Covering 806 km2 (~311 mi2), the Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935 and stretches along a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Almost 40% of the park is designated wilderness. Two of its mountains, Stony Man and Hawksbill, are over 1,219 m (~4,000 ft).
Much of the park is covered in forest, generally hardwood, oak-hickory trees but there are also poplar and even small patches of spruce and fir. At ground level, there is a huge array of herbs, ferns and shrubs as well as wildflowers.
The park’s status enables it to protect many species of animals from encroachment by human development. Over 200 bird species have been identified, some which live here all year round, others migratory; and over 50 mammal species, including one of the densest populations of black bears in the US.
Around 1.2 million visitors a year come to visit. One of the most popular routes is Skyline Drive, a designated National Scenic Byway which covers the entire length of the National Park along the ridge of the mountains, over 169 km (105 mi). With 75 viewing platforms along the way and a slow speed limit of 60 km/h (35 mph) to protect wildlife, cyclists, and horse-riders, there is plenty of opportunity to view the magnificence of the valleys below.
The route also provides access to many of the park’s most important features and popular hiking trails, like the Appalachian Trail which passes through the park on its 3,500 km (~2,174 mi) route from Georgia to Maine. In total, there are over 800 km (500 mi) of trails to explore.
For the most experienced of hikers, Old Rag Mountain is considered a rite of passage: an 5 km (8 mi), strenuous hike with much rock scrambling. Over one 4.8 km (3 mi) stretch, the elevation rises more than 670 m (~2,200 ft) – this is not a climb for beginners. However, for those eager to learn, the park also hosts a highly respected national climbing teaching program.