DO Logo   Dutch Ohana
A trip to Shenandoah National Park
    We took advantage of the Columbus Day weekend to go to Shenandoah National Park. We didn't plan this in time to get to stay in the park, which was unfortunate. We also went Sunday to Monday, instead of Saturday to Sunday, because lodging in or near the park was full up on Saturday night. As it turns out, this was a lucky break, as Saturday was pretty rainy and foggy there. It was pretty foggy early on Sunday, but it cleared up and we had a fantastic trip.
    Having a baby, (last minute diaper changes and feedings) and not having packed the car the night before, meant we got out of the house later than we hoped. However, we had a nice drive out to the park and arrived shortly after noon. We bought our Golden Eagle Pass ($50 to support our National Park System, and Oh! we also get 'free' admission to any of them for a year for our whole family. NICE!) and tried to get the CD audio tour, but the entrance gate didn't have any. No worries! There were some at the first stop, the Dickey Ridge Visitor's Center.
    Just beyond the Visitor's Center was a picnic area, and we took advantage of that and stopped for lunch. Kat had had hers at the Visitor's Center during the 10 minute orientation film (and after) and although the area was a bit damp from recent rains, we had an enjoyable lunch. Doug and Erika make GOOD egg salad sandwiches!
    Back in the car, we started the CD tour. We had purchased something similar for our "Road to Hana" trip on Maui and really enjoyed it. This CD was no different. SO much information for $10 - it really enhanced our visit.
    The trees were just beginning to take on their fall colors. In a week or two, I'm sure the park will be at 'peak' colors, but our trip was just wonderful. Plenty of green, lots of yellows, oranges and reds, and even a few pinks.
    As we drove along, we kept saying - "We'll come back again" - and I hope we do. Like most of the National Parks, it's worth a second look. I felt a little guilty staying mostly in the car, but with the weather turning colder (mostly in the 50's while we were there) and a baby, hiking off into the woods wasn't something we were prepared for.
    We did plan and execute one short circuit hike - Limberlost Trail - the only ADA accessible trail in the park. Kat was in her stroller, all bundled up, and the rest of us had jackets and sturdy shoes. Our path crossed a horse path and we saw a few horses, and we also saw some deer rather close up. Erika, prone to hyperbole, said of that encounter "This is the best day in my whole life. I actually got to see some deer in their natural habitat!" She said it with a tone of awe and respect... She's so cool!
    We stopped after this hike at Big Meadows and had dinner. The Lodge there was very pretty, the food was excellent, and the sunset was spectacular. The only thing that would have made it better would have been us staying there at the Lodge. But alas, it was time to head out of the park and make the 20 or so mile trek to our hotel. On the way we saw MANY deer, including one huge buck with a lorge rack of antlers standing about 10 feet off the road.
    Our hotel was very nice, a Holiday Inn Express in Harrisonburg. We got there around 9 pm and were all asleep for good (Kat!) by 2 am. It was the first time we tried Kat's "Peapod" and it seems to be a good compromise for a baby sleeping area while traveling. (http://www.kidco.com/main.taf?p=4,2  KidCo Peapod Indoor/Outdoor travel bed)   In the morning Doug and Erika checked out the in-hotel breakfast (danish, waffles, yogurt, cereal, juice, hot chocolate, etc) and brought me a few things. I stayed in the room and fed Kat and then we all packed up and went back to the park. On the way we happily paid $1.99 for gas! Wow, only a month ago we were paying up to $3.29 even on Base!!
    While we WANTED to go back to Big Meadow and sort of take up where we left off in daylight the day before, it became obvious that we needed to head south instead, to get to a lunch place at a decent hour, and be able to get home also at a decent hour. So we listened to the CD talk about the stuff we had driven by in the dark, and then took up the tour again as we headed south in the park.
    We visited many of the outlooks and all of the CD stops and got to lunch. It was a nice cafeteria/gift shop and after a 'fun' diaper change which necessitated a clothes change as well, we finished lunch, bought some souveniers, took a picture for our "Signs" webpage and went on our way.
    The views were spectacular, we didn't have any of the fog that obscured our early hours in the park the day before, and in general just had a great visit to the park. All of us are very much looking forward to returning, and perhaps venturing off Skyline Drive to check out some of the hiking trails and views from beyond the car. With prior planning, we will of course try to stay in the park, as well.
    The only bad thing about the trip is my inability to truly share it with you. This is one of those places that pictures truly do not do it justice. I'm going to post pictures, nonetheless, because they are pretty... you just won't get the full flavor of actually being there.
    After the spectacular 105 mile trip through the park, we opted for a 'quick' way home. We looped past the park on 81, stopping at a rest stop to feed Kat and all hit the bathrooms, and then hooked up with (Get your Kicks... on) Route 66 towards DC.
    On the way home we tried to stop at "The Apple House" for dinner, but it was closed for Columbus Day. Much closer to home we tried for an  IHOP, but despite so-so signage, couldn't find it. We stumbled onto a "5 Guys Burgers" - a local legend - and topped it off with a visit to Cold Stone Creamery. A great finish to a great trip.
See our pictures at: http://www.dutchohana.com/Travel/Shenpics/ShenNP.html
For more info: http://www.nps.gov/shen