Friday evening we headed to Kings Gap. My oldest loves salamanders and frogs (and the state park), so when I saw a “Vernal Pool Hike” in the park’s newsletter, I signed us right up. In case you aren’t familiar with vernal pools – personally, I had no clue what one was until I Googled “where to find salamanders” a couple of years ago for my son – it is basically a basin that fills with water for a few months each year and supports the breeding of wood frogs and mole salamanders. In other words, it is heaven for any kid who loves amphibians.
Maybe it was the big group (at least twenty people) or the fact the hike lasted two hours (one would have been enough for me) or the fact it was Friday night at the end of a very long week, but I have to admit I just wasn’t “into” the hike. The kids though? They loved it! There were several other kids in the group – all elementary school boys – and they kept jostling to the front of the pack to walk with the group leader, flipped over every rock and log they could find in hopes of revealing a critter, and carefully inspected each pool for eggs and frogs. For that reason alone, I’m really glad we went.
Plus, I had no idea that the Forest Pools Preserve at Kings Gap even existed! It is not actually in the state park, but is a 70-acre area just next to it, managed by The Nature Conservancy. The hike was a great way to learn more about the vernal pools and the animals that inhabit them (our guide was very knowledgeable), but families can also go exploring on their own.
The preserve is located at the base of the mountain, right off of Kings Gap Road. To get there, turn onto Kings Gap Road and look for the Pine Plantation Parking Lot on the left, before the road starts heading up South Mountain. Across the road from the parking lot is the trailhead for Masland Trail, which lead to the various pools. There are seven pools in all, but a couple did not have any water in them at the moment. That is the nature of vernal pools – they depend on the weather. It is also a reason for the preservation project, which seeks to ensure the pools are maintained.
I wish I could tell you which of the seven pools was the one we visited last, because that one was the largest and just amazing – even in the dark. The spring peepers were out in full effect, so loud we could barely hear ourselves talk. My 6-year-old announced that the noise was “annoying,” but it was really pretty cool – a symphony of nature like nothing I have ever heard before. The kids spotted some peepers, which required good eyes given how well they camouflage with their surroundings, and got to watch how their throats and bellies puff out as they sing. Someone also nabbed this huge mole salamander. Pretty awesome!
Now that we know the preserve exists, we’ll definitely be going back to visit. My kids are already intent on seeing the juvenile salamanders crawl out of the pools in a few months. I have no idea how we’ll time our visit to match that event, but we’ll give it our best shot!
For more information:
- Learn about vernal pools
- Forest Pools Preserve webpage
- Kings Gap State Park (join their mailing list to learn about upcoming events)
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