Admittedly, it hasn’t felt like winter in the Shenandoah Valley this February. However, only time will tell if the weather stays this balmy, or if we’re in that odd “False Spring” stage and we’ll get a blizzard in March.
Personally, I’m very much a “comfort hiker” so I’ve been enjoying these warm temperatures. My preferred hiking weather is about 65 degrees, blue skies, and a slight breeze but I also don’t like being cooped up inside all winter. Fortunately, hiking is possible in the rain, snow, or sunshine, and if you’re looking for a short but sweet hike for all seasons look no further than High Knob Fire Tower. This hike is worth doing all year round, because each season holds its own charm. In the spring, you’ll see the mountain laurel blooming, in fall the gorgeous array of autumn colors, and what’s not to love about walking through a winter wonderland with a fresh layer of snow on the ground? You’ll also get the unique experience of seeing the only stone fire tower in Virginia.
High Knob is less than an hour’s drive from Harrisonburg and is situated in George Washington National Park, so there’s no entry fee. The hike is a little less than three miles out and back, is fairly moderate in terms of difficulty, and is dog-friendly. The trail begins behind the hiker sign at the edge of the parking lot (the sign is hard to miss, but the trailhead isn’t visible from the lot). It’s a pretty steep drop from the lot onto the trail but this is the steepest part of the hike. The trail does intersect with a few other trails in that area, but it’s very well-marked and you’ll likely encounter others along the way.
High Knob isn’t the greatest for solitude but if you go fairly early in the morning, or later in the evening, you’ll likely avoid any crowds. If solitude is what you’re aiming for, winter is a great time to hike this one and here are a few tips to keep you safe in case you decide to hit the trails when it’s a little chilly outside.
Hike early in the day. Days are shorter during the winter, and you don’t want to risk being caught out in the cold and in the dark.
Check the weather. Weather conditions can change pretty quickly, so it’s always better to be prepared for the worst.
Layer up! Layering is important no matter the temperature but it’s critical during the winter. You will get hot going uphill but at the summit, with the cold wind pounding against your face, you’ll appreciate having brought along that extra sweater, gloves, and hat! It’s also worth it, if you plan on hiking regularly, to invest in quality gear.
Wear proper footwear. Do a bit of research on trail conditions before heading out and make sure you’ve got the proper shoes, boots, crampons, or microspikes to make it to your destination. If you don’t know what some of those things are, don’t hike when there’s fresh snow and ice on the ground.
Pack snacks that are high in calories and easy to eat while walking. When it’s warm outside, it’s nice to take a long snack or lunch break. When it’s cold and windy out, not so much.
Know your limitations and be willing to turn around. Trust your gut. If you feel unsure about something, go home! The trail will always be there later.
Hike with a friend. If something goes awry, it’s safer being with someone else than being solo.
Hiking during the winter can be just as fun and yield just as pretty views as any other time of the year. With the leaves off the trees, you’ll likely see some cool sights you wouldn’t see otherwise, and getting out in the sun is a great mood booster during the long, winter months, and you won’t have to worry about bugs