The Other Shenandoah
Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, stretching over 100 miles along the Appalachian's Blue Ridge from near Waynesboro to Front Royal, is a very narrow preserve. In places it is less than one mile wide, extending to 11 miles at its widest. The park offers panoramic views for auto tourists from scattered overlooks along Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the 300-square mile sanctuary. Beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah, where bears furtively roam the hollows and brook trout ply the rocky streams. Quartz, granite and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest, allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley.
This other Shenandoah must be reached by foot, where oaks grow tall on the ridgetops and waterfalls pour down wooded canyons. In other places, pioneer cemeteries, farmsteads and old homesites are squeezed into narrow valleys.My hiking partner, John Cox, and I decided to see this other Shenandoah, traversing the length of the park, south to north. The Appalachian Trail would be our main path, especially where the park was very narrow, but we were also going to drop off the AT to travel some of the lesser used Shenandoah trails and camp off the beaten path.
Our trip began near the south entrance, at Turks Gap, on the Appalachian Trail. It was early June and the entire park was coming alive: leaves just emerging at the highest points, abundant mountain laurel blooming, birds chirping everywhere, and in the valleys native brook trout were fattening up after a lean winter. Brilliant cobalt skies contrasted with the tender green leaves that seemed to grow before our very eyes. The AT climbed away from the 2,600-foot high saddle. Our packs were heavy with ten days worth of supplies and gear. After two miles, the AT crossed Skyline Drive, a recurring event here at Shenandoah, then reached the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which we took down into Riprap Hollow.
Riprap Hollow was lush with hardwoods and Catawba rhododendron that shaded Meadow Run, a bubbling mountain stream. John and I picked up the Riprap Trail as it wound among sizable boulders. We found a campsite, then took a swim in a deep pool below a small falls.
The next day would be more challenging than our five-miler of the day before. We ascended out of Riprap Hollow onto Rocks Mountain and made 3,374-foot Chimney Rock. An expansive vista opened before our eyes of the Shenandoah Valley and Trayfoot Mountain. A deep crevasse separated white quartz Chimney Rock and other, safer rock. A small bridge once spanned the crevasse; you can still see the pitons that once secured the bridge.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication