Shenandoah National Park

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IMG_7722 (2)On Saturday morning we slept in a bit. (I love the effect of hotels’ light canceling curtains on my boys’ sleep schedules!) Then we drove over to Shenandoah National Park. The north entrance to this National Park was located in the very town we were staying in, so we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to visit another one of our nation’s beautiful national parks and mark it off our bucket list.

So different that its sister parks out west, this National Park offers unique vistas and a beauty all its own.

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In the heart of Virginia, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park protects a historic mountain landscape characterized by endless mountain ranges, dense forests, large tracts of wilderness, lots of wildlife.

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Because of its location near Washington, D.C.—it’s about two hours by car from the American capital—, the park receives plenty of visitors, many of them day trippers. Almost 1.5 million people visit Shenandoah National Park each year to enjoy the natural delights this pleasant park has to offer. And there are plenty of those.

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A long and narrow park stretched along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park boasts some of the greatest mountain views anywhere on the American East Coast. From the 75 overlooks on Skyline Drive to the panoramic vistas from the park’s many mountain summits, the views are amazing everywhere.

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As an East Coast park, Shenandoah lies surrounded by high-use land. Farmlands, towns, busy highways and industrial areas encircle the park, making it a premier refuge for wildlife.

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This includes some really high-profile animals—mostly mammals, such as white-tailed deer and striped and spotted skunks, bobcats and coyotes, and American Black Bears. Those black bears are a big attraction in the park! Often spotted foraging in trees or alongside Skyline Drive, their exact numbers are unknown but said to range between a couple of hundred and a thousand, depending on food availability and the time of year.

We were blessed to get to spot one first hand when a baby black bear crossed our path as we neared the Visitor’s Center.

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(A google image of a baby black bear in Shenandoah. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to capture my own photo.)

What a thrill!

Before we began our journey along Skyline Drive we made a stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

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Here we were able to get an overview of what the park had to offer, as well as learn a little bit about what animals make their home at Shenandoah National Park…

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Including its most famous resident, the Black Bear.

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After educating ourselves a bit on what we might see, we headed out to explore Skyline Drive and check out its many gorgeous overlooks!

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A ribbon of a road snaking its way along the Blue Ridge Mountains’ crest, Skyline Drive ties everything together. It’s the only road through Shenandoah National Park, running for 105 miles from north to south through the park. This is easily one of the most scenic mountain drives anywhere in the United States.

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It was even prettier than I expected.

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We were so glad we had the opportunity to explore this special corner of Virginia.

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We left the park by 12:30 pm, knowing we wanted to arrive at the Marriott Ranch before 2:00 pm so we could watch the return of the kids pulling their handcarts. This gave us an hour to kill so we drove into the downtown area of Front Royal in search of an ice cream shop.

What a charming town it was. I would have loved to have an afternoon (without little boys) to explore it more thoroughly.

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The ice cream shop was adorable and all the unique flavors offered there were homemade right there in the shop.

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It was a perfect way to cap off a few special days of making memories with my two youngest children.

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