National park offers family programs, daily summer hikes

By Josette Keelor

This summer Shenandoah National Park has something going on seven days a week for those looking to escape for an hour or two and commune with nature.

Summer activities, from May 26 to Sept. 2, include ranger programs for children, bear information and hikes for all ages.

The Terrace Talk, at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center every day at 10:30 a.m., features at 20 to 30 minute information session about the national park.

At 2 p.m. each day, visitors can learn about the park’s largest mammal at Wild About Bears in Elkwallow Wayside.

The Junior Ranger Program for children ages 7 to 12 offers interactive, hands-on activities designed for families. Children who attend must be accompanied by an adult. The program is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Saturdays, meets at the parking area near Mathews Arm Campground Entrance Kiosk, and journeys less than one mile.

On Saturday evenings, the 45-minute Mathews Arm Ranger Talk discusses the diversity of the park. The program begins at 7 p.m. in the Mathews Arm Campground. Bring a camp chair and dress for cool mountain nights.

The park also offers hikes each day, with the Snead Farm Stroll guiding visitors along a two-hour leisurely walk beginning at the Dickey Ridge Picnic Grounds at 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and the Mount Marshall Hike take hikers along the Appalachian Trail to a view of the Shenandoah Valley from the summit of Mount Marshall at 3 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Both hikes will last two hours. For the Mount Marshall Hike, meet at the Mount Marshall Parking Lot at mile 15.9.

But the fun doesn’t end there. With over 500 miles of trails — 101 of them along the Appalachian Trail — new and challenging hikes are available any time for any skill level.

Check it out on June 1 for National Trails Day, a day on which new and experienced hikers can develop new trail skills and practice old ones.

Hikes offered that day range from easy to advanced.

For an easy hike, choose Story of the Forest, a 1.8-mile hike leaving at 10 a.m., or Appalachian Trail Ramble, a 2-mile hike from 10:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The Dark Hollow Falls hike is a moderate 1.4-mile excursion from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

For advanced hikers, the Rose River-Dark Hollow Falls hike leads participants along 3.8 miles beginning at 10 a.m., and the Rapidan Camp hike is 4 miles, beginning at 9:45 a.m.

Hikers should arrive at the Byrd Visitor Center 15 minutes before hike time, wear footwear and clothing appropriate for the weather, and bring plenty of water.

Also that day, demonstrations and presentations will be available as part of the “Beyond the Trailhead” program.

For those wishing to plan their own adventure, the park offers everything from day trips hiking or bicycling to week-long excursions hiking and camping.

Fishing is allowed in over 70 mountain streams supporting diverse aquatic resources including numerous brook trout populations, according to the park’s website www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/fishing.htm.

Fishing in the park has various regulations and license requirements, so review the current Recreational Fishing brochure, available at the entrance station, visitors centers, campgrounds and the park website.

Horseback riding is allowed in the park on over 180 miles of trails, some smooth, wide gravel paths and others steep, narrow and rocky.

Cycling is permitted along Skyline Drive and on paved areas only and long Rapidan Fire Road for about one mile where indicated. Because Skyline Drive is a two-lane road with steep hills and numerous blind curves, cyclists should use extreme caution in the park. For more information about taking caution, visit www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/biking.htm

The park practices a “leave no trace” rule, encouraging visitors to enjoy the park without altering the landscape.

The park’s four campgrounds are Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain and Loft Mountain, and backcountry camping is allowed in most parts of the park with a free permit. RV hookups are available in Mathews Arm, Big Meadows and Loft Mountain, including potable water and dump stations.

For more information about activities in the park this summer, call 540-999-3500 or visit www.nps.gov/shen.