When my mom learned that I had off over the Fourth of July holiday, she suggested that she, my brother, and I get away for a few days. We ultimately decided to go to Shenandoah National Park since it’s one of few national parks within driving distance of Philadelphia. It’s also somewhere that none of us had been prior to this trip. The drive from Philadelphia to Shenandoah took roughly four hours, but it flew by as traffic was minimal and the route was scenic. We opted to stay at Skyland, which is conveniently located inside the park.
Shenandoah National Park is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It is largely forested, with many of its hikes leading to either cascading waterfalls or breathtaking vistas. The foliage is said to be particularly beautiful come autumn. I must say that I was blown away by how large the park is! It spans 105 miles from top to bottom and encompasses over 500 miles of trails. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park, making all of its trailheads accessible by vehicle. A portion of the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail also runs the length of the park.
Wildlife sightings were plentiful, including a variety of birds and butterflies, as well as deer and black bears. Yup, you read correctly: bears. Prior to our visit, I had no idea that Shenandoah is home to hundreds of bears and, as such, sightings are anything but a rarity. I lost count of the number of sightings I had – some while driving along Skyline Drive and others while hiking. Hot tip! Don’t make the rookie mistake that I did and neglect to bring bear spray along with you.
Due to some physical limitations with my mom and brother, I mostly hiked solo. Because I wasn’t prepared to hike strenuous, 7+ mile trails on my own, I opted out of two hikes on my wish list. With that being said, both the Old Rag Mountain Loop Trail and the White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails come highly recommended if longer, more rigorous trails are your thing. I hope to check them out for myself when I return one day!
All in all, I’m extremely grateful for the the short, but sweet time that I spent in Shenandoah. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized how badly I was in need of a city escape. As much as I consider myself a city gal, immersing myself in nature every once in a while keeps me level-headed. In regards to hiking solo – something that I had never done prior to this trip – I freaking loved it! To my own surprise, I welcomed the solitude with open arms and learned that it deeply nourished my soul.
Stony Man via the Appalachian Trail: Being that we arrived to the park in the late afternoon, this easy, 1.5-mile trail was the perfect way to kickoff our getaway. It’s a short loop that offers stunning views. When I reached the summit of Stony Man, I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a soul up there. I embraced the opportunity to meditate as the sun set and the gentle breeze washed over me. The sense of tranquility that I felt in that moment is indescribable.
Rose River Trail: I absolutely loved this trail! To access the trailhead, head to the Fisherman’s Gap Overlook parking lot and cross the street. It’s a moderately challenging, 3.5-mile loop that is strewn with streams and waterfalls. The most impressive waterfalls that you’ll see on this trail are Rose River Falls and Dark Hallow Falls. Although Dark Hallow Falls is arguably the more popular of the two, I was actually more drawn to Rose River Falls. I worked my way down to the rocks below them and meditated to the sound of cascading, pristine water. No one was around and it was extremely peaceful.
Bearfence Mountain Trail: Despite this trail being short, it was incredible. It’s a moderately difficult, 1-mile loop that leads to a 360º view of the park. In fact, the summit of Bearfence Mountain is one of only three summits in the park to offer such a view. The climb up is steep and ultimately turns into a scramble climb. I found this portion of the hike incredibly fun and wished it had lasted longer! Yet again, I was the only person in sight once I reached the summit and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude as I took in the beauty surrounding me. Out of all the trails that I experienced while in Shenandoah, I found this one to have the most impressive variety of wildflowers.
Hawksbill Gap Loop via the Appalachian Trail: This moderately difficult, 2.6-mile climb is well worth the effort. Sitting at 4,050 ft. elevation, the summit of Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah. Despite hitting this trail during a period of extreme fog, the views at the top were lovely. I can’t imagine how gorgeous they would have been if I’d experienced them on a clear day! My favorite memory from this trail was being greeted by a group of bucks a mere 100 or so yards into hiking. They were about 10 feet away from me and were completely unfazed by my presence.