I can drive from my home to the Thornton Gap entrance of Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in about 30 minutes so I visit there frequently. The main feature of SNP is Skyline Drive – a two lane highway that bisects the park. It runs 105 miles from the north entrance at Front Royal to the south entrance near Charlottesville. The drive has a posted speed limit of 35mph for its entire length (except a few spots where it drops to 25mph) and has scenic overlooks where you can get off the road and take in the views. It runs along the ridge tops and overlooks the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Virginia Piedmont to the east. Visiting the park early or late in the day offers sunrise or sunset views that are the best in this area.
This is also the best time to spot wildlife which is plentiful in the park. Hunting is not allowed and the park service maintains habitat to help ensure that there is plenty to eat for the deer, black bears, squirrels, and many other species. Here are a few park residents that I have managed to capture in images.
The park also offers lots of hiking trails. Many of these trails follow mountain streams and pass beautiful waterfalls and pools. Fishing is allowed in the park but is very challenging. Access to the streams is steep and rugged, and the native Brook Trout are small and difficult to catch. Even if you’re not fishing, following the park streams provides many glimpses of natural beauty.
Since the park is two hours or less from the metro Washington, DC area, it can get crowded at times. October tends to be one the busiest with lots of “city people” out looking for fall colors. The park is open all year, although Skyline Drive is occasionally closed for snow in the winter. If you’re ever in the area don’t miss a chance to visit any time of the year.