Babes in the Woods: Shenandoah, Virginia

Bowie below Rose River Falls in Shenandoah

Last time I saw my friend Amy, we got purposely lost off trail in southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park, climbed JT’s epic boulders until our fingers bled, slept out under the stars and woke up to one of the most epic sunrises either of has ever seen. In our 5-year career as outdoor adventure friends we’ve also shared a bunk with a black snake in Virginia, dodged a charging mother moose in Montana and triaged a wicked cactus wound in California.

Amy & her baby bear Josh

Last week Amy I met up again in Shenandoah National Park. No crazy epic for us this time: Amy is now a mom to 4-month old Josh! Not one to be slowed down too much by motherhood, Amy showed up at the trailhead for the Rose River Loop with Josh in a baby backpack. Her friend Juliette also joined us with her 4-month old son Levi. Between the three of us we had two babies and seven dogs!

3 women, 2 babies, 7 dogs on the Rose River Trail

I’m at that age when many of my friends are having kids. I’ve never wanted to be a mom, but I do think it’s important to have kids in my life – youth keeps us young – and so I’m trying to be a good “Aunt Mo” to my friends’ kids. I want to be the awesome aunt who takes them hiking and camping and teaches them how to build a fire, catch salamanders and communicate with dogs.

Josh in his chariot, with Amy’s dog Ripley

Josh and Levi are just babies, but this wasn’t their first hike. Both Amy and Juliette have been taking their kids outside since they were teeny tiny. They change diapers on the ground and nurse along the trail and let their kids crawl in the leaves, rub their little fingers in the dirt and marvel with them at the tree tops. Have you ever seen a baby who loves trees? These kids do! They watch the leaves sway against the sky and laugh, the way kids laugh at a spinning mobile over their crib. Something tells me these kids are going to be all right!

Family Portrait

The Rose River Falls Loop is one of my favorite hikes at Shenandoah: a 4-mile loop past dozens of waterfalls. I’ve hiked this trail half a dozen times now. The trailhead is just north of the Lewis Mountain campground, where I always camp in Shenandoah. Leaf season is peaking right now in Virginia and the place was crawling with people. Every person we met on the trail had encouraging things to say about getting kids out in the woods. The wisest advice I’ve heard: “Start off the way you mean to go on.”

Fall colors along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah

Rose River Falls

Crossing the Rose River Bridge

Bowie being the biggest dog.

Dogs swimming in the Rose River

Isn’t it risky to take kids in the woods?! Everything comes with some degree of risk. Most risky of all? Driving in a car. Both these moms are accomplished and experienced outdoorswomen who are as home in these woods as you are in your own neighborhood. In my non-motherly, “Aunt Mo” opinion, this world needs more outdoor kids and more kids need the outdoors. Read more about Raising Rippers here.

Babes in the Woods

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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8 Responses to Babes in the Woods: Shenandoah, Virginia

  1. amberlife says:

    What a lovely post. Love that last picture of you all!

  2. Josh is so interested in your camera, hats off to your friends for hiking with the little ones!

  3. Teri says:

    I think it’s wonderful that these cuties are doing something outdoors! Get the kids away from the xbox, or the computer. When I was young we begged to go outside, if we got in trouble and were stuck in our bedroom it was pure torture. Now it seems like the kids don’t want to go outside…and I fear they are missing so much.

  4. beeseeker says:

    Like the risk assessment, absolutely spot on – but, oce again, stunning text/photos combination. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Joni says:

    A great blog!! My two kids (now 34 and 32) always loved outdoors. I wasn’t a “super-duper” outdoor person but since I homeschooled them thru elementary school we learned to love the woods and hiking altho we never camped out. My son camps almost as much as you do (sometimes with his g/f sometimes alone). My daughter doesn’t want kids either…it’s weird for me b/c to be a mom was my calling in life. However, I am so glad that women such as you and my daughter who don’t want to be a mom do not become one b/c of social pressure. Everyone is different. I love my daughter and respect her (and your) choices. She loves dogs (as you do) and those are her babies and my grandbabies. I think my son will do whatever his g/f wants (he’s not totally against it)…LOL>
    Take care,

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