This guide is designed to provide an overview of Shenandoah National Park. It starts with background material for orientation in time and space. You will enjoy your park experience more if you know where to go and what to look for, and if you have some idea of what happened here a hundred years ago, and a billion years ago. For a well-exercised mind, the knowledge you will want to carry is not a heavy burden.
The first third of the guide provides this introductory material. The rest, keyed to Skyline Drive mile by mile, provides you with detailed information about the many features of the park. The first thing you will see on each page is the mile number, so you will know exactly the point on the Drive being described. Thus, if you know the mile number where you are, you can turn at once to the discussion about the Drive and a wealth of information on views, hikes, legends, flora and fauna of that area.
Q: How do I know the mile number of where I am?
A: There are mileposts - concrete with black numbers - beside the Drive. If you're going south on the Drive, that is, away from Front Royal and toward the Blue Ridge Parkway, the mileposts are on your right, and the mile numbers increase as you go. Of course if you're going north they're on the left, and the mile numbers decrease. Be aware that the drive twists and turns and in some places doubles back, so that compass directions are not always useful. Throughout this guide the term milepost is used when a place, for example the start of a trail, occurs at an even milepoint. The term mile is used when a place is located between mileposts and should use your odometer to determine location.
Q: I haven't noticed any mileposts. Where am I now?
A: Here are a few of the places you might be, some are located directly at the mileposts, but most are at intermediate points as noted:
||Front Royal Entrance Station
||Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Picnic Ground
||Mathews Arm Campground
||Elkwallow Wayside (food, campstore, gift shop, gas, picnic ground)
||Thornton Gap (U.S. 211 interchange)
||Site of former Panorama Facility
||Pinnacles picnic area
||Skyland (North Entrance - Restaurant, Lodging)
||Big Meadows (campground, Lodging, Picnic Ground, Byrd Visitor Center, Wayside, Restaurant, Grocery Store)
||Lewis Mountain Campground.
||Swift Run Gap (U.S. 33 Interchange)
||Loft Mountain Wayside
||Rockfish Gap entrance station
||Rockfish Gap (Interchange with Blue Ridge Parkway, U.S. 250, and I-64).
If you can, take a few minutes to thumb through the book and find out what you have here. Study the table of contents, so you'll know how to find the information you need now. If time is short, turn directly to the part of the log of the Drive that deals with where you are. If you want to start hiking now (and hopefully, read the introductory material later) check the list of recommended hikes. The list describes the milepoint at the trail head, length, amount of climbing, difficulty, and approximate time required.
Q: Actually, my problem is this. I plan to visit 24 National Parks in two weeks, and I have only three hours for this one. What do you suggest?
A: Get in your car and drive. If you go at exactly the speed limit you can do the whole of Skyline Drive, from one end to the other, in about three hours.
Q: How could I add a dimension?
A: Slow down. Have lunch at a picnic ground, a wayside, or a lodge. Stop at the overlooks with their magnificent scenery. Read what this guide says about them. Study Heatwole's sketch, if there is one that identifies the mountains you see. Invest a little time in it. Your investment will pay interest.
Q: And three dimensions?
A: Follow a trail into one of the hollows, down where the streams and waterfalls are; then climb back. Or climb a peak, sit on the edge of a cliff, and look down between your feet at the scenery. You'll be sharply aware of a third dimension.
Q: How do I use the sketches?
A: After you've seen the same mountain from several different overlooks and different angles, identifying it each time because it's named on the sketch, that mountain will begin to be, for you, a real and individual thing - not just another hump in the scenery. If you follow a trail to the top of that mountain, and get very tired doing so, then, wherever you may go, it will be not just any mountain but yours, forever.
Q: I was kidding about having three hours to spend. There's plenty of time.
A: Then if you'll be patient and work a little; if you'll learn to know this place and cover a significant part of it on your own two feet; if you learn something of its trees and flowers, bears and deer, chipmunks and salamanders; if you become conscious of the people who once lived in these mountains, and know how to find and interpret the evidence of their life here; if you learn to read the stories written in the rocks; if you can see this National Park not as a thing but as a process; if you become more aware of your surroundings, and aware of yourself as an organism in this environment and the most recent event in its history; if you can become a friend of weather - all kinds of weather - and a connoisseur of solitude; then you are about to have a polyfaceted, multidimensional, quality experience. Intellectually, as well as monetarily, the rich get richer.