Hi all Mid-Atlantic folks
I often hear that the SNP is crowded and it is hard to find a peaceful nature experience without lots of people around. That is true if you drive on the Parkway and stop at the popular spots, especially Great Meadows and the various waterfalls nearby.
However, all you have to do is either pick lesser publicized trails, such as Buck Hollow and Buck Ridge or, better yet go to the trailheads at the bottom of the mountains and hike up. In reality, it is much better to hike up, take photos, then when you are tired, hike back down. I never understood the desire to hike several miles or more down, then have to lug all the gear back up
Some of the less popular but beautiful trails are the Hazel Mountain (accessed by the Hazel River trail) and Thornton Hollow, both places you can hike even at the peak of fall foliage and not see hardly another person. these are not hikes to jump out of the car and snap a picture, you have to be fit to carry your gear, but its worth every step.
I must agree that hiking from the bottom on the trails is better than from the Skyline Drive. I particularly like hiking out of Siria at White Oak Canyon. I also like the hike to Hazel River Falls from the old church in Sperryville along the old fire roads. There is a cave in sight of the waterfall. Try going there when there is water though. Talk about being TOTALLY alone!