Oh Shenan­doah!

Just 75 miles from D.C., find rugged nat­u­ral land­scapes that quiet the mind and stir the soul.

Where Washington - - #WHEREDC - By John Bri­ley

THE FIRST THING you should know about Vir­ginia’s Shenan­doah National Park is that if you think you’re go­ing to take in the en­tire 104.6 miles of Skyline Drive, the park’s cur­va­ceous scenic by­way, in one day, you’re wrong.

It’s not the traf­fic or even the 75 pulloff over­looks along the way. What will con­sume your time in this rugged fin­ger of public land is the fre­quent need to park the car and ex­plore these an­cient Ap­palachian hills, start­ing with the 500 miles of trails that am­ble across streams, be­neath puls­ing wa­ter­falls and up rocky pitches to vis­tas of stacked moun­tain ridges that flow down to pas­toral val­leys.

On one re­cent trip, my wife, two kids and I stopped for a “brief” hike on the Dickey Ridge trail, in­tend­ing to kill an hour be­fore check­ing into our week­end rental house just west of the park. Four hours later, af­ter an up-and- down me­an­der that opened to a stir­ring view of wooded moun­tains un­marred by de­vel­op­ment, we re­turned to the car, dusted with trail dirt and hap­pily weary.

We had just sam­pled a morsel from an ex­pan­sive buf­fet, says Marie Style, who works at the Moun­tain Trails out­doors store in Winch­ester, Va., and has run—yes, run—al­most ev­ery trail in Shenan­doah, from the tech­ni­cal Old Rag, which gains (and then gives back) 2,415 feet of el­e­va­tion in a nine-mile cir­cuit, to the smooth and gen­tle Fox Hol­low, where you can still see ves­tiges of a 19th- cen­tury fam­ily farm, in­clud­ing its tiny ceme­tery.

Style calls the park “com­fort­able,” due to the em­brace of the ex­pan­sive tree canopy, and an easy place to see a va­ri­ety of wildlife. “It’s pretty com­mon to come across bears, which I see as a pos­i­tive,”

she says. And sure enough, dur­ing our last visit, we spot­ted a burly ur­sus amer­i­canus, eye­ing us back from 50 feet up a tree.

An­i­mal sight­ings are a bonus but not among the main rea­sons peo­ple visit the park, which spokesper­son Sally Hurl­bert says are: wa­ter­falls, vis­tas, his­tor­i­cal sites and the Ap­palachian Trail.

The AT, which tran­sects Shenan­doah on its run from Maine to Ge­or­gia, crosses Skyline Drive “around 30 times,” Hurl­bert says, leav­ing you with lit­tle ex­cuse to avoid hik­ing at least part of it. Among his­tor­i­cal sites, Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover’s camp, Rap­i­dan, is the most pop­u­lar. Tours re­veal the mod­est log cabin with a su­per­sized stone chim­ney and an ex­hibit on the 31st pres­i­dent’s life. (Make the re­quired reservations via re­cre­ation.gov or 877- 444- 6777.)

Shenan­doah’s 199,173 acres rise from the pied­mont in some of the old­est moun­tains on earth—the Blue Ridge— which formed 1.1 bil­lion to 250 mil­lion years ago. The hu­man foot­print here dates back around 12,000 years, when Na­tive Amer­i­cans started hunt­ing and fish­ing in the re­gion.

Lush pas­tures drew Scotch- Ir­ish and Ger­man im­mi­grants in the 1730s and, ac­cord­ing to the Shenan­doah Val­ley Travel As­so­ci­a­tion, fa­mous Amer­i­cans from Pres­i­dents Adams, Jef­fer­son, Madi­son and Mon­roe to Daniel Boone passed through the area at one point or an­other.

The val­ley also saw 14 Civil War bat­tles, and although none of the fight­ing oc­curred within park bound­aries, troops from both sides marched through these hills. Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als in par­tic­u­lar, most no­tably Stonewall Jack­son, used the Blue Ridge as a nat­u­ral screen to con­ceal their move­ments.

For a taste of more-re­cent his­tory, stop in Sky­land Re­sort, which opened in the late 1800s (the park was es­tab­lished in 1935) as a va­ca­tion spot for the broader re­gion’s ur­ban mid­dle class. Even if you don’t stay in one of the rus­tic cab­ins, some of which date to 1906, you should tour the Mas­sanut­ten Lodge. Built in 1911 and re­cently re­fur­bished, it of­fers live en­ter­tain­ment, from blue­grass and Amer­i­cana to clog­ging and coun­try.

You can find a sim­i­lar by­gone charm in the small towns fring­ing the park, where var­nished his­toric build­ings abut sketchy mo­tels and 100-year- old homes in var­i­ous states of re­pair. But the 21st cen­tury is ad­vanc­ing.

Among my fa­vorite new­com­ers is the Blue Wing Frog Pic­nic Mar­ket and Brew, in Front Royal, which en­tices lo­cals and trav­el­ers alike with scratch-made baked goods, sand­wiches, sal­ads and soups.

Re­cently my fam­ily and I set­tled in here for a late Sun­day lunch as we de­layed our re­turn to re­al­ity and sa­vored a chicken pome­gran­ate salad, cat­fish tacos, a pep­per­oni grilled cheese sand­wich and wild­flower honey le­mon­ade.

Robert Hall, an Ar­ling­ton trans­plant who owns Blue Wing with his wife, Kelly Sprague, cred­its the com­mu­nity for keep­ing him afloat. Three months af­ter open­ing, the restau­rant ran out of funds.

“The lo­cals ral­lied with a ‘cash mob,’ which meant we didn’t have to pay any credit card pro­cess­ing fees, and a Go­FundMe site,” Hall re­calls. “I walked in—and we didn’t even have ta­bles at the time—and there were 80 peo­ple in here. It brought tears to my eyes.”

So will Shenan­doah National Park, as long as you get out of the car and let the spirit of the moun­tains carry you away.

Af­ter an up-and-down me­an­der that opened to a stir­ring view of moun­tains un­marred by de­vel­op­ment, we re­turned to the car, dusted with trail dirt and hap­pily weary.

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