Shenandoah National ParkShenandoah National Park is a United States National Park in the state of Virginia. The park is one of the most popular touristic destinations in the eastern part of the USA visited by well over one million people a year. Although hundreds of thousands drive along Skyline Drive in mid-late October to admire vibrant fall foliage, the park is no less spectacular (and a lot less crowded) in spring when the wildflowers and trees are in full bloom.
HistoryThe oldest rocks in the Blue Ridge Mountains were created over a billion years ago as magma deep within the earth's crust moved upward. Over eons it cooled, fractured, and was joined by younger metamorphic rocks formed from sedimentary deposits. All were altered and eroded to shape today's granite peaks and sylvan hollows.
Around 8,000-9,000 years ago, but seconds in geologic time, the first traces of humans were recorded on the land that would become the park. Native Americans seasonally visited the area to hunt, to gather nuts and berries, and to find sources for and to make their stone tools.
Europeans first experienced the beauty of these mountains less than 300 years ago. First came hunters and trappers, and soon after 1750 the first settlers moved into the lower hollows near springs and streams. Over the next 150 years many hundreds of families built homesteads, mills and stores and planted orchards and crops. The mountains were logged and minerals were mined. Vacation resorts were established to allow guests to experience the mountain views, healthy water, and cool breezes. American society became urban, industrial, and yearned for special places for recreation and refuge.
In the early 20th century the first calls for national parks in the east were heard in the United States Congress. It would be two decades before Shenandoah National Park was authorized and another ten years before it was established. During that time President Herbert Hoover and his wife Louise Henry Hoover established their Summer White House on the Rapidan River, the construction of Skyline Drive began, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established and moved into the park area, and over 450 families of mountain residents were relocated from the Blue Ridge; many of these families were vehemently opposed to losing their homes and communities.
With the establishment of the park in December 1935, the CCC began to build visitor facilities throughout the mountain, areas that were initially racially segregated. The core of the park's development was completed by the beginning of World War II and, to a great extent, the mountains were released to nature.
The park’s biota and natural features include: well-exposed strata of the Appalachians, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world; diverse animal and plant populations and habitats; migratory bird stop-over points; and forested watersheds that perpetuate numerous streams flowing from uplands to lowlands.
Shenandoah is the largest fully protected area in the mid-Appalachian region.
Flora and faunaShenandoah serves as a refuge for many species of animals otherwise pressured by human activities, development and other land uses. There are over 200 resident and transient bird species, over 50 species of mammals, 51 reptile and amphibian species, and 30 fish species found in the park.
ClimateThe Atlantic Ocean, and in particular the Gulf Stream, plays an important role in Virginia’s precipitation regime. Winter storms generally track from the west to the east and in the vicinity of the east coast move to the northeast paralleling the coast and the Gulf Stream. This shift to northeast results partly from the tendency of storms to follow the boundary between the cold land and the warm Gulf Stream. When sufficiently cold air comes into Virginia from the west and northwest, frontal storms can bring heavy snowfall. Thunderstorms occur in all months of the year, with a maximum in September and minimum in February. Storms and high runoff conditions can occur year-round in Shenandoah. Most locations receive 100-150 cm of precipitation per year. The average annual precipitation at Big Meadows is 132 cm, which includes about 94 cm of snow. South to southwest winds predominate, with secondary maximum frequency from the north. Lower elevation areas of the park experience modified continental climate, with mild winters and warm, humid summers. The mean annual temperature in the lowland area at Luray averages 12 degrees C, and average annual precipitation is 91 cm, with about 43 cm of snow.
Higher elevation areas of the park experience winters that are moderately cold and summers that are relatively cool. The mean annual temperature at Big Meadows averages about 9 °C. Mean maximum daily temperatures in July average about 6 °C cooler at Big Meadows than in the lowland areas of the park. Temperatures in January range from about –7 °C to 4 °C and in July from about 14-24 °C. Snow and ice are common in the winter, but they usually melt quickly, leaving the ground bare. Occasional major snow or ice storms can cause considerable damage to the trees within the park.
- Route 522 - the North (Front Royal)
- Route 211 - crosses the park in the northern part at Thornton Gap.
- Route 33 - crosses in the southern part
- Blue Ridge Parkway & I-64 - the South (not far from Waynesboro)
Fees and permits
- 1-7 days per vehicle: $10 Dec-Feb, $15 Mar-Nov
- 1-7 days per motorcycle: $10
- 1-7 day per person (e.g. visiting by bicycle, bus): $5 Dec-Feb, $8 Mar-Nov
- Annual pass (may be signed by up to two people): $30
Dickey Ridge Visitor CenterFacilities: restrooms, information desk, exhibits, videos, sales, publications, maps, backcountry permits, and first aid.
Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor CenterFacilities: restrooms, information desk, videos, sales, publications, maps, backcountry permits, and first aid.
Loft Mountain Information Center
phone: +1 540 999-3500Herbert Hoover's cabin, The Brown House, is historically refurnished to the 1929 era with a ranger-guided tour in high season.
