Shenandoah National Park

Spring at Shenandoah National Park
Spring blossoms in Shenandoah National Park.

Nature Study at Shenandoah
Several biologically diverse environments lie within Shenandoah National Park. Though heavily settled, there are stands of old-growth forest in places like Limberlost, where huge hemlocks stand together, shading dark woods. Other areas, like Big Meadows, are wide open, thanks to both Indians and settlers who roamed this location. Here is a high country wetland, with unique flora and fauna. The power of floods is demonstrated on Moormans River, in its long-term recovery from a 1995 flood. Wildflowers are abundant on many trails, coursing through fertile valleys. On rocky ridges, white quartz outcrops reveal the underlying story in rock, which makes the mountains of Shenandoah. The following destinations will help you understand the nature of this national park.

Walk Beneath an Old-Growth Forest
Enter a woodland of 350-400-year-old hemlocks. This is the largest area of old-growth forest in the park, which was preserved by a fellow named George Pollack. He named the area Limberlost after a forest described in a novel by Gene Porter, entitled Girl of the Limberlost. Mushrooms, mosses, and some spruce trees also thrive at the head of the Robinson River on this nearly level area.

Explore Big Meadows
Big Meadows is the largest treeless area in the park, once kept open by fire and other means for grazing. Here also is Big Meadows Swamp, a 3,500-foot-high bog where marsh marigolds and other wetland plants grow. Wildlife can be abundant in the openings. Take the Story-of-the-Forest Nature Trail around dusk or dawn to possibly view deer, rabbits, foxes, and many birds.

Witness the Power of a Flood
Witness the incredible power of the 1995 flood on the North Fork of Moormans River gorge where massive mudslides are becoming revegetated among tree trunks buried in the soil, rocks, and piles of downed trees. Changes in nature often occur imperceptibly, but here, the sudden violent power of the elements was unleashed on this valley. Finally, view the falls at Big Branch, a side stream also gouged out by nature.

Stand atop Geology
Geology can sometimes be hard to understand, but from Chimney Rock, you can stand atop a massive white quartz outcrop, which was broken into blocks by ice wedging in stone cracks. From Skyline drive take the Riprap Trail on the spine of a ridge over the Calvary Rocks to reach Chimney Rock. The grand views from here show the upthrust of the Blue Ridge, which forms the park. Erosion-resistant Erwin quartzite forms these cliffs.

Take a Wildflower Walk
Wildflowers abound in many park locations. But for a good wildflower walk with a little human history thrown in, take the Thornton River Trail. In spring, hikers can see everything from tiny bloodroot and rue anemone to larger blooms of trees such as redbud and dogwood. The flowers change as the elevation changes. Scattered rock walls, rock piles, and old artifacts lie in the valley. The Thornton River is also one of the park's more productive trout streams.


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