Shenandoah National Park has over 300 square miles of Blue Ridge Mountains to offer, and is the perfect escape for a DMV resident itching to stretch their legs. With Fall in the air, a trip to SHEN means beautiful foliage and tolerable hiking weather! Whether you are a seasoned scrambler or a novice hiker, having mountains in your backyard (or approximately 75 miles away) is an opportunity you should definitely be taking advantage of this Autumn!
Bear Fence Mountain offers a stunning view with little time commitment. This is a great hike for beginners, or for those that are trying to squeeze in multiple trails into one day! It’s just a short mile loop with a minimal elevation gain of 230 feet that quickly opens up to a 360 degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. All that being said, If you find scrambling to be challenging, this may not be the hike for you. Children that need to be carried and those fearful of drop-offs be wary of this trail. The trailhead is located at mile 55.1 on Skyline Drive and has its own marked parking lot.
If you are a waterfall enthusiast, White Oak Canyon Trail will become your new favorite SHEN spot. As the weather cools down, fog rolls in and makes this trail slightly spooky and extremely insta-worthy for the season! The trailhead is located around mile 42 of Skyline Drive. It features five different water-fall photo-ops. The slow, gradual incline keeps this 4.8 mile out-and-back trail on the easier side, despite the distance. Plus, you can take plenty of breaks among the falls. If you’re looking for a challenge and even more waterfall views you can combine with Cedar Run Trail and make it a loop! This is a popular trail and the NPS recommends tackling it on a weekday, if you are able.
While Old Rag has the baddest rep, Big Run Portal and Brown Mountain Trail may be the quintessential strenuous SHEN trails. Combining these trails will give you a nine-ish mile trek with 2,600 feet of elevation gain. There are stream crossings, summit views, and tight, tree-lined valley floors to be enjoyed if you are experienced and up to a challenge. The bonus: getting back to your car parked at Brown Mountain Overlook (Skyline Drive Mile 77) and seeing the multicolored valley you have just ventured through.
Old Rag Mountain is by far the path most traveled and the star of SHEN, for good reason. Its reputation as Shenandoah’s most dangerous hike attracts seasoned hikers to attempt its 10 miles of strenuous incline and scrambling; not to mention some tight slot squeezes. The NPS recommends carrying two quarts of water and preparing for a 7 or 8 hour hike. The Reward: one stunning view. Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself. Old Rag’s parking area is most easily found by entering the park through the eastern boundary.
Finding complete solitude in a park that welcomes over a million visitors a year can be nearly impossible, but one hike that veteran adventurers rave about is Lewis Peak. This is a barely-known hike with some great perks. It turns out you don’t have to sacrifice terrific views to get some quiet time in SHEN. Despite being lengthy, at about 9 miles, this hike lacks steep inclines. As leaves tumble from the trees, panoramic views along this trail become more and more available- and you likely won’t have to share them! Due to the length and lack of traffic, however, it is recommended you bring a friend along. You can access the trailhead via Browns Gap along Skyline Drive.
The National Park Services outlines more trails and tons of information about the park online at NPS.gov/shen. Log on to learn about the 83 years of history of Shenandoah National Park, the #yearofthebird initiative, ranger information, or how to turn your day hike into a backcountry camping experience.
Wanna go chasing waterfalls? Here are 8 Breathtaking Waterfalls Near DC That You Need to Hike to See ASAP.
View More Articles By Brittney Miles