The dark forests, rocky ravines and lovely waterfalls of SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, far from being untouched wilderness, were created when hundreds of small family farms and homesteads were condemned by the state and federal governments during the Depression, and the land was left to revert to its natural state. With this history, it’s no surprise that Shenandoah, meaning “river of high mountains”, has one of the most scenic byways in the US, Skyline Drive, a thin, 105-mile ribbon of pavement curving along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It starts just off I-66 near the town of Front Royal, 75 miles west of DC, and winds south through the park, giving great views over the area. However, the road was constructed using the latest in 1930s technology and it can be quite narrow at points for modern vehicles. Some of the vertiginous slopes alongside, combined with wildlife such as deer and smaller mammals that cross over the road, also make a trip on the Drive a bit hazardous in places – hence the 35 mph limit in force throughout the route.
Any time of year you can get the best of what the park has to offer by following one of the many hiking trails that split off from the ridge; most are two to six miles long. One begins near Byrd visitor centre and winds along to tumbling Dark Hollow Falls; another trail, leaving Skyline Drive at mile marker 45, climbs up a treacherous incline to the top of Old Rag Mountain for panoramic views out over the whole of Virginia and the Allegheny Mountains in the west. More ambitious hikers, or those who want to spend the night out in the backcountry, should head for the Appalachian Trail.