Travel at Home – Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah, The Piedmont, The Blue Ridge; names that conjure visions of wilderness, log cabins and the old Frontier. All these are true but there is so much more to see and explore here. Walk a path into Shenandoah National Park and you hike into wilderness and history, natural wonders and relics of the past.

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The Park

Shenandoah National Park (The Park) lies west of the Nation’s Capitol, about an hour and a half removed from the noise, congestion and hustle of the city. Trails abound in The Park, about 500 miles of them if you include the very hikable fire roads too. Any one of these will lead to places that let you breathe, reconnect with the earth and silently soak up Nature’s offerings.

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There is no greater restorative than a hike in the woods away from all man made sights and sounds. The forest grounds and reconnects us with the basic elements we so often forget while taking care of the day to day business of ” life”. So go slowly at times, watch the sunlight filter through the leaves, listen to the brook as it tumbles and cascades downhill at breakneck speed, smell the earthy, peaty mustiness of the leaf litter beneath your feet and exhale into being.

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Not long after you begin most hikes you’ll notice large piles of rocks left by the previous inhabitants as they cleared the rocky, densely forested land to raise apples, corn, cabbage, potatoes and other produce to be eaten fresh, traded or stockpiled against the areas unpredictable winters. Stone walls tell us of some long ago farmer diligently placing each stone, wider at the base to ensure the stability of the wall so that decades or even centuries later they stand straight and true as the day they were built. Foundations, chimneys and sometimes a complete cabin sit silently in the forest, witness to the former inhabitants that called these hills and hollows home. It is both haunting and humbling to stumble upon these relics.

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The Trail

Buck Hollow Trail is a short (2.8 mi) but very steep hike ( elevation gain 1750 ft) between Skyline Drive and Route 211 with trailheads located both in the Park at Meadow Springs Parking Lot around milepost 33.5 on the Drive or by the left side of Route 211 shortly after it enters The Park just past Sperryville, Va. I prefer this entrance as you hike up hill with a major elevation gain to reach the Drive. Coming down at the end is easier, though for some with knee problems the reverse may be true.

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As you continue your ears become attuned to the sounds in the forest, the chirping of the birds, a frog croaking somewhere under cover, or maybe, if you’re lucky, the call of the yellow billed cuckoo or wild turkey. Be aware too that not only birds and smaller animals, but deer and bear are residents here and you’re very likely to see them or hear them foraging off the path nearby.

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Ascending the trail and fording a creek you are again on your way. You might notice cairns left by previous hikers though these are frowned upon by the purist hiker (and The Park) as both leaving a possible hazard to future hikers and disturbing the natural habitat of the parks amphibians and insects. As you ascend you begin to get glimpses through the trees at surrounding mountain tops, maybe Pass Mountain or Oventop Mountain and realize just how much elevation you’ve gained. Not too much more hiking and you’re at Meadow Springs parking lot on Skyline Drive.

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You can return by the same route or descend in a 5.6 mile loop using the Buck Ridge Trail which is steep but has stairs built in some of the steeper places to make it a bit easier. Other trails beckon, Nicholson Hollow Trail, Corbin Cabin Cutoff, Overall Run-Tuscarora Trails, The Hull School Trail. I look forward to exploring, photographing and sharing adventures on these and many more trails in the future.

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Tony Lavato lives, breathes, and explores the Shenandoah from a local’s perspective. Living along the foothills of the Shenandoah, he shares of his bohemian experience of the outdoors, country life, and of being with nature.

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