Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Rapidan Camp or the Hoover Summer White House


Thursday June 11, 2015                                                                                          Previous Post Link:
Big Meadows Campground                                                                          
Lewis Falls Trail in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia


David remains in Charlottesville until Friday so I’m here with Winnona.  David is not an early riser so I take advantage of his absence to get on the trail early, 6:30am – how about that Bill?? 

Today I’m going to hike to President Herbert Hoover’s Rapidan Camp, his summer White House.  It’s 4.2 miles out and back.  To get there, I’ll take the Mill Prong Trail which begins at Milam Gap Parking Area. I learn from the sign that  Milam Gap is named for the apple created here.  Apples were a cash crop for the mountain people who developed many specialty apples.  Is the sign on the left a joke?  Clearly the vendor knows how to spell cider!





I see from the map that I could have taken the Rapidan Road to the Mill Prong Horse from Skyline Drive near the Visitor’s Center and walked an additional 3.3 miles each way to arrive half way down the Mill Prong Trail or I could have walked the drive to start at the trailhead.  Either way would make the walk to the trail as long as the one on the trail and the total over 10 miles.  So I opt to drive to the trailhead.   I must say though that the park has some really wonderful horse trails.  You can get into the back country much easier that way.


My hike begins on the AT.  I think I’ve mentioned before that over 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail go through Virginia.  It wanders from one end of Shenandoah National Park to the other and many of the loop and other trails have sections on the AT.  It’s like an old familiar friend.


Happy to see you again!



At the intersection with the Mill Prong Trail I take left.  At first the trail is quite level and flanked on either side by acres of ferns.





I take several hilarious selfies trying to show how tall they are.  You can get the idea by seeing how high up the frons come on me.  How do some people take such good selfies?



Of course the trail becomes rocky and crosses the Mill Prong River several times.  David has taken Ruby to Charlottesville and I keep all my hiking gear in my garage  Ruby.  So I’m without my pole to cross the first one.


Not to worry, there is a path of giant rocks.  Sweet!


With about a mile to go the Mill Prong foot trail joins the horse trail and the blaze changes from blue to yellow.
Shenandoah National Park does not have different color blazes for each trail.  They would quickly run out of colors since there are so many trails here, more than 100.  All foot trails are blue blazed and horse trails are yellow blazed.  The AT of course is white.




We joined the Mill Prong River a while ago and have crossed over it once.  It is so lovely to walk along a babbling waterway in a beautiful forest.  I can hear the wood thrush in the distance over the sounds of the water.  I hear no talking, no planes, or motors of any kind.  Definitely heaven.









Looking for the perfect place to sit for a while and enjoy a snack.



Found it!





On down the trail I come to the second crossing of the river.  It is preceded by a lovely little waterfall.  The morning light on the little rock slide makes it a bit difficult for the camera.



Even though it’s mid June, the water is chilly or I would definitely give that water slide into the pool a try.







Other than a pair of forced march women who passed me earlier, these are the first people I’ve seen on the trail.  Not sure which direction they have come from.  Watching them confer for a while and walk up and down the river before they set out across, I see that this river crossing is a little more tricky with wider steps and wet slippery rocks.  I look around for a stick to use to aid me across and find one.







Looking back at the water slide from the middle of the river.





Once across I continue to follow the river and its sounds.  The people in front of me have disappeared.




More little falls and beautiful scenes all along the way.







And then I find myself at the end of the trail.  Rapidan Camp is straight ahead.   There is quite a story on how the Hoovers came to buy this land and put their retreat here.  It’s wrapped up in the efforts of some in the state of Virginia to make sure that the  proposed south eastern national park be put here in the Virginia Blue Ridge. 

Shortly after his election in 1928, Hoover and his wife Lou Henry expressed a desire for a week-end retreat where they could find respite from the demands of Washington life and be rejuvenated by “the blessings of nature”.   This was just what those pushing for the park wanted to hear. 

