Shenandoah National Park: bears and endless views
Back in 2015 we did a road trip through the USA, we drove from New York to San Francisco in 6 weeks. On that road trip we stopped at Shenandoah National Park. It was our first acquaintance with the Blue Ridge Mountains. They’re so beautiful!
Where is Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah National Park is in the Northwestern Part of the state of Virginia. Its located on a mountain ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park starts in the Northeast at the town of Front Royal and runs all the way to Waynesboro in the Southwest.
Some facts about Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park covers over 200.000 acres and it’s under management of the National Park Service. The park was established on 26 December 1935. The native inhabitants called the region Shenandoah, which means daughter of the stars.
The park seems to be pristine, but appearances can be deceptive. Pioneers cut down the trees where they needed the space, clearing the area of forests. This got turned around with the New Deal in the 1930’s. The forest got replanted and that’s what we enjoy today. A large population had lived and settled in Shenandoah National Park before the area got turned into a national park, which makes Shenandoah unique.
The park has forests, mountains, hiking paths, waterfalls and the Skyline Drive on offer. Shenandoah National Park gets about 1.600.000 visitors each year and the largest chunk, about 400.000, go in October to admire the Fall foliage. We have to return for this ourselves someday. Then we also have to explore the surrounding area for the best wineries near Shenandoah National Park.
There are so many animals to be found in Shenandoah National Park. Butterflies and beetles are among the small creatures. White tailed deer and racoons among the larger ones. Birds abound, among them the wild turkey, hawks, falcons, red-headed vultures, woodpeckers and partridges. Black bears and foxes live mostly retreated.
We were so lucky to see a black bear on the end of the Skyline Drive. It was in the bushes on the side of the road when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. We turned around and watched it from inside our car. It eventually crossed the road in front of us and disappeared into the bushes. The next morning, talking to locals, we found out just how lucky we were, since they hadn’t seen a bear living there all those years.
The Skyline Drive crosses the park from North to South, along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, for 169 kilometers (105 miles). The park is long and narrow. Along the road are many overlooks, they’re worth a stop for the magnificent views. You can see the Shenandoah Valley and the peaks above it. From Crescent Rock Overlook the highest peak in the park, Hawksbill Mountain is visible. It’s 1235 meter (4.051 feet) high. At most of the overlooks trails start, which are well marked.
On the drive are 2 visitor centers; Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at mile point 4.6 and the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center at mile point 51. Both visitor centers have exhibitions about the park and its facilities. We drove the Skyline Drive from Thornton GAP entrance to the South. We loved the views and I think I made us stop at every overlook, it was that beautiful.
Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
There’s over 800 kilometers (500 miles) of marked trails for hikers. The hikes vary from a few hundred meters – Pass Mountain Overlook – to 24 kilometers (15 miles) – Browns Gap/ Rocktop /Big Run Portal, which takes about 12 hours. The hiking trails are marked with blue paint. The Appalachian trail runs through the park and is marked with white paint. One of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park is the one to Old Rag Mountain. There are nearly 20 hikes to waterfalls and these are quite popular.
Examples of trails are:
- Fox Hollow Trail 1.2 mile.
- Traces Trail 1.7 mile.
- Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail 1.5 mile each way.
- Stony Man Nature Trail 1.6 mile. This is one of the hikes we did with our then 5 year old son and that went well. The trail reaches the cliffs of Stony Man’s Summit, which is 4.011 feet and the second highest point in the park. It has a sweeping view over the valley, which we loved.
- Limberlost Trail 1.3 mile.
- Dark Hollow Falls Trail 1.4 mile.
- Bearfence Mountain Trail 0.8 mile.
- Pocosin Mission Trail 2 mile.
- Hightop Summit Trail 3 mile.
- Frazier Discovery Trail 1.3 mile.
These trails sound small in miles, but not all are easy hikes, check before embarking on them. Some involve climbing or high elevation gains in a short period. Trails can also be combined into longer hikes. Next to self-guided hiking, there’re also guided walks with a park ranger on offer.
What else is there?
Besides driving the Skyline Drive and hiking, there’s more to do in Shenandoah National Park. There are free ranger-led activities like interpretive walks, talks and evening programs.
There are 305 kilometers (190 miles) of horse trails, marked with yellow paint. Hiking is allowed on the horse trails. Biking is allowed on the paved roads, such as the Skyline Drive. Watch out, cross country biking or on hiking trails is not allowed. There are over 70 streams in the park and fishing is allowed in most of them, foremost on trout.
