Shenandoah National Park
The East Coast is a little lacking in the National Park Department in Quantity, however, the quality is top notch! EXPLORING THE 200,000 ACRES OF WOODLANDS ALONG THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS IN VIRGINIA WAS DREAMY!
We stayed at the Skyland Resort located just before mile marker 42 on Skyline Drive. Check-in was a breeze and we were in our room in no time. Our room was rustic and clean with a beautiful view from one of the highest points along the drive. The resort is set up with a multitude of lodging options; you can choose from a variety of cabins or a more typical hotel style room. The accommodations are by no means luxurious, however, they are clean, well maintained and appropriately decorated for the nature of the location. My only suggestion would be to include a mini refrigerator in each room. It would be helpful for keeping water and necessary snacks/food cool for hiking our adventures! So be sure to bring a nice cooler for your goodies.
We ate at Pollock Dining Room and have absolutely no complaints. The staff is friendly, helpful and pleasant to interact with (throughout the park, but here especially). The dining area consists entirely of glass windows with a beautiful view of the landscape below. The dining room serves a variety of regional specialties and alcohol beverages along with an amazing view. Their specialty dessert, Mile-High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie, is one that you can not miss. My mother and I actually had it both nights of our stay. We also spent time at the Mountain Tap Room with our bartender, Eric. He was kind, personable and knowledgeable and certainly an asset to the Tap Room’s success.
There over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, within Shenandoah National Park. You can hike to mountain peaks and waterfalls, negotiate rock scrambles and deep wilderness or drive Skyline Drive and stop at beautiful overlooks.
TRAIL: Stony Man Mountain
DESCRIPTION: Stony Man can be accessed from the Skyland lodging and is a short hike, easy hike to the summit. The trail blazes for Stony Man are BLUE; WHITE trail blazes mark the A.T. and can be found on rocks, trees or posts. This trail offers beautiful vistas and an absolutely amazing summit.
TRAIL: Bearfence Mountain
DESCRIPTION: Home to mild rock scrambles and beautiful views from the summit. What my mother really enjoyed was being able to rock scramble up and hike an alternate route, which connects the summit to the A.T., back down. Something about maneuvering the rock scrambles on a decline did not seem appealing. If you are new to rock scrambling and are hoping to tackle Old Rag, I suggest practicing on Bearfence’s rock scrambles first.
TRAIL: Dark Hollow Falls
DIFFICULTY: MODERATE – CHALLENGING
DESCRIPTION: Dark Hollow Falls is a beautiful, easy hike down to the best view of the waterfall, however, the way back up will certainly break a sweat and could be considered challenging for its incline. There were many people resting on rocks, picnicking and even an artist painting a watercolor of her view. This is a hike I would suggest for families with small children seeing as it is not overly technical, there are many places to rest along the way and the danger factor is minimal.
TRAIL: Upper Hawksbill Trail
DIFFICULTY: MODERATE – CHALLENGING
DESCRIPTION: A 2.2-mile hike to the summit of the tallest mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Allow yourself time to truly enjoy the stone observation platform summit of this beautiful mountain.
TRAIL: Old Rag Mountain
DIFFICULTY: CHALLENGING – DIFFICULT
DESCRIPTION: Shen’s most popular and most dangerous hike! This 9-mile loop has a significant amount of elevation change including a difficult rock scramble. I suggest hiking this trail on a weekday to prevent overcrowding and in change, enhance your experience. The trail is often approached from the Eastern Border of the park. Not suggested with young children or in wet/icy condition!
If you are hoping to spot any wildlife within the park you can expect to experience furry friends at dawn and dusk. At approximately 7:30 PM at the end of March we saw three black bears in two separate locations. The youngest, and smallest of the bears we saw at the Thorton Gap entrance; the two larger bears were spotted across from the Stoney Man Overlook. A good rule of thumb is: if the animal starts to change their behavior because of your presence then you are too close. Respect wildlife and they will respect you back!
The set-up of Skyland’s Resort allows for quite the sense of community. You can walk a trail up from the lodging area to the registration building, where there are games, views, and activities, such as a sip and paint. The trail also leads to the dining area which provides a variety of dining options. There is a small cafe style area where one can grab a cup of coffee and a banana or a yogurt parfait which is ideal for quick on the go mornings! The Pollock Room has a little more variety on their menu and is available for breakfast lunch and dinner. The Mountain Tap Room is open for lunch and dinner and often has great night entertainment. The gift shop is also in this building and has a variety of items at varying costs. We really enjoyed the feel of the resort, the staff and especially the beautiful views from everywhere we went, inside and out.
I loved my stay at Shenandoah National Park and hope to return one day to conquer some hikes that were closed while I was there. If I could send you off with any tips it would be the following:
- Dress in layers! Even in warm weather, the summits of many of these peaks are bare rock face and are cold and windy;
- Bring a cooler to keep water and any other necessities cold. There are ice machines at every lodging building!;
- Go enjoy the local entertainment at the Mountain Tap Room if you stay at Skyland. You will not be disappointed in the company or the performance;
- And finally, always bring some kind of bag along with you on your hike to carry water, layers, snacks, etc.. What you carry in you carry out! Unfortunately, I saw quite a few pieces of garbage laying around that I wish I was able to dispose of.