America's Best History - Shenandoah
Shenandoah Civil War Poster
Bronson Howard's Greater Shenandoah.  Photo courtesy Library of Congress.
The history of the Shenandoah region that spans the spine of Appalachia in the state of Virginia from the West Virginia border to Carolina is a varied lot.  It is the history of a people who, for the most part, have endured a specific mountain culture, even though located only a short distance from the metropolitan areas of Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond.  It is a history of nature, such a spectacular nature now evidenced within the confines of Shenandoah National Park and the awesome ride down Skyline Drive with its viewshed across the valleys on both sides of the roadbed below.  It presents such a range of colors in fall that October is the highest attendance month of the year.
It encompasses the history of the Civil War, with a variety of battles waged from the early days of the conflict to the later ravages of war in 1864.  It contains wonders beneath the hills in caverns with a variety of forms, from the large caves of Luray to the smaller passageways of Skyline Caverns.  The Shenandoah is a wonder that some on the east coast seem to forget and others marvel at with many forays to camp, for history, or for a drive.  It is well worth the effort to explore, no matter your interest.

The area's history begins with Indian culture, and passes through George Washington and his exploits in the French and Indian Wars, to the battles of the Civil War during Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862 and the cavalry battles between Sheridan and Early in 1864, and the exploration of the natural lands that now beget the protected national parks and forests of the area.  The highest points of the region are over four thousand feet, Hawksbill, and most of Shenandoah National Park is two thousand feet above sea level.

The park itself contains a rich history, and the various walks and talks by park rangers will concentrate not only on the natural beauty and nature that surrounds at every point of a hike, but the development of the park and drive through the Civilian Conservation Corps, plus the history of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park, Massanutten Lodge, and Rapidan Camp, the former summer retreat of President Herbert Hoover.

Camping and hiking opportunities abound with miles and miles of trails all along the Skyline Drive area.  The Appalachian Trail runs through the park on its winding way from Maine to Georgia.  Camping is provided in four distinct sites, with spaces for RVs and tents.  About 10% require reservations.


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Things You Should Not Miss

1. The drive in the sky.  Once you rise from the valley floor onto the two lane road of Skyline Drive, you are taken back in a landscape so beautiful that you'll want to pull off at every lookout point.  The landscape changes, of course, with the season.  Spring with the abundance of flowers as they bloom, summer with the full poster of the greenery in full force bounded by the mature trees along every turn, and in the fall, oh, colorful, beautiful fall, when the tourists take flight all along the roadway to get a glimpse of the red, orange, yellow, and brown hues as they overtake the landscape.  Even in winter, although the drive closes during very bad weather, the land takes on a different hue.  There's a lot more along Skyline Drive and within Shenandoah National Park, too.  Take a guided ranger walk and view the exhibits at the visitor centers.

2. The Civil War history in the area sometimes gets lost when compared to Antietam or Manassas or Gettysburg not too far away.  But the National Park Service is attempting, since 1996, to coordinate these various sites into a new national heritage area, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, which is run the by non-profit Shenandoah Battlefields Foundation.  At this time, the sites are a collection of local, state, private, and federal historic sites, most with a unique history all their own.

3. Dive into a cavern.  No matter whether you like them large, like Luray, or small and twisting, like Skyline Caverns just outside the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal, or Shenandoah Caverns, you'll be amazed at what beauty is in store below the ground, too.

The Civil War in the Shenandoah

What is There Now

Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive
Established in 1935, the park is predominantly wilderness, with campgrounds, visitors centers, ranger guided walks and talks, plus one hundred and five miles of scenic vistas up and down the drive.  You can get on and off the drive at several locations.  The park is open all year, but the drive may be closed at times due to weather conditions.  There are three Visitor Centers; Dickey Ridge at Mile 4.7, Harry F. Byrd at Mile 51.0 (across from Big Meadows), and Loft Mountain at 79.5.  Dickey Ridge and the Byrd Visitor Center include exhibits, plus other facilities.  Most are open from March to November, with Loft Mountain opening later in the season, usually at the end of May.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District
The district runs through eight Virginia counties and includes fifteen battlefields and 320 historic sites.  The foundation which runs the district is currently attempting to preserve as much of these battlefields as possible, with fourteen of them on the list; Second WInchester, First Kernstown, Second Kernstown, Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook, First Winchester, Third Winchester, Cool Spring, Front Royal, New Market, Port Republic, Cross Keys, and McDowell.  Cedar Creek is now part of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park.  Thus far, 2,133 acres have been protected, however, this is only 7% of the core battleground area targeted.

