Shenandoah National Park isn’t one that you’ll find on many must-see lists.
True, Shenandoah’s mountains are not as tall as ones found elsewhere, so other parks may have more dramatic cliff-edge views.
There are also other parks that are more well-known for the beauty of various landscapes (like the nearby Great Smoky Mountains).
And it is true Shenandoah is not registered as one of the oldest parks either.
However, I’m here to tell you Shenandoah National Park is as special – if not more than others.
Nestled next to Monogahela, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson National Forests, Shenandoah’s mountain range is ancient and one of the oldest in the world. It is where the fabled Blue Ridge Mountains are located.
Along with this, Native Americans once called Shenandoah home, as did European settlers and many others following them. In fact, evidence of house foundations and farmed crops can still be seen today with keen eyes.
The well-trodden Appalachian Trail even weaves through the park, allowing Shenandoah to boast that it has part of the longest hiking-only footpath in the world and part of the highest elevation long-distance trail in the U.S. And, saying all of this, unbelievably Shenandoah is less crowded than other national parks.
Yet, I admit, the history and allure alone are not why I favor Shenandoah. For me, it’s personal.
This national park is on my doorstep. Because of this, it is where I first learned to hike and camp and backpack long-distance trails. It is also where I met my hiking partner (turned boyfriend, then fiancé, then husband) and it is within this park that we eloped.
It is where even park rangers were amazed at the amount of bears we stumbled upon on hikes because the animals are more elusive here. Shenandoah National Park has become my home away-from home – my safe haven – so when the world gets a bit too crazy, this is where I dip under the protection of its trees’ leaves.
The years I’ve been hiking Shenandoah National Park have taught me about the best hiking here, so I’m highlighting my favorite ten trails for you below. Know that other hikes can be added onto these for a longer and more difficult trail, too.
It’s not often that there are hikes with both a beautiful waterfall and a summit view, but here you have both! It makes sense then that this waterfall is the highest one found within Shenandoah National Park.
This hike is some of the best hiking in Shenandoah and certainly one of the most popular. In fact, it became so popular that day-use tickets are now required. Intense rock scrambles to a 360-degree view make this hike coveted. Once at the top, dart in and out of the many hide-aways created by the large rock outcrops.
For another 360-degree view of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont, challenge yourself with this (less intense) rock scramble!
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This is also among some of the best hiking in Shenandoah National Park. A few different trails will get you to vista – some with more solitude than others. Still, the view at the top makes this one not to be left off!
This loop takes you to three waterfalls from twenty-five feet tall to over thirty-feet tall. Be aware in the summer months though, there are tons of hikers who come to see not only the beauty of the falls but also seek a cool-down in the swimming pools.
If you’re hiking Shenandoah National Park, don’t leave this one off! This is one of the most popular hikes and rock climbs here – and it’s no wonder with this payoff view at the top!
Trek along the white blaze Appalachian Trail to spot a geologic feature called columnar jointing. Once at the top, a grand vista will be sure to impress, too.
Moorman’s River is a magical hike that leads to Big Branch Falls. This waterfall plunges over a beautiful blend of purple and blue-colored greenstone. Notice all of the rocks here too – Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald certainly has competition with this one.
Get a hawk’s eye 360-degree view from Shenandoah’s highest peak. Add on the Franklin Cliffs trail for a longer, more rewarding hike. If you also add on this Appalachian Trail walk, there’s an incredible tucked-away spot to catch the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains that many miss.
The most talked about waterfall in Shenandoah is Whiteoak Canyon. This beauty can be witnessed below and above. Add onto the trail and walk Cedar Run to spot another waterfall too.
Shenandoah National Park – as it turns out – makes a dreamy backdrop for a wedding!
Hiking Shenandoah National Park isn’t the only main attraction though. Nearby, be sure to stop and enjoy the following:
If you’re looking for a different type of hike, Virginia’s Natural Bridge has both history and grandeur. Named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this bridge is a unique limestone arch that towers 215-feet tall.
More Virginia history can be found at this spot. This tunnel was started in the mid-1800s to allow trains to travel to Afton Mountain closeby. The tunnel stretches for nearly one mile, making it the longest in America when it was created.
The area has built more than a great reputation off of its craft beer and wine – It’s now seen as a top destination in Virginia and on the east coast. From beer and wine trails to unique brewery and winery features to flights with award-winning beers and wines, you’ll taste some of the finest drinks here.
These caves are the largest on America’s east coast, and they stretch so far that the underground wonder was named a national landmark.
One of the best ways to take in the Blue Ridge Mountains is slowly traveling down the Blue Ridge Parkway. This national parkway runs through Virginia and into North Carolina, but regardless of where you start or stop, you’re sure to see breathtaking views.
In the end, I suppose what matters most is not the reasons I’m drawn to Shenandoah National Park, but the reasons you will be. So give this park a chance, visit, take it all in, and let it surprise you.
Is Shenandoah National Park on your travel bucket list? Have you hiked any of its trails? Share your travels or soon-to-be travels with us below in the comments
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