I Long to See Your Smiling Valley
July 19, 2010 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I am going to Shenandoah National Park for a few days the last week of September. What are your favorite hiking trails, and other sights, in the park? Where would you recommend I stay?

I won't be camping. I will be coming up from the south, so I was thinking of staying in either Staunton or Waynesboro. If you have better suggestions, I'd like to hear them.

I'm looking for day hikes. Waterfalls are nice, but I mostly like to hike up mountains for the views and the vistas. I'm in good hiking condition, so length and elevation change aren't an issue—6-8 hours is fine—just not interested in any overnight stuff. If there are some exceptional 2-3 hour hikes, perhaps I could do two in a day. For those who have been, or live nearby, what trails did you enjoy most?

What else should I know?
posted by netbros to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely climb old Rag. It's really an unusual hike for the area. A real summit, some rock scrambling, and great views. White Oak Canyon is also a great hike with great waterfalls and swimming holes if it's warm enough.
posted by trbrts at 4:34 PM on July 19, 2010

If you're coming from farther south you should consider stopping and hiking Mt Rogers on the way. It's the tallest point in Va and it actually seems more like hiking out west when you start getting some elevation. Totally different than any other hike in Va.
posted by white_devil at 4:54 PM on July 19, 2010

I don't know many of the southern trails, but if you're willing to come further north, Old Rag and the loop of Oak Creek Canyon (up) & Ceder Run (down) are excellent, as trbrts notes. I highly recommend hikingupward.com to get good information on the trails in the Virginia/West Virginia area.
posted by Gori Girl at 5:03 PM on July 19, 2010

I've gone with a group of friends every memorial day for the past several years. We stay in cabins at either Skyland or Big Meadows in the park itself. There are single rooms available in the lodges, and pretty nice restaurants available in the lodges.

At the gift shop at the Big Meadows Wayside, Mile 52, there is a Horton Vineyards Pear Port that is so so very yummy. Buy it. You will not regret it.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:05 PM on July 19, 2010

Thirding Old Rag - it's a great, not-too-difficult hike with some great views. I did run into a black bear on the trail one time, but I gather that's pretty rare, and I don't know that it's less likely anywhere else in Shenandoah. The drive to the trail (at least, coming from the DC area) was also quite lovely.

I might also recommend floating down the river - it can be quite peaceful. The fishing was never very good (mostly tiny sunfish, with some large groups of bottom-feeding carp thrown in), but the scenery is great. I can't remember the place we used to rent canoes, but I'm sure there are several places you can do it.
posted by dilettanti at 5:16 PM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: The summit of Turk Mountain is known for great views. I did a much shorter version of the hike described in that link--we must have started from the Turk Gap parking area.

It's outside the park, and I haven't gone there myself, but I've heard good things about the St. Mary's Wilderness.

White Oak Canyon is really nice, with good swimming holes and natural water slides, but it's popular and can be (relatively) crowded on hot weekends.

If you're choosing between Waynesboro and Staunton, go with Staunton if you'll be spending any time downtown or looking for a good restaurant (try Mockingbird for dinner). If your plan is to crash in a highway motel and feed yourself out of a cooler, then Waynesboro will be closer to the Rockfish Gap park entry.

The pear port that selfmedicating mentions is legendary among my friends. If you categorically loathe dessert wines, it's probably not worth the investment, but if you're open to it, try some with roquefort and walnuts.
posted by Orinda at 5:32 PM on July 19, 2010

Old Rag and White Oak Canyon...awesome
posted by dmbfan93 at 5:33 PM on July 19, 2010

Because Skyline Drive is usually pretty high up, a lot of the hikes up from it to peaks tend to be short, and the nice hikes (that I've been on) tend to be down the canyons from Skyline.

There is (or was) a nice loop hike connecting Doyles River trail and Jones Run.

The trail through the Limberlost (ancient hemlock forest) and down Whiteoak Canyon is also nice.

For lodging, you might also look in Charlottesville as a backup. It's only ~45 minutes of nice drive to the southern trailheads and there's decent restaurants and such. Which reminds me that if your chosen weekend is parents weekend at UVa, then... choose another weekend. Also, there is or was a decent hotel right at I-64 and the Parkway where it turns into Skyline Drive.

