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Best Things to Do at Shenandoah National Park

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Skyline Drive cutting through Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is one of the most breathtaking natural scenes in all of America. Located directly on the awe inspiring Blue Ridge Mountains spanning over a whopping 197,000 acres, the park is littered with rivers and waterfalls, and the contrast of these magnificent bodies of water with the looming Blue Ridge Mountain Range is certainly an experience unique to those who see the great Shenandoah for themselves. It also has over 500 miles of hiking trails, more than 50 species of mammals and 200 species of birds.

Shenandoah National Park was first authorized in 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge. Work on the park started immediately, and in 9 quick years the park was fully established and it was first opened to the public on December 26, 1935. Spanning 105 miles the Skyline Drive, runs right through the middle of Shenandoah National Park, dissecting it into two. It is one of the most beautiful and well known drives in all of America.

When to Go

The park is open to the public all year, and the different seasons bring many contrasting vivid colors to the park that should all be seen. The best time to visit is from April to October, purely because of the prevalence of wildlife and the changing of the colors of the trees which litter the park. October is the busiest due to the fall foliage and you can easily get stuck in traffic jams at weekends. Some sections may be closed in winter due to ice and snow.

How to Get There

By Airport

The closest major airports to the park are:

By Driving

There are four entrances into Shenandoah National Park:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and Route 340.
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via Route 211.
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via Route 33.
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and Route 250.

Driving Directions:

From Washington, D.C. Metro Area

To North Entrance - Travel west on Interstate 66 to Front Royal, Virginia (62 miles). Take exit onto Route 340 South and follow signs for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

To Thornton Gap Entrance - Travel west on Interstate 66 to exit 43A (32 miles). Take US Highway 29 South to Warrenton, Virginia (11 miles). Take US Highway 211 West to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive (28 miles).

From Richmond, Virginia Area

To South Entrance - Travel west on Interstate 64 to exit 99 (87 miles) and follow signs to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

To Swift Run Gap Entrance - Travel west on Interstate 64 to Charlottesville, Virginia (65 miles). Take exit to US Highway 29 North (14 miles). Turn left onto US Highway 33 West and follow 14 miles to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Area

To North Entrance - Travel east on Interstate 76 to exit 161 (105 miles). Take Interstate 70 East to US Highway 522 South (25 miles). Follow 522 to VA-37 South (24 miles) to Interstate 81 South (7 miles). Follow I-81 South 9.5 miles to Interstate 66 East. Take I-66 to Front Royal, Virginia (7 miles). Follow signs to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

What to See and Do

To cover the whole length of the Skyline Drive in a leisurely manner we would recommend that you allow for 2 days. For a one day trip we recommend Front Royal entrance to Swift Run Gap (or vice-versa) or Rockfish Entrance to Thornton Gap (or vice-versa). However, if you're RV is taller than 12'8" you won't be able to drive the section between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap as Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) allows a maximum clearance of 12'8".

Within the park fuel is available only at Big Meadows (mile 52).

One-Day Visit - Front Royal to Big Meadows (51 miles)

  1. At mile 4.6 stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center to orientate yourself and chat to rangers.
  2. At mile 5.7 stop at Signal Knob Overlook that provides a sweeping view across the valley and the Shenandoah River to Signal Knob, a Civil War communications post to the right on Massanutten Mountain. The mountain divides the valley and the Shenandoah River, with the south fork on the near side and the north fork on the far side.
  3. At mile 17.1 Range View Overlook has the best views of the northern part of the Drive. Looking South to the horizon are the Blue Ridge Mountains named for the haze caused partly by tree vapor and partly smog.
  4. Hogback Overlook is at mile 21.2. Hogback is the largest overlook in all of the Skyline Drive, and could take a while if you want to see it from every angle possible. On a clear day you can see 11 bends of Shenandoah River.
  5. From Stony Man Overlook at mile 38.6, you can see the massive 4,011 foot tall Stony Man Mountain. Using your imagination you can make out eyes, nose, mustache and beard. For an even better view take the short easy hike on the Little Stony Man Trail and enjoy towering cliffs of greenstone and beautiful gray-green rock formations formed by volcanic eruptions many years ago. The trail is 0.9 miles round trip. Allow 30 minutes minimum for the hike.
  6. Continue south to Whiteoak Canyon, located near the south entrance to the Skyland Resort at mile 42.5. Whiteoak Canyon Trail is a 4.6 mile round-trip hiking trail which leads to the first fall in Whiteoak Canyon by a shady mountain glen which has been called the scenic gem of the Shenandoah National Park. This area is actually home to eight waterfalls, the tallest of which drops a whopping 86 feet. Allow 2 hours minimum for the hike.
  7. Located at mile marker 50.7, Dark Hollow Falls has a short, steep trail that leads directly to a series of cascades that drop 70 feet through a wooded ravine. Round trip is 1.4 miles from the parking area. Allow 40 minutes minimum.
  8. Final stop for the day is at Big Meadows. Big Meadows has a ton to offer, including beautiful wildlife such as White-Tailed Deer and Gray Foxes. If you're spending the night make sure to camp at nearby Shenandoah National Park Big Meadows Campground otherwise continue 15 miles onto Swift Gap or return 20 miles along the drive to Thornton Gap to exit the Park.

