What’s in a Name? Let’s Talk Shenandoah. 

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Located at mile marker 35.1 on Skyline Dive, Pinnacles Overlook is one of 72 overlooks that are along Skyline Drive. The southern facing overlook provides one of the best views of Old Rag. Berend Van Roijen, IG account: @bearitated. Virginia Tourism Corporation, www.Virginia.org

Sleuthing around the internet will lead you to plenty of answers to the question “where does the name Shenandoah come from?”  

The consensus is that Shenandoah means “Daughter of the Stars,” with the word itself derived from “schind-han-do-wi,” an Algonquin word that has also been translated to “great plains” and “spruce stream.” Additionally, “Daughter of the Stars” is taken from a Native American legend that ascribes the creation of the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah Valley as where “the morning stars placed the brightest jewels from their crowns in the river.” 

Some say Shenandoah comes from Chief Skenandoah of the Susquehannock tribe. He was a friend of George Washington and often called the “white man’s friend.” Skenandoah helped prevent massacres during the Revolutionary War by alerting colonists of approaching enemies. Together, Washington and Skenandoah signed the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua which ensured the right to land, freedom from tax, and sovereignty. 

Those of a certain age are familiar with the song, “Shenandoah.” While the song does reference a river, it’s not the Shenandoah River; it’s the Missouri River. So why the title and verse? The short answer is this: no one knows. There are opinions, but not definitive answers.  

What’s in the name Shenandoah? Inconclusive information, as it turns out. However, more important than the etymology of Shenandoah is what bears it now. That, my friends, is more than you can shake a stick at.

The Shenandoah Valley 

The Shenandoah Valley is about 200 miles long and is bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains in the east and the Allegheny Mountains in the west. It begins at the southern border of Rockbridge County, Virginia and extends into West Virginia. Native nations thrived in the Shenandoah Valley, pioneers settled it, and industry soon sprang from it. During the Civil War it was called the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” because of its fertile soil and ability to feed Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy.

Today the Shenandoah Valley is comprised of eight Virginia counties and two West Virginia counties. Numerous colleges are nestled here and outdoor recreation is one of our key assets. That leads us to … 

Shenandoah National Park 

At more than 200,000 acres, Shenandoah National Park is Virginia’s largest and ranks 33rd in size out of 63 total parks across the country. Its primary thoroughfare is Skyline Drive, which meanders 105 miles from Front Royal, Virginia south to Afton, Virginia. 

Upper Doyle Falls in Shenandoah National Park.Virginia Tourism Corporation, www.Virginia.org

Upper Doyle Falls in Shenandoah National Park. Virginia Tourism Corporation, www.Virginia.org

At home in Shenandoah National Park are more than 300 species of birds, amphibians, fish, and mammals. White tail deer, black bear, and bobcat are among the most commonly seen mammals. Keep an eye peeled around rock outcroppings for the endangered Shenandoah Salamander. It was recorded in 1967 and is a lungless salamander. 


Shenandoah National Park by the Numbers 

The Shenandoah River 

The North Fork and South Fork of the Shenandoah River flow north to converge near Front Royal to create Shenandoah River proper, the main tributary to the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The Shenandoah is 57 miles long with 35 miles in Virginia and 22 in West Virginia. Regarding the mention of Shenandoah River in relation to West Virginia in the song titled “Take Me Home, Country Roads” sang by John Denver: Yes, the Shenandoah River runs through West Virginia (and the Blue Ridge Mountains go that far, too).

From the air, the Shenandoah River is incredibly distinct with its snake-like meanders looping east to west and back again. Along its banks are public parks and boat launches for access to paddling, swimming, and fishing. Campers flock to the tree-lined shores of campgrounds and enjoy floating the river, too. One popular point of access is Raymond R. “Andy” Guest, Jr. Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville, Virginia. It’s a mouthful but also a day full, too. A little more than five miles of riverfront are excellent for exploring the South Fork of the Shenandoah. 

Shenandoah River through Shenandoah County, VA

Shenandoah River through Shenandoah County, VA

Shenandoah County 

Encompassing 512 square miles, Shenandoah County was originally called Dunmore County and was founded in 1772 after being split from Frederick County. The county boasts six cute-as-a-button towns: Basye, Edinburg, Fort Valley, Mount Jackson, New Market, Orkney Springs, Star Tannery, Strasburg, Toms Brook, and Woodstock. 

One of the county’s top attractions is Shenandoah Caverns, which were discovered by the Neff family in 1884 while quarrying limestone. Other amazing attractions include Meems Bottom Covered Bridge, Route 11 Potato Chip Factory, Bryce Resort, Edinburg Mill, Virginia Musem of the Civil War and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, Shrine Mont, and Fort Valley Ranch. 

The Town of Shenandoah 

The tiny Town of Shenandoah comes in at less than three square miles, but they are bucolic miles. Shenandoah is located in Page County, Virginia against the Shenandoah River.  

At this point, we’ve come full circle. The Town of Shenandoah is lovingly called “Daughter of the Stars” and was so recognized in Senate Resolution No. 30 which “commended the Town of Shenandoah on the occasion of its 125th anniversary” in 2009. 

Big Gem Park, Town of Shenandoah

Big Gem Park, Town of Shenandoah

What’s in a name? Plenty. We hope to see you soon when you visit all of the Shenandoah the Shenandoah Valley has to offer. 

May we send you a Travel Guide to help with your trip planning? Request one and we’ll drop it in the mail right away.

Header Image: Pinnacles Overlook by Berend Van Roijen, IG account: @bearitated; courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

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