Hoover loved to fish for trout and both the Mill Prong and Laurel Prong rivers which at this spot come together to form the larger Rapidan River, are well known trout streams.  They brought the Hoovers here and made sure there were plenty of trout.  At that time, the Chestnut trees that covered Appalachia were already gone but this area was dense with hemlock making it a cool retreat from the heat of Washington.   Of course now the Hemlocks are gone too,victims of global trade in the introduction of the wooly adelgid.

You can find the National Park Service’s version of how Shenandoah National Park came to be here.  Roosevelt gets the credit but I was surprised at the involvement of Coolidge and Hoover.  Secondly, this is an interesting short piece on the Rapidan Camp itself.  It has one real picture inside the The Brown House.  I could find no other on the web.  More on that later.



There were once 15 buildings here.  All but 3 were destroyed or taken down in the 1960’s.  Later I ask the house tour guide why and a ranger at the Visitor Center.  No one is saying anything other than “deteriorating”, “upkeep”.  But I’m wondering, if this was a Presidential retreat, why did they allow the buildings to deteriorate in the first place.  Perhaps a different administration attitude about the importance of “cultural artifacts” in the middle of a “natural area”.  



One of the three remaining buildings is called The Creel a cabin used by two of President Hoover’s chief aides. Larry Richey, a former F.B.I. agent was assigned to guard the President and became his personal “secretary”. He assumed responsibility for the safety and comfort of Hoover as he moved around the country.  The President’s personal physician, Joel T. Boone Jr, Vice Admiral Retired, shared these quarters with Mr. Richey when the President was in residence.




You cannot tour this house as it is occupied by the volunteer in charge of watching over the property, opening the gates and the house on the 5 days a week they are open and giving tours.   What a fabulous position this sounds like.  What fun and what an amazing place to live from early May to late October I later learn.   The sign on the steps tells the story.



From there I meander along the wide paths past signs showing where each of the no longer existent buildings used to be.




The signs in front of this beautiful meadow of daisies identify the spot as the location of Town Hall which was the center for executive meetings and social activities here at Camp Hoover.  The signs tell me that “fireplaces were kept burning on chilly evenings and the President and his guests furnished brilliant conversation on a wide variety of topics”.

I’m in love with the meadow today.  The flowers are in profusion.  A Picture of the inside of Town Hall follows the beauty.








SO many daisies.  I really want to take a bouquet back with me.  A field of daisies. 
Just LOVE IT!!






Inside of Town Hall from the web.


Walking on to the Prime Misters Cabin I cross the artificial stream Hemlock Run created to flow through the compound by a small diversion dam.  The dam was built upstream from the cabin across Laurel Prong.   As I mentioned before the Laurel Prong and the Mill Prong join just below the President’s cabin to form the Rapidan River which is a tributary of the Rappahannock River which flows Southeast into the Chesapeake Bay.

Notice the hole in the roof.





The Prime Minister of England Ramsey McDonald was a frequent guest of the Hoovers.  The cabin was named in his honor.



Lou Henry Hoover actually worked with the architect on the design and placement of all the buildings. She wanted a very light footprint on the land and you can see holes cut in the eves to accommodate trees growing close to the prime minister’s cabin and to the “The Brown House” their name for the President’s retreat house.  The trees have since died.  Not sure if they were hemlocks but at that time, this area was covered and shaded completely by an old hemlock grove.



Inside the Prime Minister’s Cabin is an exhibit on the life of the Hoovers both before his election and during their time here at the camp.




Lou Henry had very simple rustic furniture created for all the buildings including The Brown House. 


The Hoovers were both from Iowa but met as geology students at Stanford.  Their life thereafter was in the mining industry and took them all over the world.




The Hoovers took an interest in their neighbors.  When a local furniture factory burned, Mrs. Hoover made the family owned business a loan to rebuild.  They provided a bell for the church in Dark Hollow.  Most of their kindnesses were done anonymously.  When the Hoovers decided to build a new school for local children it made national headlines.  The Hoovers provided the materials for local men who built the new building including an apartment for the teacher who had been living with the families.  The school was also a community center offering evening classes to adults.  Mrs. Hoover visited the school often  After her death it was learned that she had been assisting former students who wished to further their education beyond grade school.   The picture shows Lou Henry Hoover with the children and their teacher on the left.



