A Tough Choice: Shenandoah National Park or Great Smoky Mountains?

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63 Parks Traveler started with a easy aim: to pay a visit to every single U.S. national park. Avid backpacker and community-lands nerd Emily Pennington saved up, crafted out a tiny van to vacation and dwell in, and strike the highway, practicing COVID-19 ideal security protocols along the way. The parks as we know them are promptly altering, and she wanted to see them before it is also late. Shenandoah is her 50th park visit.


It was pitch-black and raining as I pulled my van into the parking good deal for Aged Rag Mountain, praying for a coveted house to hike northern Virginia’s most well known trail. At 3,284 ft, the peak isn’t the tallest in Shenandoah National Park, but it has created a notorious name in excess of the previous a number of many years for staying steep, rocky, and unrelenting. It also has some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and of limitless rolling farmlands down below. More than the system of a 9.5-mile circuit trail, hikers can assume to obtain and reduce 2,348 feet of elevation on narrow switchbacks, by limited chimney squeezes, and for the duration of teeth-gritting climbs across lichen-blotched Previous Rag granite.

Daylight crept into the haze of clouds that blanketed the eerie forest about me, and I set off on the grime singletrack beneath a cover of oak and hickory. The past of the autumn colors were fading quick, and the sodden ground my boots squished throughout was carpeted in a patchwork of fallen leaves.

What was after a muddy woodland path soon turned into a steep scramble, and I inched my way upward, watchful not to slip on the slate-grey rocks beneath my ft as the downpour intensified. It was 46 levels outside the house, and I was drenched to the bone. Atop the to start with summit, I gazed at a panoramic watch of, perfectly, clouds. The mountain’s famously epic vistas had been changed by a veil of glowing white vapor, and I shivered as I remembered that, like it or not, nature won’t constantly offer fantastic weather just since you transpire to just take a hike.

The future working day, nonetheless, the weather conditions gods smiled at me, and I was in a position to choose in 1 of the park’s premier attractions—Skyline Generate—as good rays of sunlight and thin carpets of clouds brushed their way across the Virginia foothills.

Skyline Generate (Photograph: Emily Pennington)

Skyline Drive is a person of the most properly-acknowledged scenic roadways in the nation. Produced in the 1930s and stretching for over 105 miles, the pavement undulates across the Blue Ridge Mountains, supplying readers with sweeping sights of wooded hilltops, rocky peaks, and swaths of agricultural fields. To the south, it is hitched to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was the most frequented place in the entire national park procedure final year.

I steered my van onto the mountaintop highway and traversed its complete duration over the study course of a working day, pulling in excess of to hike the ten-mile Riprap Trail, a forested loop that descends to a burbling creek and passes a number of tiny waterfalls in advance of climbing a fifty percent dozen switchbacks to fulfill the Appalachian Path, which bisects the park for 101 miles. As the temperature warmed up, my enthusiasm began to wane in the sticky East Coastline humidity. By the end of the trek, I was prepared to be again in my air-conditioned van.

A waterfall on the Riprap Trail
A waterfall on the Riprap Trail (Photo: Emily Pennington)

At sunset I stopped at the Jewell Hollow Forget as hundreds of thousands of fluttering, rust-tinted leaves caught the fading mild. I felt my lips curl into a satisfied grin as I stared down at an impossibly green carpet of rural farmland. Of course, I imagined to myself, there is an huge, obtainable, and wild park for east coasters to enjoy—and it isn’t named Excellent Smoky Mountains.

 

63 Parks Traveler Shenandoah Details

Dimension: 197,439 acres

Site: Northern Virginia, 70 miles from Washington, D.C.

Developed In: 1935 (nationwide park)

Finest For: Scenic drives, mountaineering, fowl-seeing, horseback riding, backpacking

When to Go: While precipitation stays somewhat constant throughout all four seasons, spring (26 to 66 levels) and tumble (30 to 68 degrees) have, by much, the finest temperatures for hiking. Summer (53 to 76 levels), however preferred, also tends to be muggy, although winter season (18 to 39 levels) is usually icy and features the most solitude.

Where by to Remain: Shenandoah operates 5 car or truck-welcoming campgrounds in its boundaries. Most sites are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and entry to flush bogs. If you’ve always wanted to backpack a part of the fabled Appalachian Path, you are in luck, mainly because 101 miles of it runs via the middle of the park. Simply decide on a section, use for a backcountry permit, and lace up your boots.

Mini Adventure: Motor throughout Skyline Generate. Established apart an whole working day for this 105.5-mile journey, which winds in between the northern terminus of Entrance Royal and the southern city of Rockfish Gap. When it’s distinct, views extend for miles throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains and their foothills. Well-liked pullouts incorporate Old Rag Ignore, Hogback Overlook, Thornton Hollow Neglect, and the Level Neglect.

Mega Adventure: Scramble up Outdated Rag Mountain. Get to the parking good deal in advance of 7 A.M. and get completely ready to feel your legs burn on this all-working day, 9.4-mile circuit hike that speedily gains 9,238 toes elevation before topping out to some seriously sweet Blue Ridge sights. Along the way, retain your eyes peeled for glimpses of black bears and white-tailed deer. Splurge on supper at the A few Blacksmiths restaurant (guide a reservation in progress) in the charming village of Sperryville, not considerably from the Panorama park entrance.