A hiker's dream, Shenandoah National Park has a trail for just about anyone. Part of the famous Appalachian Trail runs through here, and dozens of other paths lead you to waterfalls, forests and beautiful overlooks. Just 75 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., the park offers a great way to combine a nature experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a visit to the nation's capital.
Facts and Figures
- The park spans nearly 200,000 acres, more than 300 square miles
- It has 516 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail
- The valley was a center of iron production throughout the 19th century
- Old Rag, the park's most popular hike, is also its most dangerous and only for those prepared to take on a very strenuous, all-day trek
Beginning in the latter half of the 18th century, the Shenandoahs began to draw farmers, miners, loggers and eventually vacationers. As the region's value as a mountain retreat became clear, calls for a national park began.
Congress formed a committee to evaluate sites for a southern Appalachian national park in 1924, and after years of political and legal wrangling over the acreage, Shenandoah National Park was officially established in December 1935.
Things to Do and See
Skyline Drive, which runs through the entire length of the park, is a popular way to take in the views, especially when fall color peaks. The whole car trip takes approximately three hours, and there are nearly 70 overlooks along the way. Two visitor centers, Dickey Ridge near the northern entrance and Byrd farther south, can help you get your bearings.
At the northern end of the park, check out the family-friendly Fox Hollow Loop, a 1.2-mile trail with an activity guide for kids. If your group is up for something more challenging, check out the park's tallest waterfall via the Overall Run Falls trail, a moderately difficult 4.7-mile trail that takes you to the 93-foot-high falls.
In the park's central district, see a bit of presidential history at Rapidan Camp, Herbert Hoover's former summer retreat, and hike on the popular Limberlost Trail, another kid-friendly excursion. Or visit concessioner Skyland Stables and take the group on a guided horseback tour.
The park has five campgrounds (one for groups only) open spring through fall, with a mix of reserved and first-come, first-served sites. Reservations are a must on weekends and holidays at Big Meadows and Loft Mountain, both of which have shower and laundry facilities.
Best Time to Go
The park is open year-round, but many facilities, including visitor centers and campgrounds, are closed for the winter. In the fall, you'll catch the park's spectacular changing leaves, but if you want to avoid crowds, aim for spring, when the color comes from abundant wildflowers in bloom.