That's where we are, and that's what this book is about. To some people, "Skyline Drive" is a more familiar name. But the United States has many Skyline Drives, and only one Shenandoah National Park. It's true that the Drive is a magnificent scenic parkway. But more than that, it's a quick and easy way to reach the other features of the park.

Whitetail Doe - Big Meadows
Photo taken by John H. Messner

Shenandoah National Park is long and narrow, straddling the crest of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for nearly 75 miles. It varies in width from less than one to about 13 miles, so that the views from peaks and overlooks include not only the Blue Ridge itself, but also the patchwork of woods, farmlands and orchards on either side. Here and there the park touches the Shenandoah Valley on the west side or the Piedmont on the east; but throughout most of its length the park boundary is partway up the mountain slope.

Shenandoah National Park is so long and narrow that three maps (North District, Central District, and South District) are needed to show it. The shaded area on the maps is the park; the wiggly solid line that runs the length of it is Skyline Drive. The dotted line that parallels the Drive is the Appalachian Trail, which extends some 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia; about 101 miles of it are within the park. You can get within a very few miles of any part of the park either by car on the Drive, or by foot on the Appalachian Trail. The dozens and dozens of side trails begin either at the edge of the Drive, or a short distance from the Drive via the Appalachian Trail.

Take another look at the three maps. Try to fuse them in your mind so that you visualize the park as a whole. Note that two main highways cross the park, dividing it into three parts:

    The North District, from U.S. 340 to U.S. 211.
    The Central District, from U.S. 211 to U.S. 33.
    The South District, from U.S. 33 to U.S. 250 and I-64

The log of Skyline Drive has been divided into these three parts.

Shenandoah National Park - North District

Click here for a printable map

Shenandoah National Park - Central District

Click here for a printable map

Shenandoah National Park - South District

Click here for a printable map

Q: When is the park open?
A: Always, every day. Occasionally a part of the Drive may be closed because of snow or ice. During hunting season parts of the Drive may be closed at night, to help control poaching. But the park itself is always open. If you choose to hike in when the Drive is closed, no one will stop you. There are only limited facilities open from December through late March, in particular you will find limited water sources and pit toilets.

Q: Is there a "Shenandoah National Forest?"
A: No. There was a Shenandoah National Forest once, in the mountains on the other side of the Valley. It was changed to George Washington National Forest in 1932, to celebrate Washington's 200th birthday.

The National Forests, administered by the Department of Agriculture, are multiple-use areas where you can hike, enjoy the scenery, and watch the wildlife. You may also, in certain seasons, shoot the wildlife. You may, with permission, harvest timber, mine coal, or drill for natural gas. You may even rent a piece of the forest and build yourself a summer home.

  What's in a Name?

Autumn Along Shenandoah's Skyline Drive
Photo taken by Nikos Bournas

Shenandoah is many things besides a National Park. It's also a river and a valley. It's a mountain, a college, a county, and at least three towns. It's a tall sailing ship and an ill-fated airship. It's a song, a movie starring James Stewart, and a Broadway musical. There are many different opinions as to what the word Shenandoah means. Of the possible meanings Henry Heatwole found "Big Flat Place" (referring to the Valley) most plausible, and "Daughter of the Stars" most pleasing. He chose pleasing over plausible. We will follow Henry's instincts, thus "Shenandoah" shall henceforth in this guide mean "Daughter of the Stars" for the river has its sources in high mountains, and on a clear night in those high mountains the stars seem very close indeed.

  An Elongated Park

While looking at the maps to get oriented, note that the park is very elongated. The park follows the Blue Ridge, which is long, narrow, and wandering. The torn and tattered boundary (which has been somewhat simplified and straightened for the purpose of these maps) is a result of how the park came to be. The boundary rarely follows any natural or man-made feature, such as a road, stream, or ridge crest. The park boundary continues to change occasionally through land donations. The Park Service is prohibited from acquiring additional land for the park by direct purchase or condemnation.

An Autumn Sunrise At Shenandoah
Photo taken by Darren Barnes

Most of our National Parks have been created simply by reclassifying what was already government land. In only a few was private land involved. In Acadia and Grand Tetons, the Rockefeller family bought large areas of land and donated them to the government. More recently, the Cape Cod National Seashore was established, mostly from private land, but the situation was quite different from the formation of Shenandoah National Park.

In 1930, what is now Shenandoah National Park was entirely private property. There were some large tracts of land. There were hundreds of small farms - many of them as small as five acres. Some two thousand people lived here in 1930. Still, 85 percent of the land was forested.

