With over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, chances are high that you'll be lacing up your hiking boots at some point on your next trip here. As with any outdoor activity, there are a few things to know that will help keep you, your loved ones, and the wildlife that you may encounter safe.
Be sure that you know your hiking route before you get out on the trail, and bring a trail map of the area where you'll be hiking. A compass and a GPS unit can also help to keep you on track.
Shenandoah's trails are well-marked, but it's important to know what to look for. Trail markers are cement posts found at trailheads and trail intersections. The metal bands on them will show you what trail you are on, what other trails converge at that intersection, and the mileages to other points of interest. You will also see trail blazes painted on trees and rocks along the trail. The color of the paint indicates the type of trail that you are on:
Blue - hiking trail
Cell service is unreliable in Shenandoah, so be sure to let a friend or family member know where you plan to hike and when to expect your return.
Shenandoah National Park is one of the few national parks that allow pets on trails, but they must be kept on a physical leash no longer than 6 feet at all times, and there are several trails within the Park where pets are prohibited. Please follow all park regulations regarding pets in order to help ensure your safety, as well as the safety of your pet and the wildlife you may encounter.
Slips, trips and falls can happen at any time, but observing the following guidelines can minimize the likelihood of a serious injury while hiking in Shenandoah:
Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for changing conditions. Remember, temperatures on the mountain can be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in the valley!
Even if Skyline Drive is closed due to inclement weather, Shenandoah National Park is still open to hiking during the winter months, and, with all of the leaves off the trees, you'll see views that you can't see in the warmer months. While it can be a great time to explore Shenandoah, hiking during the winter does take a bit more preperation.
While out hiking, visitors may see white-tailed deer, birds, snakes, and black bears, among other animals. In most cases, these wildlife encounters are events that visitors enjoy and that have no impacts on the animal. There are some instances, however, when the encounter poses risk to both the visitor and the animal.Being informed about the animals you might encounter can help protect Shenandoah's wildlife and greatly increase your chance of a safe and enjoyable experience.
Ticks are small — so small, in fact, that they can be very difficult to see with the naked eye. Therein lies the danger. Several species of ticks are common throughout the Park, and they can transmit diseases to humans through a bite. It's important to take precautions whenever you are out exploring the Park, even if you're just taking a short stroll through nature.
Poison ivy grows plentifully along roadsides, trails, and the edges of parking lots as a vine or a low shrub. Most people are sensitive in varying degrees to the sap of this plant, which makes skin itch, blister, and swell. Because of this, it's important to learn to identify it so that you can avoid it if you see it out in the Park. If it does touch your skin, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible, as the sap can penetrate your skin in only a few minutes.
While most hiking trails within Shenandoah are accessed via Skyline Drive, there are several trailheads located on the Park boundary, allowing access even when Skyline Drive is closed.
No hunting is allowed inside Shenandoah National Park, however several trails and gravel roads connect Shenandoah to the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area and private property where hunting is allowed. Be sure to wear blaze orange if hiking in the surrounding area during hunting season. Visit the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to learn more about hunting regulations and seasons.
While hiking, take valuables with you or leave them locked in your vehicle, hidden from view.
Shenandoah's Hiking Difficulty is determined by a numerical rating using the following formula:
Elevation Gain x 2 x distance (in miles). The product's square root is the numerical rating.
For example, a 10-mile hike that gains 2,200 feet in elevation:
2,200 x 2=4,400
4,400 x 10 = 44,000
Square root of 44,000=209.8
The hike's numerical rating is then tied to one of five descriptors: Easiest, Moderate, Moderately Strenuous, Strenuous, Very Strenuous.
The example hike above would be rated Very Strenuous.
This formula approximates difficulty and is imperfect. Dark Hollow Falls has a numeric rating of 36.3. Under the formula this would be in the "Easiest" range, however the steepness of the trail over such a short distance warrants a "Moderate." When choosing a hike, always consider the specific elevation and distance in addition the the given difficulty rating.
Last updated: August 16, 2023