A popular American
sailor's chanty, a delightful old ballad, tells of a young man's love for the daughter of
a native American chief. The song is a beautifully haunting melody, which goes:
"O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Way hey, you rolling river,
Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, we're bound away 'cross the wide Missouri"
And that song more or less sums it up. A
rolling river, beautiful beyond compare: Shenandoah. `Shenandoah', an Indian word, itself
means `daughter of the stars', and this river valley, in Virginia, definitely looks out of
this world. 12 miles of lowland, flanked on either side by densely wooded hills- that's
Shenandoah for you. And encompassing part of this, as well as a chunk of the eastern
Appalachian Mountains, is Shenandoah National Park. Just about 150 km from Washington DC,
Shenandoah's proximity to the national capital makes it a popular weekend getaway and a
great way of getting in touch with wild America without having to venture too far.
Located in north-west Virginia, the Shenandoah
National Park straddles the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. The entire area is one of clear
gurgling streams, waterfalls, and dense woods, the latter inhabited by a wide spectrum of
animals and birds. Racoon, fox, white-tailed deer, black bear, woodchuck, river otter,
weasel and bobcat are some of the mammals you can expect to see, and there are an
estimated 200-odd species of birds too, including wild turkeys, warblers, finches, and an
amazing range of raptors. The brooks and ponds harbour frogs, toads, and plenty of fish.
The range of activities offered by Shenandoah
National Park is very wide; visitors can go wildlife-watching, picnicking, camping,
horse-riding, hiking or biking, and even driving through the park. Fishing is allowed in
certain streams, but predominantly on a catch-and-release basis.
American citizens are eligible for lifetime
passes, which allow entry to all the national parks in the country. These passes are free
for those with permanent disabilities, and cost a nominal amount- between US$10 and 50-
for everybody else.
Shenandoah lies about 145 km from
Washington, DC, and is one of the best located of the USA's national parks. The nearest
towns are Luray (6km from the park headquarters), Weyers Cave (72km) and Thornton Gap (5
km), while Charlottesville lies 80 km to the southeast. The nearest airports are at
Washington DC, Charlottesville and Weyers Gap, from either of which a bus can be taken to
Luray. Note that public transport is virtually non-existent in this area: there are no
trains or buses to go beyond Luray. You'll have to bring your own car, or hire a taxi in
Luray, Front Royal or Waynesboro.
If you're doing your own driving, take US
Highway I-81 from the south or the north and I-66 from the east or west; finally turn onto
Highway 340 to get to the park.
There are no buses, shuttle services or
taxis within Shenandoah, so bring your own transport- unless you plan to hike. Hiking (or
biking), in fact, are the best ways of seeing the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley at close
quarters; some 800 odd km of hiking trails meander their way through Shenandoah. This
includes a 163 km long segment of the famous Appalachian Trail, as well as the popular
Limberlost Trail, a trail which leads through some spectacular landscapes, including some
magnificent stands of hemlock. Many of the hiking trails begin around Skyline Drive, and
vary considerably in length and gradient.
Best time to visit
Shenandoah can be visited at any time of
the year, although summer or early autumn are definitely preferable- the weather's much
more comfortable than in winter. Winters in Shenandoah can be very severe, with snow, ice
and freezing winds being a common affair. Go well-clad, and dress in layered clothing.
Note that rain is frequent in summer, and temperatures in the mountains are always lower
than in the plains.
Accommodation options in Shenandoah include
campgrounds, a mountain cabin resort and two tourist lodges, Big Meadow Lodge and Skyland
Lodge. The cabin resort and the lodges open approximately between March and November;
reservations may be made at ARAMARK Shenandoah Park Lodges, PO Box 727, Luray, Virginia.
There are five campgrounds in Shenandoah, which open between April and November. Of these,
Dundo Group Campground and Big Meadow Campground are the only ones which require prior
bookings; the others operate on a first come-first served basis. Backcountry camping is
allowed, but only with a permit, which can be obtained at any of the visitor centres in
Neighbouring towns such as Shenandoah,
Sperryville, Front Royal and Waynesboro offer a number of hotels, motels and inns which
are good alternatives to staying within the park.
Further information on Shenandoah National
Park is available from the National Park Service (Tel: 1-800-365-2267). Alternatively, the
park administration may be contacted directly at: Shenandoah National Park, 3655 US
Highway 211E, Luray, Virginia (Tel: 540-999-3500).