Shenandoah National Park
Virginia, USA

Not far from the hub of US politics, a huge natural wonder is waiting to be explored. Lovers of flora and fauna alike will find plenty of each among the waterfalls and woods of this long park. Birdwatching enthusiasts can delight in the fact that the park has over 190 species. There are also fishing, biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing opportunities.

While there's plenty to do outside of the car, you should drive Skyline Drive. This massive scenic road runs 105 miles through the length of the park and provides good opportunities for wildlife viewing and offers numerous overlooks. If entering the park from the north, you'll first come to Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. There are exhibits and a movie here on the park experience. To learn more about the culrutal history of the area, the family-friendly 1.2-mile round trip Fox Holow Trail takes you by historic sites. For more history, the 3.7-mile Snead Farm Loop hike through apple orchards ends at the historic Snead barn. Near mile marker 10, you have a chance to hike part of the Appalachian Trail and see the interesting geological feature known as columnar jointing via the 2.4-mile round trip Compton Peak trail.

You'll pass tons of hiking opportunities on this journey, so I'll just point out the most notable. One you should not skip is Stony Man. This popular 1.6-mile round trip culminates with a stellar valley viewpoint from the second highest point in the park. Just south of this, you'll come to Skyland. The Massanutten Lodge from 1911 is here. It has a nice exhibit, and there is a restaurant, tap room, lodging, and guided horseback rides.

South of Skyland, you'll find the Upper Hawksbill Trail. This is the highest point in the park and arguably the best trail in the park. A 2.1-mile round trip brings you to a rocky summit for unimpeded scenic views. If you're looking for an all-day hike, the 7.3-mile round trip strenuous Cedar Run - Whiteoak Canyon Circuit goes by eight waterfalls. Some waterfalls require recent rainfall to be in action, but if you go at the right time, there are spots where you can slide down rocks and do a little swimming. For an easier waterfall hike, try the 4-mile round trip moderate Rose River Falls hike to see this 67-foot waterfall, or the nearby 1.4-mile round trip moderate Dark Hollow Falls hike. Dark Hollow is the most popular trail in the park.

Further south, you'll come to the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows. After seeing miles of forest and rocks, it's a welcome change of pace to see this flat and lush meadow. There is a lodge, campground, dining, and gas here. In the area is the 4-mile round trip Rapidan Camp hike. This takes you to the rustic vacation home of former President Hoover. Need more waterfalls in your life? A 3.3-mile round trip hike to Lewis Falls brings you to one of the prettiest falls in the park. It's 81-feet. For another lodging option, Lewis Mountain Cabins are in the area and provide a more authentic park experience.

Continuing south, another notable trail is Bearfence Mountain Trail. It's just a 1.2-mile loop, but you get to scramble over rocks and are rewarded with a complete 360-degree view of the valley. Further south is the South River Falls Observation Point. This 83-foot waterfall is worth the stop. The hike to the obervation point is a2.6-mile round trip, although it's a 3.3-mile round trip to hike to the base of the falls.

Your journey ends as you drive through the Swift Run and Loft Mountain areas, both chock full of overlooks. Besides the lodging mentioned above, there are camping opportunities at Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain (the park's largest), and Dundo (for groups).

Happy Travels!