Shenandoah National Park is one of the most picturesque drives on the east coast. No matter what time of year you go, you will find breathtaking vistas and sweeping views around every corner. Thankfully they are lots of places to stop along the drive to enjoy the scenery.
If you enjoy hiking then Shenandoah is certainly for you. As part of the Appalachian Trail, the park receives hundreds, upon hundreds of hikers every year. However, we were still able to enjoy the hikes we took throughout the park.
Table of Contents
Getting to Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Luray, Virginia. The park is just east of Rt 81 and stretches 105 miles Rt 64 on the south and Rt 66 on the north.
There are only 4 entrances along Skyline Drive to the park. Front Royal is the northernmost point and is by Rt 66. The southernmost entrance, is Rockfish Gap, by Waynesboro, and is by Rt 64 and Rt 250. This is also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Mountains. East of Luray at Rt 211 is the Thornton Gap entrance and lastly, Swift Run Gap is the 4th entrance which is east of Elkton, VA at Rt 33.
When is Shenandoah National Park Open
Although Shenandoah National Park is open year-round the visitor centers, lodging, and other facilities are not. Due to inclement weather, portions of Skyline Drive can be closed but visitors are still welcome to hike trails throughout the year.
In general, the 2 visitor centers are open from March through November but it is always best to check with the park service prior to your visit. Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is located near the north end of the park by the Front Royal entrance. While the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is located at Big Meadows in the center of the park.
Entrance Fees to Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah Entrance Pass for a single vehicle is $30.00. This pass is for private use and holds no more than 15 people. The pass is good for 7 consecutive days starting on the day of purchase.
For a motorcycle and one passenger, the cost is $25. Also good for 7 consecutive days starting on the day of purchase.
For an individual, walking or on a bicycle, the cost is $15. However, anyone under 16 is admitted free. Also, any family traveling together will not pay any more than the single-vehicle fee.
If however, you buy a yearly pass to the National Parks, your entrance is included in that pass. Don’t forget to take advantage of the National Parks program for 4th graders. It’s called every kid in the park and gives every 4th-grade student a free yearly pass to all National Parks for their whole family. Take advantage of this special perk.
Lodging at Shenandoah National Park
I highly recommend staying within the park if you can. There are a few options for lodging for you to choose from.
There are 29 different small cabins, traditional rooms, and suites along with pet-friendly rooms at Skyland which is mile 41.7.
At Big Meadows Lodge at mile 51, you can stay in the main lodge, small cabin, preferred and traditional rooms, and suites as well as ped-friendly rooms.
Another choice is the Lewis Mountain cabins at mile 57.5. Here they offer rustic but lovely furnished cabins with private baths and outdoor grill areas.
Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Lastly, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has 6 locked, private but primitive cabins within the park. The cabins come with mattresses, blankets, and cookware, a pit toilet, and spring water nearby. You can make an online reservation on the PATC website.
Camping in Shenandoah Naitonal Park
There are 5 campgrounds spread throughout the park for those who wish to camp. Choosing the campground that fits your needs is easy with so many choices.
Matthews Arm Campground
Matthews Arm Campground at mile 22.1 has 165 sites. Every site can accommodate an RV or a tent and has a fire ring and a picnic table. The Elkwallow Wayside is only 2 miles away and has camping supplies and food service. This campground has a dump station, food storage lockers, trash/recycling collections, an amphitheater, staff on-site, potable water, and flush toilets. All these services are seasonal. Be aware though there aren’t any showers at this campground.
Big Meadows Campground
At Big Meadows Campground, mile 51.2 located among the most popular sites in the park has 221 sites. 51 of the sites are for tents only and 2 sites are for groups. Each site includes a place for either an RV or a tent, a fire ring, and a picnic table. This campground has a camp store, laundry, a dump station, firewood for sale, ice available for sale, food storage lockers, trash/recycling collection, an amphitheater, staff on-site, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. All services at this campground are also seasonal.
Lewis Mountain Campground
The Lewis Mountain Campground is not far from Big Meadows at mile 57.5 and is the smallest campground in the park with only 30 Rv and tent sites. This smaller campground has a few pull-through RV sites to accommodate large RVs. The campground has a camp store, laundry, firewood for sale, ice available for sale, food storage lockers, trash/recycling collection, staff on-site, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. All services are seasonal.
Loft Mountain Campground
The Loft Mountain Campground is so poignantly named as it sits on top of Big Flat Mountain with amazing views of the valleys beyond. This campground is located at miles 79.5 and has 207 sites, 50 of which are for tents only. There is a camp store, laundry, a dump station, firewood for sale, ice available for sale, food storage lockers, trash/recycling collection, an amphitheater, staff on-site, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. All services are seasonal.
Dundo Grounp Campground
Lastly, Dundo Group Campground located at mile 83.7 has 3 group campsites. The Appalachian Trail passes through the campground which gives the through-hikers great access to the campground. The campground has food storage lockers which are seasonal, trash/recycling collection, non-potable water, and year-round vault toilets.
Where to eat in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park has made it very easy for their visitors by having waysides, like with the railroads, in 3 locations within the park. They are located at Big Meadows, mile 51, Elkwallow, mile 24.1, and Loft Mountain, mile 79.5. At the moment, Loft Mountain wayside is closed due to covid restrictions.
Skyland at mile 41.7 has a full-service restaurant called the Pollock Dining Room and the Mountain Taproom. They also offer grab-and-go meals at the little cafe just outside the restaurant. Don’t miss out on souvenirs at the gift shop either
Big Meadows Lodge at mile 51 also has a full-service restaurant called Spottswood Dining Room and the New Market Taproom. There is also a gift shop at this lodge.
