Shenandoah National Park: A User's Guide

Shenandoah National Park. S.Borisov/Shutterstock
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Shenandoah National Park may be the world’s most beautiful highway right-of-way. This park in central Virginia stretches for 105 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains from Waynesboro north to Front Royal, flanking the Skyline Drive, a scenic byway that connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

But there's more to Shenandoah National Park than a pretty drive. Nearly 80,000 acres of the park are designated as wilderness, providing ample opportunity for solitude and adventure just 75 miles from Washington, D.C. There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails in the park, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail.


President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park on July 3, 1936.

Things to do:

Many visitors to Shenandoah National Park come here just to cruise Skyline Drive, a meandering north-south route that features 75 overlooks with often inspiring views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east. Mileposts on the west side of the road mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. Directions are frequently given according to milepost.

The scramble to the top of Old Rag Mountain is perhaps the most popular hike in the park — despite that it's one of the toughest. The eight-mile loop includes a three-mile section with a 2,200-foot climb. It is a hike for the fit and daring. Pets are not allowed on this trail.

Why you’ll want to come back:

Shenandoah National Park offers more than 180 miles of trails open for horseback riders, and guided trail rides are available spring through fall. The stables are located near Skyland Resort at mile marker 41.7.

Flora and fauna:

An estimated 300-500 black bears roam Shenandoah National Park and visitors must take care when storing food. You’re also likely to spot white-tailed deer and gray squirrels. Coyotes, red fox, gray fox, raccoons, possums and woodchucks may also be observed.

Birds common in the park include Carolina wrens, blue jays, cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Red oaks and tulip poplars are among the trees that form the forest canopy, beneath which you may find ferns, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, blueberries, azaleas and lady slipper orchids.

Just the facts:

  • Website: Shenandoah National Park
  • Park size: 199,100 acres or 311 square miles
  • 2011 visitation: 1,209,883
  • Funky fact: Shenandoah National Park is one of the few national parks that allows leashed pets on trails. But there are exceptions — about a dozen trails prohibit pets. Check regulations at a visitor’s center.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.

MNN tease photo: Shutterstock