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Scouting Shenandoah's Skyline

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

WHERE: Shenandoah National Park.

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WHY: Crayola-colored leaves, GPS guides, and Bambi and friends.

HOW FAR: About 52 miles from start to finish, and about 100 miles from Washington.

In Shenandoah National Park, summer is so last season. The 300-square-mile area in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains has slipped on its autumnal colors: purple, red, cinnamon, gold, orange.

During fall, Skyline Drive becomes a conga line of cars carrying leaf peepers. But visitors can break away from the traffic and walk trails that feature more trees than people. (For a foliage update, check the park's Leaf Color Webcam at http://www.nps.gov/shen/photosmultimedia/leaf-color-webcam.htm.)

Established in 1935, Shenandoah has been a year-round retreat for those looking to escape hectic urban life. This year, the park celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the work relief program established during the Great Depression, through which President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent an army of unemployed young men to build and shape the park.

Although Shenandoah is about getting back to nature, the staff isn't afraid of using a little technology. In June, the park introduced GPS Ranger tours, in which rented devices guide visitors through specific areas and provide interpretive information via videos, photos, interviews and animation. The tours cover hikes along the Appalachian Trail and to Dark Hollow Falls, Hawksbill Mountain and Big Meadows, and they expand on such topics as flora and fauna, mountain geology and Native American history.

Some park sights, however, don't require gadgetry. To enjoy the changing leaves, all you need are a good set of eyes and an appreciation for Mother Nature.

-- Jada Bradley

Shenandoah National Park: Open year-round. There are four entrances to the park: Front Royal, Thornton Gap, Swift Run Gap and Rockfish Gap. 540-999-3397. http://www.nps.gov/shen. March-November: $15 per vehicle, $8 per pedestrian or bicyclist; December-February: $10 per vehicle, $5 per pedestrian or bicyclist. Fee allows access for seven consecutive days.


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