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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park, which contains seemingly endless acres of dark forests, rocky ravines and surging waterfalls, is one of America's most popular national parks. However, far from being untouched, this landscape was created when hundreds of small family farms were bought by the state and federal governments during the Depression, and the land was left to revert to its natural state.
The park has one of the most scenic byways in the US, the Skyline Drive, a thin pavement curving along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The views are especially fine, and the crowds especially large, in the fall. However, you can get the best of what the park has to offer at any time of the year. One of the most popular hiking trails leaves from the parking area in the southern part of the park up to Dark Hollow Falls; another, leaving Skyline Drive, climbs to the top of Old Rag Mountain for spectacular views around Virginia and the Allegheney Mountains.
More ambitious hikers, or those who want to spend a night out in the back country, head for the Appalachian Trail. Details on any of these hikes and free overnight camping permits can be picked up at the visitor centers, located along Skyline Drive and at mile marker 51. Three rustic lodges, near the center of the park, offer beds and food. One of these, the Lewis Mountain, has cabins and a first-come, first-served campground.
Fog frequently blankets both mountains and valleys, creating interesting views. The famous Shenandoah Valley is rich in human history, and signs can be seen everywhere. Numerous memorials line the black roads, surrounded by horse farms and apple orchards.