Stretching for more than 100 miles through Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has lured generations of nature lovers with its gorgeous mountain vistas, winding hiking trails, and tumbling waterfalls.
Still, the 196,000-acre natural area remains one of the National Park Service's most undiscovered gems. While the Blue Ridge Parkway (which becomes Skyline Drive once it enters the park) attracts some 17 million people every year, and 10 million or so visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south, only about 1 million stop by Shenandoah.
"So many people don't know we're right here," says Karen Beck-Herzog, the park's management assistant. "But the people who know the park love it."
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Recommended by: Felicia Wilson. "It's not a very difficult or long hike, but it passes by some really beautiful scenery and a waterfall," she says.
Felicia goes to the park with her husband and their 2-year-old son. "We've always gone to the park as a family, so we use the shorter, less strenuous trails," Felicia says. "But I don't feel like we've missed out on any of Shenandoah's beauty."
Whiteoak Canyon Trail
Recommended by: Kelle Singelton. "It's a nice hike in the fall when the leaves are changing and the smells of autumn come to life," she says. Whiteoak Falls, the park's second-highest, measures 86 feet and makes a great photo op.
When she was about 12 years old, Kelle's parents bought a plot of land bordering the park so they could all go camping. "Consequently my family would head to the park almost every weekend, pretty much dragging along anyone who was visiting us," Kelle says. "We always felt like the park was partly ours since we lived so close to it."
The Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail Loop
Recommended by: Anne Ricciuti. "It has everything—waterfalls, terrific views, and the remains of farms and buildings," she says.
Anne has hiked all but about 50 of its more than 500 miles of trails, backpacked for days at a time within its borders, and recently began rock climbing.
Cedar Run Falls, a mere 34 feet, gives any water park a run for its money. This skinny waterfall carved a steep chute in the surrounding rock. The plunge into its cool, deep pool will take away whatever breath you have left after the hike.
But take care and look before you leap. "This is one of the best swimming holes on the planet," says Andy Nichols of Shenandoah Mountain Guides.
Kelle's Favorite: Bearfence Mountain and the Hawksbill Summit Trail. "Back in college we would climb the Bearfence for a great 360-degree view. Today I like a more easily accessible spot like the overlook from the Hawksbill Summit Trail parking area."
Felecia's Favorite: Buck Hollow. "It's only a few minutes' walk from the Thornton Gap entrance to the park. Standing on Buck Hollow and looking out on the hills and forests below makes you feel small in comparison."
Anne's Favorite: Brown Mountain Overlook. "I love the view looking south to the Rockytop."
In the South District. "I hiked there for five days last summer and saw more bears than people."
Felicia's Favorite: Big Meadows Campground. "We once sat outside on the grass and ate while being watched by deer."
Kelle's Favorite: Near one of the waterfalls along Whiteoak Canyon Trail. "The lower falls are my favorites. They're not the biggest of the park's falls, but they're close to a great swimming hole."
There are three places to stay in the park: Big Meadows Lodge (pictured), Skyland Resort Hotel, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.
Our favorite rooms are the ones Skyland Resort lists on its Web site as "Blue Ridge Rooms." On a clear day you can see into West Virginia from most of their balconies.
For reservations, visit goshenandoah.com or call 877/847-1919.
The park has four campgrounds. Our favorite is the Loft Mountain Campground (434/823-4675). For great views, check out campsites A2-A10 on the west side of the campground and sites A34b-g on the east. Visit recreation.gov.
Make Plans to Visit
Shenandoah Mountain Guides can help you plan just about any activity within the park, from canoeing and rock climbing to backpacking and hiking trips. Visit teamlinkinc.com/shenandoah or call 301/695-1814.