One-Day Visit - Rockfish Gap to Whiteoak Canyon (63 miles)

  1. Drive a little over 12 miles to Crimora Lake Overlook near mile marker 92.6. Crimora Lake is one of the few lakes visible from the Drive and to the left of it can be seen an abandoned Manganese mine, one of the largest of its kind in North America.
  2. After the Crimora Lake Overlook make sure to take a stop at milepost 84.8 at one of Skyline Drive's most intriguing detours, the summit known simply as Blackrock. Blackrock is a trail less hike, which involves an intense climb up a slope littered with fallen rocks to get to its tops. A little hard for some, the scramble up Blackrock is entirely worth it, when you look down and see the panoramic view of forested mountains and the valleys beyond them.
  3. Continue onto Big Run Overlook at milepost 81.1. The Big Run Overlook provides an awe-inspiring view of everything Virginia's Shenandoah National Park has to offer, and the pictures that can be taken up there are no less than postcard perfect as the trees frame the panorama of distant mountains. Hike the Doyles River Trail to the Upper and Lower Doyles River Falls a 3.2 mile round trip. There are several pools large enough for a dip. Allow 2 hours minimum for the hike and swim.
  4. Continue along the Skyline Drive to mile marker 44.4 to reach the Crescent Rock Overlook. This overlook offers the staggering sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains superimposed upon rolling farmland to the west, and massive green hills to the east. As well, this is a great spot for aviary watching, as broad-winged Hawks as well as many other species of birds of prey have been sighted there on numerous occasions.
  5. Continue south to Whiteoak Canyon, located near the south entrance to the Skyland Resort at mile 42.5. Whiteoak Canyon Trail is a 4.6 mile round-trip hiking trail which leads to the first fall in Whiteoak Canyon by a shady mountain glen which has been called the scenic gem of the Shenandoah National Park. This area is actually home to eight waterfalls, the tallest of which drops a whopping 86 feet. Allow 2 hours minimum for the hike.
  6. If you're staying in the park overnight then retrace your steps roughly ten miles and stay at Shenandoah National Park Big Meadows Campground, otherwise exit the park at Thornton Gap (mile 31.5) or Swift Gap (mile 65.7).

Two Day Visit - Front Royal to Rockfish Gap (105 miles)

Day One - Front Royal to Big Meadows (51 miles)

Complete the One-Day Visit - Front Royal to Big Meadows outlined above. Stay the night at Shenandoah National Park Big Meadows Campground.

Day Two - Big Meadows to Rockfish Gap (54 miles)

  1. Drive to South River Overlook at mile 62.8 and take a hike to the 83 ft. South River Falls, a moderate 2.6 miles round trip. Allow 1.5 hours minimum for the hike.
  2. Continue onto Big Run Overlook at milepost 81.1. The Big Run Overlook provides an awe-inspiring view of everything Virginia's Shenandoah National park has to offer, and the pictures that can be taken up there are no less than postcard perfect as the trees frame the panorama of distant mountains. Hike the Doyles River Trail to the Upper and Lower Doyles River Falls, a 3.2 miles round trip. There are several pools large enough for a dip. Allow 2 hours minimum for the hike and swim.
  3. Next stop at milepost 84.8 at one of Skyline Drive's most intriguing detours, the summit known simply as Blackrock. Blackrock is a trail less hike, which involves an intense climb up a slope littered with fallen rocks to get to its tops. A little hard for some, the scramble up Blackrock is entirely worth it, when you look down and see the panoramic view of forested mountains and the valleys beyond them. It's about 1 mile round trip to the top of Blackrock.
  4. Continue onto Crimora Lake Overlook near mile marker 92.6. Crimora Lake is one of the few lakes visible from the drive and to the left of it can be seen an abandoned Manganese mine, one of the largest of its kind in North America.
  5. Finish this marvelous trip by visiting the Sawmill Run Overlook and see the beautiful rolling mountains that almost all of these sparkling overlooks have provided. Make sure to take your time, because as the last visit on your trip, who knows the next chance you'll have to see the treasures of the Shenandoah Valley National Park.

Main Activities

Camping, hiking, swimming, photography, scenic drive, stargazing, wildlife watching.

Ranger Progams

There are numerous Ranger Programs available. They vary depending on the time of year.

Park Map

Park Map Park Map

Visitor and Information Center

Shenandoah National Park information line is (540) 999-3500. It has two visitor centers open seasonally to the public, both located on the Skyline Drive.

