream and get to online classes.
This cute little town was about 18 minutes from our campground. It is set on the water, so there was a beach area to enjoy. There was also the main street (Mason St.) that was lined with shops and restaurants. We really enjoyed walking around the town. Parking was free when we were there, mostly on-street, although there was a parking lot by behind the main street and also over by the marina.
There were some really cute stores, where we picked up some gifts for people. There seemed to be an ice cream store almost every block. We tried Brown Dog Ice Cream and tried the turtle ice cream (this turtle had a chocolate ice cream base instead of vanilla). As we walked further along, we stopped at the bakery and picked up a Nutella loaf of bread and some shortbread cookies. Our final treat of the day was at Cowlick’s Creamery where we tried a peanut butter ice cream (custard). Both of the desserts were really nice.
The boys loved finding the little libraries scattered around town. There were 4 listed on the map, but we found an extra one near the beach. They didn’t have much luck finding a book, but were able to drop some of theirs off for others to enjoy.
Sand Dunes at Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
We walked along the beach for a few minutes and saw a crab and a few shells. We also saw some small jellyfish on the beach, although I’m not sure what kind they were.
We paid our crazy toll to once again cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to visit Virginia Beach. It was too cold to go swimming, but we wanted to see it.
We walked along the beach, which had a very large section of sand before we got to the water. I’m not sure if it is always that wide, or if we hit low tide. The sand was like play sand, very smooth and fine. There was a cool Neptune statue by the beach, a playground, and on street parking (pay parking).
We saw plenty of sea birds flying around and little holes where crabs or clams might have dug into the sand. We did not see a lot of shells though. We did see a lot of horseshoe crab shells along the beach. I’m hoping that they were molts (found out that horseshoe crabs grow by molting their old shells) and not deceased crabs.
We saw a weird spinal cord looking thing, that we looked up and discovered it was a whelk egg case. Whelks look like conch shells, but like colder waters and are carnivores (conchs are herbivores). Who knew?
We didn’t stay too long, as the wind was strong and it was pretty chilly, but it was nice to see.
This preserve is tucked back in among farms and private residences. hiking, saw a few farms/peacocks/sheep, nice view of the bay and lighthouse. We heard a few birds, but didn’t see that many. We did see a skull of some kind along the path and a few white tail deer rain in front of us.
After exploring Assateague for a few hours, we decided to head back home. We kept seeing signs for The Island House restaurant, so we decided to stop for linner (lunch/dinner).
We asked to eat outside and sat on the back deck on the Bay. It was a great view and kind of peaceful with the water and birds. We saw a couple of fishing boats coming in and out.
The boys shared a Seafood Platter, so they got to try some new foods (flounder, crab cake, scallops). We started the meal with a garlic clams appetizer. They also brought out sweet potato biscuits. The clams were local and the boys seemed to enjoy them. Ben had a soft-shelled crab sandwich. He’s been wanting to try soft shell crab for a while, but we haven’t been in the right season at any of our stops so far, so he was excited to see it on the menu. I got a BBQ pork plate and a side salad. I am not a big fish/seafood fan, although I did try a clam.
The food was pretty good, although maybe a bit more on the expensive side. The boys got to try new things, which is always good. Will liked the flounder, Nick did not. Nick liked the crab cake, Will did not. They both seemed to like the scallops and the clams, which was a little surprising. They tried a bite of the crab sandwich too, which was a hit with all three of my guys.
It was a nice meal and had a nice location. There were lots of little gnats unfortunately, so we didn’t stay for dessert.
We went to check out Assateague Island based on the recommendations from the Pearl Market. The park spans the border of Maryland and Virginia. We decided to go to the Virginia side, as it was closer. The Virginia part of the park is also the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
We stopped first to see the beach (Atlantic Ocean) and the Visitors Center. The Center was closed, but they did have maps, passport stamps, and a Ranger there to ask questions. The park has hiking trails, the beach for swimming (does not always have a lifeguard), and allows fishing/crabbing.
Virginia fences the horses to keep them away from roads, which is good but also means that the horses are farther away. At times, it seemed like you were just looking at a farm/ranch’s fenced in horses. Maryland does not fence the horses, so they do wander into the road, etc.
We did a couple of hiking trails (the Woodlands and Lighthouse). Both trails were either nicely paved, a boardwalk, or pretty even dirt paths. The Woodlands trail wandered through the woods and had a few areas to view the horses if they were nearby. The Lighthouse trail had a vault toilet and a parking lot, and (surprisingly) led to the lighthouse. The lighthouse was closed, although you could walk around it. The one thing I wished they did was put the trail lengths on the maps. There was a map at each trail head sign, plus the ranger gave us a trail map at the Visitor Center; however, neither of the maps, nor the app, had the trail lengths listed. When I looked later, I did find the trail lengths on a separate website. We had a nice time walking around.
We did not get to the Wildlife Loop, as it is pretty long and we would have had to wait for a couple more hours to drive it. It is open only for walking or bicycles until 3:00 pm. After 3:00 pm, you can drive the Loop.
We had a pretty mild day, but in the summer I would bring lots of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. The Ranger told us the mosquitoes are horrible when it gets warmer.
TICKETS: Included with Interagency Pass (America The Beautiful annual), or $10/1 day, $25/7days. There is also a refuge annual pass option and a beach parking pass option. COVID Restrictions: masks required/social distancing. Visitor Centers closed, lighthouse closed.
HOURS: Park hours vary based on season. January-March 15th 6:00 am-6:00 pm, March 15th-April 6:00 am-8:00 pm. May-September 15th 5:00 am-10:00 pm, September 15-October 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, November-December 6:00 am to 8:00 pm. The Visitor Center also has different hours of operation.
TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
*Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
We went out adventuring on Saturday. Our game plan was to go into Cape Charles to explore the town. On our way there, we saw that the Pearl Market was open. We had passed this store front many times, but it had always been closed. The place looked packed and we decided to stop. (NOTE: It is only open on Saturdays.)
There were several artists’/crafters’ booths set up inside, as well as a few outside in the back. There was a coffee stand and a couple of food booths. There was a nice variety of offerings inside from wood bracelets and rings, to cups and mugs, to decorated oyster shells. There was a demonstration of glass blowing going on as well.
We stopped at one booth and chatted with the couple there. She paints and makes these beautiful decoupage oyster shells and he made these amazing stained-glass hummingbirds. We ended up getting an oyster shell as a gift. I loved the humming bird too, but was worried about it surviving on the road. They had such a neat story! They take a boat to the barrier islands and find the oyster shells, along with sea glass. They showed us some great pictures of these beaches. They even gave us a piece of the blue bottle sea glass that they find. Check them out if you are in Cape Charles!
If you are in the Eastern Shore/Cape Charles, Virginia area on a Saturday, I would definitely check out this market!