A Road In The Sky
Should we go the efficient but oh so boooring route to Washington DC via I-95? Nah… Let’s go the “scenic route”, visit Shenandoah National Park, and drive the length of Skyline Drive, the main attraction of Shenandoah.
Where Time Stood Still
We pull into Waynesboro, the southern gateway to Shenandoah, looking for lunch. Stella, Bella & Lucy’s is a quaint lunch spot that is a throwback to the 60s. It’s decorated with lots of arts and crafts in a very homey setting. Then the ladies come, almost all at once. The ambient noise picks up as conversations start. They seem to be the homemaker type, having a grand ole time “visiting” with each other. This scene could have easily been the 1960s. The food was just OK, but the atmosphere is quaint and unique.
After filling our stomach and our gas tank, we enter the park. My 79 year old mom gets the best deal on earth — the $10 lifetime pass for National Parks. I can’t think of a good reason for her to pass on this deal. Three others can go with her on the same pass.
We drive along Skyline Drive, which rides on top of the ridge that is the northern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, extending south to North Carolina. It’s one of the most beautiful mountain drives in eastern US.
Entering the park, the canopy of the trees provide a tunnel like feeling as the beauty unfolds. Nature and serenity swallows us and relaxation sets in. Suddenly, the canopy goes away and a grand vista appears. Right on cue, a pullout beckons.
We see the lush valleys below are on both sides of Skyline Drive. The green is ever so slightly giving way to a tinge of golden color. It’s teasing me, telling me what’s to come. In a few weeks, when October gets into full swing, the valleys will be awash in all its glory of fall foliage. Not yet, however. The leafs will stay green for just a little while longer, depriving me of the golden splendor.
All About Snails
A stop at the Big Meadows visitor center leads us to a ranger talk. We don’t know what topic to expect, with all the various animals in the habitat. Eagles, Raccoons, Fish… but the topic is snails. The lowly snail! I learn more than I ever want to know about snails during this 30 minute talk. The big takeaway? Birds get their calcium from snails. Now, it’s time for a hike to really appreciate the park
We decide to give the ominous sounding Dark Hollow Falls a try. It’s a 1.4 mile hike, just about right for a morning warm-up, with a nice change in elevation of 440 feet. The promise of a 70 feet waterfalls makes this an attractive hike for me. We descend into the valley, and soon meet up with the babbling brook and follow it as it flow through the woods. The water is crystal clear, just like a mountain stream should be. To my wife’s dismay, I insist on standing on a log that lay across the stream, victim of an earlier storm.
That’s it! I hear it. The roar of the waterfall. I must be getting closer. Around the bend, I see the water falling and splashing onto the rocks below. It’s not a big waterfall, but it is the reward for the hike and it’s beautiful. There are actually two waterfalls. I am standing at the base of one, and the top of the next one with a view of both.
Hawksbill – The Best View in the Park
My 79 year old mom keeps up with us every step of the way during the Dark Hollow Falls hike. I am amazed at her physical fitness. Way to go mom! On to our next hike, the well known Upper Hawksbill trail. It starts as a nice, steady path through the relaxing tranquil woods. We see a couple of deer along the way, quietly foraging and basically ignoring us. As the canopy opens up, we go up an bolder strewn ugly service road. After a short, steep final push, we get the pleasure of a super vista at the summit of Hawksbill peak, the tallest in the park. Looking westward into the Shenandoah Valley, the spectacular view is well worth the effort. After two hikes, our appetite is strong. Good think we are prepared and took out our Subway sandwich. It is delicious! I’m sure it’s not because of the culinary expertise of Subway, but the need for food that made it so delicious. Heck, even the water I drank was more delicious than usual.
Thought for Shenandoah:
Secret to happiness is to be appreciative. While you will always have less than some, you already have more than others. Appreciate what you have.
Impressions of Shenandoah
Everything in Shenandoah centers around Skyline Drive. It’s 105 miles of beauty. There are 75 pullouts to enjoy the wondrous views of both sides of the ridge. Our visit is during the very quiet time right after Labor Day, when we have most pullouts to ourselves. That would not be the case during busier times. To “do” Shenandoah just by driving the length of Skyline Drive would be doing the park a huge disservice. The real beauty of the park is in the hikes. There is a hike to suit everyone, from the ADA accessible Limberlost to the very strenuous 9.2 mile Old Rag. Shenandoah is very green (in spring and summer) and just very “nice”. The colors explode in the fall for the best foliage view in the south. While other National Parks offer more dramatic scenery, Shenandoah is very accessible for a lot of people and a great place for hiking, biking, fishing, and camping.
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Practical Info for Visiting Shenandoah
- Different seasons highlight different aspects of the park. Plan your trip based on what you want to do or see.
- Don’t be a “check the box” tourist and only drive Skyline Drive. Stop and take in at least a couple of hikes.
- If you can afford two days, do the southern part one day, and the northern part the next day. Harrisonburg, while not real close to the park, is close enough to stay overnight if you don’t camp or stay at a lodge inside the park.
- Use the Virginia Trail Guide to plan your hikes.
- Size: 199,045 acres, ranked 32nd.
- Visitors: 1,321,873 in 2015, ranked 17th. Record is 1,951,366 in 1993.
- Peak month in 2016: October with 260,223 visitors.
- Low month in 2016: January with 16,626 visitors.
- Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle or $10 per individual not in a vehicle.
Date Visited: September 6-7, 2016