Shenandoah National Park is one of a handful national parks on the east coast. The park is located in western Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains making it central to everything; a couple hours from Washington D.C. and six hours from Greenville, SC. The park, though smaller than others, boasts a range of attractions from the Appalachian Trail to wilderness areas to historical remnants. Shenandoah is a prefect destination for a long weekend or mini-vacation.
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park’s history is similar to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The park’s land was previously used for resorts, villages, and mines, before being bought by the government. This history can be seen through the historic buildings and landmarks in the park. In order to the make the park more accessible, Skyline Drive was built soon after the park was established. Similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive follows the mountain ridges with numerous vistas and spur trails. The Appalachian Trail runs fairly parallel with the road and was re-routed when Skyline Drive was constructed.
We recently explored the park on a trip to Virginia. We started by cruising Skyline Drive, it is in the crux of the park after all, and then completed two short hikes to Dark Hollow Falls and Hawksbill Mountain. The views from Skyline Drive provided a beautiful start our day and it also gave a us a feel for the land. Many of the vistas overlook valleys with farm land, industry, and houses, providing a reminder of how close the park is to society and the importance of protecting the park. We eventually reached the Dark Hollows Falls trailhead, which leads to an impressive seventy-foot waterfall. The hike is short, 1.4 miles round-trip with a few steep sections, and the trail provides multiple views of the stream and falls. Be sure to keep an eye out for brook trout in the stream’s pools. Our second hike was to Hawksbill Mountain and was also fairly easy. Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park. There are a few trails that lead to the peak: Upper Hawksbill Trail, Lower Hawksbill Trails, and Salamander Trail via the Appalachian Trail. We chose to hike on the Upper Hawksbill Trail. In less than an hour we had hiked the one mile to the peak which provides nearly 360-degrees vistas over the surrounding valleys.
Our trip to Shenandoah National Park was short, but rewarding. The park offers numerous hikes with a variety of destinations, lengths, and difficulties. If you don’t have much time to hike, then driving on Skyline Drive alone makes a trip to the park worthwhile. Something tells me we will be back to the park sooner than we expect.