It was that time of the year, early spring, when my body started preparing for warmer temperatures and my mind kept sending the signal to get away. I followed the signals and ended up at Shenandoah National Park Headquarters in Virginia. It is considered one of the most visited parks in America, with the most spectacular views along Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park. The park offers about 511 mile of hiking trails which includes 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. It was very intimidating…
My journey started driving from New Jersey more than 300 miles with a mission in mind, get away to immerse in a well-deserved date with mother nature. It took me about 5 hours to get to my final destination. I was excited, anxious and full of expectations of what the park was holding for me, and it didn’t disappoint me.
The park has several entrances from Skyline Drive: Front Royal/U.S. 340, Thornton Gap/U.S. 211-Luray, Swift Run Gap/U.S. 33-Elkton and Rockfish Gap/U.S. 250. I entered through the Thornton Gap entrance at the intersection of Skyline Drive and US-211. Nearby this entrance you can have a bite at the Griffin Tavern Restaurant, visit the Copper Fox Distillery for a free tour and enjoy the mesmerizing Luray Caverns, a US Natural Landmark, considered one of the most popular caverns in the east coast.
From the moment I started driving on Skyline Drive my mood changed. I rolled down my window and all my senses were awake, the sound of the wind, the smell of wet leaves, and the luxuriant colors of spring gave me the pleasant welcome I was aiming for. The park offers so many scenics views along the drive, you can pull off the road to enjoy about 75 scenic overlooks.
In Shenandoah, you can find 196,000 acres of backcountry and wilderness camping. Most of the campgrounds are open from Spring to Fall, with 5 major campgrounds and 3 lodges/cabins to choose from: Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain, and Dundo Group campground, Skyland Resort, Big Meadows Campground, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.
I stayed at the Skyland Resort, located at the highest point along the Skyline Drive (3680 feet) with an amazing view of the Shenandoah Valley. It is the largest lodging facility with a total of 178 rooms sparse in cabins. The surrounding area includes horseback riding, pony rides, guided hikes, ranger programs, and other activities. Besides the majestic views, the park is also home to a variety of animals such as deer, birds, snakes, and bears. Make sure you leave no trace and watch the animals from a distance while visiting the park.
During my first day, I couldn’t ask for more, the weather was behaving to my satisfaction, and I slept like a baby in my cozy cabin. The morning arrived, and it was time to create an intimate bond between the forest and me. The moment my mind and body have been craving, and I neglected and ignored for quite some time. It was love at first sight…
At the park you can choose activities to do such ask biking, horseback riding, fishing, rock climbing, wine tasting, rangers walk… but for me, it was time to hike! My first one in a very long time. My adventurous and optimistic soul would want me to experience part of the Appalachian Trail, it sounds exciting, right? But my common sense jumped in suggesting to pick a trail that I was able to finish with no injuries. I followed my common sense. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing suitable to hike (Pink hoodie, rain coat) .
The trails are categorized from easiest to extremely difficult. Some paths lead you to a waterfall or a point of view; others will take you deep into the wilderness. At the entrance of every trail you will find a post with all the information you need to know before you decide if the path is appropriate for you: length, difficulty and hiking time, you will also find mile markers to guide you. Make sure you read it and pay attention to your surroundings to avoid surprises and getting lost (I wish I knew).
I decided to hike the Cedar Run/Whiteoak Circuit located at mile 45.6 – very strenuous 8.2-mile circuit hike. Yeah! I was full of energy; I thought I could do it quickly. I found substantial dead trees all around the trail. You can see along the way beautiful ponds, small waterfalls, and water slides. I could even swim in some of the water formations! I started immediately downhill, from the Hawksbill Gap parking lot, I continued all the way down, passing Cedar Run Link Trail, I ended up at the White Oak Canyon parking lot, how? I honestly didn’t know, but I wasn’t panicking yet. I kept going up towards Lower White Oak Falls; then I realized I was heading to an unplanned trail that I didn’t have any knowledge about.
After more than 4 hours of hiking, my enthusiasm about this date with mother nature started to decrease. It changed to be more like a survival situation, from the moment I realized I didn’t have a clue where I was at that point. Of course, I did not pay attention to the “cool stones poles” around the trail and I did not know why some of the trees were marked with paint either (please do your research before hiking).
It was getting dark, and the fog was descending very quick, turning the scenario to be more intimate, exactly what I was there for. But after hiking nonstop for about 8 hours, all I was dreaming of was to see my starting point, the Cedar Run Trail entrance. I kept walking with a new mission in mind, making it to the top and still have the nostalgic memories of a fantastic hiking day at the enchanted Shenandoah National Park…
For more information about the park, visit the official website at www.goshenandoah.com.