The 197,000 acres of Shenandoah National Park stretch for 80 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form the eastern boundary of the Appalachian Range. The valley to the west holds the Shenandoah River and lends its name to the park. Settlement began here in the early 1700s, and early settlers discovered rich soil in the region and outstanding vistas from the Blue Ridge.
The Shenandoah Wilderness demonstrates the recuperative powers of natural processes in eastern deciduous Appalachian forest. All of the wilderness was once cleared and inhabited, farmed, logged and burned. The Park was established in 1936 and natural regeneration to the wilderness conditions which followed encouraged National Park Service officials to recommend and eventually designate 42% of the Park as wilderness. The Park interprets these unique values to the public and protects remaining cultural resources.
Deer, bears, and bobcats are protected in their wilderness habitat. Chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and opossums are frequently seen. Approximately 200 species of birds have been identified in Shenandoah, with ruffed grouse, ravens, juncos, barred owls, and wild turkeys counted among the permanent residents. Timber rattlesnakes and copperheads are occasionally sighted, but they rarely pose a threat to humans.
More than 500 miles of trails provide access to the Park, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Approximately 175 miles of trails traverse wilderness.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Shenandoah Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates National Park Service wildernesses) - Public Law 94-567 (10/20/1976) To designate certain lands within units of the National Park System as wilderness; to revise the boundaries of certain of these units; and for other purposes.
The Shenandoah Wilderness offers hiking, backpacking and camping opportunities for visitors. Learn about recreational opportunities in the Park and wilderness.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The Atlantic Ocean, and in particular the Gulf Stream, plays an important role in Virginia’s precipitation regime. Winter storms generally track from the west to the east and in the vicinity of the east coast move to the northeast paralleling the coast and the Gulf Stream. This shift to northeast results partly from the tendency of storms to follow the boundary between the cold land and the warm Gulf Stream. When sufficiently cold air comes into Virginia from the west and northwest, frontal storms can bring heavy snowfall. Thunderstorms occur in all months of the year, with a maximum in September and minimum in February. Storms and high runoff conditions can occur year-round in Shenandoah. Most locations receive 100-150 cm of precipitation per year. The average annual precipitation at Big Meadows is 132 cm, which includes about 94 cm of snow. South to southwest winds predominate, with secondary maximum frequency from the north. Lower elevation areas of the park experience modified continental climate, with mild winters and warm, humid summers. The mean annual temperature in the lowland area at Luray averages 12 degrees C, and average annual precipitation is 91 cm, with about 43 cm of snow.
Higher elevation areas of the park experience winters that are moderately cold and summers that are relatively cool. The mean annual temperature at Big Meadows averages about 9 degrees C. Mean maximum daily temperatures in July average about 6 degrees C cooler at Big Meadows then in the lowland areas of the park. Temperatures in January range from about –7 degrees C to 4 degrees C and in July from about 14-24 degrees C. Snow and ice are common in the winter, but they usually melt quickly, leaving the ground bare. Occasional major snow or ice storms can cause considerable damage to the trees within the park. Learn more about current weather.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.