Shenandoah National Park & Beyond: 5 Ways to See the Blue Ridge Mountains
By Idoia Gkikas
Named for their blue color when viewed from a distance, the Blue Ridge Mountains are believed to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world – and they’re easily accessed from the USA’s bustling Capital Region (which includes Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia). Check out five exciting ways to experience these unforgettable mountains.
Scenic Rides – Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and, further south, the Blue Ridge Parkway (often called simply “the Parkway”), are among the most scenic drives in the USA, particularly if you’re visiting during autumn leaf season.
The northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park is about 1.5 hours away from downtown DC. The 169-kilometer Skyline Drive runs the length of the park and can be driven in 3-4 hours, but plan for an entire day if you want to hike.
The south end of Skyline Drive hooks up with the Parkway, known as “America’s Favorite Drive.” There are countless trailheads right off the road, scenic overlooks and convenient exits for access to amenities. For experienced riders, cycling is permitted on both routes as well.
Hiking – The Appalachian Trail
The world-famous Appalachian Trail (AT) is a hiking trail that traverses approximately 3,500 kilometers from Georgia to Maine. Its largest section lies in Virginia. From the Capital Region, head to the mountains of Shenandoah National Park, where the AT crosses over Skyline Drive more than 30 times. The trail is well-maintained, well-marked and offers sections suited to all experience levels. Visit nps.gov/shen for route information and maps.
Rock Climbing – Virginia
For very experienced climbers, Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular spots for slab, face and crack climbing on the largest granite in the region. For more climbing options, check out Grayson Highlands State Park and McAfee Knob, both part of the Appalachian Mountains. If you’re a beginner or intermediate climber, sign up with Shenandoah Mountain Guides or Blue Ridge Mountain Guides for full-service guided climbs.
Horseback Riding – Virginia and Maryland
Elk Mountain Trails in Knoxville, Maryland offers tours for all experience levels that take you through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Or explore the Blue Ridge foothills in Virginia on one of Marriott Ranch’s popular riding packages. These and other outfitters provide all you need to view and ride through the mountains on horseback.
Camping – State and National Parks
The camping opportunities in these mountains are among the best in the nation. Rental camping gear is available online from several outfitters. Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, both in Maryland, are scenic and family-friendly with cabin rentals as well as backcountry and tent camping. In Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has many campsites within a reasonable drive of the Capital Region.
Getting Here: Just 42 kilometers west of Washington, DC, Washington Dulles International Airport is centrally located in the Capital Region USA and convenient to all destinations and activities across Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland. Nonstop flights to Washington Dulles International Airport from major destinations worldwide make getting here easy.