Shenandoah National Park, VA

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Beyond "Windshield" Touring

It's tempting see the sights of Skyline Drive from the inside of your car. But you'll miss the best stuff this region has to offer. So get out the hiking boots -- and get ready for some great scenery.

By far the most popular path is the 2,159-mile Appalachian Trail, 100 miles of which runs inside the park, parallel to Skyline Drive. A weekend backpack trip is the best way to experience this trail. And there are cabins all along the way, for those who don't dig sleeping on the ground.

Day-trippers also get their money's worth. Check out Mary's Rock (with some of the best views in the park), Hawksbill Mountain (site of a peregrine falcon release program), and Hazeltop Mountain (the Appalachian Trail's highest point in the park).

Besides the AT, Shenandoah has three main "districts" with plenty of hiking trails. Here are our favorites:

North District

  • Fox Hollow Nature Trail. This easy 1.2-mile circuit leads to two old homesites and an old family cemetery.
  • Big Devil's Stairs. At 5.4 miles roundtrip, Big Devils is an easy, but long trail with an exceptional view of the mountains and valleys from the canyon rim.
  • Overall Run Falls. This moderate, 6.4-mile round-trip hike leads to a view of the park's highest falls.

Central District

  • Stony Man Nature Trail. This 1.6-mile trail features a self-guided tour. Pick up the free brochure at the visitor center for explanations of each designated point of interest.
  • Hawksbill Summit Trail. Climb to the highest peak in the park on this popular 2.9-mile circuit that can be accessed via the Appalachian Trail. At the Byrd's Nest summit, you'll get a 360-degree view of the surrounding region.
  • Big Meadows. More than 270 species of plants live here, making it a great place to see wildlife... so have cameras ready!

South District

Looking for short and easy trails? This is the place. Some popular paths include: Ivy Creek Spring (1 mile), Jones Run Falls (3.4 miles), and Doyles River Falls (3.2 miles). A word of advice: Even though Shenandoah is a great place to watch wildlife, avoid surprising animals at close range and do not approach bears.

Continued on page 4:  History 101

 

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