After sitting at home for few months in become absolutely necessary to get out into the nature (or to go crazy…). We had about a week available and based on Covid/transportation/distance and time considerations we decided on Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
The park is famous for its 105 mile long Skyline Drive, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the US and I definitely concur. Where Skyline Drive ends, a Blue Ridge Parkway (another great destination) begins…but it’s a different trip…
The park has 4 entrances, one at each end of the Skyline Drive and two in the middle. There are no accommodations in the park itself. Usually during non-Covid summers there are camping sites available, but obviously not now.
We did one hike per day for a total of four days. My favorite was Mary’s Rock even though it was extremely icy. Not only the view on top was spectacular but the entire trail was enchanting. We decided that the fact that the trees were bare made for a better unobstructed view of the valley below. The second best was Chimney Rock, great view on top as well.
One entrance ticket ($35) is valid for seven days for unlimited entrances and exits.. Each ticket booth has plenty of hiking maps with descriptions of difficulty level, length and time needed to complete them. We chose moderate hikes which theoretically are much easier than our hikes in the Catskills but because of the snow and ice there were not that easy. However, there are hundreds of miles of trails and for each level. Some hikes are a part of the Appalachian Trail.
If you come from the north then the gateway to the park is at Front Royal, a “one horse” town in Virginia. As usual we did not make any reservations before getting there and stayed the first two nights in one of the chain hotels near the center. Actually the center is a 3 block Main Street, which is probably very charming if not for Corona. Unfortunately everything including a visitors’ center was closed; most restaurants are either permanently closed or take out only. Nevertheless we tried two indoor dining places: PaveMint Smokin’ Taphouse- loved their fried Brussels’ sprouts and the more upscale Element. I was impressed that the restaurants, those two and all others in Virginia abide by the Covid CDC requirements, all waiters and customers had masks on and the tables were spaced out.
There are numerous caverns (caves) around. I don’t think its necessary to visit all of them but visiting one is definitely a must. We went to the Luray Caverns (www. luraycaverns.com) which is probably the largest. There are no guided tours now because of Covid but nevertheless it was very impressive. There is a cathedral hall deep underground where you can book a wedding for 150 people….
Our third night we spent in Harrisonburg, a college town with plenty affordable motels. We stayed in Sleep In and I was impressed: new motel, comfortable bed, quality bedding and even breakfast. For dinner I chose Rocktown Restaurant (reservations are a must); quality locally sources ingredients but pricey.
Next town off the park was Staunton, located at its southern end. Similar to Harrisonburg, it has a “would have been” cute historic old town center if not for the times we live in; has plenty of decent affordable accommodation and a variety of restaurants. We chose its famous Mill Street Grill, a heavy duty meat establishment serving huge portions of tasty ribs. We shared a main course and could barely finish it….Good prices on the wine as well.
Speaking of wine, there are numerous wineries around and the area is also referred to as Virginia wine trail. There are plenty of breweries and some other distilleries around as well. We thought that if the park closes one day we shall try to hit the wineries but at the end we chose hiking. If someone comes for a longer trip wine tasting is a good idea..
Our last night in the area was in the infamous Charlottesville which turned out to be a lovely college town with a pedestrian street called the Mall. It has typical to college towns’ used books stores, some antics, coffee shops and bars. So unfortunate that it got a bad rap because of the events of 2017 – “good people on both sides” fiasco….. and by the way general Lee’s statute is still there. We found a bar with unbelievable happy hour specials for…$2…and stayed there an entire afternoon.
The next morning we checked out the Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate and former plantation nearby. You can pre-book a ticket in a contact-less purchase and then a bus takes you up the hill to the mansion. Even though there aren’t any guided tours now, the stuff is extremely helpful and friendly and will answer questions. While touring this enormous estate and enjoying the views from the hill you can ponder how a man who wrote the Declaration of Independence stating that all men are equal possessed over 600 slaves…. An exhibit about Sally Hemings’ life delved into her relationships with Thomas Jefferson. Seems that the relationship was far less romantic then we were led to believe. She was only 16 years old when it started and she remained his slave her entire life. Thank G-d times have changes!
End of trip….
Top of Form
- Get the park app, has decent trail description, a map and relevant phone numbers.
- Call the park often to check if the Skyline Drive is open, especially in winter.