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Home >> BEST Places to Picnic >> Virginia >> Skyline Drive

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Shenandoah National Park

PicnickingThe park itself is always open, but they close some portions of the Skyline Drive, the only road through Shenandoah National Park, from dusk to early morning during hunting season. The park closes the road in inclement weather for safety reasons. Visitor facilities and services begin operating between early April and Memorial Day and close down by late November.

The oldest rocks in the Blue Ridge Mountains were created over a billion years ago as magma deep within the earth's crust moved upward. Over eons it cooled, fractured, and was joined by younger metamorphic rocks formed from sedimentary deposits. All were altered and eroded to shape today's granite peaks and sylvan hollows.

Around 10,000 years ago, but seconds in geologic time, the first traces of humans were recorded on the land that would become the park. Native Americans seasonally visited the area to hunt, to gather nuts and berries, and to find sources for and to make their stone tools.

Europeans first experienced the beauty of these mountains less than 300 years ago. First came hunters and trappers, and soon after 1750 the first settlers moved into the lower hollows near springs and streams. Over the next century and a half many hundreds of families built homesteads, mills and stores and planted orchards and crops. 

The mountains were logged and minerals were mined. Vacation resorts were established to allow guests to experience the mountain views, healthy water, and cool breezes. And American Society became urban, industrial, and yearned for special places for recreation and refuge.

In the early 20th century the first calls for National parks in the east were heard in the United States Congress. It would be two decades before Shenandoah National Park was authorized and another ten years before it was established. 

During that time President and Lou Henry Hoover established their Summer White House on the Rapidan River, the construction of Skyline Drive began, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established and moved into the park area, and over 450 families of mountain residents were relocated from the Blue Ridge.

With the establishment of the park in December 1935, the CCC began to build visitor facilities throughout the mountain, areas that were initially racially segregated. The core of the park's development was completed by the beginning of WWII and, to a great extent, the mountains were released to nature.

Skyline Drive is not just a 105-mile road through the park; it is a way to experience it. Drivers will pass rock cliffs, and vistas, and probably deer and other wildlife; they will drive through tunnels of trees, past wildflowers and ferns, and (in late spring) by banks of mountain laurel in bloom. 75 overlooks offer a place to stop and absorb the view and the peace. The 35-miles-per-hour speed limit allows drivers the opportunity to truly enjoy the ride and helps to ensure the safety of wildlife along the road.

Hiking (over 500 miles of hiking trails), picnicking, camping in a developed campground or backcountry camping with a permit (available at visitor centers, entrance stations or park headquarters), participating in ranger-guided activities, viewing audio-visual programs or exhibits at visitor centers, fishing, enjoying the panoramic views from overlooks, or just plain relaxing in the peaceful surroundings are some of the favorite activities visitors can experience.

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