We wanted to visit Shenandoah National Park for a long time and finally we drove to spend a weekend there (Aug 2020). The park is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It took us around 6 hours (with breaks) to reach there from NYC. Shenandoah National Park is a land bursting with cascading waterfalls, panoramic vistas, fields of wildflowers and quiet wooded hollows.
We had a weekend to explore the area and here are the things to do in and around the park.
Enjoy the Skyline drive
Skyline drive is about 105 miles of beautiful vista which starts from Front Royal North and ends at Rockfish gap South where the road connects to Blue Ridge parkway. If you are only here for a drive, allow yourself 3 to 4 hours to enjoy the scenery. Usually park is open year around, however you should check the park website for any alerts or closures.
For us, we took entire day to enjoy the drive with lots of stops.
Go for hiking
There are lot of hiking trails in the park, ranging from super easy to strenuous. You can find the hiking list here. Our favorite was Stony Man Mountain Hike – easy and family friendly 1.6 mile roundtrip hike with a wonderful view.
Stop at the viewpoints
Skyline drive is full of stopovers with panoramic vistas. There are around 75 viewpoints spread across the drive. Take your time and enjoy the views.
Enjoy the stay
If you are looking to stay inside the National park, there are options available from camping to lodging. We stayed in one of the rustic old cabins at Skyland resort inside the National Park for a night. Also outside the park for another night near Luray. We have provided the details below, if you are looking for more info.
Spot the Wildlife
There are lot of wildlife and can be spotted specially in the hiking trails. Be mindful and take pictures from a distance.
Visit a Cavern
There are endless caverns around the Shenandoah valley and a must visit one is Luray Cavern. It is one of the most astonishing caves we have ever visited. Spectacular display of nature, Luray cavern is simply incredible. You can check their website for pricing and other details.
We must say we were in awe and felt like we were in a different planet altogether once we entered the area and couldn’t keep our eyes off the surreal natural formations. The entire stretch covers a distance of 1.5 miles and the walk is quite pleasant and spectacular which you will remember forever for sure.
visit Natural Bridge State park
Natural bridge state park is one and a half hour drive from Rockfish gap entrance (south). If you have extra time, you should definitely visit this place. It is a geological formation carved out in the surrounding limestone gorge by the Cedar Creek. The park is more than just the bridge. It has beautiful hiking trails including Cedar creek trail that leads from park visitor center under the bridge to the Monacan Indian village and 30 foot cascading Lace falls.
Plan to watch Sunrise & Sunset
There are lot of places to watch sunrise & sunset – our recommendation would be to watch sunrise from Tunnel overlook or Thorofare mountain overlook & Sunset from Stony Man mountain overlook , if you are visiting from North entrance.
Stargaze at Big Meadow
Big Meadow area inside the park is considered as best place for star gazing in summer. When we visited it was cloudy, hope you guys enjoy a night under starry sky.
Take a further trip to Blue Ridge Parkway
Skyline drive connects Blue ridge parkway from south of the drive. If you have extra time and willing to explore more, take a drive further to Blue Ridge parkway.
Best time to visit
We visited in summer (August 2020) and it was a beautiful and pleasant time. The most popular time to visit is Fall (aka Autumn) as the park turns into deciduous forest casting emerald hues for a riot of reds, yellows, and oranges.
Where to Stay
There are lot of options available from camping to lodging inside as well as outside the park.You can find the information related to stay inside the park here. For outside the park, you can stay near the entrance based on your plan. We stayed in a beautiful cabin near Luray – You can find the details here.
Where to eat
There are options available inside as well as outside the park. We loved Skyland resort which has good dining options. They also have TO-GO breakfast/lunch/dinner currently. However, we would suggest to pick up some snacks beforehand since you will be either driving or hiking the route.
Best way to Explore
Driving inside or around the park would be the best way to explore. There are plenty of parking area for each trailheads. There is no shuttle bus service available.
Other things to keep in mind
- When we arrived it was a foggy day and the entire drive was covered in fog. It was an amazing experience to drive, but the views were totally blocked. If there is prediction which says the day is going to be cloudy, chances are there will be no or less visibility. If you have only a day to explore, we will suggest to check the weather prediction and plan accordingly.
- Fuel up the car before entering the park. There is one gas station at Big Meadow, however it is little costlier.
- There are 4 entrances to the park and each leads to Skyline drive. Grab a map at the entrance and pullover to all the lookouts and hikes. The maps is well marked and very helpful.
Whether it is summer or autumn, Shenandoah offers numerous things to enjoy in every season. Hope this blog inspires you to take the trip to Shenandoah National Park. Pin it or Bookmark this post for future reference.