As Richmond, and most of Virginia, digs itself out of many inches of snow, it is great to remember all of the natural wonders in the state; whether it is the mountains, the beach, or the rivers, it offers a complete array of outdoor opportunities. Whether one is into hiking, fishing, surfing, hunting, biking, skiing, or other activities, Virginia has endless beautiful areas to go out and perform those activities. Many people do not realize the natural beauty that Virginia beholds and are unaware of some of the incredible spots to explore Virginia.
One area in particular is Shenandoah National Park, located in northwestern Virginia within the Blue Ridge Mountains. Governed by the National Park Service, the 199,100 acre park is the home of over 500 miles of trails, 101 miles of which are on the Appalachian Trail. Many people may recognize the park for scenic Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that runs through the entire distance of the park along the ridgeline. Even if one is not into hiking, the road serves as a perfect getaway drive to see some of the most impressive views in Virginia, especially in the fall.
While it is my dream to one day complete all of the hikes on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, up to this point I have only been on a few.
The first hike is Riprap Trail, a 9.8 mile circuit hike located off the Rockfish Gap entry on Skyline Drive. The hike is filled with overlooks with spectacular views, a swimming hole, and a trailway along a creek for a chunk of the hike. To get to the hike, follow the Appalachian Trail north and then turn west onto Riprap Trail. Riprap passes by Cavalry Rocks and Chimney Rock, two outstanding viewpoints at the highest elevation of the hike. The trail then goes downhill to a swimming hole, which, when I was there, was over six feet deep and fairly wide for a creek swimming hole. Then follow the trail to Wildcat Ridge Trail, which takes one alongside a creek for the majority of the time. The trail will then take you back to the A.T., which will take you back to your starting point in the parking lot. The hike took around four to five hours with lunch and swimming and was a spectacular, somewhat challenging hike for the occasional hiker that I am. I would certainly recommend the hike to anyone looking to spend a full day in Shenandoah National Park.
Another great hike is the Blackrock Summit Trail. While this hike is marginally shorter than Riprap and the majority of the hikes in the park, it certainly is no letdown. The one-mile loop hike takes
one up to the rocky summit with unbeatable 360 degree views. The actual hike up to the summit only takes around thirty minutes, following the A.T. trail to an intersection to then take Blackrock Hut Road-Trayfoot Mountain Trail up to the top. The Blackrock Hut Road-Trayfoot Mountain Trail will eventually open up into a large boulder field, and one has the option to climb up the boulders a bit to get to the highest point or stay on the trail and loop back around. I would recommend climbing up the rocks, as the views give one a look in every direction and makes an appealing picnic spot. On my most recent visit, I met many other hikers, including many foreigners, who were in Shenandoah National Park due to the the beauty of the park, giving me a newfound respect for our local gem. Overall, the hike is suitable for nearly all ages and makes a great hike if one is looking to do it in only an hour or so, with great views and strenuous hiking.
The last hike to recommend out of many would be Old Rag Mountain hike. The eight mile hike is well-known for its views from the top and large rocks, which require some rock hopping and climbing. The hike starts out as common switchback and eventually leads to rock scrambling through cracks and small caves up to the summit. The summit gives one some of the best views in the park, while sitting on some of the grandest rocks in the park. The popular hike is a must-hike for hiking fanatics, as it is one of Virginia’s most well-known hikes. I recommend avoiding Old Rag on the weekends, as its popularity can lead to large crowds. Regardless, I would recommend the hike for someone looking to spend a whole day in the park who is willing and excited about rock hopping and a change of pace from the usual trail-oriented hike.
Shenandoah National Park is truly a beautiful place, and I advise anyone looking to explore Virginia to make their way to Skyline Drive, as they will not regret it.
Cover photo by Jeffry N. Curtis.