What to Do at Shenandoah
"Stony Man Mountain" is Shenandoah's version of New Hampshire's "Old Man on the Mountain." Stop at the Stony Man Overlook (milepost 38.6) and gaze west to see a profile of his face. Or follow the 1.6-mile, moderately difficult trail from the Stony Man parking area to the top of "his" forehead.
Shenandoah National Park has some 180 miles of trails open to horses. Bring your own horse, or arrange for a guided trail ride through ARAMARK.
The park's main road, Skyline Drive, winds some 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 overlooks, affording visitors many opportunities to take in views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia Piedmont. Also popular along the drive: walking sections of the Appalachian Trail, which roughly parallels the drive through the park.
Shenandoah National Park has free printable hiking maps available online. The maps are organized into different sections of the park, so determine which area of the park you are interested in hiking, then print the map out and bring it along on your trip.
You don't have to travel deep into the park to get a taste of its history. Across from the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center, just five miles from the Front Royal entrance, is the easy, self-guided, 1.2-mile Fox Hollow Trail, named for the farming family who settled here in 1837. Hikers can still see remnants of their life, including piles of stones cleared from farmland, as well as the family graveyard.
Park at Milam Gap (milepost 52.8 along Skyline Drive) to begin a moderate, four-mile round-trip trek to Rapidan Camp, a national historic landmark that was former President Herbert Hoover's summer White House. Hoover's cabin, the Brown House, has been restored to its 1929 appearance; the Prime Minister's Cabin has self-guided exhibits. The hike to the camp passes a small waterfall and crosses several streams.
Overall Run Falls (milepost 21.1 along Skyline Drive) is a strenuous round-trip hike of 6.4 miles. Overall Run Falls are the highest in the park, though in dry summers there may be very little water. Park at the lot near Hogback Overlook and begin your 0.4-mile hike down to the falls along part of the Appalachian Trail. The trail is steep and rocky at points, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes.
Shenandoah National Park is home to more than 50 mammal species, 51 reptile and amphibian species, some 30 fish species, and approximately 200 resident and transient bird species. Keep an eye out for opossums, groundhogs, gray foxes, eastern cottontails, bobcats, raccoons, black bears, white-tailed deer, salamanders, turtles, snakes (18 species), barred owls, red-tailed hawks, warblers, and woodpeckers. Plant species include red oak, birch, and hickory trees; 60 fern species; and more than 800 wildflower species, including violets, pink azaleas, mountain laurel, and wild sunflowers.
Shenandoah in autumn is a spectacular sight, as the hardwood forest changes from green to vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Trails lead to sweeping vistas of the park. Bearfence Mountain trail (milepost 56.4) is a 0.8-mile hike that requires scrambling over some rocks to 360-degree views of the Shenandoah mountains.
Drive to Crescent Rock Overlook (near milepost 44) to take in views of Hawksbill Summit, the highest point in the park at 4,051 feet.
Smart Traveler Strategies
Limberlost Trail (milepost 43) was originally constructed to meet ADA accessibility standards, and although the trail does not meet current minimum guidelines, it does provide an opportunity for disabled visitors who have assistance to experience a trail within Shenandoah National Park. The 1.3-mile circuit walk (paved with crushed greenstone) winds through shaded forest and has benches.
East Coast summers can be hot and humid, with temperatures often exceeding 90°F in the Shenandoah Valley. The mountains are generally ten degrees cooler, though humidity can often limit vista views. To escape the sun on a hot summer day, opt for a waterfall hike instead. Try Dark Hallow Falls (at milepost 50.7) or Whiteoak Canyon Falls, (at milepost 42.6).
Throughout the summer, a variety of Ranger Programs are held for visitors of all ages. Watch the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains during the "Twilight at Big Meadows" or "Evening Campfire Program," take a guided tour of President Hoover's Rapidan Camp, or learn more about black bears and birds of prey.
During the second weekend of May, the park hosts its annual Wildflower Weekend, where rangers host a variety of events, from wildflower hikes, to wildflower photography, to demonstrations on how flowers rely on bees, butterflies, and birds. Events take place throughout the park, so check the program schedule beforehand.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Excursions Outside the Park
History buffs should look no further than the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where three Presidents all had homes. The estates of Thomas Jefferson (www.monticello.org), James Madison (www.montpelier.org), and James Monroe (www.ashlawnhighland.org) are all within a two hours' drive of the park.
Go on an underground adventure at two natural caverns located at the north end of the park. Luray Caverns are the largest in the eastern United States, and are home to the "Stalacpipe" Organ. Open year-round, hour-long tours begin every 10 to 20 minutes. Stop by Skyline Caverns for a guided tour through the caves and take a quick ride on a one-fifth scale train.
Just an hour's drive from Front Royal is Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. The historic town is home to plenty of B&Bs, art galleries, cafés, and the country's first spa. The springs, which are a constant 74°F, were first noted on a map by Thomas Jefferson's father in 1747, though Native Americans had been using the springs centuries before the Europeans arrived. Soak in the baths, take a historic walking tour of the town, or visit the Museum of Berkeley Springs to learn more.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, just over an hour north of Shenandoah National Park. Go for a hike or visit the living history museums in the town. The park is home to several battlefields, or visit nearby Antietam National Battlefield, where 23,000 soldiers were killed on September 17, 1862, during one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
Virginia is home to over one hundred wineries, and several are located within an easy drive of Shenandoah National Park, like Shenandoah Vineyards, just 30 minutes from the park's headquarters in Edinburg, or Rockbridge Vineyard, a 30-minute drive from Waynesboro at the park's south end. Visit www.virginiawine.org for more information about the many vineyards in Virginia and the Shenandoah region.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forest offers boating, fishing, horseback riding, shooting ranges, and ATV trails to its visitors. Stop by the headquarters in Roanoke for information about camping, hiking, swimming, and other recreational activities. 5162 Valleypointe Parkway, Roanoke, Va. 24019; +1 540 265 5100.