July 17, 2024

Visit Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park

Katie and Gene Hamilton

Bring Binocular News

Take Skyline Drive for nature, hiking, and biking trails that crisscross the Appalachian Trail 

We continue to return to Shenandoah National Park because of the lush mountain setting in one of the prettiest parts of the country: Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The northern entrance station is at Front Royal VA, and the southern entrance station is at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro VA.  The 105-mile Skyline Drive is the main artery of the park and involves a lovely roadway with access to all the Park’s trails, campgrounds, lodging and dining choices.

Get a copy of Explore Shenandoah

 Entering the Park, a Park Ranger welcomes visitors with a copy of Explore Shenandoah, a monthly publication with answers to your questions, a well-marked map of the drive and a calendar of events. These can range from nature talks, kid’s and adults naturalist activities, skywatching and conservation programs. It’ a handy reference with timely information for visitors about camping, walking, biking and hiking trails and places to eat, sleep and shop.

The publication answers a popular question about pets at Shenandoah. Yes, you can bring your pet as long as it’s on a leach no longer than six feet. As a matter of fact, Shenandoah is one of the very few national parks that allow pets on trails.

In our early June’24  visit we saw signs about campground availability at the entrance and learned the Matthews Arm area and campground were closed because they were trying to restore power from wild fire damage.

We always make our first stop at the Visitor Center, like Dickey Ridge at mile 4.6 or the Byrd Visitor Center at mile 51 located across from Big Meadows in the center of Shenandoah National Park. You can “Ask a Ranger” and get helpful information and maps about specific trails and programs about the park and its many natural features.   There’s also a mobile visitor center, a van that travels wherever it’s needed to different locations throughout the Park. You’ll often see it parked at mile 79 at Loft Mountain.

Helpful rangers advise visitors about trails, waterfalls and overviews worth a visit

Take the wheel on Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is the main artery of the Park with flat, curvy and sometime rollercoaster roads enveloped by lush foliage and scenic wooded lands. Stone railings line the road with square cement road markers in 10-mile increments. The speed varies from 25-35 mph and can be stopped abruptly when a deer or bear appear on the side of the road. That stops traffic while drivers slow down to avoid injuring them and to snap a picture or shoot a video.

Sometimes it’s dicey passing cyclists especially at narrow curves in the road. You notice them in low gear pushing uphill, and when heading down, they switch to high gear. These are hearty souls.

Even though you’re often at a slow speed there’s plenty to see: a colorful patch of wildflowers, “Deer Crossing” signs and a cluster of cars near the entrance to trail heads. You don’t know what to expect.  We slowed when we saw a young female deer prancing down the drive, and then quickly scamper into the foliage.

Bring your binoculars and cameras for breathtaking views

We’ve stayed at both Skyland and Big Meadows and both are ideal locations near trails to explore.  You’ll see trails labeled “Appalachian Trail” often referred to as AP that crisscross the area as it weaves its way through the Park system for 191 miles.The footpath follows the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and crosses Skyline Drive sevral times. We often spotted worn and weathered hikers taking a break from their trek with a bottle of water on the wayside. Reminded us how how much we we enjoyed Bill Bryson’s book: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachiana Trail.

Any time of year is a good time to visit the Park, but families can fill up the Park during the summer months. Mother Nature casts its spell in Springtime, and Autumn brings out a colorful panorama of turning leaves. Come Winter the snow creates its own special magic.

To find the best current information and to make reservations to camp or stay at Shenandoah National Park, go to their website https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm.

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Gene and Katie Hamilton travel the U.S. extensively in search of a favorite place. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
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