Weekend Backpacker: Baltimore
Shenandoah National Park stretches from Rockfish Gap to Front Royal, Virginia, a distance of almost 75 miles in an area of nearly 200,000 acres. More than a dozen waterfalls tumble down the slopes, 200 species of birds have been identified in the park, and over 1,100 different flowering plants can be found within its borders. Turkeys, bobcats, raccoons, and skunks inhabit the region in significant numbers, and there is a very real chance of seeing black bears. There are so many deer that it has become common knowledge in Virginia that if you want to see a deer, simply go to Shenandoah. The best feature of the park is that its over-500-mile network of trails makes its vast acreage easily accessible.
RECOMMENDED OVERNIGHT TRIP
A circuit hike of approximately 14 miles begins in Gravel Springs Gap. Follow the Bluff Trail for 1.5 miles and make a right onto Big Devils Stairs Trail. The canyon you will be walking through is one of the most spectacular in the park, traversing the tops of sheer cliffs and overlooking cascades and waterfalls crashing over huge boulders. Upon reaching the park boundary, turn around and return to the Bluff Trail. Make a right, eventually intersecting and bearing left onto the Mount Marshall Trail. You'll gain elevation at a gradual rate, then turn onto the Jenkins Gap Trail and cross Skyline Drive. Bear left onto the Appalachian Trail, which brings you across North and South Marshall Mountains for a couple of impressive views and back to Gravel Springs Gap.
Drive south on I-95 for 25 miles, then head west on I-495 for 22 miles. Take 1-66 West for 52 miles and exit onto US 340 South. Pass through Front Royal and come to the park entrance. Gravel Springs Gap is almost 18 miles into the park.
The entrance fee is around $10; no additional fee for backcountry camping.
Backcountry regulations were recently revised; pay close attention to them, as rangers sometimes patrol the trails.
Appalachian Trail map of Shenandoah National Park.
50 Hikes in Northern Virginia; Adventure Guide to Virginia; The Appalachian Trail Guide to Shenandoah National Park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication