Located not far (about 75 miles) from Washington D.C., the Shenandoah National Park is located in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, stretching about 105 miles from its northern entrance at Front Royal to its southern entrance near Waynesboro. It covers 196,000 acres, most of which are open to backcountry camping. The park was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in July, 1936, after much of the area was developed and visitor facilities were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave so much work to unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. Construction started on the park's Skyline Drive as early as 1931, however, and the road is now a designated National Scenic Byway.
Native Americans were present here from as long ago as eight or nine thousand years, Europeans less than 300 years ago. Before the park was established, President and Fisherman-in-Chief Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou made use of their Summer White House here on the Rapidan River, and that camp is now a National Historic Landmark. There are some 577 recorded archeological sites here, 11of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Before starting out, pick up a copy of Shenandoah Overlook, the park visitor guide in newspaper format, with seasonal information about the park. It's free, and available at any of the four entrance stations to the park, the visitor center, or at park campgrounds. You can also view it on the park's website, see below.
The Skyline Drive, 105 miles of which are inside the park, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a delightful experience, especially if you take advantage of the many turnoffs and stop to enjoy the scenery.
The fauna here are numerous, with about 50 species of mammals (including bear and deer), 32 species of fish, 27 of reptiles, 24 of amphibians, and over 200 species of birds (including the wild turkey and turkey vulture).
There are 431 rare plant populations here, representing 66 rare plant species. Most of them are in the park's Big Meadows area. In all, there are some 1300 species of plants and 95% of the park is forested land.
There are over 500 miles of hiking trails here, more than 30% in designated wilderness -- adding up to nearly 80,000 acres. Of those miles, 101 are part of the Appalachian Trail itself. One of the favorite hiking trails is on Old Rag Mountain, which is made of billion-year-old granite, they say. Other favorite outdoor activities here include bicycling, fishing, horseback riding and camping. There are 200 miles of designated horse trails, 75 overlooks, 4 campgrounds, 7 picnic areas, just for starters in the number of facilities here.
Ranger lead hikes and have organized several programs (except in winter), including discussions of the history of the area and its flora and fauna.
New in 2009
Parts of the Skyline Drive will be closed at night during hunting season, the 29th year in a row that this has been done, aimed at reducing illegal hunting activity within the park, a sanctuary for wildlife, during Virginia's hunting season outside the park.
It will cost you $15 per vehicle ($10 from December through March) to enter the park, pass valid for day of purchase and next six days. If you're on a hog, it's $10, if bicycling or hiking, it's $8 most of the time, $5 December through February. Of course, the various national passes are accepted, too.
In 2006, the last year for which I could obtain reliable figures, the number of visitors was 1,106,874, making it the 64th most-visited park in the system.
Aramark, a concessionaire, operates three lodging facilities here with a total of 286 rooms. Skyland is the biggest, with 179 rooms, then Big Meadows Lodge with 97 rooms, and Lewis Mountain with ten rooms. In addition, Aramark operates five food service outlets, six merchandise outlets, three service stations, three public showers/laundries and one stable for the horses. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club also has six backcountry cabins here.
The official web site of the Shenandoah National Park is www.nps.gov/shen.
A good commercial site is www.shenandoah.national-park.com.
The website of the Shenandoah National Park Association, a non-profit partner of the park, is www.snpbooks.org.
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