In my opinion, the Shenandoah Valley is one of the most beautiful parts of the state of Virginia and at its’ heart lies the crown jewel the Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The SNP is one of 58 parks in the U.S. National Parks Services system under the Department of the Interior. I have always had a fascination with the Appalachian Trail (AT) and knew that part of the AT lies within the SNP, and I’ve always brought my children on my global adventures and figured what better place to start some domestic travel with them than right in my own backyard, we live in the DC Metro area. So off to Shenandoah we went but before we left, I taught my children some facts and figures about the National Parks Service and SNP including:
- SNP has over 500 miles of trails from short day hikes to multi-day trips to through hiking on the AT.
- There are five campgrounds in SNP: Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain, and Dundo Group Campgrounds.
- There are 75 overlooks along the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive.
- There are a whole host of ranger programs during the late May – early September time frame that range from guided treks to educational talks to animal encounters and more.
- You can volunteer in SNP by joining the Visitor’s-In-Parks program (VIP). To learn about the various volunteer opportunities and to get involved call (540) 999-3500.
Now I’d only ever been in the park during the fall for some day hiking with friends because I love to see the turning of the leaves and hear them crackle underfoot while hiking, so this was my first visit during summer. Driving along Skyline drive, the main vehicular passage through the park, the amount of green was overwhelming. In many parts it felt as though you were traveling through a green tube of leaves. The forest was so lush and dense, alive and vibrant, it was incredible to witness. During our stay in SNP we spent one night in Big Meadows campground. Big Meadows campground is close to many of the major facilities available in SNP including a camp store, laundry and shower facilities, and a lodge which offers cooked meals, a tavern, lodging, and programming geared towards families including movie nights, games nights, and other interactive activities. Big Meadows is close to many of the most popular hiking trails, three waterfalls, and the meadow from which it gets its’ name is abundant with plant growth and wildlife. Many people may come here after reading something like this Cuddeback Trail Camera: Cuddelink Set of 4 Review (Features, Pros & Cons) – set a similar camera up to capture wildlife and possibly sight rare creatures you potentially wouldn’t otherwise see.
Loft Mountain Camp Ground is the largest campground in the park. Loft Mountain campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain which offers amazing views looking east and west. There are day hikes to two nearby waterfalls, trails into the Big Run Wilderness area, and the AT is along the perimeter of the campsite. I was very excited to be so close to it given my affinity. Loft Mountain doesn’t have a lodge, but it does have an amazing amphitheater, my favorite part of the campground, with spectacular views adjacent to a small meadow. Loft Mountain also offers ranger-conducted activities and it was here that my children became “junior park rangers“, where we saw two bear cubs, tons of deer, and countless birds and butterflies.
For those of you traveling with kids, if you have a rising 4th grader consider the “Every Kid In a Park Program“. In a nutshell, the program was created so fourth graders and their families could discover wildlife, resources, and history for free in all federally supported/managed parks. We took advantage of the program this summer and it was amazing. We look forward to even more exploration when our younger child reaches participation age.
Bottom Line: For the nature lover or those who want to get out of the DC Metro area, Shenandoah National Park is the place to go. For more information about all national parks visit: https://www.nps.gov/index.htm.