Earthcaching is possible in Shenandoah National Park, a variation on geocaching. You search for a “virtual” geocache, like earth’s natural and geological features. These are the “treasures” you hunt for, hiding boxes is not allowed in the park. Night Sky watching and stargazing is possible in the park. The Big Meadows area and the Amphitheater in the Skyland area are well suited places for this. Rock climbing, biking and fly fishing is being organized in the park.
Park Head quarters
3655 US Hwy 211 E,
Opening hours of the head quarters are daily from 8.30 am till 5 pm. The facilities close during winter time.
Entrance fee is $15 a car in Summer and $10 a car in Winter. This allows 7 days of access. With the National Parks Pass entrance is free of charge.
We loved our approximately 6 hours in Shenandoah National Park and could have easily spent more days with all the hikes. It was a perfect introduction to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which we continued with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Seeing the black bear at the end was simply the cherry on top of our visit. With the Skyline Drive, the park fits perfectly into road trips. It’s part of the thorough guide of National Geographic, which is on our list of road trip books.
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I would like to go here and just gaze at the awesome forest views. I didn’t know that there was such a range of animals in the park. Spotting a bear crossing the road is awesome.
Yes, spotting that bear was a highlight. Hope you get here some day.
This looks beautiful ❤️
It is so beautiful. Certainly worth your time, if you get in the neighbourhood.
Spotting a bear is wild! Shenandoah sounds like such a great place to visit.
Yes spotting that bear was so much luck. Shenandoah is definitley worth your time.
This place looks great. I would love to see a bear in the wild, it would be amazing!
Yes, seeing a bear in the wild is magnificent.
Shenandoah park looks absolutely amazing, I would love to have seen some bears that close up.
Oh I’d love to see bears! What an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing this.
Yes, it’s amazing to see bears in the wild.
I live right near Shenandoah and go multiple times of year, so it’s kind of fun reading a foreigner’s take on the park! I’m glad you enjoyed your visit 🙂
Oh, your lucky that you live so close to Shenandoah. Would love to go back again to Shenandoah.
Wow, you were so lucky to see the bear for sure!! 🙂 This place looks so serene, loved discovering it through you!
Yes, was very lucky to see the bear. Glad I could let you discover Shenandoah through my story. Hope you can visit one day in person.
I’ve always wanted to visit Shenandoah. My parents speak so highly of this park. I can’t believe you saw a bear, and I’m happy you saw him from the safety of your car! Seems like your family had a wonderful time 🙂
When you have the chance, Shenandoah is definitly worth your time. Yes, we stayed inside our car, not going the risk our or the bears live.
I love Shenandoah! I actually went to college in that area and it is absolutely beautiful. I need to get back and explore more in the National Park. 🙂
I’m visiting Shenandoah again this summer so I was super excited to see this post! I can’t wait to do some hiking and I hope I see lots of animals (but not while I am hiking)
The park looks beautiful. I’m definitely into spectacular fall foliage, so it sounds like I may have to plan a visit then. How lucky were you to spot a bear!
Yes, we were really lucky spotting a bear. The park is beautiful with fall foliage.
Wow this is such a beautiful national park to go hiking through! I love the views from the top of the landscape, and it’s great that you can see some wildlife too!
Yes, it’s a perfect park for hiking. Plenty of opportunities
Woahhh it’s so cool that you got to see bears! I saw a family of bears when I was in Canada and it was such a magical experience!!
We also saw a mumma bear with little ones in Canada. This was also a lucky shot.
I had never heard of this national park until I read your blog. I love exploring national parks in the UK, and I would love to visit some of them in the USA. I am saving this post for future trips 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Hope you get to explore Shenandoah National Park in the future. It’s stunning.
I went to Shenandoah NP a couple years back and hiked Old Rag, but I’d love to go back to do more exploring and hiking!
Hope you get to go back soon. Hiking is perfect here!
As an ecology student, I LOVE that you also included the smaller critters like beetles – they’re an important part of a healthy ecosystem such as Shenandoah National Park! National Parks are a big part of my life and I’m so sad I’ve never made it to many on the East Coast. When I do I know Shenandoah National Park will be one of the first I visit – it looks amazing!
I live in Washington DC di Skyline Drive is just three hours away. The drive never gets old. You enter a dreamy world of floating through Shenandoah National Park. I think the speed limit is 35 mph – very slow! Great post.
Wow, this park looks amazing! I would definitely enjoy the hiking although a little nervous about meeting a bear!
Drove the Skyline Drive a couple of years back. but in a hurry. Wish I had the time to have stayed longer and explored more than the two trails I did hike. Might be gorgeous in the fall!
this national park looks gorgeous. so many of my east coast friends rave about shenandoah, and i can see why! great overview!
Wow, this park looks amazing! I would definitely enjoy the hiking although a little is nervous about meeting a bear! thanks for sharing this amazing article.