Shenandoah National Park
Located: Virginia - Established: May 22, 1926
The Park: Shenandoah is located a mere 75 miles west of Washington D.C. For hundreds of years, people lived on the lands that are now Shenandoah National Park. To create this park, the state of Virginia would need to acquire over 1000 private tracts of land and donate them to the nation. This was no easy task and was rife with controversy.
A good portion of the park’s famous Skyline Drive was constructed during the Great Depression when several Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established in or adjacent to what was to become Shenandoah National Park. Thousands of young men lent a hand in developing this park between May of 1933 and March of 1942.
Getting there: Shenandoah is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of Virginia approximately 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. There are four entrances into the park. The southern entrance, Rockfish Gap is accessible via I-64 and Route 250. This entrance is the start (or finish) of the 105-mile Skyline Drive that runs the entire north-south axis of the park. From the north, you would enter the park from Fort Royal via I-66 and Route 340. We entered the park via the Thornton Gap Entrance via Rt 211. The Swift Run Gap entrance, located at mile marker 65 is accessed via Route 33.
When to go: Shenandoah is “always open;” however, portions of Skyline Drive are closed due to inclement weather and at night during deer hunting season. The busiest time of year is during the fall when many visitors flock to the park to experience “Leaf Peeping Season!” Should you choose to experience the park during the Fall Color Explosion – go early and go midweek! During the leaf peeping season, traffic will be denser than fog on the Maine coast!
What to do: Shenandoah offers a wide range of activities for visitors. Leaf Peeping is perhaps the most popular activity. The scenic 105-mile Skyline Drive is equipped with 75 overlooks providing vistas of Shenandoah Valley to the west and the rolling Pieldmont hills to the east. If the traffic along Skyline Drive drives you crazy, park the car, strap on your daypack, grab your trekking poles and go take a hike! You will never forget experiencing the spectacular views you’ll enjoy as you trek about any of Shenandoah’s over 500 miles of hiking trails.
Hike up the craggy peaks of Old Rag Mountain– the most popular...and the most difficult of all trails in the park. Or for a real adventure, hike the 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail that passes through Shenandoah.
For the day hiker, take a trek to the top of Stony Man Mountain and admire the view of the Shenandoah Valley below. Hike down to Dark Hollow Falls. The scenery and the short hike back up will take your breath away!
Where to stay: Shenandoah has four developed campgrounds with over 600 campsites accommodating RVs as well as tents. Many of the sites can be reserved in advance; however, several at each campground are available on a first-come, first served basis.
Shenandoah offers three lodging facilities all operated by Delaware North Company. Skyline Lodge at mile marker 41.5, Big Meadow Lodge at MM 51 and the Lewis Mountain Cabins south of Big Meadow.
Wildlife: Chances are, you may encounter a black bear sighting as this park has a dense population of these furry critters. We happened upon one while hiking to Dark Hollow Falls. (see picture above)
Trivia: From 1933 to 1942 an estimated 10,000 young men of the CCC planted hundreds of thousands of trees, shrubs, and native plants in Shenandoah National Park.
Banner: Shenandoah sunset.
Experience these Check List:
- Stop by any of the park's two Visitor Centers - Harry F. Byrd Sr. and Dickey Ridge
- Drive the entire length of Skyline Drive
- Hike to Dark Hollow Falls
- Climb to the top Stony Man Mountain
- Trek a section of the Appalachian Trail
- Explore Old Rag Mountain
- Leaf Peep in the Fall