Byrd Nest Shelter on Hawksbill Mountain in
Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.
NATIONAL PARK, Va. — The ridge-top Skyline Drive offers
lots of panoramic views.
curvy 105-mile drive from Front Royal on the north to
Waynesboro in the south offers 75 scenic overlooks in the
197,000-acre national park that was dedicated in 1936.
National Park is a mountain park with a river’s name.
Some of its best views are its very highest.
Mountain is the highest peak in the park at an elevation
of 4,050 feet and offers stellar long-distance views of
the Shenandoah Valley. Hawksbill Mountain also offers
relatively easy access. Depending on which Skyline Drive
trailhead you use, you can hike to the top in 1.7, 2.1 or
an April visit, I started at the trailhead at mile marker
45.6 (mileage is measured from north to south in the park)
for the 1.7-mile one-way hike. It was an easy to moderate
hike with an elevation gain of 700 feet. That means it
gets steep in places.
blue-blazed trail runs through groves of striped maple
trees, and crosses talus slopes or boulder fields beneath
sheer cliffs of Catoctin greenstone. It ascends through
balsam fir, mountain ash and red spruce, remnants of
trail takes you to the Byrd Nest Shelter, a rock building
that serves as a day-use shelter near the summit.
top of Hawksbill Mountain is a stone-walled overlook that
faces north. The views are not 360 degrees, but close. It
was noisy atop the mountain with the wind blowing. I ran
into a couple at the overlook on my April visit, but the
summit does not draw huge crowds.
makes Hawksbill unique is that the terrain falls off
steeply from the mountaintop, boosting the up-high
panoramas. Hawksbill Mountain is a prime spot in the fall
to watch southbound migrating eagles, hawks and other
are almost atop Timber and Buracker hollows that form East
Hawksbill Creek, flowing west to the town of Luray that is
easily visible 3,000 feet below the overlook.
to the west are the Shenandoah Valley and the Allegheny
Mountains. Massanutten Mountain is clearly visible.
the north, you can see the Skyline Drive swing to the east
around Stony Man, the second-highest peak in the park. The
view to the south is of Spitler Hill, and to the southwest
the rounded Naked Top.
all, the park offers 516 miles of hiking trails, including
101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The white-blazed
Appalachian Scenic Trail stretches 2,160 miles from
Georgia to Maine. Virginia has more miles of the trail —
544 — than any other state.
the east is Old Rag Mountain, one of the most-popular
day-use hiking trails in the park. You cannot access Old
Rag from the Skyline Drive. It is a tough steep climb, an
8.8-mile hike and rock scramble that climbs 2,380 feet to
the roundish summit of the 3,291-foot mountain.
access Old Rag, you must exit the Skyline Drive at
Thornton Gap (Mile 31.5). Go east on U.S. 211 for seven
miles. Go south on U.S. 522 for 0.8 mile. Turn right on
state Route 231 and go about 8 miles. Turn right on state
Route 601 and go about 3 miles. Follow the signs to the
the Ridge Trail south from the parking lot to the summit
and descend via Saddle Trail on the northwest slope. Use
the Weakley Hollow fire road to get back to the starting
Man Mountain, the park’s No. 2 peak, is 4,010 feet in
elevation. From the north, it said that the mountain
resembles the visage of an old man facing to the west. It
is easily accessible, too.
nature trail runs from 3,670 feet at the trailhead near
the Skyland Lodge at Mile 41.7 and gradually climbs to the
summit. It is a 1.6-mile loop, generally easy with a few
forest is a high-elevation hardwood. You will find
American mountain-ash with its bright red berries in late
summer and early fall. Up higher, you will find red spruce
and balsam firs.
small copper mine operated near the summit in the early
can also get a glimpse at Stony Man Mountain from Little
Stony Man Cliffs at Mile 39.1. There is a short steep hike
to the rocky cliffs that look to the west. The round-trip
hike is just under 1 mile with a climb of 270 feet. The
reward is one of the best vistas in the park. You can also
access the summit from the cliff area, but the hike is a
little longer and steeper.
cliffs are composed of greenstone from ancient volcanoes.
For me, Little Stony Man Cliffs is a favorite spot for
sunsets across the Shenandoah Valley.
the Thorofare Mountain Overlook at Mile 41 and an
elevation of 3,595 feet offers stunning sunrise views to
the east across the Virginia Piedmont.
park is also home to more than 15 major waterfalls.
of the most popular trails leads to the waterfalls in
White Oak Canyon. It is a 4.6-mile round-trip hike from
the trailhead at mile 42.6 to the first waterfall, an
86-foot-high cascade. Hikers descend from 3,510 feet at
the trailhead to 2,470 feet. The return hike is very
steep, according to the park service.
you want to see the five other falls in White Oak Canyon,
it’s another 2.7 miles one-way and a drop of another
1,100 feet. That makes a tough exit hike. But it is one of
the most beautiful and most visited areas of the park with
its ancient hemlocks, giant boulders, sheer cliffs and the
most-visited waterfall in the park is Dark Hollow Falls at
mile 50.7. It is a moderate 1.4-mile walk from 3,425 feet
down to a beautiful falls at 3,130 feet on Hogcamp Branch.
park, long and narrow (80 miles long and 2 to 13 miles
wide), has four entrances, three visitor centers, about
285 rooms and cabins and four campgrounds, plus
backcountry camping. It gets about 1.2 million visitors a
Skyline Drive is a curvy, two-lane road that rises to
3,600 feet. Speeds are limited to 35 miles per hour.
road may be closed by winter snows. Most park facilities
are open from April through November. The Skyline Drive
— it is a National Historic Landmark — is especially
popular with bicyclists in early spring. Leaves don’t
emerge until late May on the ridge tops and peak fall
color is generally in mid-October.
is $10 to $15 per vehicle, depending on the season.
more information on the park, contact Shenandoah National