Shenandoah National Park
Updated: May 24, 2021
Where I heard God's whisper.
Of all the locations we have visited in this world, my heart will always be in Shenandoah. Dedicated in 1936 by Theodore Roosevelt, Shenandoah National Park spans 100 miles and ranges from 13.2 miles to less than 1 mile in width.
Skyline Drive, a winding two-lane highway, divides the park as it extends 105 miles from Front Royal to Waynesboro. The park is always open but since this drive is the only highway through the park, it can close at any time in the winter because of inclement weather. Seventy-five overlooks provide visitors with expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the rolling Piedmont county to the east. At the posted speed of 35 miles per hour, it takes three to five hours to drive the entire length, stopping at some overlooks. It is also permissible to stop wherever there is room to pull 6 to 12 feet off the road. (1)
We have not driven from one end of Skyline Drive to the other, nor have we hiked it, as it is also a portion of the Appalachian Trail. There are many entrance points into the park, but we usually enter through the Thornton Gap entrance off U.S. 211 East through Luray, Virginia. If you are approaching the park on 211 East or West, you will find some vehicle for road-hugging opportunities, which are also favored by motorcyclists.
We always stay at Skyland Resort, so we pay a $30 fee for a 7-day park pass. There are cheaper rates for those on a motorcycle or on foot. Soon after entering the park we head South toward Skyland Lodge and drive approximately 1/4 mile, through Mary's Rock Tunnel and stop at the first overlook, Tunnel Parking Overlook (mile marker 32.2). This is our first stop for photos of the breathtaking views.
One of my favorite overlooks on this portion of the drive, between Marys Rock Tunnel and Skyland Lodge, is the Hazel Mountain Overlook. (mile marker 33) You can step over the rock wall and climb onto large rocks for amazing photos and more of those spectacular views.
Now, here is an aside; there is a tree pretty much in the center of the rocks on the other side of the rock wall. If you go to the left of the tree, there is a photo op like the one with my son below. If you go to the right of the tree, there is a small path that goes further down the hill. I am not sure how long because we did not venture far. The reason is, no matter when we go, there is always a wasp's nest somewhere between the rocks. It is not up by the tree and I have not gone searching to see exactly where it is, but whenever I try to get pictures, about 10 feet past the rock wall and to the right of the tree, there are always a lot of wasps. Please do not let this deter you from stopping at this overlook. I saw many people go past this point with no issues. We did not because we had kids with us, and they feared being stung.
Skyland is our favorite place to stay. They offer many room and cabin options. We request a room in the Birmingham or Laurel buildings on the second floor, because the balconies to these rooms have the best views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Views from our room at Skyland Lodge
“Keep close to nature's heart...and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."
Skyland Lodge has one restaurant, the Pollack Dining Room. The dining room is in the building next to the office where you check in. Also in this building is a large gift shop, coffee shop, lounge area and bar with tables. In the evenings, there is live local entertainment. We have enjoyed listening to some fun and amazing talent over the years. I wish I knew his name but in 2002, before kids, we listened to a man sing, "Homegrown Tomatoes." The next day we sang that song coming down Stony Man Trail. We needed to make enough noise to encourage a black bear, who stood between us and the only route back to our car, off the trail. It worked. We then went back to the lounge and had a moonshine drink.
Behind the Pollack Dining room is a small, paved trail which is the pathway to other trails and the Massanutten Lodge. (2) On our first visit here in 2002, I took a photo of a burl on a tree, which resembled a face. I went back several times over the years to see how it has changed.
2002 2016 2018
There are many hiking trails with various levels of difficulty. My favorite trail is not too far from the lodge, Stony Man Trail. There are foot and horse trails which lead to a rocky overlook. It is a 1.5-mile hike. It is heavily trafficked, but the views do not disappoint. There are many places to climb and get a closer look but be careful and keep hold of small children since there is a steep drop-off. You can also continue and hike to Little Stony Man Trail. We have not done that but hope to in the future.
Another fun activity is horseback riding. A short distance from the Skyland Lodge are the horse stables. You will need to make a reservation and calling before your trip will secure your spot.
Coming down off the mountain, you can take a scenic drive to Shenandoah River Outfitters. There you can canoe, kayak or float in a tube for various stretches of time, a couple of hours, half day or full day. The views from the river cannot be beat. The cliff faces are a sight to see.
There are areas to pull off and have packed lunch, play frisbee or sunbathe.
If you look at the maps, there are other lodges and parts of Shenandoah to explore. There are shops in town off the mountain and do not forget about the Luray Caverns (review of caverns will be posted shortly).
I saved the mushy stuff for last so if you are not into it, please skip ahead to the links below.
I moved from Maryland to Florida in 2007. While palm trees and beaches are a treasure, there is something to be said about a deciduous forest. Before my 1000-mile move, I thought I would miss my friends and family, and I was correct. What I did not expect was the loss of trees, deciduous trees. It was a shock as September turned into October and the leaves did not change color. And though I knew it was the changing of the seasons I mourned, something else was missing. I could not put my finger on what that was. It was not until my next trip to Shenandoah that mystery was solved.
On my first morning in the Skyland Resort room, I sneaked out onto the porch for some quiet time before the rest of the family awakened. There in the quiet, I found what I had been missing. It was not the crisp mountain air or the breathtaking views my soul longed for. It was the sound. There is a sound deciduous trees make when the breeze dances through their branches. The leaves lightly brush together and make a rustling sound. It is the background noise of my childhood, my respite in the woods, my escape to lie down in green pastures. It is home. That morning, and every morning I have the opportunity to spend in Shenandoah, I tiptoe out in the morning to hear God whisper, "Good morning, Daughter."