Enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains
When you think of National Parks, no doubt the big ones like Arches, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon come to mind. No doubt, while all of those National Parks are amazingly beautiful, what you might not know is that there are actually almost 400 parks within the entire system, dotted all across America. One of the hidden gems of the park service is tucked in the mountains of Virginia right along the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area is so beautiful and scenic, with waterfalls and thick forest that it is hard to imagine Shenandoah National Park is less than a ninety minute drive from Washington DC!
What to See in Shenandoah National Park
Arguably the most visited part of the park is the Skyline Drive. Also known as a National Scenic Byway, this is a 105 mile long road that winds its way along the mountain tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which include a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail. This is a great and beautiful, introduction to the park, and a way to really be able experience one of the prettiest National Parks without needing to hike. Keep in mind there is a small fee associated with the dive, and the speed limit is quite slow to allow for plenty of sightseeing!
Old Rag Mountain
For a challenging hike with a view that makes the effort worth it, consider Old Rag Mountain. This hike has a number of rock scrambles, and the full loop can take as many as nine or ten hours, so be sure you’re in tip top shape to take Old Rag Mountain on. For a more moderate way to approach the summit consider starting part of the way up the mountain. Start from the Berry Hollow parking lot and then attack the top, this way it should take only about two to four hours.
One of the most spectacular parts of the Shenandoah National Park are the great number of waterfalls that are located within the park. One of the more popular hikes to see the falls is the Dark Hollow Falls trail. The trail itself is about 1.5 miles long round trip, but does offer a moderate amount of challenge. What really makes the hike special is the amazing 70 foot cascade that comes splashing down the falls. Take a minute and admire not only the falls, but the rest of the natural flora and wildlife like deer hidden along the trail.
When to Visit
One of the best times of the year to visit Shenandoah National Park is during the fall months. The mountains and surrounding valleys will be covered in a blanket of reds, yellows and oranges from the changing of the leaves. Be ready to encounter many leaf peepers along the roadways, but the scenery is truly worth it!
Where to Stay
For the more adventurous, Shenandoah National Park offers over 100,000 acres of backcountry camping with a “leave no trace” policy. If you want to have a bit more of the comforts of home, the park also has three lodges on the premises, Skyland Resort, Big Meadows, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.