Bears, Butterflies, and Bluebirds

Trekking through Shenandoah with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Bird & Wildlife Trail.

Illustration by Aldo Crusher

Whether you’re an expert bird watcher or a wildlife photographer, or just want a breath of fresh air, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Bird & Wildlife Trail offers something for everyone. Mountain ranges and water sites nestled along the Shenandoah Valley offer plenty of places to view hundreds of native species, and these must-see loops make it easy to check off your wildlife sighting lists.

To ease into the wild, start with the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway, located along the Daughters of the Stars loop (1), and follow the path through downtown Luray. Beside the creek that runs through town, you’ll spot eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies and widow skimmer dragonflies. To step up your wildlife game, head west along the Madison Run Fire Road in Shenandoah National Park on the Lost Shoe loop (2). Not for the faint of heart, this road is home to black rat snakes, garter snakes, fence lizards, and timber rattlesnakes.

Spend some time along the famous Skyline Drive, stopping at the Beagle Gap Overlook for the chance to spot bobcats, coyotes, red foxes, and black bears from a safe distance. Nearby, visit the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the Thomas Jefferson loop (3) to view some of the 14 different raptor species that migrate through the gap, including sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and red-tailed hawks, and even golden and bald eagles. 

Make a stop at Natural Bridge State Park, located on the Peaks of Otter loop (4), to see several species of woodpeckers and eastern screech owls. Cedar Creek Trail within the park is also filled with wildflowers like trillium, Virginia bluebells, columbine, and flame azalea. For your last stop, head west to the Alleghany Highlands loop (5), where the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve offers sightings of white-tailed deer, red-spotted newts, and bright-blue cerulean warblers. DGIF.Virginia.gov/VBWT


This article originally appeared in our Best of Virginia 2019 issue.

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