Choose Your Pace: Hike, Kayak & Canoe in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Grab your hiking boots and explore the most beautiful sections of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains at your desired pace while also learning kayak and canoeing tips from the experts.
Program No. 23804RJ
6 days
Starts at
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6 days
5 nights
14 meals
5 B 4 L 5 D
Check-in, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake
W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center

Activity note: Conference center check-in from 3:00 p.m. Walking about 1 mile; about 1/2 hour on campus; paved and gravel roads with elevation change of 100 feet.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. After you arrive, follow the signs to the Road Scholar table and get your room assignment, register with the program staff, and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Remember to bring your name-tag (sent previously). We will gather at a designated location and explore the grounds with the Group Leader, during which we’ll learn a bit of history regarding the facility while also becoming familiar with the campus. We’ll conclude at the Central Activities Building (CAB) in time for dinner.

Dinner: At the Central Activities Building (CAB), we’ll have a buffet meal that will keep people coming back for seconds, including dessert! Coffee, tea, milk, lemonade, juice, water; you may want to bring your own beverages.

Evening: Orientation: 7:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This is a Road Scholar Retreats program. Our programming at Retreat locations includes opportunities for light morning exercise, interaction with members of the local community, a farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, and evening entertainment. All group activity choices, including hiking, boating, climbing, etc., will be led by a certified expert unless otherwise specified. Be sure to bring your own reusable water bottle for all field trips. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. After a brief break, you may like to watch an informative film that will provide an overview of Smith Mountain Lake itself. The Group Leader will stick around the conference room afterwards to answer any questions. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Canoe/Kayak Smith Mountain Lake, High Ropes Course, Hike
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake
W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center

Activity note: Choose your pace activities include hiking, high ropes course, and canoeing or kayaking on Smith Mountain Lake. 2 hiking choices; about 4 miles and approximately 2 hours, or about 6.5 miles and approximately 3 hours. Getting on/off shuttle; driving about 19 miles; approximately 1/2 hour to trailhead. Boating activity duration choices of about 1 or 2 hours following shoreline.

Breakfast: In the dining hall, the breakfast buffet will feature a variety of hot and cold items, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Joining with our Group Leader, we’ll brush up on our canoe and/or kayaking skills on land through a safety and technique session before heading down to the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake. We’ll then all climb into our respective boats and explore the water’s edge together with our group. Alternatively, you may choose to head out by shuttle with our hiking expert and drive to the 1,440-acre Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve where we’ll have an expert-led hike to soak in some great valley views.

Lunch: In the dining hall, we'll enjoy yummy selections from the buffet with milk, juice, lemonade, coffee, tea, water included. Feel free to bring any other beverages of your own to enjoy.

Afternoon: Throughout the afternoon, check out some of the onsite expert-led activities including a high ropes course, archery, and pitch-and-putt golf. Feel free to try any or all of these activities, each with some expert-led training and advice throughout. Lastly, you may choose to go on the hike in Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve.

Dinner: Dining room buffet.

Evening: With our Group Leader, we’ll set out for an early evening canoe or kayak, according to personal choice, along the shores of Smith Mountain Lake. Sunset is a particularly good time to spot waterfowl.

Boating on a Local River
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake
W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center

Activity note: Getting on/off shuttle; driving about 25 miles; approximately 1/2 hour to river put-in. Minimal walking throughout the day. Working as a team to load/unload boats, and bring them to/from water. Choice of boating 8 or 14 miles; Class I and II rapids. 14-mile route has one portage.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: Boarding our vehicle at the conference center, we’ll drive to the river put-in where we will unload our boats to begin our paddle down a local river. We’ll choose between canoeing or kayaking on the local river today, with a choice of either 8 or 14 miles. The 14-mile run has one portage en route, which will require the group to take their boats out of the water at a low dam and carry them a short distance in order to continue downstream.

Lunch: At a good stopping point on the shore during our boating trip, we’ll have bagged lunches.

Afternoon: Those who chose to go 8 miles on the river will be transported back by shuttle to the conference center where the remainder of the afternoon will be free for independent time. The 14-mile group will have to take our will finish in the mid-afternoon and enjoy some independent time as well.

Dinner: Dining hall buffet.

Evening: In the conference room in preparation for tomorrow's hikes, Leonard Adkins, our instructor who is an avid hiker and author of many books will present a lecture about hiking and traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. This presentation will provide background information on the history and many hiking and cultural opportunities to be found along America's most visited national park. Prepare for transfer to the Peaks of Otter tomorrow, where we will spend an overnight. Pack accordingly. We’ll keep our rooms at the conference center, so feel free to leave anything there that you will not need for tomorrow.