Driving the Skyline Drive
HikingWith over 500 miles (800 km) of hiking trails, including over 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the park is a premier destination for hikers.
- An especially popular hike is Old Rag (6 hours, 7.2 miles; elevation gain: 2,510 feet), a loop that covers forests, hollows, and rocky top. The peak, at 3,291 feet, has great views of the park and the surrounding countryside. The trail is typically traversed by ascending along the Ridge Trail, which is a strenuous trail of approximately 3 miles that includes a rope climb and rock scramble, and then descending along the Saddle Trail and Weakley Hollow Fire Road. Some hikers opt to hike in the opposite direction, which has a longer ascent but may be easier when descending the rock scramble. To reach the trailhead, travel north from Madison about 13 miles on Route 231, and turn left on Nethers Road. The small parking area at the trailhead is now closed, but a much larger parking area is available 0.8 miles from the trailhead.
- Another popular and gentler hike is Stony Man (1.5 hours, 1.6 miles, pets not allowed), one of the most scenic trails in the skyline drive that ends in a cliff with a beautiful overlook. The walk passes over the summit of Stony Man Mountain, at 4,010 feet. The trailhead begins at mile 39.1 of Skyline Drive, just inside the north entrance to Skyland.
- A hike near Stony Man is Little Stony Man (1 hour, 0.9 miles), a climb with breathtaking views. The trailhead begins at mile 41.7 of Skyline Drive. Alternatively you can reach Little Stony Man from Stony Man by using part of the Appalachian Trail, then walk down Little Stony Man, and return to the beginning of the Stony Man walk via the Passamaquody Trail.
- The most popular waterfall trail leads to the Dark Hollow Falls (1.5 hours, 1.4 miles, pets not allowed; elevation gain: 440 feet). The trail descends steeply to the head of the falls and then to the foot. The return trip to the parking may be exhausting to some. The trailhead begins at mile 50.7 of Skyline Drive, just north of the Big Meadows. The hike can be turned into a loop that reaches the Rose River Falls for a 3-hour hike through woods and along several streams with cascades and waterfalls.
Elkwallowaddress: Mile 24.1, Skyline DrLimited range of sandwiches and grilled food. No seating spaces indoors but there are picnic tables outside.
Skylandaddress: Mile 41.7, Skyline DrThis is part of the Skyland complex and offers dining with a view.
Big Meadows Waysideaddress: Mile 51.2, Skyline DrOffers eat-in and take-away food. Country food and cakes.
Big Meadows Lodgeaddress: Follow signs from Skyline Drive mile 51.2Dining room service in a rustic setting.
Loft Mountainaddress: Mile 79.5, Skyline DrSeating inside and outside.
LodgingThere are three lodges in the park located at Skyland, Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain. These lodges are about the only accommodation in the park and they can be fully booked for months, especially during high season. Be careful about making reservations. There is a company called National Parks Reservation Service that charges a 10% booking fee and a cancellation fee of $15. Reservations should be made with Aramark which runs the park hotels.
address: Mile 41.7, Skyline Dr
address: Mile 51.2, Skyline Dr
address: Mile 57.5, Skyline Dr
CampingThere are four campgrounds that offer sites on a first-come, first-serve basis and by reservation at phone number +1-877-444-6777:
Matthews Armaddress: Mile 22.1, Skyline Dr167 sites, flush toilets, dump station, camp store two miles south at Elkwallow Wayside.
Big Meadowsaddress: Mile 51.2, Skyline Dr220 sites, flush toilets, coin showers, coin laundry, dump station, camp store.
Lewis Mountainaddress: Mile 57.5, Skyline Dr31 sites, flush toilets, coin showers, coin laundry, campstore. First-come first-serve only.
Loft Mountainaddress: Mile 79.5, Skyline DrFlush toilets, coin laundry, dump station, campstore.
There are also cabins:
phone: +1 703 242-0693Locked primitive cabins maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). There are six of them in the park.
A free permit is required for backcountry camping. You can get the permit at the visitor contact stations during business hours. Alternatively you can download a permit application from the park website .
- Bears. The park has a resident colony of black bears. It is important not to feed the bears. A wild bear will run away as soon as it notices there are humans nearby, unless it associates people with food by being fed previously. If you encounter a bear and it approaches you, make loud noises by yelling and clapping your hands so that the bear notices that you are a human. If you see one while you are in a vehicle, remain in the vehicle.
- Snakes. If you see a snake, leave it alone! All wild animals are protected. There are poisonous snakes including copperheads and rattlesnakes so use ordinary precautions, wear shoes and carry a flashlight after dusk.
- Ticks. Several species of ticks are common in the park and there is a risk of tick-borne diseases if one bites you. Take precautions like using tick repellents, wear light colored clothing, long sleeves, and long pants with pant's legs tucked into socks if you are in tick habitat. Always check for ticks afterwards. You may not notice a small tick, so if you feel sick after visiting an area where ticks are common tell your doctor of the possibility of a tick-borne disease.