Dickey Ridge Visitor Center

Hours of Operation: Open April 6 to November 25 daily, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday and 8:30 AM - 6:00 PM Friday through Sunday
Location: Mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive
Available Facilities: Restrooms, information desk, exhibits, orientation movie, bookstore, publications, maps, backcountry permits, and first aid. Fox Hollow Trail trailhead across Skyline Drive from visitor center.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center

Hours of Operation: Open March 30 to November 25 daily, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday and 8:30 AM - 6:00 PM Friday through Sunday
Location: Milepost 51 on Skyline Drive
Available Facilities: Restrooms, information desk, exhibits, ranger programs, videos, bookstore, publications, maps, backcountry permits, and first aid. Big Meadows across Skyline Drive from visitor center.

Entrance Fees

Shenandoah National park is one of about 150 park service units that charge an entry fee. Shenandoahs entry fees vary depending on whether or not you're coming in with a vehicle, and what time of year you attend. In a car it costs $10 between December and February, and $15 between March and November, while if you want to visit in a motorcycle its $10 year round. Also, if you decide to just walk or bike into the park it will cost $5 between December and February and $8 for a visit between March and November. However if you don't feel like paying there are days when the park is free to enter or of course you can enter for free with a valid National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Pets

While visiting the park, please observe the following:

  • Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
  • Pets are allowed in campgrounds and pet-friendly lodging is available.
  • Pets are allowed, if leashed, on most trails.
  • Pets are NOT allowed on Ranger Programs.
  • All solid pet excrement must be picked up immediately by the owner or person in control of the pet and disposed of in trash receptacles.

In addition to these general regulations on pets, they are also not allowed on the following trails:

  • Fox Hollow Nature Trail (mile 4.6)
  • Traces Trail (mile 22)
  • Stony Man Nature Trail (mile 41.7)
  • Limberlost Trail (mile 43)
  • Old Rag Ridge Trail
  • Ragged Run Trail
  • Old Rag Saddle Trail (above Old Rag Shelter)
  • Dark Hollow Falls Trail (mile 50.7)
  • Story of the Forest Trail (mile 51)
  • Bearfence Mountain Trail (mile 56.4)
  • Frazier Discovery Trail (mile 79.5)

These regulations do not apply to guide dogs accompanying visually impaired persons or hearing ear dogs accompanying hearing-impaired persons.

Health Tips

Bring plenty of drinking water, sunscreen and a hat. You can get sunburnt and dehydrated easily. In addition, there are occasionally bears sighted at Shenandoah National Park, and the park has tips on what to do in these cases.

Campgrounds and Other Lodging

Shenandoah National Park offers some world class camping opportunities, available year round. The park itself is host to 4 campgrounds, all located on the Skyline Drive:

There are also a number of private campgrounds and RV Parks located near all four entrances to the park, at Front Royal, Swift Run Gap, Thornton Gap and Rockfish Gap.

For those that don't want to camp (for the life of me I cannot think why), there are several lodging options available. They can all be reserved at http://www.goshenandoah.com/ or by calling 1-877-247-9261:

  • Big Meadows Lodge - Big Meadows (milepost 51) has 25 rooms in the main lodge, 72 additional rooms in rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. Limited number of pet-friendly rooms available. All rooms and public areas are smoke-free environments. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old.
  • Skyland Resort - Skyland (mile 41.7) has 179 guest rooms, rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. All guest rooms are non-smoking. A limited number of pet-friendly rooms are available. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old.
  • Lewis Mountain Cabin - Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) has several rustic, furnished cabins with private baths and outdoor grill areas. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. One designated pet-friendly cabin is available. All cabins are smoke-free environments. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old.
  • PATC Cabins - The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (an authorized park concessioner), maintains six locked, primitive cabins in the park. The cabins are equipped with mattresses, blankets, and cookware. A pit toilet and spring water are nearby. To get information or to make reservations, call PATC at (703) 242-0693 or (703) 242-0315; or write to PATC, 118 Park Street, SE, Vienna, VA 22180. Visit PATC online.

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Photos

Range View Overlook, Shenandoah National Park
Range View Overlook
Whiteoak Falls, Shenandoah National Park
Whiteoak Falls
Whiteoak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park
* Whiteoak Canyon
Old Rag Mountain from Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park
* Old Rag Mountain from the Skyline Drive
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park
Dark Hollow Falls
Deer grazing in Big Meadows Shenandoah National Park
* Deer grazing at Big Meadows
Fall colors at Shenandoah National Park from Big Run Overlook
* Fall colors from Big Run Overlook
Hikers on Blackrock, Shenandoah Valley National Park
On the way up to Blackrock summit
Sunset, Shenandoah Valley National Park
* Watching the sun go down
* Photo courtesy of NPS.gov


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