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Gazing across the horizon from the peaks of Shenandoah National Park it’s hard to believe you are just 75 miles from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC. Take Skyline Drive along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the woods and past spectacular vistas. Hike in the shade of oak trees along the Appalachian Trail, discover the stories from Shenandoah’s past, or just relax in the wonder of this fantastic wilderness.
Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. This national park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. Almost 40% of the land area (79,579 acres) has been designated as Wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The highest peak in the park is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet.
Shenandoah National Park was authorized in 1926 and fully established on December 26, 1935. Prior to being a park, much of the area was farmland and there are still remnants of old farms in several places. The development of the park and the construction of Skyline Drive created badly needed jobs for many Virginians during the Great Depression.
The park is best known for Skyline Drive, a 105 mile road that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. There is also horseback riding, camping, bicycling, and many waterfalls. Skyline Drive is designated as a National Scenic Byway. Lodges are located at Skyland and Big Meadows.
Shenandoah National Park is one of about 150 park service units that charge an entry fee. 80% of the fees collected at Shenandoah are returned to the park for specific projects.
Visitors to Shenandoah can purchase a one to seven day entrance permit. They range from $10-$15. Or you can purchase one of several annual or life-time passes at Shenandoah’s entrance stations. Frequent visitors to Shenandoah may want to purchase an annual Shenandoah pass. There are also annual passes that cover entrance at all National Park Service units and/or Federal areas.
Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Many trails are accessed from Skyline Drive. Some short trails lead to a waterfall or viewpoint; longer and more difficult trails penetrate deep into the forest and wilderness. Of the trails, one of the most popular is Old Rag Mountain, which offers a thrilling rock scramble and some of the most breathtaking views in Virginia.
With such an abundance of trail options you will certainly be able to find something to fit your interest and ability. Maps have suggested ability descriptors. Whenever you hike be sure to wear strudy shoes and take plenty of water.
Limberlost Trail (milepost 43), is often enjoyed by persons with mobility challenges. The trail was originally constructed to meet ADA accessibility standards; however, the requirements have recently been revised. Shenandoah National Park has plans to upgrade Limberlost to meet the new standards. In the meantime, use this description of the trail to determine if it is appropriate for your use: This circuit hike of 1.3 miles is for people of all ages and has a 5' wide crushed greenstone walkway on a gentle grade with frequent benches, a boardwalk, and a bridge. The trail passes through forest and a stand of mountain laurel - stunningly beautiful when it blooms in June.
PRINTABLE HIKING MAPS
(Maps are in Adobe Acrobat pdf format)
(Between Front Royal and Thornton Gap US Hwy 211)Central District
(Between Thornton Gap, US Hwy 211 and Swift Run Gap, US Hwy 33)
- Panorama Area (187 kb)
- Skyland Area (268 kb)
- Whiteoak Canyon Area (220 kb)
- Old Rag Area (198 kb)
- Hawksbill Area (172 kb)
- Big Meadows Area (210 kb)
- Rapidan Camp Area (225 kb)
- Lewis Mountain Area (209 kb)South District
(Swift Run Gap, US Hwy 33 and Rockfish Gap I-64)
There are also numerous trail maps and descriptions for different hikes that start along Skyline Drive.
Hiking along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park
Over 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail travels through Shenandoah National Park. There are many great sections of the trail located within the park!
Camping in Shenandoah National Park
Mathews Arm (mile 22.1) is the nearest campground for those entering the park from the north. It is next to a nature trail and the trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away. $15 per night. Generator-free and group sites are available. Mathews Arm Campground is open Mid May to October.
Big Meadows (mile 51.2), though secluded, is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the park. Three waterfalls are within walking distance; the Meadow, with its abundant plant growth and wildlife, lies within walking distance. $20 per night when on the reservation system and $17 per night during late spring and early fall. Generator-free and group sites are available. Big Meadows Campground is open from Late March to November.
Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5), the smallest campground in the park, appeals to those who want a little more privacy without venturing deep into the backcountry, yet it is within seven miles of the popular Big Meadows area. 31 sites; $15 per night, first-come, first-served only. Lewis Mountain Campground is open from Mid April to October.
Loft Mountain (mile 79.5), the largest campground in the park, sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to east and west. Two waterfalls and the trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. $15 per night. Generator-free and group sites are available. Loft Mountain Campground is open from Mid May to October.
Shenandoah National Park has 196,000 acres of backcountry and wilderness and over 500 miles of trails to explore. Backcountry and wilderness camping allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty and challenge of Shenandoah’s wild side. By carrying everything you need to survive on your back, up over rocky peaks and down though lush stream hollows, you have an opportunity to discover a world beyond where the pavement ends.
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