Located in the state of Virginia, this national park covers part of the scenic and heavily visited Blue Ridge Mountains. The name “Shenandoah” comes from the Shenandoah River which can be found in park as well as the Shenandoah Valley. The area is lovely and scenic and the Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the most visited places in the U.S., especially in the fall when the millions of trees turn orange, yellow and red. The highest peak is the Hawksbill Mountain, which is known for its gorgeous views from the top that can be reached by a trail. The park is long and narrow and was established in 1926. There are many scenic things to see and outdoor activities to experience in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Shenandoah National Park.
Explore the Visitor Centers
Visitor Centers are placed in all of the national parks to help guest experience the best of the park. Guides and park rangers can show you exhibit, places to go, eat, sleep and drive while you’re there. The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is located at mile point 4.6 along the Skyline Drive in the park and the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center is located at milepost 51 on the Skyline Drive. Both centers have bookstores for books about the area, souvenirs and trinkets, as well as videos to watch, publications, maps, first aid, permits, information desks, restrooms, exhibits and much more for visitors to see and do. This is a great place to stop first before you go out and explore the park.
Hike the Old Rag Mountain
This hike is the most popular and also the most dangerous in the park. Large, old boulders protrude out from some of the steep overlooks, giving hikers fantastic views of the mountains and valleys below. The trailhead will have additional info and a map available to hikers as there are several routes to take to climb the mountain. The first couple of miles will be through the trees and then eventually the trees will begin to thin as you reach the ridgetop as you hike along the Ridge Trail. For the next couple of miles, hikers will have to climb, slide, squeeze and crawl around and across massive boulders. There are several fantastic vantage points on the way but don’t stop! The best view is at the top. Once you reach the summit, you will have unparalleled 360 degree views of the mountains and scenery that are all lying below you at this point. See the 200,000 acres of the park stretched before you and clam your title as king of the mountain!
Shenandoah’s hilly and mountainous terrain provides excellent opportunities for the flow of water to create waterfalls. There are at least 9 waterfalls in the park and many of which can be reached by a simple hike. The Overall Run Falls is the tallest at 93 feet. There are rock ledges to sit on to enjoy the view and the valley and mountains are part of the beautiful picture. The Rose River Falls cascade down about 67 feet. The trail to get there is part of the fun as it is beautiful! The roundtrip is on 2 ½ miles long and a climb of a little over 700 feet. The Jones Runs Falls is an easier climb that gradually increases, but not by much. The bottom of the waterfall is surrounded by rocks, moss and greenery. Enjoy sitting on one of the rocks to watch the serene and peaceful view. Hike to many other waterfalls in the park and pick up a waterfall guide that will show you where they are and how to get to them. The falls are less impressive in the dry season, so keep that in mind while you’re visiting.
The Skyline Drive
Scenic drives are often times one of the best ways to see the national parks and most parks have at least one. The drive is 105 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains and takes about three hours to do the whole drive on a clear day and with good weather. The speed limit is only 35 mph and with over 75 scenic overlooks to stop and see, it is a slow and leisurely route. Mileposts are stationed along the route and there is a corresponding guide you can take that will tell you points of interest at specific mileposts. Watch for wildlife along the road and enjoy views of the picturesque mountains and flowers.
Fish the Streams and River
With so many waterfalls and streams there are lots of opportunities to fish! The park has more than 70 mountain streams that contain fish and other aquatic life. There are regulations and licensing requirements, but this is the case in most areas. The area is on a “catch and release” type of fishing where you can catch as many as you want, but they must be released. There are campgrounds to stay at during your fishing trip, or some backcountry camping is permitted as well. Find a lovely stream that suits you and enjoy a day of fishing in a beautiful national park.
With over 196,000 acres of backcountry to explore there are many opportunities for you to camp and go on an adventure off the beaten path. The park has over 500 miles of trail to explore too, so what are you waiting for? The park has a list of closures that you cannot go in. This is due to inclement weather, special natural or cultural resource protection, or high use, so make sure you check first. Backcountry camping means that you need to provide your own shelter and provisions including food and water. Bring bear-proof containers or use a rope to hang your goods from a tree to avoid attracting them. The park uses a “leave no trace” policy, meaning you must pack out everything as if no one was even there. Don’t forget to get maps and guides at the visitor center and plan on where you want to go and for how long.
Wilderness Not Far Away
Shenandoah National Park is located only 75 miles from the busy enormous and bustling city of Washington, D.C. It is a great place to escape to with miles of trails, many waterfalls, scenic overlooks of the mountains and trees and thousands of acres to explore. The park has a few great campgrounds for those that want to camp, or strike out into the wilderness area to camp on your own. Make sure to drive the Skyline drive and see the mountains and hills stretched out like an ocean on your visit to this beautiful park.