Hike on Blue Ridge Parkway Trails, Summit Sharp Top
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake
Peaks of Otter Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a shuttle; driving about 40 miles one way; approximately 1 hour. Choice of morning hikes with similar hike choices in the afternoon; all terrain features ungroomed trails and mountainous landscape: Easiest is about 3 miles; approx. 1.5 hours. Moderate is about 4.5 miles up Harkening Hill; approx. 3.5 hours; roughly 850 feet elevation gain. Challenging is about 3 miles roundtrip to Sharp Top; approx. 3.5 hours; steep, roughly 1,340 feet elevation gain.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: Setting out aboard our vehicle, we will travel to The Blue Ridge Parkway where we will have the choice of three different hikes of varying difficulty. Each will be led by a hiking expert. The most difficult route will be a roundtrip hike of about 3 miles up to the beautiful peak of Sharp Top Mountain. The trail rises about 1,340 feet over 1.5 miles to the summit, where we will soak up the beautiful 360-degree views. Harkening Hill, the moderately challenging 4.5-mile loop trail, will lead us over the lower summits of the Peaks of Otter. From the lodge, the easiest group will head south along the Appalachian Trail. During this 3-mile hike, we’ll take in the history, beauty, and solace of the Blue Ridge Mountains and valley views. Leonard Adkins, our renowned expert instructor, has hiked whole AT five times through.

Lunch: On the trail, we’ll have bag lunches featuring a sandwich, snacks, fruit, and water.

Afternoon: This afternoon we will have the choice of another three hikes. Feel free to mix and match activity levels between the morning and afternoon. For the Sharp Top descent hike of 1.5 miles – the moderate choice – participants will be shuttled up nearly to the summit. Once off the vehicle, we’ll go for a short walk to the highest point so enjoy the atmosphere before hiking down the mountain. The Falling Water Cascades Trail of about 1.5 miles has a 426-foot elevation gain and is the most active hiking choice of the afternoon. You might like to take advantage of the wealth of photo opportunities. For those who did another hike in the morning, our instructor will lead the same hike from the morning along the Appalachian Trail again. South of lodge hike 2.5 miles. After the conclusion of our respective hikes, we will board our vehicle and complete the remainder of our transfer to the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the shores of Abbott Lake. We’ll check in upon arrival.

Dinner: At the Peaks of Otter Lodge, we will have plated meals that we pre-selected during Orientation, plus with coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer back to the conference center tomorrow.

Apple Orchard Mountain Hike on the AT, Performance
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake
W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center

Activity note: Getting on/off shuttle; driving about 65 miles; approximately 1.5 hours. Choose to hike between 3 to 8 miles throughout the day; strenuous mountain trails. Easiest hike is about 3 miles; approximately 1 hour; little elevation change. Moderate hike is about 6 miles; approximately 3 hours; elevation gain of roughly 2,402 feet. Most challenging hike is about 8 miles; approximately 4 hours; elevation gain of roughly 2,513 feet.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: We will check out of the lodge and head out in our shuttle for Apple Orchard Mountain along the Appalachian Trail where everyone will have a choice between 3 hikes of varying difficulties and lengths, each led by a hiking expert. The easiest will feature 3 miles from Guillotine to the Thunder Ridge Overlook along the Appalachian Trail. The Guillotine is an incredible natural rock formation that begs for pictures to be taken. The Thunder Ridge Overlook has 180-degree views of the Shenandoah Valley. Up to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain from the Guillotine via Thunder Ridge Overlook, the moderately challenging hike will be about 6 miles with an elevation gain of roughly 2,402 feet. The most challenging hiking choice is similar to the moderate choice, albeit a bit longer, featuring 8 miles up to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain from the Guillotine to the Thunder Ridge Overlook. Along the way, we’ll climb about 2,513 feet in elevation.

Lunch: At Thunder Ridge Overlook, all groups will stop for bag lunches together.

Afternoon: After our lunch stop with far-ranging views of the Shenandoah Valley, we will finish our hikes and regroup at our vehicle for travel to a little-known gem where we will enjoy some homemade fruit ice cream. Flavors include cantaloupe, strawberry, peach, and honeydew. We’ll then complete our return transfer to the conference center.

Dinner: Dining hall buffet.

Evening: In the conference room, we’ll be joined by three incredible local musicians who will play old timey bluegrass music during a farewell celebration. Prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

Program Concludes
W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake

Activity note: Conference center check-out by 9:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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