Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Map showing the location of Shenandoah National Park
Location Virginia, USA
Nearest city Front Royal
Coordinates 38°32′0″N 78°21′0″W / 38.533333°N 78.35°W / 38.533333; -78.35Coordinates: 38°32′0″N 78°21′0″W / 38.533333°N 78.35°W / 38.533333; -78.35
Area 199,017 acres (805.39 km2)
Established December 26, 1935
Visitors 1,076,150 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of 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. Although likely the most prominent feature of the Park is the scenic Skyline Drive, almost 40% of the land area 79,579 acres (322.04 km2) has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet (1,235 m).



Satellite view of the heart of Shenandoah National Park at the height of the fall “leaf-peeping” season.

The park passes through parts of eight counties. On the west side of Skyline Drive they are, from northeast to southwest, Warren, Page, Rockingham, and Augusta counties. On the east side of Skyline Drive they are Rappahannock, Madison, Greene, and Albemarle counties. The park stretches for 105 miles (169 km) along Skyline Drive from near the town of Front Royal in the northeast to near the city of Waynesboro in the southwest.


Shenandoah National Park lies along the Blue Ridge Mountains in north-central Virginia. These mountains form a distinct highland rising to elevations above 1,200 meters (~4,000 ft), local topographic relief between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley exceeds 1,000 meters (~3,000 ft) at some locations. The crest of the range divides the Shenandoah River drainage basin, part of the Potomac River drainage, on the west side, from the James and Rappahannock River drainage basins on the east side.[1]

Rocks exposed in the park are among the oldest in Virginia dating to over one billion years in age. Bedrock in the park includes Grenville-age granitic basement rocks (1.2-1.0 billion years old) and a cover sequence of metamorphosed Neoproterozoic (570-550 million years old) sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the Swift Run and Catoctin formations and early Cambrian (542-520 million years old) clastic rocks of the Chilhowee Group. Quaternary surficial deposits are common and mantle much of the bedrock throughout the park.[2][3]

The park is located along the western part of the Blue Ridge anticlinorium, a regional-scale Paleozoic structure at the eastern margin of the Appalachian fold and thrust belt. Rocks within the park were folded, faulted, distorted, and metamorphosed during the late Paleozoic Alleghenian orogeny (280 to 330 million years ago). The rugged topography of Blue Ridge Mountains is a result of differential erosion during the Cenozoic, although some post-Paleozoic tectonic activity occurred in the region.[4][5]


Creation of the park

Shenandoah 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 Commonwealth of Virginia slowly acquired the land through eminent domain and then gave it to the U.S. Federal Government provided it would be designated a National Park.[6]

In the creation of the park [the Skyline Drive right-of-way was purchased from owners without condemnation], a number of families and entire communities were required to vacate portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many residents in the 500 homes in eight affected counties of Virginia were vehemently opposed to losing their homes and communities. Most of the families removed came from Madison County, Page County, and Rappahannock County.

Nearly 90% of the inhabitants worked the land for a living. Many worked in the apple orchards in the valley and in areas near the eastern slopes. The work to create the National Park and Skyline Drive began following a terrible drought in 1930 which destroyed the crops of many families in the area who farmed in the mountainous terrain, as well as many of the apple orchards where they worked picking crops. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that they were displaced, often against their will, and even for a very few who managed to stay, their communities were lost. A little-known fact is that, while some families were removed by force, a few others (who mostly had also become difficult to deal with) were allowed to stay after their properties were acquired, living in the park until nature took its course and they gradually died. The policy allowed the elderly and disabled who so wished to remain with life tenancy. The last to die was Annie Lee Bradley Shenk who died in 1979 at age 92. Most of the people displaced left their homes quietly. According to the Virginia Historical Society, eighty-five-year-old Hezekiah Lam explained, "I ain't so crazy about leavin' these hills but I never believed in bein' ag'in (against) the Government. I signed everythin' they asked me."[6] The lost communities and homes were a price paid for one of the country's most beautiful National Parks and scenic roadways.

Segregation and desegregation

Mount Marshall and Hogsback Mountain covered in clouds in winter.

