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Shenandoah Wilderness

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A gorgeous shot of the autumn transition in the Old Rag Mountain area on a fairly sunny day.
Library image #2454: Old Rag Mountain


The United States Congress designated the Shenandoah Wilderness (map) in 1976 and it now has a total of 79,579 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Virginia and is managed by the National Park Service.


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.

Shenandoah National Park's "recycled" wilderness demonstrates the recuperative powers of natural processes in eastern deciduous Appalachian forest. Nearly all of the Park's land area, including that now designated as 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.

Planning to Visit the Shenandoah Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a national program which promotes the protection of our nation's wildlands through education, research, and partnerships. Leave No Trace builds awareness, appreciation, and respect for America's public lands by teaching minimum impact skills and wildland ethics.

Leave No Trace is simple. At its heart it is a set of seven principles which can be applied in any natural setting to minimize human impacts on the environment. Listed below are the seven principles of Leave No Trace with ways to apply these principles in Shenandoah National Park. Whether you are hiking and camping in the park's wilderness or driving Skyline Drive for an afternoon, following Leave No Trace principles will help protect the park and preserve the park experience for you and for future visitors.

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare - Planning ahead for your visit to the park is the first step in helping preserve the park and your experience here. Know and follow park regulations. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces - Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rocks, gravel, and grasses. Stay on trails to keep from trampling fragile vegetation. Avoid shortcutting trails; shortcuts create new trails and increase trail erosion.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly - Keep the park clean! Pack it in; pack it out. Pack out all trash and food scraps from backcountry/wilderness areas. When backpacking, deposit solid human waste in a hole at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from water, camp, and park trails.

4. Leave What You Find - All plants, animals, rocks, and artifacts are protected in Shenandoah National Park. Preserve the sense of discovery for others by leaving all natural and cultural artifacts as you find them. Take pictures, write poetry, or sketch to help you remember what you discover here.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts - Campfires are prohibited in Shenandoah's backcountry. Plan to use a backpacking stove for meal preparation.

6. Respect Wildlife - Shenandoah is home to many animals, and we are visitors to their home. Carry binoculars and observe wildlife from a distance. If an animal changes its behavior because of your presence, you are too close. Wild animals find plenty of their natural food in the park; human food does not give them the proper nutrients to survive the winter, so keep animals healthy by not feeding them.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors - People visit Shenandoah for different reasons. Preserve the park experience for all visitors by showing courtesy towards others. Excessive noise, unleashed pets, and damaged surroundings take away from everyone's experience. Preserve a sense of solitude by hiking in small groups. Keep noise levels down when hiking and camping. Observe "quiet hours" in park campgrounds.

The four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all promote the Leave No Trace message. Working with outdoor retailers, educators, and user groups these federal agencies are helping to make Leave No Trace the common language for all outdoor enthusiasts. Wilderness Learn about Shenandoah's Wilderness

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