Hiking with kids is difficult. Despite our best marketing skills, there’s always a whine or two or 10 and maybe even a trailside sit-in. But, in the end, if our efforts get little feet to wander over rugged, tree-covered land, it’s worth it. Decades from now their adult selves may mature enough to appreciate our plight (and test it with their own children).
From experience, if there’s the promise of getting those little feet a little wet, the hard sell becomes a bit easier. Adding a water element to the drudgery of a hot summer hike delights kids and adults. The sound alone of a creek bubbling over rock beds is a remarkable way to drown out complaints. With water, the whines tend to fade into giggles and, on extra special adventures, maybe even result in a refusal to go home.
Here are a few area hikes that provide an opportunity for splash. But if your soldiers remain dauntless in their stance, there is always bribery.
Pandapas Pond: A short drive west on U.S. 460 from Blacksburg, on the Eastern Continental Divide, is this popular day use area. There are 11 hikes to choose from, but the one to target is Poverty Creek Trail. Park in the back section of the lower lot, farthest from the highway, walk down to the pond, then hang a right to head into the woods. Soon you will be hiking alongside Poverty Creek with many access points for play. Pack a picnic and hang out for an entire morning or afternoon. For a more remote experience, pass by the main entrance off 460, then take a left onto Forest Service Road 708. After a mile-and-a-half, the road meets up with Poverty Creek, where you can wade deeper in the forest, away from the busy parking lots.
H.L. Price Park: A little outside of town off Price’s Fork Road in Blacksburg, you’ll find the new-ish H.L. Price Park trail. A 1.6-mile, well-groomed loop trail is dotted with picnic benches and bridges. At the “top” of the loop you encounter a nice meadow with access to Stroubles Creek. Bring net catchers to capture a curious creature or two and towels in the event of full-on swimming.
Bribery Bonus: Stop by the old Price’s Fork Elementary School-turned brewery, restaurant and residential housing. Mom and Dad can sit outside with a draft from Moon Hollow Brewery (who says bribery is only for offspring), while the urchins order fried ice cream from next door’s El Ranchero. Conveniently, they deliver to the brewery.
Stiles Falls: Starting off from Alta Mons, a Methodist church camp in Shawsville, Stiles Falls is a 3.2-mile round trip hike. The trail runs adjacent to Purgatory Creek with several crossings along the way. Staying creek-side provides plenty of fun without even attempting the destination. But if you’re set on seeing the falls, expect some tricky rock scrambling and climbing to access the shallow cascade pool. The gumption (and physical capabilities) of each wee hiker is different, so parents are best to make a judgement call with this one.
Mill Creek: Just outside downtown Narrows sits the 145-acre Mill Creek Nature Park. From the parking lot, a half-mile stroll will lead to an old, dammed reservoir from the late 1700s. Keep heading up the mountain to see signage for waterfalls. There are at least two that flow year-round, with more that pop up after hard rains. The second of the permanent two is a favorite, a bit off-trail and one you can lean into for an awesome photo opp. The runoff leads to shallow pools, eventually spilling across smooth, flat, rock surfaces, perfect to splash in all day. The area feels remote and secretive, like you happened upon something no one else has seen. Bring snacks and enjoy your own personal fairy tale setting.
Bribery Bonus: Tangent Outfitters in Pembroke on the return trip toward Blacksburg is a colorful, independent store to peruse name brand outdoor wares and local artisan trinkets. Cascade Cafe offers ice cream(!), sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and salads. And … ice cream!
WORTH THE DRIVE
Falls of Dismal aka Dismal Falls: (Note: not dismal at all) In Bland County, approximately 40 miles from Christiansburg, is the Falls of Dismal hike, with “hike” used lightly here. If you want big water payoff with very little hiking, this is your choice. After just a tenth of a mile walk from gravel roadside parking, you reach the popular watering hole. The falls are 40 feet wide and drop 12 feet into a whirlpool. Yes, depending on the time-of-year and water flow, it’s very jumpable. The area is expansive for exploration, from deep swimming to rock-skipping and shallow wading. This one is good for littles of all ages.
Bribery Bonus: Walker Valley Market off Walkers Creek Valley Road is a must-do. The highlight is a full-service deli with made-to-order sandwiches, quite possibly the best you will ever eat (from experience). There is also a bakery (donuts!) and an entire aisle of bulk-packaged “Candy Through the Decades.” Sit back with your sammie and watch their little eyes light up with the pain-staking reality of decision-making.
Nancy S. Moseley is freelance writer from Blacksburg who may or may not have occasionally dragged her boys reluctantly into the woods. She’s found that Skittles (a) don’t melt and (b) are useful to administer every 2-4 minutes or so to assure the children keep following her back to the car.
Photo courtesy of Giles County Tourism