In the early 1930s, the National Park Service began planning the park facilities and envisioned separate provisions for "colored guests," as African Americans were described in contemporaneous government documents. At that time, in Jim Crow Virginia, racial segregation was the order of the day. In its transfer of the parkland to the federal government, Virginia initially attempted to ban African Americans entirely from the park, but settled for enforcing its segregation laws in the park's facilities.[7]

By the Thirties, there were several concessions operated by private firms within the area that would become the park, some going back to the late 19th Century. These early private facilities at Skyland Resort, Panorama Resort, and Swift Run Gap were operated only for whites. By 1937, the Park Service accepted a bid from Virginia Sky-Line Company to take over the existing facilities and add new lodges, cabins, and other amenities, including Big Meadows Lodge. Under their plan, all the sites in the parks, save one, were for "Whites Only." Their plan included a separate facility for African Americans at Lewis Mountain—a picnic ground, a smaller lodge, cabins and a campground. The site opened in 1939, and it was substantially inferior to the other park facilities. By then, however, the Interior Department was increasingly anxious to eliminate segregation from all parks. Pinnacles picnic ground was selected to be the initial integrated site in the Shenandoah, but Virginia Sky-Line Company continued to balk, and distributed maps showing Lewis Mountain as the only site for African Americans. During World War II, concessions closed and park usage plunged. But once the War ended, in December 1945, the NPS mandated that all concessions in all national parks were to be desegregated. In October 1947 the dining rooms of Lewis Mountain and Panorama were integrated and by early 1950, the mandate was fully accomplished.[7]


Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park at one of its many scenic overlooks.

The park is best known for Skyline Drive, a 105 mile (169 km) 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. 101 miles (162 km) of the Appalachian Trail are also in the park. In total, there are over 500 miles (800 km) of trails within the park. 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. There is also horseback riding, camping, bicycling, and many waterfalls. The Skyline Drive is the first National Park Service road east of the Mississippi River listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated as a National Scenic Byway.

Backcountry camping

A backcountry camping ground.

Shenandoah National Park offers 196,000 acres (790 km2) of backcountry and wilderness camping. While in the backcountry, campers must use a "Leave No Trace" policy that includes burying excrement and not building campfires. Backcountry campers must also be careful of wildlife such as poisonous snakes and bears. Campers must suspend their food from trees while not in use in "bear bags" or park-approved bear canisters to prevent unintentionally feeding the bears, who then become habituated to humans and their food and therefore dangerous. All animals are protected by federal law.


Campgrounds and cabins

Most of the campgrounds are open from April to October–November. There are five major campgrounds:[8]

  • Mathews Arm Campground
  • Big Meadows Campground
  • Lewis Mountain Campground
  • Loft Mountain Campground
  • Dundo Group Campground


There are three lodges/cabins:[9]

Lodges are located at Skyland and Big Meadows. The Park's Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center is also located at Big Meadows. Another visitor center is located at Dickey Ridge. Campgrounds are located at Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain.

Rapidan Camp, the restored presidential fishing retreat Herbert Hoover built on the Rapidan River in 1929, is accessed by a 4.1-mile (6.6 km) round-trip hike on Mill Prong Trail, which begins on the Skyline Drive at Milam Gap (Mile 52.8). The NPS also offers guided van trips that leave from the Byrd Center at Big Meadows.

Shenandoah National Park is one of the most dog-friendly in the national park system. The campgrounds all allow dogs, and dogs are allowed on almost all of the trails including the Appalachian Trail, if kept on leash (6 feet or shorter).[10]

Streams and rivers in the park are very popular with fly fisherman for native brook trout.[11]


Many waterfalls are located within the park boundaries. Below is a list of significant falls.[12]

Falls Height Location Description
Overall Run 93 ft (28 m) Mile 21.1, parking lot just south of Hogback Overlook The tallest waterfall in the park. 6.5 mile (10 km) round trip hike. Go before June as this waterfall tends to dry up.
Whiteoak Canyon 86 ft (26 m) Mile 42.6, Whiteoak Canyon parking area Whiteoak Canyon has a series of six waterfalls, the first (and tallest) is 86 feet (28 m). Not all the falls are easily accessible from the trail. Start at the lowest and work your way up to the tallest waterfall. You'll find a lot of cool places which you cannot see from the trail.
Cedar Run 34 ft (10 m) Mile 45.6, Hawksbill Gap parking area Difficult 3.4 mile (5 km) round trip hike
Rose River 67 ft (20 m) Mile 49.4, parking at Fishers Gap Overlook A 2.6 mile (4 km) round trip hike. Can also be done as a longer loop hike.
Dark Hollow Falls 70 ft (21 m) Mile 50.7, Dark Hollow Falls parking area 1.4 mile (2 km) round trip hike. The closest waterfall to Skyline Drive and the most popular. No pets allowed on this trail.
Lewis Falls 81 ft (25 m) Mile 51.4, parking lot just south of Big Meadows, next to a service road 2 mile (3 km) round trip hike.
South River Falls 83 ft (25 m) Mile 62.8, park at South River picnic area 3.3 mile (5 km) loop hike to an overlook above the falls. There is also a rocky, 1 mile (2 km) round trip spur trail that goes to the base of the falls. The "shortcut" is before the overlook but watch out for water snakes as they're very common in this area.
Doyles River Falls 28 and 63 ft (9 and 19 m) Mile 81.1, Doyles River parking area A 3 mile (5 km) round trip hike to see both the upper and lower falls. Be sure to go a little past the lower falls viewing spot for a better view. Can also be turned into a 7.8 mile (13 km) loop trail that also goes by Jones Run Falls
Jones Run Falls 42 ft (13 m) Mile 84.1, Jones Run parking area A 3.6 mile (6 km) round trip hike. Can also be turned into a longer loop hike that goes by Doyles River upper and lower falls

