by Patressa Kearns
“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride”
– James Taylor, “Secret O’ Life”
Shenandoah National Park has more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. No doubt about it, this park is a hikers’ paradise. But not everyone aspires to climb Old Rag Mountain or trek to and from a waterfall, no matter how refreshing the view or mountain stream at the end of the journey.
This national park is for everyone — hikers, sure, but also campers, picnickers, motorists, and those who simply want to spend a little quiet time in a mountain lodge or cabin, enjoy some good food and drink, or shop for a few well-crafted souvenirs. Just as there are some who feel the need to immerse themselves in Shenandoah’s autumn by always being on a Park trail, there are others—maybe you’re one of them — who just want to dip a toe (so to speak) in the Shenandoah fall experience, without diving in head first.
We’re here to tell you: that’s perfectly OK. There are plenty of other ways, besides hiking or climbing the side of a mountain, to positively revel in fall in this Blue Ridge Mountains national park.
Drive Skyline Drive – This is possibly the best way to relish fall in Shenandoah! Skyline Drive has nearly 70 scenic overlooks, most of them stupendous. Some overlooks even have shady areas big enough for you to have a picnic. There are accessible spots at most overlooks for a wheelchair. Some overlooks feature low-profile waysides so you can learn a little about the area you’re gazing onto. Overlooks are some of the best spots for photography, birdwatching, even doing a little yoga. And the drive itself–there’s something astounding around every turn!
Skyline Drive’s speed limit is 35 mph, mostly for safety reasons — always be on the lookout for wildlife — but the low speed limit does force you to slow down and enjoy the ride. This is no time or place to be in a hurry.
Have a picnic – Shenandoah has seven lovely picnic grounds, with in-ground grills, restrooms, and plenty of shade.
Stay in one of the Park’s lodges or cabins – Skyland Resort, Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins are perfect for relaxing, with rustic yet comfortable rooms (some have valley views), dining rooms that offer excellent local cuisine, and tap rooms with full bars. You can enjoy fall quite admirably, thank you very much, from the lodge dining rooms, as both offer views of Shenandoah Valley.
Go to a ranger program – Ranger talks and walks are happening through October. Ranger talks require only a sit down and listen, maybe a chair and a blanket if they’re happening at night. Pick up a copy of the ranger program schedule at visitor centers or check it out on the Park’s website.