We ate at the Pollock dining room while in the park since the Spottswood one was closed. As I write this post they are both open. We really enjoyed all the food we had while in the park. They even had some good gluten-free options for my daughter which is always a plus for us.
We did get a grab-and-go breakfast one morning so we could get out on our hike early. The little cafe at Skyland had a microwave to heat up our Jimmie Dean breakfast sandwiches which is great. We decided on some sandwiches, crackers, fruit, and yogurt for lunch and it was all delicious.
The Views Along Skyline Drive
Let’s be realistic, you go to Shenandoah National Park for the views. And most of the views are perfect from Skyline Drive. If you drive from end to end it will take about 3 hours. However, the goal is not to just drive along Skyline Drive. Your goal should be to get out and explore the park.
To do this you need to stop along the way. Shenandoah National Park has mile markers to help you find your way within the park. These mile markers are on the west side of the road. They start with 0 at Front Royal, the northernmost point, and go all the way to 105 at Rockfish Gap. You will find most information is listed by its mile marker so pay attention to those as you go through the park.
Be sure to take in some of Skyline Drive during sunrise and sunset to get the most amazing views around.
Please note the speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35 mph. Although, there are some places you shouldn’t go faster than 15 mph. The roads are windy and you don’t want anyone in your car getting sick.
Above all, make sure your car/RV can clear Mary’s Rock Tunnel at mile 32.2. The maximum clearance is 12′-8″. If your vehicle is taller please don’t drive this stretch of Skyline Drive.
Become a Junior Ranger
My kids love getting to know the National Park we are visiting by completely the Junior Ranger book for that park. I would highly encourage your kids to see what the program has to offer in their booklet. If you’d like to know about the program and what it entails I recommend you read, How to become a Junior Ranger.
Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
As with any hiking adventure, you need to be prepared. For instance, once you have drunk half your water, it’s time to head back. This along with dressing in light layers, making sure you have the appropriate footwear, and having a printed map are all essential items. After that, I recommend checking in with the park rangers and also making sure you have enough food and a charged cell phone with you.
We really enjoyed our few hikes while in Shenandoah. I think my favorite is Blackrock Summit. This 1.1-mile hike to the summit via Trayfoot Mountain is worth the effort. The views on a clear day are spectacular. If you go at dawn or dusk you might be rewarded with some amazing animal sightings. I would love to be there for sunset on a clear day for sure.
The Limberlost Trail is especially great for anyone who wants to get out into the woods. There are few fun places to explore along the way as well as seeing flowers, and wildlife if you’re lucky.
Fox Hollow Trail is near the top end of the park right by the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and is great for kids. On this trail, you will see an old homestead, a cemetery, and some beautiful views of the valley. This is listed as an easy to moderate hike with a drop of 310 feet. Honestly, it’s a hike worth taking.
Waterfall Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Since I love waterfalls, we had to hike to Dark Hollow Falls. Well, they didn’t disappoint. They are spectacular. Although, it’s a very busy hike, especially in summer it really is worth the effort. The park service rates this hike as moderate with a steep descent. It’s really not the descent that is difficult unless it’s wet. This hike back up is really a case of going slow, taking breaks as needed, and making sure you have plenty of water.
Another great hike although a tough one is the South River Falls hike. This is quite the waterfall but also quite the hike. The hike leads you to a lookout where you can view the falls. It’s an 83-foot drop so it’s pretty nice. If you want to go to the bottom of the falls that will add an additional 1.5 miles onto your hike. As you can see we opted for just the top view.
Horseback Riding in Shenandoah National Park
If you know me, then you know I love horses and when I saw we could take a ride in the park, I jumped at the chance. I booked a trail ride for one morning and was glad I planned ahead. They tend to book up completely in the summer months so definitely make a reservation if you’d like to go. You still pay in person but the reservation holds your spot.
We arrived at the stable and had a short introduction to the procedures of the barn. We all chose our helmets to wear and were giving our horses. The staff helps you mount and line you up for your ride. It’s always fun to learn the horse’s personality as you ride. My younger daughter had to be first in line because that is where her horse likes to be. The staff said even if they put her horse at the back he makes his way to the front.
The trail goes through woods hiking and riding trails in the park. We crossed over Skyland Drive as well. If you ever come upon horses crossing the horse, please make sure to stop far back from them so as not to spook them. The guide gave us information about the park of the forest we were in as well as some history of the park. We crossed over a stream and walk up and down some hills. Our ride lasted about 40 mins and we had a great time.
- In 1929, President Herbert Hoover estabalished his summer retreat, Rapidan Camp. It consisited of 13 rustic cabins located by the Rapidan River.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated Sheanandoah Natioanl Park on Jyuly 3, 1936, at the Big Meadows area.
- The Blue RIdge Mountains are home to Virginias’s oldest rocks, which are more than one billion years old.
- The park is home to more than 190 species of resident and transient birds.
- There are 21 wineries cattered throughout the valley. This is the most on the East Coast of the U.S. in one area.
- There are over 500 Miles of hiking trails in the park, including 101 miles of the famed Apppalachian Trail.
- SHenandoah National Park is home to Virginia’s largest black bear refuge. As well as being home to the desnsest popluation of black bears in teh United States.
Pin for Later
I hope I have given you enough reasons to visit Shenandoah National Park as you explore America. My family really enjoyed our visit as look forward to going back again. Have you been to Shenandoah? If so, have you hiked in the park? What was your favorite hike?