Shenandoah National Park is one of the most beautiful places in all of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Found along Skyline Drive in Virginia, which is arguably one of the most scenic roads in the US, this park has many trails and many sights to see.
Hikers can expect to stumble upon waterfalls and lush vegetation, many of which can be found via hikes that take minimal effort. Traversing to the highest summit in the park isn't as challenging as one might suspect and it lends itself to absolutely gorgeous mountain views, making this park worthy of exploring in full.
Plan Which Trail To Take Ahead Of Time
The best place to start with any park hike is at the visitor's center. Shenandoah National Park is home to two centers: the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center, located at miles 4.6 and 51 on Skyline Drive.
For beginners to the park, the best trails to follow are the Stony Man Trail, Limberlost trail, and the Upper Hawksbeak Trail. The first is rated as "easy" and is just under two miles round-trip, the second is a 1.3-mile round-trip hike through heavy woodlands, and the third is rated as "moderate" and will lead hikers to the summit of the highest peak in the mountain range. It's only 2.2 miles and is an in-and-out trail, meaning hikers can easily follow it in and back out.
Waterfalls Are Abundant In This Park
The waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park are almost as popular, if not more so than its highest peak. The easy cascades that nature puts on display are stunning, and they can be found pretty easily.
Whiteoak Canyon is the place hikers want to head for these; this trail leads to three separate trails, all leading to some of the best waterfalls. The Upper Falls and Lower Falls trails, the first a 4.6-mile hike and the second a 2-mile hike, both lead to gorgeous falls. For those who want to see every major waterfall, the Whiteoak circuit is also an option - although it is a challenging hike and just over seven miles. The trailhead is at mile marker 42.6 along Skyline Drive, and hikers should keep an eye out for swimming holes in between waterfalls on steamy days.
Temperatures In The Mountains Can Fluctuate Significantly
There's an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet on moderate hikes to the top of Shenandoah's peaks, and hikers will be wise to remember that temperatures - and weather - can fluctuate rapidly. Despite it being a warm 70-degree day for a hiker starting out at the bottom of a trail, it can be at least ten degrees cooler at the peak of a summit.
Proper attire, footwear, water, and food should always be planned prior to taking a hike. This is especially important for those planning a longer or more strenuous trek.
The Hawksbill Mountain Is The Tallest Peak And Allows For 360-Degree Views
The Hawksbill Mountain isn't considered to be rated "hard" like many other trails for mountains at this height. The summit sits at 4,050 feet and hikers can get there via a moderate trail, and the payoff is well worth the effort. The trail itself is less than three miles, making it one of the best for view with minimal work.
Once hikers reach the summit, they'll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the entire park and underlying valley. Along the north face of the mountain, there's a sheer 2,500-foot drop to the valley below, called Timber Hollow. The vegetation in this area is also something to notice, as it's the only area in the park where balsam fir can be found, which is typically a New England-dwelling tree, found in Alpine climates.