Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East
Luray, VA 22835-9036
Shenandoah National Park spans a beautiful section of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. And with the Shenandoah River flowing through the valley to the west and the Massanutten Mountain standing between the river's north and south forks, the scene in this region is amazing to behold.
The best way for visitors to explore this national park -- located just a couple hours from Washington, D.C. -- is to hike some of the more than 500 miles of trails. Furthermore, Skyline Drive is something that can't be missed. This 105-mile road winds along the crest of the mountains through the length of the park, providing vistas of the spectacular landscape to the east and the west.
Entrance fees: $10/vehicle for 7 days or $5/individual for 7 days
Visitor centers: Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center are open from mid-spring through late fall.
Other services: Two lodges, various cabins, and five campgrounds
- Four campgrounds are open from spring through late October or late November. Some reservations are available. 800-365-CAMP.
- Backcountry camping is also available.
- Skyline Resort is open from late March to late November. 800-999-4714.
- Big Mountain Lodge is open from late April to early November. 800-999-4714.
Visiting Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, nearly 200,000 acres in size, extends about 75 miles from Front Royal, Virginia, in the north to Turk Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia, in the south. The primary focus of the park is the spectacular Skyline Drive, which follows the ridgeline crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
On either side of the winding blacktop road, the park forms a wide buffer zone between forest and meadow. As a result, Shenandoah has often been compared in its shape to a native Blue Ridge salamander with the road constituting its spine.
Visitors to Shenandoah National Park will enjoy its fabulous spring flower and autumn leaf displays as well as its numerous waterfalls. The tallest waterfall is near Mile 22 on the Skyline Drive and is nearly 100 feet in height. But it is not alone; nearly a dozen waterfalls in the park drop more than 40 feet.
The park is also known for its ancient rock formations, comprised primarily of greenstone and granite. Geologists date the rock in some of the mountain tops and side cliffs at more than one billion years old. This is quite a bit older than the surface rock normally found in the parks of the Far West.
Take a look at the next page for an examination of Shenandoah National Park's sightseeing opportunities.
Sightseeing at Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, which is long and narrow, follows the Blue Ridge from the southwest to the northeast. Today, the forests are returning; they are covering over the scars of cattle grazing, farming, and logging. Native animals are returning as well; black bears, raccoons, and opossums, America's only marsupials, now roam here again, as they did in pioneer days.
Visitors to Shenandoah National Park can walk into the past by visiting the Corbin Cabin, a typical mountaineer's home. The cabin was built in 1910 by George Corbin and several of his friends, who cut and hewed its logs.
The Corbin family lived there for many years, subsisting on what they could grow or make. Today, the cabin is maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which rents it to members and the general public. The club also operates other rustic cabins along the Appalachian Trail.
At the Byrd Visitor Center, exhibits tell more of the story of the people who lived in these mountains from prehistoric times to the opening of the park. The park is also the home of Camp Hoover, which was President Hoover's getaway from Washington, D.C.
Hoover's initial mandate for his retreat was fairly simple: He required it to be within 100 miles of the capital, at an elevation too high for mosquitoes, and very close to a trout stream. Government officials still use the cabins at Camp Hoover on weekends.
Hikers in Shenandoah will find a variety of trails, many leading to panoramic overlooks that take in the rolling Piedmont country to the east or the wide Shenandoah
Valley to the west.
Shenandoah National Park Photo Opportunities
Be sure to capture some shots for your family photo album during your visit to Shenandoah. Here are a few photo ops you don't want to miss:
- Skyline Drive: The park is bisected by this roadway, which runs along the crest of the mountains for approximately 105 miles. It offers 75 overlooks and magnificent vistas of forests, mountains, and the historic Shenandoah Valley.
- Corbin Cabin: One of only three log structures to have survived a recent forest fire, Corbin Cabin serves as the primary example of a traditional mountain cabin in the area.
- Turk Mountain: At 2,981 feet, the summit of Turk Mountain offers incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley, Allegheny Mountains, and the George Washington National Forest.
- Hogback Overlook: This scenic spot offers a look at many of the bends of the meandering Shenandoah River.
The Shenandoah region has a rich and colorful history, which we will examine on the next page.
The History of Shenandoah
For many years, the so-called Blue Ridge was an insurmountable obstacle to our nation's westward expansion. Its mild eastern flank sloped down to the agricultural heartland of Virginia and farther east to the burgeoning towns and cities along the Atlantic coast. Pioneers who wanted to go west from here thought twice about the ruggedness of the ridge, its height, and the fact that there were no low-lying passes through it.
But the pioneers and adventurers who made it to the top of the ridge were greeted by a spectacular sight: the lovely Shenandoah Valley. This green paradise of endless forests and meadows cut by winding rivers and streams was so inviting that the valley itself seemed to hold all the promise of the West.
Shenandoah contains more artifacts of human history than most other national parks. It lies along a spectacular but populated section of the Blue Ridge that nearly cuts Virginia in two. Unlike most national parks, Shenandoah is a place where people have lived for many generations. The section of the great ridge encompassed by the park is crossed by few passes, and the imposing mountain range forced early pioneers through the Cumberland Gap and into broad Shenandoah Valley.
To make this area suitable for a national park, which was mandated by Congress in 1926, the Commonwealth of Virginia acquired an estimated 4,000 privately owned tracts of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. The state then donated the land to the nation. No other park required the acquisition of so much private land or required the National Park Service to create a park out of land that had been so widely inhabited by people.
At the time it was established, much of the future parkland consisted of eroded hillsides, worn farmland, and thin second- or third-growth forests. Timber had been harvested from these woods since the early 18th century. But the people who worked these mountain areas would have to leave to make room for the park.
Some left by 1935, when the park was opened to the public, and in the next few years hundreds of families vacated the area, either voluntarily or by force. Many moved from their cabins and farmhouses to resettle outside the park's borders at government expense. A few mountain people continued to live in the park even after it opened, but they are all gone now.
Make the trek to Shenandoah National Park and explore this unique land. From hiking to camping to scenic driving, the activities available are sure to suit the needs of everyone in your traveling group.
©Publications International Ltd.