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Skyline Drive Wildlife Viewing: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive Wildlife Viewing: Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaSkyline Drive Wildlife Viewing: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is made up of 200,000 protected acres in northwestern Virginia. Its close proximity to Washington, D.C., makes it the perfect weekend getaway for city dwellers looking to escape. Nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park offers the perfect backdrop for serious wildlife watchers. It is open 24/7, although portions of Skyline Drive can be closed during inclement weather and during deer-hunting season, when it's closed at night.

How to Get Around

Skyline Drive is the only public roadway within the park. It extends for 105 miles between Rockfish Gap and Front Royal, Virginia. On a clear day, you should expect the drive to take three hours, but allow yourself more time for frequent stops to enjoy your surroundings and take pictures.

What to Expect

Visitors on Skyline Drive are likely to encounter any of the more than 200 species of birds, 51 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 50 species of mammals. The best times to view birds and mammals are at dusk and dawn, but observant travelers will not be disappointed at any time of day.

Bobcats are plentiful and common within the park, although secretive and shy. Their behavior gets bolder during breeding season, which is in late winter. This increases your chances of spotting a wildcat during the daylight hours.

There are an estimated 300 to 500 black bears in the park, which makes it one of the most densely populated areas for black bears in North America. Black bears in Shenandoah do not truly hibernate, so it is possible to see one any time of year. Summer and early fall, however, provide the best chance of spotting a bear along Skyline Drive.

Coyotes have now become a relatively common sight in the park. If you are visiting during darkness, listen carefully, and you might hear them howling from a distance.

It would be difficult to drive the entire distance of Skyline Drive without seeing a few white-tail deer. They prefer semi-open spaces and are usually spotted in groups.

Both red and gray foxes live within the park, although the gray species is more prevalent. Foxes are nocturnal, so your best chance to spot one is at night. Watch the road well ahead of your car, and you may catch a glimpse of one as he darts across the roadway.

Other common sightings within the park include groundhogs, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, and vultures.

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