by Patressa Kearns
Ahh, summer in Shenandoah National Park, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.
1. You’re cooler than all the rest. – Temps in the mountains are usually 10 to 15 degrees below those in the Shenandoah Valley (to the west of Skyline Drive) and Virginia Piedmont (to the east). Humidity is lower, too.
2 .You’re wild! – You’ve got summer wildflowers and lots of trees and wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer, bobcats, skunks, and amazing reptiles. Oh, and butterflies!
3. We can walk all over you. – There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah, including 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. From hikes less than a mile long to strenuous, all-day rock scrambles and waterfall hikes, there is a hike here for almost everyone. In fact, though there are plenty more reasons to love this Blue Ridge Mountains national park in summer, it’s probably the lower temps and humidity and the plethora of hiking trails from which to choose that keep us devoted to Shenandoah.
Visit the Park’s hiking page to find which adventure is best for you. And don’t forget to stop by a Park visitor center when you arrive for hiking suggestions from a Ranger.
The 9.3-mile trek to Old Rag Mountain, which includes a vigorous rock scramble, is possibly the Park’s most famous hike. Waterfall hikes are popular, too, including Whiteoak Canyon (which, depending on how you approach it, can be a 2-mile round trip jaunt or up to a 7.3-mile, extremely strenuous workout), South River Falls, Doyles River and Jones Run Falls, and the very-short-and-very-steep Dark Hollow Falls, which is possibly Shenandoah’s busiest hike. And don’t forget about hikes that take you to summits and stunning views—like the moderate but wonderful 2.9-mile circuit hike to Hawksbill, the Park’s highest peak, or the ever-popular 1.6-mile hike to and from Stony Man Mountain. The great thing about summit hikes, as opposed to waterfall hikes, is that, most often, you get the uphill (read: hardest) part over first, and you get to walk downhill on your return to your starting point. Or maybe you prefer a hike with gentler terrain, like the 1.3-mile stroll through Limberlost or an amble through Big Meadows, which can be any length you like.