Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
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Visitors to Shenandoah National Park will see for themselves why John Denver crooned so passionately about the winding country roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the tumbling Shenandoah River. The park encompasses a 300-square-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge, which forms the eastern branch of the Appalachians. Surely, the easiest and most scenic way to explore the park is via Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that slithers through the park along the crest of the mountains. The drive offers perfect views of Piedmont Valley to the east and the Shenandoah River Valley to the west.
The trees blanketing the park's mountains are part of a hardwood, oak-hickory forest, and can be explored via 500-plus miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Twisting through the forested landscape, the trails lead visitors along sun-dappled paths that pass by many of the park's cascading waterfalls. The varying landscape of the mountains have created multiple habitats; from rocky overhangs to bubbling streams, the region supports the lifecycles of thousands of plant and animal species. Hunting and trapping are prohibited in Shenandoah, thus visitors can expect countless sightings of Virginia's white-tailed deer and even the occasional black bear.
Geology lovers will enjoy numerous rock formations in the area, which tell the geological history of the park and are easily viewed from sites such as Mary's Rock Tunnel, Crescent Rock or Franklin Cliff.
Shenandoah National Park is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, comprising the eastern branch of the Appalachians, a range created through multiple geological episodes over a period of 300 million years. The mountains were formed by the collisions of the tectonic plates of North America, Europe and Africa as masses of rock were pushed as far upward as 155 miles. Erosion by running water, weather, gravity and the freeze-thaw cycle has helped smooth the range.
In addition to the usual hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding and camping opportunities, the park plays host to an exceptional variety of special events including: National Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count, Wildflower Weekend, Appalachian folk dancers, Apple Butter Festival, even basket making and quilting demonstrations. Check out the park's website for more information.
Where to Stay
Nestled in the highest point on Skyline Drive is the charming Skyland Lodge, with 177 units, including cabins and suites. The lodge is located at mile 41.7 along Skyline Drive, and features a craft shop, guided ranger programs, horseback riding and a children's playground.
The unexpected capital of bluegrass music and home to some serious toe-tappin' good times, Floyd, VA, is where to find a now-famous country store, some music-loving locals and the greatest hoedown this side of the Appalachians. All of this down-home fun makes this little town a must-explore stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.