Shenandoah National Park is the nearest of the 58 US national parks from my home, around 60 miles away. As such, it’s a great place to go for weekend outdoor activities when the weather is nice. The main route through the park is the Skyline Drive, which stretches around 100 miles from the north entrance to the south entrance of the park. There are a couple of highways that cut across the park, so you can also enter or exit the park at those points instead of coming or going all the way to the end.

Most people visiting the park stay only on the Skyline Drive. It has many nice lookouts where you can stop and enjoy the scenery. But if you’re physically able and have the time, I think you can enjoy the park even more by hiking through some of the 500 miles of trails within the park. Some of these trails take you to places with scenic views of the Shenandoah Valley, while others take you to waterfalls and streams. About 100 miles of the legendary Appalachian Trail goes through Shenandoah, so you might meet hikers in the middle of doing that epic journey. During the hike, you might also encounter the wildlife, from deer to wild turkey, rabbit, or even black bear. So for nature photographers who live in DC area, this is one of the popular photography destinations nearby.

The photo below was taken from a lookout on Skyline Drive in the morning, not long after the sunrise. You could see some of the clouds and fogs still covering the lower altitude area in the valley.

Morning at Shenandoah

South River Falls Trail

Today I went hiking at the Shenandoah National Park with some friends. We went on the South River Falls Trail, a trail close to the southern end of the Central District of the park. The trail went downhill for about 2.3 mi towards the South River Falls, the third tallest waterfall in the park at 83 feet. The fall foliage was still pretty nice on the trail, though on higher grounds, the leaves had almost completely fallen. Coming back we decided to follow the fire road all the way to the Skyline Drive. It’s roughly similar distance compared to going back on the original trail, but it was a little easier uphill hike. The photo below was taken at the stream close to the base of the waterfall.

South River Falls Trail

Rose River Trail

Another nice hike to do during the fall time at the Shenandoah National Park is the Rose River Trail. I went there last year also in October, a week after my hike to the Hawksbill Summit. Since the elevation for this trail is lower than Hawksbill Summit, the fall foliage was still closer to the peak along this trail. The beginning part of the trail was a walk through the woods, then followed with a walk along a river for quite some time, There were many small waterfalls to see along the way. The photo below was taken around the beginning of the hike. This was my first attempt at HDR photography — couldn’t resist given the wonderful colors of the foliage and the nice morning lighting.

Rose River Trail

Hawksbill Summit

One of my favorite places to visit in the area this time of the year is the Shenandoah National Park. It’s only about an hour drive away from where I live, so it’s a perfect destination for a last minute weekend activity. I often go there for a day hike or even just for a relaxing drive to enjoy the scenery. On a Saturday morning in October 2010, I went for a hike to the Hawksbill Summit. The trail was not really long (around 3 miles round trip from the parking lot), but one part of it was quite a steep uphill climb, so it was a good workout. The view from the summit was quite nice — it is the highest point within the park. Part of the trail overlaps with the Appalachian Trail, so you get to experience a little bit what it’s like to hike the famous trail (and perhaps come across hikers who are in the middle of doing the long journey). The photo below was taken at a lookout near the summit, using my then newly-acquired Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle lens. The lens helped took in more of the scenery and provided the dramatic view of the clouds above.

Hawksbill Summit Trail