This park has almost 16,000 acres!! And the other-worldly Boulder Field!! WPA-era cabins!! And even… the Shades of Death Trail!! Read on, if you dare!
The Boulder Field
This trip was an organized group event at the creepy yet wonderful Camp Shehaqua cabin campground at Hickory Run. We had also stayed previously at the nearby Daddy Allen cabin campground. These sites are notable for their abandoned 1940’s summer camp feel, complete with disused infirmary, aged graffiti, and empty flagpoles. We were with a homeschool group here 3 times, this year being our first at Shehaqua.
our cabin at Shehaqua
Really at the bathroom house (left) and kids at a firepit
Our cabin inside. Note sleeping platform and simple wooden ceiling hook to hold windows open.
Each group cabin camp area has clusters of cabins, a large mess hall with industrial-type stainless steel kitchen, one or more lodge buildings, bathroom buildings with flush toilets, and sundry specialized buildings we did not use such as The Infirmary. Not just anyone can rent these areas, rather the group must be part of a formal non-profit organization such as a church, scout group, or a bunch of hippy homeschoolers who happen to have their paperwork in order.
Lodge. We had a square dance here!
Yee-HA! ok, this isn’t us but we had at least this much fun!
Cabins are, shall we say, ascetic wooden structures with no water, electricity, or even mattresses. Instead they have sleeping platforms and large, screened windows for ventilation. You can drive up to most of them, and they are well-ventilated and offer sturdy protection against rain but are not heated. Our group likes this location due to the numerous outdoor options such as hiking and swimming, and also because the large indoor spaces are great for bad weather activities like board games and, apparently, square dancing! Poppa Fantastic learned how to call square dances this year, and other group members were wonderful accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, and guitar, so we do-si-doed until Poppa lost his voice (we did not have a microphone/speaker unfortunately)
The Boulder Field is a unique area worth the uphill drive or hike to get there. It dates to ‘recent’ i.e. 20,000 years ago, glacier activity and is a result of water freezing and melting to break up rock masses into the boulders you see above. It is recognized as a National Natural Landmark, how cool is that!! It also makes fun but challenging hiking, as it is full of ankle-twisting terrain and beckons you to cross to the other side. Apparently, it is the only area of its type East of the Mississippi.
Sand Spring Lake is a man-made lake at the park with areas for barbecuing, no lifeguards, nice bathhouses, and an ice cream stand that also sells pizzas. It has a nice grade with plenty of sand and shallow water for the little ones. The older kids can play in the deeper water, which is really not too deep, and there are areas to explore around the perimeter such as a forest trail and a water outlet where the kids always find snakes. What’s not to like?
And finally, Shades of Death Trail!
this 1-mile trail is rated ‘most difficult’ re: the park brochure but we found it quite easy, especially after hiking a few miles of the Appalachian Trail the previous week in the rain with a very enthusiastic long-legged family. It goes next to a stream called Sand Spring Run through a rhododendron forest, a short rocky area, and old mill/industrial structures. The park info says that the name comes from early settler descriptions of the thickly forested, forbidding area, but today it is just a lovely hike.