Leaving the way I came in I decide to take a left at the bridge over Hemlock Run when I see an inviting path.








Lovely mountain laurel is on the path which goes on and on.  Having no idea where it goes and not wanting to get lost, I reluctantly turn around and return for my final building, The Brown House itself.







The Brown House is an unimposing as the White House is imposing.  The two buildings open to the public are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  There are tours, usually done by the volunteer, on the other days.  There are also ranger guided tours which bring groups of 10 or 12 by van so those who cannot walk the 4 miles round trip can see the house. 

Today I am met on the porch by the curator of the Brown House museum who tells me that the volunteer is just finishing a tour.  I take a seat on the large rear porch and eat my lunch.  A few other people show up.






While we are all waiting, I look around and below me see an inviting bridge over yet another branch.  Mental note to check that out after the tour.



Not sure why the volunteer didn’t lead our tour but the curator did.  She was anxious to say she was the one responsible for the fact that we actually had to put our cameras on a bench inside the door of this very small two room cabin.  She was very insistent about this. 
“No pictures.  Flash ruins artifacts.” 
“My camera will take fine pictures in this light without flash.” 
Well we can’t allow cameras for security reasons.

She then proceeds to tell us that everything here is a reproduction from pictures of the camp during the Hoover time. Security reasons?   David, who takes the van tour down over the week-end tells me there is one very plain piece in the corner that was the Hoovers’.  Or so he was told by the Ranger who gave the tour. 

It is true that an amazing job of replicating was done so if you go this is pretty much what you will see in one end of the living room.  This is a picture from the web of the room in the Hoover’s days.  To the right is another large fireplace and furniture grouping.  On the walls are some really lovely Native American rugs.  They are duplicates but the pictures in the house show they are exact matches.  I wish I could have found a picture of them.  They were lovely.




After the tour she continued to talk with us until many of us wandered off as she got off topic and seemed just to enjoy talking.



I took that opportunity to go down the wide back steps, along the path and over the bridge.










There are intriguing stone steps on the other side of the bridge and they lead to yet another trail the destination of which is unknown.  I intend to investigate both of these trails to see where they lead and possibly return to hike them.



But today, I turn around, come back over the bridge and take the steps up to the side and front of the house. 

The curator is still talking.




I take advantage of that to try to take some pictures of the inside through the screens.  Not very successful but you can sort of see the bed in the bedroom.   I know I’m a rule breaker but good grief.




This is the other side of the living room but I’m afraid you can’t really see much.  I just had to do it given what a big deal she made out of this cabin and its reproductions.



One of the rugs I so admired is there on the far right on the wall. 



As I leave, I look back at the hole in the roof of The Brown House and I realize I’ve learned a lot about the Hoovers and I like Lou Hoover.  Actually I like Herbert too.  Like other Presidents, he inherited someone else’s mess.  His policies were not responsible for the Great Depression and he really took the fall for it.  It is true that he did not approve of using the Government to lift the country out of the misery which is why Franklin Roosevelt got elected.






On the hike back I retake some pictures from earlier because the light is different.  I also take some new ones.  Like the trout fisherman who said the fishing was “unbelievable”.   Catch and release only.




Crossing the water with my natural hiking pole.




This is definitely a hike I would do again.  I’d even do the tour again with someone else.  Anyone want to come up and join me for both??  The Hoovers were right it is 8 to 10 degrees cooler here than in either D.C. or Charlottesville.  Hallelujah!!




  1. The Hoovers certainly picked a lovely place for their retreat, didn't they?

  2. That was an interesting tour and I learned a lot about the Hoovers. I'm with you, I like them too. The curator was on a power trip I think. No way would I have left my camera anywhere.

    The pictures are so beautiful and they are making me miss the mountains so much. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it will be as cool in Blairsville, as where you are. There seems to be a heat wave going on this year with record temps.

    Have you read the book "Wild". It's a true story about a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail after having some trials in her life. It was a great book and she reminded me of you in a lot of ways.