Dunno if it's still open, but back in the day many people swore by Crozet Pizza in Crozet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:49 PM on July 19, 2010

Old Rag and White Oak Canyon are awesome. But if you start from skyline drive you will be going down and down and down and then up and up and up. I would spend the frist night at Graves mountain lodge. Have a family style dinner and breakfast. Hike Old Rag and then have your boxed lunch(3 meals are provided with your stay) on the summet. Then i would head up to drive, you might be able to catch the sunset at stonyman. I would also recomend the Bearfence scramble. A quick hike with maybe the best view in the park. But there are a few parts where you really need to watch your footing (I wouldnt bring kids or attempt when wet.)
posted by ihadapony at 7:25 PM on July 19, 2010

Nthing White Oak Canyon and Graves Mountain Lodge! I have not stayed there, but I love Syria!
posted by jgirl at 7:52 PM on July 19, 2010

Old Rag is a lovely hike! I have very fond memories of it from my childhood. That and Mary's Rock, which has a spectacular view. I also love Big Meadows, which isn't much of a hike, but it's beautiful- particularly in the late afternoon. You might also think about hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

There is still a motel/hotel right at Rockfish Gap, and while there are usually 4-5 cars in its parking lot, I don't know anyone who has actually stayed there. It doesn't look horrible. I've had good stays at park-based hotels, and those are geat for being immersed in the overall experience. I generally recommend Staunton over Waynesboro for Visitors, but Waynesboro is closer. You can get decent BBQ, Mexican food, and custard-style ice cream in Waynesboro if all you want is a place to sleep while spending most of your time in the Park.

Crozet Pizza is still there; the children run it now, but the Pizza is pretty much the same.
posted by julen at 9:56 PM on July 19, 2010

Thanks, netbros, this is great; I'm heading up in August and was going to post the exact same question. I'd love to piggyback and ask specifically about cheap ($40-$60/night) motels in the area. If you had a flexible itinerary and were just roaming around, how easy would it be to find a motel room on short notice, say, in the early evening?
posted by mediareport at 5:04 AM on July 20, 2010

This is a awesome 1/2 day hike up around Stony Man. It's pretty nothing but vistas to the West the entire time.

posted by COD at 6:01 AM on July 20, 2010

Most anywhere in the Valley should be beautiful that time of year. If you want pizza and/or Italian food, Romano's Bistro in MacGaheysville (East of Harrisonburg on Highway 33) is incredible. It's very casual, but the food is awesome. That's not exactly convenient to Staunton *or* Waynesboro, but the Swift Run entrance to the park is only 10 minutes or so down 33 from there.

My husband and I got married at the Inn at Old Virginia and stayed there for our "honeymoon" afterwards. Their food was amazing, though they may have replaced the chef in the intervening 8 years since I was there. It's a beautiful place though, and just outside of Staunton so you don't have to deal with being "downtown". I highly recommend it, if you like B&Bs.

Oh and if you do stay in Staunton, try to remember that it's pronounced Stanton, not Stahnton~

Sadly I have nothing to offer as far as trails go; I've lived here for almost 10 years and have only been up in the park twice, despite living a mere 10 minutes away. Hope you have a great time!
posted by ashirys at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: My brother and I visited Shenandoah September 22-24, 2010 for 2½ days. On the first day, we hiked the Cedar Run/Whiteoak Canyon Loop, a strenuous 2400' of elevation change down Cedar Run, then back up Whiteoak. We started from the Hawksbill Gap parking area between miles 45 and 46 on the Skyline Drive. Within the first 20 minutes, we encountered an adult male black bear, another reason we love the national parks. After a brief second to size up our security, we realized the bear was not a threat to us, and the moment became exciting and exhilarating. This was quite the 8-mile hike. There are two waterfalls on Cedar Run and another six in the Whiteoak Canyon. On this day in late September the water was a trickle, but these cascades should be rushing during spring runoff. Following a break for dinner we hiked up the Stony Man Mountain trail in the Skyland area of the park for our first evening views of the Shenandoah Valley. We managed to catch the sunset over the valley at the Spitler Knoll Overlook. On our way to the south exit we encountered many deer and turkey on the Skyline Drive.

Day two found us on the trail early in the Panorama Area of the park to climb the Meadow Spring Trail to Mary's Rock. From there you have a view of the Thorton Gap entrance station and the mountains to the north. The Appalachian Trail crosses Mary's Rock and we encountered a couple hikers who had been on the AT for several days. After climbing back down we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the meadows at Big Meadows then headed to the trailhead for the climb to the tallest mountain in the park. Hawksbill Mountain stands 4050', one of only two peaks (along with Stony Man) over 4000' in the park. The views of the Shenandoah Valley were splendid. At the end of the day, we exited the park to the north in Front Royal, VA.

On our last day we climbed to the top of Turk Mountain in the southern part of the park. On this trail we saw more seasonal coloring in the forest than we had the previous two days. The views from the summit of the south valley were some of the best we had seen from any of the mountaintops. When hiking in national parks, forests, wilderness or other protected lands, please always remember to Leave No Trace. At the end of our visit to Shenandoah National Park, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Roanoke on our way home to North Carolina. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Shenandoah, visiting with the mountains and the wildlife.

Here are pictures if you're interested. [obvious self-link]
posted by netbros at 4:30 PM on October 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

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