Lodging and Camping

Inside Shenandoah Valley National Park
There is a large amount of camping space inside the park, with four areas to serve your needs; Mathews Arm at Mile 22.2, Big Meadows at Mile 51.2, Lewis Mountain at Mile 57.5, and Loft Mountain at Mile 79.5.  Big Meadows opens at the end of March with the others coming on line throughout May.  Most remain open through most of October, with Big Meadows open through most of November.  Most sites are on a first come, first serve basis, although there are some sites that take reservations.  Lodging is provided inside the park at the Big Meadows Lodge, Mile 51, which has 99 rooms, and Skyland Resort, Mile 41.7, with 179 rooms.  There are also furnished cabins to be rented at Lewis Mountain, and PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club) primitive cabins that can be reserved.

Outside Shenandoah Valley National Park
From Front Royal at the northern end of the park to Luray in the center to the various other towns throughout the Shenandoah Valley, lodging and camping opportunities are plentiful.

Shenandoah Links

Shenandoah National Park

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Site

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Luray Caverns
Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District
Skyline Caverns

Nearby Attractions

Virginia Tourism
Shenandoah Valley Travel Association

Shenandoah Then and Now

Shenandoah National Park Cabin

Shenandoah Then

Scenic Vistas - The many scenic vistas were made more accessible with the construction of Skyline Drive.  The photo above shows a 1935 picture of a rustic Appalachian cabin with the photo of a tunnel along the roadway in the left margin.  Photos courtesy Library and Congress and the Historic American Engineering Record, respectively.

The Civil War Struggles
- The Shenandoah and Blue Ridge mountains often provided sanctuary and a hidden path for Confederate soldiers throughout the war, but during two campaigns, the Jackson Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and the Sheridan/Early battles of 1864, the sanctuary became a bloody battleground.  The image to the right is a depiction of one such battle in the Shenandoah Valley, at Harrisonburg on October 8, 1864, showing Rosser attacking the rear.

Shenandoah Now

Shenandoah Valley farm

Skyline Drive
- Four entrances throughout the drive allow you to get on and off after about an hour travel in each section.  The first photo shows fall cornshalks in a mountain farm along Skyline Drive.  Photo Courtesy LOC.  The second, below, is a spectacular winter scene at the entrance to a Skyline tunnel.

Skyline Drive Tunnel in Winter

Museums and Tours
- Exhibits and ranger guided tours are plentiful, check the information desk at the various visitor centers for their times and dates.  They focus on birds, Shenandoah history, and other topics of the valley and mountain.  Outside the park, if you love Civil War history, check out the many sites now being coordinated as the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Heritage District into five regional sites.  Cedar Creek and Belle Grove is now a National Historic Site as well, including Cedar Creek battlefield and Belle Grove Plantation.

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Visitor Statistics

Shenandoah National Park
1,136,505 visitors
#60 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

Shenandoah National Park

198,240 acres (Federal)
199,073 acres (Total)

Source: NPS, 2013 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

Shenandoah National Park Entrance Fees

$15 per car for seven days from March through November.  $10 per car from December to February.

$8 Individual, peak season.
$5 Individual, off-season.

$10 Motorcycle

Fees subject to change without notice.

Skyline Drive

Shenandoah Weather

Warm in summer with sudden showers.  The mountains of the Shenandoah area average 10 degrees below the floor of the valley.  Winter weather includes snow and ice.