Project Description

“Some men are drawn to oceans, they cannot breathe unless the air is scented with a salty mist. Others are drawn to land that is flat, and the air is sullen and is leaden as August. My people were drawn to mountains. They came when the country was young and they settled in the upland country of Virginia that is still misted with a haze of blue which gives those mountains their name.”

–The Waltons/Appalachian Portrait by Earl Hamner, Jr.

One might say that Earl Hamner, Jr. was one of the most successful travel writers in the world. The native Virginian—a critically acclaimed author and television writer—introduced millions of television viewers throughout the world to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in his long-running television series, The Waltons.

Like Hamner, my people were drawn to those majestic blue peaks that run down the western spine of the Old Dominion. Many families in Virginia—including mine—make an annual pilgrimage to Shenandoah National Park  and Skyline Drive .

Located about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., the 200,000-acre park stretches for 105 miles from the northern entrance at Front Royal to the southernmost entrance at Rockfish Gap (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). Called Skyline Drive, the point-to-point route is one of the most popular scenic drives in America, especially in the fall when the mountains are ablaze with color. The 105-mile highway through the park runs along the crest of the mountains and has 70 overlooks along the way—perfect for a great selfie or a panoramic portrait of the hazy blue peaks or vibrant fall foliage. As the drive has a speed limit of 35mph, it takes about three hours to drive it from end to end.

Play

Shenandoah National Park is one of only a handful of national parks that are not only pet friendly, but also allow canines to hike with their humans. Of the more than 500 miles of trails, less than 20 miles are restricted. The park’s website has safety tips for four-legged visitors and a dedicated section detailing the wide array of pet friendly accommodations, from lodges and cabins to campgrounds. If your pal is athletic and adventurous, you’ll find hours of outdoor activities to enjoy. Dogs must be on a six-foot leash at all times, and be aware that you will encounter all types of wildlife so keep a close eye and firm hold on canines that have a disposition for hunting. It’s also advisable to stick to the easier trails when taking your pooch along as rocky or difficult hikes can injure your pal’s paws, and be sure to carry water and first aid supplies for both yourself and your furry friend.

Part of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the Appalachians, Shenandoah is filled with unique rock formations and waterfalls, more than 500 miles of trails, 100 species of trees,330 species of animals and 1,100 flowering plants. Bears and bobcats share the forest with chipmunks and squirrels, raccoons and rabbits, white-tailed deer and groundhogs. Early human settlers also left a legacy in the mountains and the park has more than 100 family cemeteries along with ruins of cabins and farms. The Rapidan Camp was built by the Hoovers, serving as their “summer White House”, an escape from muggy Washington during the dog days of summer.

Stay

The park offers pet friendly accommodations at Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland and Lewis Cabins, with a maximum of two pets per room and an additional $30 per night pet cleaning fee. Check out the Pampered Pooch Package which includes some fun extras like a Shenandoah doggie leash, water bowl and special treats.

I love the rustic Big Meadows Lodge With its rustic timber and stone exterior and chipmunks frolicking under its shady canopy of trees, I feel like I’m in the heart of the mountains. The lodge offers a limited number of pet friendly rooms—mostly the traditional rooms and some two-bedrooms— and they are fairly small, so you might want to check out the pet friendly Lewis Cabin option. The largest lodge in the park is Skyland, located at the top of Skyline Drive. Established in 1888 as a mountain retreat and sitting at 3,680 feet, Skyland offers panoramic views of the valley and many of its 178 guestrooms and cabins welcome pets.

Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive are absolutely packed in the fall—and park lodging sells out a year in advance—so be prepared for heavy traffic on the drive and if you haven’t made a reservation, keep your fingers crossed for a cancellation.

If you’re planning a day visit, the National Park Service offers several free days every year. In 2020, August 25th is fee-free in honor of the NPS birthday, September 26th is National Public Lands Day and fees are also waived on November 11th for Veterans Day.

Covid 19 Travel Information for the Park

Shenandoah National Park is currently in Phase Two of its reopening. The park is open 24 hours a day, most trails, campsites and shelters are open, although camp stores and visitor centers may have reduced hours or be closed. Patrons in the camp stores are limited in number and required to wear masks. The exhibits in the Byrd Visitor Center, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and the historic Rapidan Camp are currently closed. Check the park’s website for updated information on closures. Note also that you will need to download trail maps before your visit as paper handouts are not available at this time.

Photos by Virginia.org