Hiking trails

Dark Hollow Falls Trail

Dark Hollow Falls is a scenic trail of the Skyline drive which ends in waterfalls. It is located near the Byrd Visitor Center. The trail is at the edge of a stream which enhances the enjoyment. During the hike, birds, butterflies, deer and occasionally black bear and timber rattlesnake can be seen, but these have not been known to harm any visitors.[13]

Visitors who hike down to see the waterfall call it a worthwhile experience. The trail is a steep hike down about ¾ mile, with no restrooms or emergency shelter. Those who make this hike should be prepared, preferably carrying a bottle of water, and avoiding the hike altogether if there is any prediction of rain. The return trip up to the parking lot is very steep, and may be exhausting for some, especially older persons and those not accustomed to physical activity.

Stony Man Trail

This is one of the most scenic trails in the skyline drive. It ends up at a cliff and offers a beautiful overlook. It is ideal to watch sunset. Pets and horses are not allowed in this trail.[14]


Deer at Tanner Ridge Overlook.
Juvenile American black bear at Old Rag mountain.

The climate of the park, and in turn also its flora and fauna, is largely typical for mountainous regions of the eastern Mid-Atlantic woodland, and indeed a large portion of common species are typical of ecosystems at lower altitudes as well. On southwestern faces of some of the southernmost hillsides pine predominates and there is also the occasional prickly pear cactus which grows naturally. In contrast, some of the northeastern aspects are most likely to have small but dense stands of moisture loving hemlocks and mosses in abundance. Other commonly found plants include oak, hickory, chestnut, maple, tulip poplar, mountain laurel, milkweed, daisies, and many species of ferns. The once predominant American Chestnut tree was effectively brought to extinction by a fungus known as the Chestnut blight during the 1930s – though the tree continues to grow in the park, it does not reach maturity and dies back before it can reproduce. Various species of Oaks superseded the Chestnuts and became the dominant tree species. Gypsy moth infestations beginning in the early 1990s began to erode the dominance of the oak forests as the moths would primarily consume the leaves of oak trees. Though the Gypsy moths seem to have abated some, they continue to affect the forest and have destroyed almost 10 percent of the oak groves.[15]

Ranger programs

Park rangers organize several programs from spring to fall. These include ranger-led hikes, as well as discussions of the history, flora, and fauna.[19]

Popular Culture

Shenandoah National Park appears in the video game Tom Clancy's EndWar as a possible battlefield. In the game, the Park houses a missile shield which shelters much of the United States.[20]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "Shenandoah National Park." Retrieved on September 22, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Engle, Reed (January 1996). "Shenandoah National Park - Segregation / Desegregation". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-09-10. 
  8. ^ Shenandoah National Park - Campgrounds (U.S. National Park Service)
  9. ^ Lodging & Dining: Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia
  10. ^ "Official SNP Pet Policy." National Park Service. Retrieved on September 22, 2007.
  11. ^ Slone, Harry (1991). Virginia Trout Streams-A guide to fishing the Blue Ridge watershed. Woodstock, Vermont: Backcounty Publications. pp. 37–54. ISBN 0881502073. 
  12. ^ Nicole Blouin, Steve; Bordonaro, Marilou W (1996). Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge. Menasha Ridge Press. ISBN 0897321901. 
  13. ^ Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail » Mountain Trail » Skyline Drive » Dark Hollow Falls Trail, Shenandoah National Park
  14. ^ Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail » Mountain Trail » Skyline Drive » Stony Man Trail, Shenandoah National Park
  15. ^ "Shenandoah National Park - Forests". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-09-10. 
  16. ^ "Shenandoah National Park - Mammals". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  17. ^ "Shenandoah National Park - Birds". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  18. ^ "Shenandoah National Park - Fish". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  19. ^ Shenandoah National Park - Ranger Programs (U.S. National Park Service)
  20. ^ Ubisoft (2008). "Locations". Ubisoft. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 

External links

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