  3. wonderful post sharing as usual....I am wondering how you keep from getting lost with so many trails crisscrossing?

  4. Very interesting. Never heard of Hoover's retreat until now. People who take good selfies have those "selfie poles" so they can extend their camera well beyond the end of their arm. Great pictures. Makes me want to make the trip out there.

  5. Very interesting post, thanks for all the work it took. We take horrible selfies, so you don't see any of mine :-). I love mountain laurel, I do miss seeing that in the spring.

  6. even though these weren't the spectacular falls you hiked out to see earlier, they are still beautiful. . .we would have enjoyed this hike as well. . .3 miles is still about my limit, although I am working up to further. . .slowly!

    NO WAY would we leave our camera on a bench inside the door. . .nope. . .not happening!

  7. A very pleasant area for a hike, though you have to watch your step!

    The Hoover property would appeal to me.

  8. I totally understand using your toad as a "garage". Mine is loaded, too. Nice hike around the Hoover compound, they chose a beautiful place. It must have been amazing with all the hemlock trees around it.

    It's so sad to think of all the wonderful trees that we've lost to foreign insects and diseases, a sad commentary on the "benefits" of world wide trade.

  9. Looks like a beautiful, cool hike and a lovely place for a retreat. I'm making a note to myself to NOT do the tour with that curator, though….I laughed when I saw that you took a couple of photos through the screens. That looks like something I would do. :-)

  10. Short people have short arms which makes taking selfies much more difficult ;o))) Regardless your height has no affect on your other photos... they are wonderful. Even the ones through the screens!!!

  11. I would love to do that hike, but could I start at 9 am:)

  12. So beautiful and I can almost feel the cooler temps - I am tempted to come find you and get a little reprieve from the heat :) I loved the pictures through the windows...

  13. Interesting that they made you leave the cameras outside. After walking to Rapidan Camp several times, we did the ranger-led tour on one of our trips to Skyline Drive. We were simply warned to turn off the flash but were otherwise allowed to take pics. I guess they had one too many visitors who did not follow instructions.

    1. She didn't make us leave it outside, just inside the door. The house is small so you are never very far away from the door. I just thought it was odd that you couldn't even carry it with you but I'll bet that's just her since she bragged about being the one who made these rules. David said the ranger just said no photographs but wasn't extreme.

  14. You early risers :) I have to say that 5 am is my new 7 am with the northern geography keeping the sun up later and rising earlier. Another nice hike with nice pictures.

  15. What a wonderful hike. You mentioned how quiet it was and I had to stop eating my granola - too much noise for the trail you were on! Daisies always make me happy :-) Always nice to learn the more human side of people who have been President and First Lady. I love that they were part of that little, rural community in such a meaningful way. I'm sure her being "present" for the children was as important as the dollars she spent. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Such a lovely hike. I could definitely handle a gig like this with a sweet cabin thrown in. Too bad you got the bossy curator tour.

  17. Very interesting post- never know we might just come up and join you to do it again. We have never been to Virginia.

  18. I am so ready for a hike in the forest! We have been in Indy way to long. (end of April) Love your resting spot with he falls. The cooler temperatures are mighty inviting.

  19. Your hike looks very refreshing with all the trees and gurgling water. Im jealous, we are out here in the Kansas open skies, no shade during our hikes.
    I would probably be like you, sneak a shot on a forbidden area :)

  20. Great info on the Hoovers I love learning about past president s. Let me hop in my car and I'll be there in a jiffy for the tour. (I wish!)

  21. I'd join ya! But, I wouldn't want a tour from that curator - I dislike those types who like to hear themselves talk and think they've got all the power - security reasons? Um...I doubt that. Very informative place and neat history. I bet it's neat to be that volunteer! Your selfies make me smile! :) Lovely hike and lovely blog. Fact full and full of good pictures too!

  22. I love this post! I just stumbled upon it but it brings back great memories of this hike, which we have done with our kids. We spend at least one weekend a year in SNP and this is one of our all-time favorite hikes. You captured all that is so wonderful about it. -- Janet F.


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