Shenandoah National Park

Story: Kate Bloom
Photography: Kate Bloom
Saturday, March 23, 2019

Within a two hour drive of Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park boasts scenic views, a black bear population, and beautiful waterfalls. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the 105 miles of Skyline Drive is the park's centrepiece. Although the park's natural beauty and the many trails maintained by the park are truly astounding, the true wonders of Shenandoah are its cultural remnants. Three exhibits in the park give visitors a glimpse into this previously settled region and allow the mountains to tell the stories of the past.

For those interested in visiting any of these places, a trip to Byrd Visitor Centre is invaluable. Not only will the Rangers be able to provide literature, directions, and an orientation video, but the first of the three exhibits is located here. Detailing the history of the park from creation to present, the multi-media exhibit attempts to recreate the atmosphere of each era discussed. The format allows the visitor to walk through the past to the present, exploring the stories and traditions and challenges to the previous inhabitants of the area. Although there is a large amount of text, the exhibit is small, and the artifacts are fascinating. On busy days, the audio (activated by motion sensors) can be overwhelming and loud.

Not only were the mountains permanent homes to some, but a summertime escape for the wealthy from the hubbub of the city. Turn of the century mountaintop resorts dotted the skyline, and today visitors can tour one of them. Located in the Skyland area, Massanutten Lodge is a rustic 1911 cabin. Today, the two rooms are open to visitors during guided tours and on a limited schedule. A small exhibit in the bedroom explores the impact of the women who summered there, while the living area is furnished according to the period. While there's not much to see now, the Lodge allows visitors to imagine how those who came before spent their days.

The very wealthy were not the only ones who sought refuge in the National Park. Accessible from Skyline Drive only by foot, Rapidan Camp served as a retreat for the President and Mrs. Hoover during their tenure in the White House. The Hoovers escaped to what can be called a precursor to Camp David, entertaining the political elite of the day. While the original camp was extensive, only two structures remain - the “Little Brown House” and the Prime Minister’s Cabin. Guided tours are occasionally available, providing access to the interior of the cabins. The hike is strenuous and long, but Rapidan itself is worth it. The personalized details presented throughout the house are thoughtful and thorough, such as the bowl of knitting, set aside.

While the Park remains open year-round, these three exhibit spaces are not. It is best to visit the Park during their summer season, between April and October. For more detailed information, I recommend checking the Park’s website: Additionally, there is an entrance fee for the park. Visitors can also camp in one of several campgrounds within the park for a small fee. This information is available on the website. It is worth noting that on busy weekends (federal holidays and peak leaf season) campsites fill rapidly, so trip planning can be important.

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