Another miniature adventure checked off our list.
Have you ever travelled alone with children? It’s not always the easiest or most fun thing to do, and let’s face it, kids can be downright annoying at times. My oldest two are always fighting with each other and asking “are we there yet?”, and my youngest tends to get car sick (not fun). When you couple that with my hatred of driving it makes me a bit crazy. Yet I keep making plans and I keep taking them on adventures.
I tend to hear one of two things every time I make a trip with my kids (alone):
Are you insane?
You’re so amazing, how do you do it?
To be honest, it’s a tad selfish. My kids never walk up to me and say, “hey Mom, can we go hiking this weekend?” Nope! They’d rather sit on their tablets and play video games. I am the one who wants to travel and go hiking, experience things; and since it’s just me and the kiddos, what choice do I have? Beyond that, why wouldn’t I want to take my kids and give them an experience like that? I have the opportunity and I’m fortunate enough to have the time, so it’s a win for everyone.
Also, if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to embrace the moments we have and throw caution to the wind. We have done a lot more travelling to local sites and creating fun adventures this year, and I credit a lot of it to being stuck in a quarantined state most of the year. When planning I strive for things that will be outdoors, far enough away from people or that I know are being cautious with the number of people allowed at once. Hotels do still make me nervous, but I pick those carefully (often based on your reviews) and I bring my own sanitizing supplies.
This latest adventure was our second trip to Charlottseville, VA this year. It started with hiking in Shenandoah National Park and ended with a much earned trip to Monticello.
Shenandoah National Park is so beautiful, and driving along Skyline drive was something special for all of us. The number of overlooks along the drive give you ample views of the mountains and are great if you need an emergency stop also (trust me, I know). The Fall foliage has pretty much diminished already but that didn’t deter from the beauty of those endless views. I do imagine that going in the spring or early Fall would make for something breathtaking though. I picked two of the shorter trails for us, one being Black Rock Summit and the other being the Bear Den Mountain.
We started with the Black Rock, thankfully, because that held the most amazing 360 degree views of the mountains. It was very kid friendly, and mine didn’t have too much trouble scaling up the half mile hike to the top (it’s just over a mile out and back). Even with their minor complaints about how steep it was, they certainly didn’t mind looping the summit twice to take in the views or scramble across the rocks. The way down was a bit tricky because we got lost and had to backtrack, but that was my mistake and didn’t add much on to the overall hike (just be careful which path you choose at the fork). The trails are clearly marked though, and despite having a steeper incline it was easy enough for any skill level. The kids did so well in fact, that they willingly went on another trail with me.
The second trail I chose was actually Turk Mountain, but the parking area was full so we drove a little more and opted for the shorter trail nearby. I use AllTrails, which is a great app but if you’re not careful it can be a bit confusing. Maybe that’s how we ended up with a more strenuous uphill hike and less than stellar views. I saw Bear Den Mountain on the app which claims to be a short mile hike out and back. It was a little more than a mile, but held some incredibly steep uphill inclines as well as views of the power lines at the top. We crossed the road from the parking lot which was our mistake, so if you stay on the parking side the hike and views are (supposed to be) significantly better. My son in particular was not happy with me because I promised him an easier climb. Despite all that, they had a blast making jokes about the “horror movie trail” and how the electrical towers at the top reminded them of “siren head”.
All in all that part of our journey was an incredible one. If you ever have the chance to head to the mountains and do some hiking, go for it! And don’t be afraid to take kids with you either. It’s easy enough to navigate the shorter trails and by the time they get to those views they won’t be thinking about how much their legs hurt! I also carried my toddler (she’s a solid 40 pounds) on my back in a Kinderpack the whole time, so don’t let a younger child stop you either.
We ended up in Charlottesville for the night because I had planned the rest of our adventures there. The next morning we took our trip to the apple orchard to pick apples and get donuts! Carter Mountain Orchard is a beautiful place that we’ve had the pleasure of seeing twice this year, once for peach picking and now for apples. Coming from the Midwest I love Fall and cider mills/orchards especially, so finding something along the East Coast that reminded me of my own childhood was special. This day was cold and insanely windy though, and when you add the nice hike up the mountain it was certainly fun (read sarcasm into that one). The kids didn’t complain much though, and just joked about the wind taking them away. I don’t know a kid that doesn’t keep quiet for donuts though, so that was definitely motivation to keep moving and pick their apples quickly!
The last stop on our journey was Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which is somewhere my daughter has been asking to visit for years now. There’s always been a reason to say no, whether it’s timing or money (or my lack of interest in all things history), but my daughter has been so helpful recently that I thought I’d surprise her. To say she had fun is an understatement (my son also enjoyed himself, and once again my toddler rode piggyback style so she couldn’t complain either). It was, once again, very windy up on the mountain, but since a good deal of your time is spent touring the house or the “basement” area, you don’t have to worry about that too much. Once again, I imagine the view and gardens would be a spectacular site in the Spring. There is so much rich history there and despite Covid-19 they had a nice setup and the tour guides were still able to delve into greater stories and information you might not have known. This visit was completed with a trip to the store for their souvenirs (because what kid doesn’t like those).
I have to say that travelling solo with children is not something I ever thought I would do. I am not a fan of driving and to be honest, I have always been a little anxious at the thought of taking kids places on my own and having to do everything. It has always seemed stressful and less than entertaining to me, but honestly, after the year we’ve had it’s hard not to want to get out and do things. And so we do. I pick the location (only sometimes with their input) and I make the plans, and then we go. Sometimes I forget to pack things (okay maybe often) and there is certainly a good deal of lecturing (maybe a bit of yelling) along the way, but it always turns out to be something special. This is, after all, why I’ve spent so many years staying home with my children, to be there for them and to give them these memories that are sure to last a lifetime.
So, if you’re on the fence about taking the kids solo, don’t be. Just make your plan, prepare for it to go differently than you’d thought, and learn to keep adjusting.