Shenandoah National Park

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The view from Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park
The view from Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park (John F. Mitchell/courtesy, NPS)

The legendary Shenandoah Valley stretches down to the west of Shenandoah National Park. Almost European in texture, the valley offers history, scenery, nature, and poetry. ("O Shenandoah, I long to see you. ...")

The town of Staunton is known as its Queen City. Staunton is a hilly city, full of interesting Victorian architecture. It also has excellent restaurants, first-class lodging, and carriage rides. In short, a fine place for romance. But if you really want history, Lexington has it. Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson called this town home for a while. The downtown area has two historic universities: Washington & Lee and Virginia Military Institute, a great old cemetery, a decent museum, and many fine old buildings. Bridgewater is a venerable small farm town, dating back to the 1750s. Today, it's a bed and breakfast, antique store kind of place. But interesting and worth the stop—maybe even the overnight stay.

The area's caverns are a special attraction. The Shenandoah Valley karst (or water-soluble rock) geography is riven with caverns. A few of the most famous are the Grand Caverns near Grotto, the Shenandoah and Endless Caverns near New Market, and the Natural Bridge Caverns. But you don't have to go out of your way. Some of the most spectacular show caverns can be found in Luray, near the park's headquarters, and at Front Royal, near the Park's north entrance. The Front Royal caverns are named, fittingly, the Skyline Caverns.

The George Washington National Forest covers the western ridge of the Valley. This million-acre treasure, along with its sister, the Thomas Jefferson National Forest, are two of the most recreationally-minded forests in the system. Both forests feature knowledgeable staffs overseeing terrific biking and hiking trails, and lakes and streams for boating and fishing.


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