Last weekend (okay, a week and a half ago), we went up to Skyline Drive to hike the trail down to the Pocosin Mission ruins. I picked it initially since we’d never done it before and it was pretty close to the Swift Creek Gap entrance to Skyline Drive, and it was a fairly short trail. We stuck to this decision after reading that it walked past one of the PATC cabins, and, to quote Billy, “you had me at ruins.”
It ended up being pretty cold the day we went–not cold by winter hiking standards, but it was hovering around 32-33 degrees, which is pretty cold for us.
The parking spur is easy to miss, since it’s not a lot but a small road, but the trailhead itself is very obvious, as it’s a fire road. I’m not always a huge fan of fire road trails, since part of the appeal of driving out of the city is being about to hike on different terrain than the gravel trails of the parks we’re used to, but it is nice with Kairi, whose hiking stamina is still wildly unpredictable.
About a tenth of a mile down the trail, is the Pocosin cabin. We stopped for a snack (Kairi’s favorite part of hiking), and for me to try and take a few pictures of Sebastian for the ‘winter’ pictures of his First Year of Seasons pictures. I’ve wanted for years to camp in the Doyles River cabin a little further south on Skyline Drive because of the gorgeous views, but in my researching the PATC cabins I managed to miss looking up this one, and now that we’ve discovered it, we’re already making plans to spend a couple of nights there for Sebastian’s birthday. The problem with Doyles River, is that once you get off the Doyles River trail, there’s about a quarter mile hike that’s very steep to get to the cabin–with one of us wearing Sebastian (and possibly Kairi), trying to get enough gear/food/water up there for a couple of nights is something I’ve been hesitant to try while the kids are small, but because the fireroad leading into Pocosin is so flat and wide, this seems like a perfect place to start with small kids. (Don’t judge too harshly–it’s been years since I’ve been primitive camping even by myself, and we definitely adhere to the ‘better to be overprepared than underprepared’ philosophy. Especially when it comes to water.)
Even in the cold, the kids loved playing around the cabin, and it still has a pretty nice view. I’m not sure how much you’d get in summer, since the gap in the trees looking at the mountain across the valley (not sure which mountain–anyone know?) seems like it would be pretty filled in when the trees have their leaves, but I’m optimistic that in April we’ll get some nice wildflowers, and the spring buds won’t have entirely obscured the view.
When we left the cabin we continued towards the ruins. You’re on the fire road the whole way, and it’s a gentle downhill trek. There was a lot of runoff on the trail from where snow and ice had recently melted that we had to watch for for about the first tenth of a mile, but after that it dried out, and we got into the sort of quiet stillness that makes me love winter hiking.
The ruins themselves were cool, but probably better for older children than our little ones. The old wooden structure is pretty dilapidated, and because of the cold Kairi wasn’t that interested in exploring it, but I can see it being more difficult to keep her away in warmer weather, and it’s definitely not something I would want a young child playing around in. Plus there was a lot of broken glass on the ground–I hope this is not normally the case, and we would have packed it out ourselves if I hadn’t thought she would try and “help.”
There were some stone structures that seemed sturdy enough to let her climb on however, and she enjoyed those–and it made for a couple of nice pictures.
We just went down and out, but at the ruins there’s a connector trail that takes you, allegedly, to Swift Creek Falls. Maybe when we go to the cabin we’ll try that out, since we won’t have to worry as much about losing daylight by April.
The trip back out showed both of us how out of shape we are, but is really a pretty gentle incline for people who have spent less time parked under a nursing baby all winter long. Kairi would have been fine walking up it by herself if she hadn’t been so cold that she wanted to be worn (she walked up Dark Hollow Falls by herself last summer, so this would have been a breeze!). Back at the parking area I took a few more pictures–and it started snowing! Sadly Sebastian was pretty Done with posing around the time the snow started so I didn’t get any good shots with the snow, but it did treat us to a lovely trip back to the gatehouse–and I saw later in the day on facebook that Skyline Drive ended up closing two hours after we left, so it’s a good thing we didn’t try and add any extra miles to our trip!
Overall–definitely a trail we’ll try again, and we’re looking forward to our trip to the cabin this spring!