Editor's note: With nearly 400 units of the National Park System, one probably is close enough for you to visit in a day. But how should you organize those visits? Karen Beck-Herzog, the management assistant at Shenandoah National Park, put together the following primer for exploring her park.
"… with the smell of the woods and the wind in the trees. They will forget the rush and the strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their bodies and good for their souls."
These words, spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 75 years ago at the dedication of Shenandoah National Park, still ring true today. Visitors come to put daily stress behind them and to connect to nature, family, and friends.
Just two hours from our nation's capital, Shenandoah is a natural oasis in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with hidden stories waiting to be discovered. You begin your journey on the famous Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the park and begs the traveler to slow down and enjoy the curving mountain road. The Skyline Drive is not a means to a destination, but rather a destination to be experienced.
Look for brilliant wildflowers swaying in the mountain breeze or deer grazing along the roadside. Pause at any of the 75 overlooks to enjoy breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley or Virginia Piedmont, including rolling hills and rural landscapes.
With so much to do at Shenandoah, it can be difficult to decide where to begin. A stop at one of the park's two visitor centers is in order. Park rangers are ready to help you plan your visit and answer your questions.
A highly interactive exhibit, "Within a Day's Drive of Millions," tells the stories of Shenandoah's establishment and development, including the controversial acquisition of privately owned land, the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the little-known story of segregation and desegregation.
Step into the forest by way of one of the park's 500 miles of trails. Visitors who leave their cars behind immerse themselves in nature's incredible beauty. The famous Appalachian Trail runs for 101 miles through the park.
Other trails lead to peaks with amazing views, while some bring you to cascading waterfalls. Shenandoah's backcountry is waiting to be explored either by a day hike or an overnight camping trip.
Would you like to get more intimate with the park? Attend one of the the ranger-guided walks or talks to discover the many stories of Shenandoah's past. Take a walk through the splendor of a unique mountain meadow or learn about the many animals and plants that thrive in Shenandoah National Park.
A visit to Rapidan Camp, the summer White House of President Herbert Hoover, or Massanutten Lodge, the home of Addie Pollock, will provide a glimpse back in time.
Weary travelers will find lodging at the Big Meadows Lodge and the Skyland Resort. Spectacular views from the dining rooms help to create the perfect setting for a wonderful meal. Save room for dessert, especially the signature blackberry ice cream pie.
After satisfying your hunger and your sweet tooth, satisfy your spirit while sitting on the terrace and watching the sun set behind the Massanutten Mountain.
President Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park "for the recreation and for the re-creation they shall find here." As we celebrate the park's 75th anniversary, we hope you will join us and find your own respite, recreation, and re-creation at Shenandoah.