This is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Looking from the mountain tops of majestic Shenandoah National Park, it is easy to forget that Washington DC is just 75 miles away. This wonderfully preserved slice of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southern Appalachians covers 300 square miles of forest, overlooks, waterfalls, hiking trails, and the spectacular Skyline Drive. The scenic 105 mile drive through the park has over 75 different overlooks of stunning views and is the only public road through the park. Luckily, it is maintained in excellent condition. With four entrances, you can choose to tackle just a portion or all of the nearly 3-hour drive. It'll take that long and more because the maximum speed limit is 35 mph (really) and you'll be pulling over often to gaze upon the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Virginia Piedmont region to the east. This national park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails to beautiful vistas, waterfalls, or just the quiet of the woods. We took advantage of a ranger-guided hike up Hawksbill Mountain to the highest peak (4050') in the park. Not only was the guide extremely knowledgeable and enlightening, the 2.1 mile moderate hike grants an excellent chance to see the forest up close while taking you to one of the best views the park provides. Wear sturdy shoes, bring water, and use plenty of bug spray. There are dozens of guided hikes, but you don't need a guide for any of the trails using maps available online. A 7-day vehicle pass in the summer is $15 paid at any of the entrances. There are also annual passes available. If you are a senior citizen then just get the $10/lifetime pass for ALL national parks. Lodging options are limited in the park (as you'd expect), but there are a few: Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland Resort, and Lewis Mountain Cabins. There are also three Waysides offering food and camping supplies. All of these options are managed by Aramark. We stayed at Big Meadows Lodge and it met our needs. Shenandoah National Park was a beautiful vacation from the summer heat while exploring wild forests with spectacular views of the area. Hope I get a chance to go back.
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