The act of Congress that authorized this park specified that no federal money could be spent to acquire land for it. The Virginia State Legislature appropriated over a million dollars. There were a few donations of sizable tracts. Thousands of people contributed the price of an acre of land, and school children contributed pennies. This park is a gift to the nation from the people of Virginia, who bought it for all of us -- one small parcel at a time. Under the stewardship of the National Park Service, the land has been protected as a preserve for plants and animals as the park slowly, once again, moves toward earlier forest conditions. In our ever changing world, global warming, invasive species, and diseases will no doubt continue to impact the forest species mix of the park.

  The Theme is Change

Autumn Foliage
Photo taken by Nikos Bournas

The change of this land from human use, and the succession of plant and animal life that goes with such change, will continue. Many roads have become trails, others totally abandoned. Some trails have also been allowed to disappear. Access to the park from the bottom of some hollows has been made easier, while in others access has been restricted. Park entrance fees at the four entry points to Skyline Drive provide essential funds for park projects to help protect those things the park was created to preserve. Fees have also been instituted at the park boundary for access to Old Rag Mountain from Weakley Hollow and Berry Hollow, Whiteoak Canyon parking to the canyon, and from Little Devils Stairs to the trail. These access fees provide funds for park rehabilitation and to help manage the very large visitation on popular weekends.

This guide will be a little out of date before it gets to the Web. Subjects about which you should check with the rangers for the latest information will be identified, but realize that there is no facet of this park that is immune to change.

  Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a national education program that teaches responsible use of the outdoors. Protecting Shenandoah National Park is every visitor's job.The National Park Service and the staff of Shenandoah National Park have embraced the principles of the Leave No Trace program to promote stewardship in the park. Whether you are visiting for a few hours to enjoy the views from Skyline Drive, here for a day hike, camping overnight in a campground, staying at a lodge unit, or making a backpacking excursion in the backcountry, you can help to protect Shenandoah by practicing the principles of Leave No Trace.

These are:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare by knowing and following park regulations.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces and stay on trails to avoid damaging fragile vegetation.
  3. Dispose of waste properly, preferably by carrying out or otherwise properly disposing of all trash, including biodegradable material.
  4. Leave what you find, because all plants, animals, rocks, and artifacts are protected.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts by following the rule that fires are allowed only in pre-constructed fire grates at campgrounds, picnic areas, and day-use shelters.
  6. Respect wildlife and observe wildlife only from a distance. Keep park wildlife healthy by not feeding them.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors and avoid excessive noise, keep your pets leashed, and recognize that damaged surroundings take away from everyone's experience.

Additional information about LEAVE NO TRACE can be found at

  Park Accessibility

Restrooms and Buildings -- Most are accessible or accessible with assistance.

Lodging -- Accessible overnight accommodations are available at Lewis Mountain, Skyland Resort, and Big Meadows Lodge. Phone 800-999-4714

Picnic Grounds and Campgrounds -- Accessible sites are available at all park picnic grounds and campgrounds. Accessible shower facilities and laundry are available at Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain campgrounds. Restrooms at picnic grounds are accessible or accessible with assistance.

Trails -- The Limberlost Trail is an accessible trail, a gently sloping 1.3 mile loop featuring a 5 foot wide greenstone surface. The trail circles through forest and mountain laurel and includes a 65 foot bridge and a 150 foot boardwalk.

Information -- or assistance may be obtained by telephoning the Virginia Relay Center at 800-828-1120 (TDD) or 800-828-1140 (Voice) or by writing to the park:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 US Hwy 211 East
Luray, VA 22835
Phone 540 - 999-3500

  Your Pets

Pets are welcome in the park, but only if you heed the specific restrictions. They must be kept on a leash no longer than six-feet at all times. Pets are not permitted on guided programs because they can be distracting to hike leaders and participants. In addition, to ensure your pet's safety and the safety of others, pets are not permitted on the following trails.

  • Fox Hollow Trail (mile 4.6)
  • Traces Trail (mile 22.2)
  • Stony Man Trail (mile 41.7)
  • Limberlost Trail (milepost 43)
  • Dark Hollow Falls Trail (mile 50.7)
  • Story of the Forest Trail (milepost 51)
  • Bearfence Mountain Trail (mile 56.4)
  • Frazier Discovery Trail (mile 79.5)
  • Old Rag Ridge Trail (Weakley Hollow fire road)
  • Old Rag Saddle Trail above the Shelter (Berry Hollow)
  Conserving Resources and Recycling

The park has many initiatives to conserve resources. A few examples are: buying re-refined oil, reducing packaging of purchases and using low-flow shower heads. You can do your part by recycling. Plastic (#1 and #2 only). aluminum, and glass should be taken home and recycled or deposited at one of the following recycling centers in the park:

  • Dickey Ridge Visitor Center Parking Lot (mile 4.6)
  • Dickey Ridge Picnic Ground (mile 4.7)
  • Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.2)
  • Elkwallow Picnic Ground (mile 24.1)
  • Panorama (mile 31.5)
  • Pinnacles Picnic Ground (mile 36.7)
  • Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51.2)
  • Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2)
  • South River Picnic Ground (mile 62.8)
  • Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5)
  Speaking of Rangers...

