Thursday, January 29, 2015

Best trails for seeing Shenandoah's wonders

Dark Hollow Falls. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah NPS.
Among the best ways to see Shenandoah National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – Blue Ridge Mountains vistas, Eastern hardwood forests, river cataracts, wildlife sightings, and one of the nation’s longest footpaths.

Blue Ridge Mountains vistas
For many, vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains rank among the nation’s most beautiful natural scenery. The 4-mile hike up to the summit of Old Rag Mountain via the Ridge Trail (8-miles round trip) is challenging, but the 360 degree view from the top is unparalleled, as nearly 200,000 acres of wilderness stretch below you.

Eastern hardwood forests
Chestnut oak and red oak cover about three-fifths of the park’s Eastern deciduous forest. The 1.3-mile Limberlost Trail passes through some of that hardwood forest including a stand of mountain laurel, which is best seen when blooming in June.

River cataracts
Shenandoah National Park boasts a number of waterfalls, called “cataracts” in this section of the country. The Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail (6.8-miles round trip) heads to the park’s highest falls, Lower Overall Run Falls (aka Big Falls), which tumbles 93 feet into a gorge. Before getting there, the trail passes Twin Falls, which splits Overall Run into two streams that each drop 29 feet.

Wildlife viewing
The sometimes steep Dark Hollow Falls Trail, a 1.4-miles loop to a waterfalls, offers the opportunity to spot a variety of the park’s fauna, from the eastern tiger swallowtail and bobcats to white-tailed deer and black bear. Hike the trail in late summer when deer and bear bring out their newborns and congregate at the stream below the ridgeline that the trail runs along.

Appalachian Trail
About 101 miles of the famed backpacking trail passes through the national park, with many segments accessible from Skyline Drive. The 2.9-miles round trip segment between the Little Stony Man parking lot and Stony Man Overlook crosses the trail’s highest point (3837 feet) in the park but sports a strenuous 750-feet elevation gain to do so. To the trail’s west is Stony Man Mountain, the park’s second highest point at 4011 feet.

Learn about other great America national park sights in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Park guidebook.