Staying at Shenandoah Crossing in Gordonsville, VA, we entered the park at the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station.
We headed north to the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows. Along the way, we stopped at various overlooks along Skyline Drive. As expected, the views were spectacular.
There are a total of 75 overlooks along the 105-mile Skyline Drive. Mileposts are numbered north to south providing a reference for the location of facilities and services in the park.
The Byrd Visitor Center is located between mileposts 50 and 51 and is, therefore, near the middle of the park. The bronze statue at the park, Iron Mike, is dedicated to the 10,000+ men who served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps at Shenandoah National Park between 1933-1942. Inside are exhibits about the creation of the park. Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, campaigned for the creation of a national park in the east in the tradition of the beautiful national parks in the west.
Congress authorized a new national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, assembling the thousands of individually owned tracts that comprise the 521,000 acres of the park was very challenging as many did not want to sell their land. By 1934, the park service held the deeds for the land (granting some individuals the right to continue to live on their land for the rest of their lives). Meanwhile the CCC completed hundreds of projects in the park.
The park officially opened in late December of 1935, but large crowds visited in staggering numbers that year (500,000). By 1936, 700,000 people visited and over a million in 1937.
Shenandoah (and other National Parks) were segregated (lodging, dining, etc.) in the first half of the 1900s. In 1945, all parks were directed to move to full integration. Employees at Shenandoah initially threatened to quit and desegregation was not fully implemented here until 1950.
About 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail (extending 2,173 from Maine to Georgia) traverses Shenandoah National Park. On display is a pair of hiking boots worn by a woman who hiked the trail in 1978 (in approximately 7 months). What a journey though would be!
The Skyline Drive District was designated a National Historic District (1931-1951) in 1997.
Below is a view of the beautiful Big Meadows area.
After consulting with a park ranger, we decided to hike the Lewis Spring Falls Trail in the Big Meadows area. This is one of the few National Parks that permits leashed dogs on some of the trails. We drove to the Amphitheater parking lot to begin the 4-mile loop trail (rated moderate) that includes about a mile of the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT markers provide information on the distance to landmarks (both north and south).
I always love the ferns in any forest. There were many interesting rock formations along the trail as well.
The Lewis Spring Falls trail was well marked, but very rocky in some parts. It descends about 1,000 feet to the spring.
There are multiple overlooks along the trail providing gorgeous views of the mountains.
The trail crosses Lewis Spring above the falls. Our doggie, Sadie, immediately laid down in the water to cool off. (I was wishing I could do the same!)
A spur trail leads to an overlook for a better view of the Lewis Spring Falls. There is a railing that enables you to traverse the rocky (and slippery path) to reach the overlook. The falls descend about 80' to the bottom of this valley.
Continuing on the Lewis Spring Falls trail, we saw lots of interesting fungi growing on trees.
We reached the Appalachian Trail to continue on the loop trail back to the Big Meadows Amphitheater.
The Big Meadows Lodge is very close to the AT at this point.
Sadie's favorite part of hiking is exploring all of the new smells in the area. She was intrigued by these rocks...not sure what was in there, but we had to pull her away from them. We always get a little concerned that there might be a snake or something hiding in those crevices!
There is a large picnic area near the Amphitheater, but we had eaten our lunch on the trail.
Before leaving the Big Meadows Area, we made a quick stop at the Lodge. In addition to the rooms at the lodge, there are many cabins that can be rented here as well as a restaurant. A beautiful view of the mountains can be seen from the terrace.
There are over 500 miles of trails at Shenandoah National Park. This is a place we will definitely return to in the future for a much longer stay. It's gorgeous and you could literally spend months here. It is also a popular destination for visitors during autumn for the spectacular fall foliage. For additional information about the park, check out their website at www.nps.gov/shen. Everyone on the east coast should see this place!