Editor’s Note: This post was originally written for our April print issue, before the current coronavirus pandemic. Please click here to see if the below trails and offerings are open at this time.
Written by Renee Sklarew, Mathina Calliope and Nevin Martell
Can you even call yourself a hiker (or a Virginian) if you haven’t spent some time in Shenandoah? Even if you’re not a hard-core hiker, there are still plenty of ways to make sure you’ve been there, done that. Here, we answer a few common questions about visiting this picturesque mountain range.
Where do I start?
Shenandoah National Park has two visitor centers where you can pick up maps and nature books, talk to rangers, find restrooms and request backcountry camping permits. Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is at mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive near Front Royal. Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center is located at mile 51 on Skyline Drive near Big Meadows Lodge. Check social media and the website for hours and park closures. You can also call 540-999-3500, option 8 for up-to-date road status.
Where’s the best place to stay when you go hiking in Shenandoah National Park?
After a busy day of hiking, it’s rewarding to stay in or close to Shenandoah National Park. Take in the constellation of dark skies from 3,600 feet at Big Meadows Lodge, a rustic lodge inside the park. Looking for entertainment? Book a room at Hopkins Ordinary Bed & Breakfast + Ale Works, an inn and brewery in the village of Sperryville. Traveling in a group? Rent a house at Shenandoah Woods, a 200-acre estate with one- to six-bedroom vacation cabins.
Want to rough it?
Campgrounds in the park are at Loft Mountain at mile 79.5, Mathews Arm at mile 22.2, Big Meadows at mile 51, Lewis Mountain at mile 57.2 and a campground for large groups at Dundo mile 83.4.
What are the best hiking trails for Shenandoah first timers/beginners?
Stony Man Trail: Starting at Skyland’s north entrance parking lot at mile 41.7 is a fairly easy round-trip, 1.6-mile hike with a few steep sections. From the rocky summit, take in the breathtaking mountain vistas and views of Luray below.
Limberlost Trail: At milepost 43 on Skyline Drive is an easy 1.3-mile loop through a woodland forest. Traversing over gravel, bridges and boardwalks, it’s the perfect hike for all ages and abilities.
The Upper Hawksbill Trail: Take this moderate route to the ridge of Hawksbill, Shenandoah’s tallest mountain. The 2.2-mile, out-and-back trail begins at mile 46.5 and passes by the Byrds Nest 2 Shelter near the summit. Bring a picnic and stay to enjoy spectacular views of Old Rag Mountain, Virginia’s Piedmont Plain and Shenandoah Valley.
What are some “must” hikes in Shenandoah?
South River Falls Hike is the consummate Shenandoah experience, with a moderate 850 feet of elevation and a big payoff—a stone-walled observation point with a view of an 83-foot, two-tiered waterfall. The 2.6-mile hike involves hiking down the mountain first and one stream crossing. The trail descends from the South River Picnic Area at mile 62.5 near the Swift Run Entrance at mile 65.5. A great all-season hike, but in spring, the scenery dazzles with a profusion of wildflowers.
Whiteoak Canyon has three trails to multiple cascades. Choose the Upper Falls Trail at 4.6 miles, the Lower Falls Trail at 2 miles or complete the full Whiteoak Circuit—Cedar Run Circuit—a strenuous 7.3 miles. Swimming holes between the boulders help cool down a hot summer hike, and with six scenic waterfalls along the trail, it helps to forget the 2,794 feet of elevation gain. Find the trailhead at mile 42.6 on Skyline Drive.