Running for 105 miles atop the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a haven for plants and wildlife. Although long and skinny, the park encompasses some 300 square miles of mountains, forests, waterfalls, and rock formations. It has more than 60 mountain peaks higher than 2,000 feet, with Hawksbill and Stony Man exceeding 4,000 feet. Unfortunately, high humidity and ozone levels frequently create obscuring smog during the summer, so spring and fall are the best seasons to catch the panoramic views from overlooks from the Skyline Drive over the Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west. The drive gives you access to the park's visitor facilities and to more than 500 miles of hiking and horse trails, including the Appalachian Trail.
Today, over two-fifths of the park is considered wilderness. Animals such as deer, bear, bobcat, and turkey have returned, and sightings of deer and smaller animals are frequent; the park also boasts more than 100 species of trees.
Europeans began settling these slopes and hollows in the early 18th century. The national park came into being 200 years later, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps built the recreational facilities, guard walls, cabins, and many hiking trails. The corps completed the Skyline Drive in 1939.
To me, the park is most interesting and beautiful in the Central District, between U.S. 211 at Thornton Gap and U.S. 33 at Swift Run Gap. Unless I'm just passing through, I spend most of my time in this 35-mile strip.
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