Weaving along the scenic byway, every curve of the road presented lush forestry and gorgeous overlooks to view the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the valley below. Shenandoah National Park is a scenic escape into the wilderness just 75 miles outside of Washington D.C. Since becoming a national park in 1935, Shenandoah has graced visitors with the sights of its vast landscape; from its deep hollows and wide valleys, to its cascading waterfalls and broad vistas.
Let me take you on a weekend journey and introduce you to sights you can find in and around Shenandoah National Park.
Traveling late on Friday night, we arrived at the Luray KOA campgrounds in Luray, Virginia. Nestled 15 minutes outside of Shenandoah National Park, it is a great area for viewing the mountain landscape every morning at sunrise.
After a quick breakfast, my boyfriend and I joined our friend, Megan, to begin a day full of hiking Shenandoah’s trails. With over 500 miles of hiking trails, it was a hard choice deciding which trails we wanted to climb. We opted with Lower Hawksbill Trail/Salamander Trail/Appalachian Trail Circuit and the Lewis Falls Waterfall.
Located at mile marker 45.6 on Skyline Drive, Lower Hawksbill Trail/Salamander Trail/Appalachian Trail is a 2.9 mile loop. With a climb up the mountainside that could get anyone’s blood pumping, we reached the rocky outlook and were greeted with the most majestic of views. At 4,051 ft., Hawksbill Mountain Overlook is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.
With an expansive rocky ledge and no vegetation to block your view, the landscape on that sunny Saturday was absolutely gorgeous. It is amazing how small everything seems when viewing the world below from that elevation.
We continued on our hike, but instead of an out-and-back on the Lower Hawksbill Trail, we ventured down the Salamander Trail, weaving our way back down the mountain towards the Appalachian Trail. Also known as the AT, the Appalachian Trail passes directly through Shenandoah.
Once we completed Hawksbill, we continued up towards mile marker 51.2 on Skyline Drive to the Lewis Falls Trail. A 3.3-mile loop, the Lewis Falls is a difficult trail with a continuous decline down narrow, rocky terrain. We could hear the waterfall from the path, the mountain water rushing alongside rocky ledges. We crossed over a small flowing stream, that was drawing itself to the top of the waterfall, and made our way to the waterfall observation deck. The Lewis Falls plunges 81 feet down into the hollow below, an impressive and tranquil sight.
The ascent back up the mountainside was a series of steep switchbacks. Each consecutive curve of the trail led us that much closer to the Appalachian Trail trail post. Though we didn’t spot any large wildlife, like black bears, they did leave behind their tracks on the trail, letting us know they were close by. The AT led us back to our starting point and gave us a few more peeks of the valley below from the ridgeline.
After a day of strenuous hikes, what better way to cool down from the 85-degree heat than with a beer! We drove south along Skyline Drive, which is the scenic byway that leads directly through Shenandoah, and exited the park going west towards Harrisonburg, VA. Our destination: Pale Fire Brewing Co.
Opening in April 2015, Pale Fire Brewing Co. is a part of the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail and the Shenandoah Spirits Trail. We chose to sample some of their beers out on the brewery’s deck, overlooking the courtyard below. Their beer menu had plenty of variety, from lighter assortments such as IPA’s and pale ales to a smooth Belgian Tripel called Loop & Lil. At 8.5% ABV, it was filled with strong notes of orange and coriander.
One of their flagship beers, Salad Days American Saison, was the perfect post-hike beer! Hints of citrus flavors and peach lingered in this refreshingly tart beer. Be careful because, at 7% ABV, this one will sneak up on you quickly! We also tried the Rorschach Dark Saison, Red Molly Irish Red Ale, Golden Hour American Wheat and the Electric Sheep Belgian Amber. This brewery is worth stopping at to sample a flight, so we will definitely be back!
We couldn’t just leave Harrisonburg to go back to the camp without food, however. So, we walked three blocks from the brewery to Bella Luna Wood-Fired Pizza. A local farm-to-table restaurant, Bella Luna has fantastic pizza available in 10″ pies. We chose the Sopressatta, the Sausage and the Verde, a white pizza with fresh basil pesto, ricotta and parmesan. It had “delicious leftover” written all over it. (It was, by the way.) By 9 p.m., it was time to say our goodbyes to Megan and head back to the KOA campground.
The next day was going to be filled with sightseeing, so we needed to get started right and find coffee. I love discovering local coffee roasters, so when I found Central Coffee Roasters in Sperryville, VA, I was very excited. Central Coffee Roasters is an artisan small batch coffee roaster with varieties such as Sumatra, Java and Campfire Blend. What we thought would be a coffee shop is actually the company’s retail store and sampling room.
Customers are free to sample whichever variety the have available. After attempting to try every kind and getting our fill of coffee for the day, we purchased the Mexico and Peru roasts to enjoy later. Their coffee is available for purchase online, but if you are in Shenandoah, be sure to stop in and meet owner Margaret Rogers, who is also a talented artist. Her Alice in Wonderland-themed illustrations decorate the walls of the store. She was also very good to remind us of how much goes into your cup of coffee in the morning and how it is not as simple as being just a drink. It is someone’s livelihood and a commodity that is fought over in many areas where her beans are sourced. Politics and upheaval in other areas of the world affect what roasts her company is able to produce, which in turn, affects her business. So, be sure to help support the local business the next time you are looking for your cup of coffee and appreciate the work that went in to creating it.
We finished our trip by doing a scenic drive along Skyline Drive through the park. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south in Shenandoah, along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is the only public road through the park and takes approximately three hours to travel the entire length. We picked up the road in Thornton Gap on Route 211, one of only four places that you can pick up Skyline Drive throughout the whole park. As we headed towards the edge of the park, we stopped along some of the overlooks for a few more beautiful views.
We enjoyed our time at Shenandoah and we will be sure to come back for new hikes and new adventures!