7 Days at Shenandoah National Park (1 of 7)

Two years ago, my wife came to me asking if we can visit all of the National Parks.  Seeing as there are 59 parks and most are out west, I did not think it was in the cards for us.  However, I wanted to indulge the idea. Why not, I love the outdoors and epic adventures. Last year we visited Acadia, our first National Park.  It was an interesting experience due to the crowds and relative size of the park.  We throughly enjoyed ourselves after some frustrations figuring out the park logistics.  After our trip to Acadia, we immediately started planning the next National Park excursion.  The next closest park for us, being on the east coast, was Shenandoah National Park.

Being near the Shenandoah River to take advantage of the great Smallmouth bass fishing and river tubing was a requirement.

We began pinning the “10 must do hikes”, the “5 best waterfalls”, “best family friendly hikes” and things to do around Shenandoah NP. As with our Acadia adventure, our plan was to find an AirBB, HomeAway or the like and split it with my in-laws.  We also wanted a location where there was more than just hiking in the park. Being near the Shenandoah River to take advantage of the great Smallmouth bass fishing and river tubing was a requirement. We discovered another “must-do”, the Luray Caverns, to be near the central district.  We found the best location based on our “best of” lists was to stay in the central district of the park near the Thornton Gap entrance. General location pinned down.

My wife found a great house on the river called Island Ford Riverfront Cabin in Rileyville, VA. The house was on the river, came equipped with tubes, kayaks, canoes and a hot tub with great view.  The bonus was everyone gets their own bedroom and more importantly 2 full bathrooms.

I was in charge of the entertainment. The challenge was planning hikes that accommodated the different fitness levels of my family and still challenge everyone just a little bit. I reviewed the NPS page for hiking opportunities in the park. They have clear designations for the hikes ranging from Easiest to Very Strenuous with approximate hiking times and elevation gains.  I was very impressed with their maps and documentation.  But never hiking a trail in the park, I did not have a good reference point.

Easiest Generally suitable for anyone who enjoys walking. Mostly level or with a slight incline. Generally less than 3 miles.
Moderate Generally suitable for novice hikers seeking a bit of a challenge. The terrain will involve a moderate incline and may have some steeper sections. Generally 3 to 5 miles
Moderately Strenuous Generally challenging for an unconditioned person. The terrain will involve a steady and often steep incline. Generally 5 to 8 miles.
Strenuous Will challenge most hikers. The hike will generally be longer and steeper, but may be deemed strenuous because of the elevation gain. Generally 7 to 10 miles
Very Strenuous Only well-conditioned and well-prepared hikers should attempt. Generally long and steep, and may include rock scrambling, stream crossings, and other challenging terrain. Generally 8 miles and over.

I painstakingly planned routes using Caltopo , created a spreadsheet of all hikes and POIs and reviewed it all with my family. As the week neared, I tried to match the activities with the weather. The first couple of days were going to be 90+, then some thunderstorms and a few days in the low to mid 80’s. I knew harder hikes needed to start early in the day and planned for the caverns and tubing on the days that were 90+ or with chance of rain.

List of must do’s:

  1. Old Rag Mountain (Most popular trail, also one of the longest and most strenuous hikes)
  2. Stony Man Mountain
  3. Dark Hallow Falls
  4. Whiteoak Canyon (1 waterfall or 6 if you hike the whole trail)
  5. Hawksbill Mountain (Tallest peak in the park)

Other than the smell of death on the front porch and fly paper hanging in the kitchen, it looked just about perfect.

We arrived at the house mid-day on a Saturday. And discovered the house was at the end of a winding gravel road not wide enough for two cars. The property was very well maintained.  It had a really nice way to access the river. Other than the smell of death on the front porch and fly paper hanging in the kitchen, it looked just about perfect. After sitting on the porch, we discovered the death smell was from a fly trap. We promptly moved it away and enjoyed the views of the mountains. My guess is the fly trap attracted the flys to the door which made their way into the house, thus the need for the fly paper. Guess what, no flies in the house all week, go figure.

Along with the boats and tubes, the house had some other bonuses we learned about upon arriving. It came with a parking pass for a put-in location on the river that allowed us a 2 mile float with a take-out at our house. Very cool. In addition, the owner came by with gallon jugs to pick blackberries from his property 2 doors down. Again, bonus!

The rest of our adventure coming soon! Like us on Facebook for updates.


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