The people you see with dark green and gray uniforms and flat-brimmed hats are U.S. National Park Service Rangers.

You may find rangers working at the information desk at the visitor centers, leading conducted walks or giving a campfire program. Rangers also work the entrance stations and campgrounds. They patrol the Drive and the backcountry, protecting both resources and people.

Other park employees who wear the National Park Service uniform are the ones who keep the park clean, the Drive open, and the facilities working. Anyone in uniform will answer your questions if they can, and help you if you need help. All may be called on to fight fires or participate in search and rescue missions.

If you have a comment about the park, suggestion/comment cards are available from each visitor center or write to:

   Shenandoah National Park
   3655 US Highway 211 East
   Luray, Virginia 22835

The web address is:

  Some Quick Facts

Hooded Warbler
Photo taken by Dave Wendelken

Here are some statistics, all of them subject to change:

Total area of the park, 197,438 acres.
Number of visitors per year: over one million.
Skyline Drive: 105 miles long, 75 overlooks
Hiking Trails: 516 miles, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Plants: More than 1300 species
Birds: Over 200 species

The park has more than 60 peaks with elevations of more than 2,000 feet. Some of the highest are:

   Hawksbill ................. 4050
   Stony Man ................ 4010
   Hazeltop ................. 3815
   Blackrock ................. 3721
   The Pinnacle .............. 3720
   Bearfence ................ 3640
   Hightop .................. 3585
   Marys Rock ............... 3514
   Hogback .................. 3474
   Big Flat ................... 3389

Hogback is in the North District, Hightop and Big Flat in the south. All the rest are in the Central District. The summit of Fork Mountain, elevation 3852, is just outside the park boundary in the Central District.  


During much of the year waterfalls in the park display a rather modest volume of water. Because they are fairly close to the top of the mountain, the streams that form them drain relatively small areas. Even so, the falls are often spectacular in springtime, when warm rains melt the accumulated snow and after periods of "April showers" or summer thunderstorms.

Here is a list of the highest falls listed by height. At several of these, the water drops in two or more steps; the listed height is the total for all the steps. Where there are two or more falls on the same stream, they have been numbered from the top down.

The only waterfall visible from Skyline Drive is at Mile 1.4. It has no name, and it is dry for part of the year. The next closest is Dark Hollow Falls, within hiking distance from the Drive (0.7 miles). You can walk to any falls on the list. Some of the trails are difficult, others fairly easy. All of them are among the recommended hikes. The falls listed by height are:

One of Several Waterfall
Warning Signs

Photo taken by Jennifer Ennis

Falls Height, ft. Section Trail Head

Overall Run 93 North Mile 22.2
Whiteoak No. 1 86 Central Mile 42.6
South River 83 Central Mile 62.8
Lewis 81 Central Mile 51.2
Dark Hollow 70 Central Mile 50.7
Rose River 67 Central Mile 49.4
Doyles River No. 2 63 South Mile 81.1
Whiteoak No. 2 62 Central Mile 42.6
Whiteoak No. 6 60 Central Mile 42.6
Whiteoak No. 5 49 Central Mile 42.6
Jones Run 42 South Mile 84.1
Whiteoak No. 4 41 Central Mile 42.6
Whiteoak No. 3 35 Central Mile 42.6
Cedar Run 34 Central Mile 45.6
Doyles River No. 1 28 South Mile 81.1

To learn more about SNP's many waterfalls (both trailed and off-trail), purchase a copy of Guide To Waterfalls Of Shenandoah National Park by Larry W. Brown.

Names tend to evolve, and you'll find minor variations in spelling as you read various books, maps, and signs. Doyle's River, Doyles River, and Doyle River are the same small body of water. Whiteoak may be one word or two -- and so on, endlessly. How places got their names will be dealt with at appropriate points in the narrative that comes later, keyed to the log of the Drive

The truth is that many of the place names are so old that no one knows how they came about. Here are six names that you'll find on the latest maps: Shenandoah River, Conway River, Hawksbill Creek, Swift Run Gap, Devils Ditch, and Naked Creek. You'll also find them in the journal of Thomas Lewis who passed this way in 1746.

Some names, such as Marys Rock, give rise to legends. The origin of still others - like Fort Windham Rocks and Dog Slaughter Ridge – remains obscure, mysterious, and tantalizing.