Shenandoah National Park is a must visit destination on the east coast! It was established in 1936 as a place for Americans to unplug and reconnect with nature. The park's winding roads, gorgeous waterfalls and lookouts are sure to be on everyone's bucket list! Here are six must see spots when visiting the park!
Hawksbill is the tallest mountain in the park standing at 4,049’. For climbing this peak you can take the Upper Hawksbill Trail (2.1 Miles, 498 feet of gain) or the Hawksbill Summit Trail (1.6 miles, 678 feet of gain). I prefer the Upper Hawksbill Trail. It is longer than the Hawksbill summit trail, but has less elevation gain. Both trails are well graded and have a hard packed surface so you can’t go wrong either way. 100 yards from the summit is Byrds Nest 2 shelter that has picnic tables and makes a great lunch spot. Once you're at the top you have nearly 360 degree views of the park.
Old Rag is the most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park. This rewarding hike gives you 360 degree views of the park. Personally I believe that Old Rag has the best views in the park. On this trail you’ll hike through lush forests and meandering streams as well as tricky rock scrambles near the top. There are several false summits on the trail; the first one marks the start of the rock scrambles. This hike is physically demanding! It pushes your lower and upper body as you climb and traverse open rock faces, boulders, and tight crevices. I’d recommend wearing some type of hiking boot and not sneakers. When traversing the rock scrambles be sure to follow the blue arrows that mark the trail.
Since it is so popular you do need to get a permit to hike Old Rag. If you're a few weeks out from your trip and see that they're sold out don’t panic! They give out 800 permits per day for old rag, 400 are released 30 days before the reservation date, then the other 400 are released 5 days before the reservation date. They will sell out quickly for weekends, if you can hike during the week you will increase your chances of getting a permit!
Big Meadows Visitor Center
The visitor center is located at mile marker 51 in the Big Meadows area of the park. This is the only area of the park that has a gas station if you need to fuel up your vehicle. The museum in the center tells the interesting story of how the park was founded in the early 1900s. The museum includes personal stories of the people who were forced to relocate with the creation of the park. The gift shop in the Big Meadows Wayside just down from the visitor center was my favorite one in the park. Don’t forget to stop and talk with the rangers if you have any questions about hikes or things to see and do in the park!
Stony Man Summit
Stony Man via Appalachian Trail gives you the most bang for your buck out of all the hikes on this list. This trail is only 1.5 miles round trip with 320 feet of elevation gain. The summit is mostly wooded but has several rock outcroppings that give you amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the valleys below. Make sure you follow the trail around the summit to get to each of the lookouts because you don’t want to miss them! This trail makes a great sunset hike with its westerly views looking down into Shenandoah Valley!
Dark Hollow Falls
The Dark Hollow Falls trailhead is at mile marker 50.7. From the trailhead you head downhill 0.8 miles to Lower Dark Hollow Falls viewing area. The 0.4 miles are gently sloping while the last 0.4 is steeper. In the 0.8 miles you drop over 500 feet in elevation so a lot of the hardwork in the hike comes after the reward of seeing the falls. If you are exploring around the falls be careful as a lot of the rocks are slippery.
To get anywhere in the park you'll need to head down skyline drive! This road rides along the top of the mountains and gives you amazing views of the mountains and valleys. Don’t forget to stop and the views from any of the seventy-six overlooks that are along the drive. From start to finish the drive is 105 miles and takes roughly three hours to complete.