A Blue Ridge Mountains retreat filled with mountain and lowland species.
By Jerry Uhlman | Published: 6/25/2012
Located at the north edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River State Park is a popular destination for canoeists, anglers, and campers, yet when I visit, I rarely see other birders. I hope that will change, because the place is a gem.
It has more than five miles of river frontage and 24 miles of trails, and at 1,600 acres in size, it offers plenty of nooks and crannies for birders to look for mountain and lowland species. My favorite birding path is Cottonwood Trail, a loop that leads to the northern edge of the park. A lengthy boardwalk crosses deciduous hardwood bottomland, where I’m apt to find American Redstart and Hooded and Black-throated Green Warblers, just three of the whopping 18 warbler species that breed in the park.
At the far end of the loop, a small meadow is a great spot for Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Wood Thrush, Veery, Ovenbird, and several flycatcher species. Other good trails for birding are Bluebell and River Trails. They follow the riverbank for about three miles and can be especially productive during migration. — Jerry Uhlman
Jerry Uhlman writes a birding column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He also wrote about Dutch Gap Conservation Area, Chester, Virginia, Hotspot Near You No. 66, Creston Valley WMA, Creston, British Columbia, No. 111, Bear Run Nature Reserve, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, No. 118, and Garden Canyon, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, No. 136.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Mountain foothills, river, riparian areas, deciduous hardwood bottomlands.
Mostly flat and level except where trails climb onto hillsides. During early spring, riverside trails can be muddy and slippery.
Nearly 200 species, including 18 breeding warblers: Black-throated Blue, Cerulean, Prairie, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Pine, Black-throated Green, Worm-eating, Black-and-white, Kentucky, Hooded, and Canada Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, and Northern Parula. Fox and Field Sparrows, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Purple Martin, Wood Thrush, Ruffed Grouse, Bald Eagle, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Woodcock, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Screech-Owl, Warbling Vireo, Least, Willow, and Alder Flycatchers, Eastern Meadowlark, and Wood Duck.
When to go
Spring through early summer best. Autumn also productive during fall migration.
Visitor center, two campgrounds, a lodge, rental cabins, canoe launch, and several picnic areas. Regular schedule of nature-education events, including owl prowls; see website for calendar.
State park. Open daily 8 a.m. to dusk. Entrance fees per passenger vehicle: $3 weekdays, $4 weekends. Annual and lifetime passes at various prices allow entrance to all Virginia state parks.
Pick up a trail guide at the visitor center before navigating through the park.
For more info
Shenandoah National Park
North entrance is just south of Front Royal. Look for grassland and mountain specialties along Skyline Dr., especially at Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Campground.