Mountaintops have always beckoned. To stand at the top—to see as far as the eye can see. Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935 before skyscrapers and air travel were commonplace. So the park was designed to give its visitors the opportunity to go to the top. Skyline Drive, Shenandoah's scenic roadway, follows the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains in northwestern Virginia for 105 miles, then meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. The creation of the park has allowed natural forces, combined with the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, to regenerate this area of scenic mountain terrain. In 1976, 40 percent of Shenandoah was designated as wilderness by Congress. Whether climbing a mountain or exploring a canyon, Shenandoah offers diverse beauty for the whole family. Go directly to the Shenandoah Photo Gallery.
From the beginning, national park planners, capitalizing on the new popularity of motor cars, called for Shenandoah's greatest single feature to be a sky-line drive on which motorists could enjoy a leisurely drive through the Blue Ridge and where they could experience the awe and inspiration of the magnificent views. Construction of Skyline Drive began even before Congress established the national park.
Today, Skyline Drive is the path to all the features of Shenandoah National Park. It runs the full length of the park, from Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south. All of the hiking trails, from the mountain peaks on the west side to the canyon hikes on the east, start from Skyline Drive.
Formed from over a thousand privately owned tracts of land, Shenandoah started as a patchwork of forests, fields, orchards, and homesites. People came to the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia for rest and recreation long before the national park was established. Skyland Resort hosted weary urbanites beginning in the late 1800s. The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps came in the 1930s to build the rustic-style park facilities. Many are still seen and used today.
In the intervening decades, the forest grew and the wildlife proliferated. Today, Shenandoah is one of the most beautiful and popular natural areas in the national park system. In 2008, Skyline Drive was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2011, Shenandoah National Park will celebrate its 75th Anniversary. The park and surrounding counties in the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Piedmont are planning activities and events that will explore the park's history, highlight local programs and festivals, and provide opportunities for stewardship to preserve the park and landscapes for future generations.
The Internet Brothers visited Shenandoah in September 2010 for 2½ days. On the first day, we hiked the Cedar Run/Whiteoak Canyon Loop, a strenuous 2400' of elevation change down Cedar Run, then back up Whiteoak. We started from the Hawksbill Gap parking area between miles 45 and 46 on the Skyline Drive. Within the first 20 minutes, we encountered an adult male black bear, another reason we love the national parks. After a brief second to size up our security, we realized the bear was not a threat to us, and the moment became exciting and exhilarating. This was quite the 8-mile hike. There are two waterfalls on Cedar Run and another six in the Whiteoak Canyon. On this day in late September the water was a trickle, but these cascades should be rushing during spring runoff. Following a break for dinner we hiked up the Stony Man Mountain trail in the Skyland area of the park for our first evening views of the Shenandoah Valley. We managed to catch the sunset over the valley at the Spitler Knoll Overlook. On our way to the south exit we encountered many deer and turkey on the Skyline Drive.
Day two found us on the trail early in the Panorama Area of the park to climb the Meadow Spring Trail to Mary's Rock. From there you have a view of the Thorton Gap entrance station and the mountains to the north. The Appalachian Trail crosses Mary's Rock and we encountered a couple hikers who had been on the AT for several days. After climbing back down we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the meadows at Big Meadows then headed to the trailhead for the climb to the tallest mountain in the park. Hawksbill Mountain stands 4050', one of only two peaks (along with Stony Man) over 4000' in the park. The views of the Shenandoah Valley were splendid. At the end of the day, we exited the park to the north in Front Royal, VA.
On our last day we climbed to the top of Turk Mountain in the southern part of the park. On this trail we saw more seasonal coloring in the forest than we had the previous two days. The views from the summit of the south valley were some of the best we had seen from any of the mountaintops. When hiking in national parks, forests, wilderness or other protected lands, please always remember to Leave No Trace. At the end of our visit to Shenandoah National Park, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Roanoke on our way home to North Carolina. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Shenandoah, visiting with the mountains and the wildlife.
Proceed to the Shenandoah National Park National Park Photo Gallery
National Parks Conservation Association — The gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America's national parks. But all is not lost. Although the situation seems dire, NPCA's report, Unnatural Disaster, says we can still halt the most severe effects of climate change if we take action now. The national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America’s priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them.