Park: Shenandoah National Park
Year Established: 1935
Annual Visitors: 1.4 million
Entrance Fee: $10-$30
Located just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park offers around 200,000 acres of scenic mountains, meadows, and forests. In fact, the park is known for some of the most picturesque views in the eastern United States thanks to its lush forests, wildflower-dotted meadows, and abundant waterfalls.
In addition to gorgeous views, Shenandoah is home to diverse wildlife due to its over 80,000 acres of designated wilderness. The park hosts over 50 mammal species, over 190 bird species, and over 20 reptile and amphibian species. Just some of the animals you might catch a glimpse of during your visit include black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, and gray squirrels. You’ll also be treated to over 1,400 species of plants, spanning from blueberries and azaleas to cove hardwood and chestnut oak.
Given the park’s variety of habitats and diversity of flora and fauna, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty to do there. Shenandoah’s main road, the 105-mile Skyline Drive, makes it easy to explore all that it has to offer, running the length of the park through boundless peaks, valleys, and gaps. It’s the first National Park Service road east of the Mississippi River to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it also holds designation as a National Scenic Byway.
The road offers easy access to all of the park’s main attractions, including over 500 miles of hiking trails, many of which are found throughout the sections of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail that the park hosts.
Some of the park’s most popular hiking trails include the Upper Hawksbill Trail, which will take you to the highest point in the park, offering a rocky lookout area with unobstructed panoramic views. Dark Hollow Falls Trail is another popular destination, taking hikers on an easy 1.4-mile loop that culminates in a gorgeous 70-foot waterfall.
If hiking isn’t really your thing, you can also explore the park on horseback, taking advantage of over 180 miles of guided horseback trail rides that take place from the spring through the fall. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities for fishing, rock climbing, bike riding, and more, so there’s really something for every type of adventurer.
And while you’ll make plenty of memories during a day trip to the park, if you really want to dive deep into all that it has to offer, then you should consider camping out for a few days.
Shenandoah hosts five unique campgrounds that are open from early spring to late fall, several of which feature amenities like food storage lockers, flush toilets, potable water, and even an amphitheater. You can even camp out right on the Appalachian Trail at the Dundo Group Campground, but as the name suggests, you must be with a group.
Regardless of whether you spend an afternoon or a week or more at Shenandoah, one thing’s for sure: you’ll have an experience that you won’t soon forget.
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