Shenandoah National Park: The Complete Guide for 2020

Leah Fishman

Vermont, USA

Less than two hours south of Washington, D.C, sits Shenandoah: 196,000-acres of craggy outcrops, rock bridges, cascading falls, and dense forests. At the only national park in Virginia, fox, black bear, deer and salamander thrive in the state-protected trees while campers and hikers adventure high atop the park’s Blue Ridge for fresh mountain breeze. This patch of central Virginia is where D.C locals vacation, where historic sites outnumber theme parks, and where blackberry ice cream pie is a staple on just about every menu (yes, really). From misty mountains and sky-high drives to cavern lakes and hot balloon rides, there’s magic for everyone at Shenandoah National Park.

Where is Shenandoah National Park?

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Shenandoah National Park is about 70 miles from Washington, D.C, 90 miles from Richmond, VA, and 108 miles from Baltimore, MD. Nearby Harrisonburg, VA, is a popular home base for those visiting, providing easy access to lodging, restaurants, and shopping.

Getting to Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park

Travel west on I-66 to Front Royal, VA. Exit to Route 340 South and follow signs for Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive.

Richmond VA to Shenandoah National Park

Hop on I-95N, then follow I-64 W to US-250 E in Wayne. Take the U.S. 250 E exit from I-64 W. Continue onto Skyline Drive.

Shenandoah National Park Facts

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.
  • Scenic AF: Shenandoah’s famous Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north to south through the park before meeting up with North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Hikes for Days: Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trail, including a 101 mile section of the famous Appalachian Trail.
  • A Safe Haven: Shenandoah is the only place you’ll find the Shenandoah Salamander: an endangered species known for their funny breathing habits (through their skin. they breathe through their skin.)

Shenandoah National Park Weather

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Late April through early October is the high season for tourists at Shenandoah, but also offers warm weather and the widest variety of tours, campgrounds, trails. While summer temps in surrounding towns can hit 100 degrees fahrenheit (plus some!), the park’s mountaintops are dramatically cooler, especially at night, so make sure to pack gear fit for summer and fall. In winter, trails are less crowded but come prepared to hike in (Skyline Drive is closed) and with plenty of winter gear, including spikes.

Shenandoah National Park Hours

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Shenandoah National Park is generally open 24 hours a day, year-round. While portions of the Skyline Drive shut down in the winter, visitors can still enter the park by foot when the drive is closed. Shenandoah National Park is under limited operations due to COVID-19. For current status and frequent updates, check out Shenandoah’s Alerts and Closures.

Shenandoah National Park Entrance Fee

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Daily park entrance fees are $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle and $15 per person. These fees are good for 7 days. A Shenandoah Annual Park Pass will cost $55 and is valid for one year from date of purchase.

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

With well-over 500 miles of hiking and easy access to the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park is a premiere destination for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s a list of 15 of our favorite hiking trails in and around the park:

Easy, perfect for families:

  1. Hawksbill Summit (2.2 mile out-and-back)
  2. Stony Man Loop (3.7 mile loop)
  3. Loft Mountain Loop (2.9 mile loop)
  4. Snead Farm Dickey Ridge Trail (3.4 mile loop)
  5. Calvary and Chimney Rocks Trail (3.2 mile out-and-back)

Moderate, fairly strenuous:

  1. Dickey Ridge (5 mile loop)
  2. Mary’s Rock via the Pinnacle (7.2 mile out-and-back)
  3. Radipan Camp Trail (3.8 mile out-and-back)
  4. Rose River Trail (3.5 mile loop)
  5. Dark Hollow Falls (1.4 miles out-and-back)

Difficult, experience recommended:

  1. Old Rag (10.2 mile loop)
  2. Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails (9 mile loop)
  3. Riprap Trail (9.1 mile loop)
  4. Overall Run (8.7 mile loop)
  5. Shenandoah National Park Loop (24.6 mile loop)

Shenandoah National Park Lodging

Shenandoah National Park Camping

Shenandoah National Park,
Camping, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites along Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive:

  1. Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1 on the Skyline Drive)
  2. Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2)
  3. Lewis Mountain Campground (mile 57.5)
  4. Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5)
  5. Dundo Group Campground (mile 83.7)

Shenandoah National Park Hotels

Getaway Shenandoah, Stanardsville
Getaway Shenandoah, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

If camping isn’t your jam, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, hostels, inns, cabins and B&Bs within a quick drive of Shenandoah National Park. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Big Meadows Lodge
  2. Skyland Resort
  3. Shenandoah Woods
  4. Hawksbill Retreat Cabins
  5. Getaway Shenandoah
  6. Piney Hill B&B
  7. Lewis Mountain Cabins
  8. Hotel Laurence
  9. Lafayette Inn
  10. Lydia Mountain Lodge & Log Cabins

Shenandoah National Park Airbnb

Cozy 1-Room Cabin in the Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US. Credit: @leah.fishman

Nearby towns like Elkton, Syria, Timberville, Broadway, Harrisonburg, and Stanardville offer a wide array of Shenandoah Airbnb stays from treehouses and tiny homes to lakeside cabins and airstreams.

  1. Hobbit Style Underground Cabin
  2. Modern Cabin on Old Rag
  3. Cider House Orchard Stay
  4. Tiny House at Stardust Meadows
  5. Clouds Cabin
  6. Gum Tree Lodge
  7. Cozy 1-Room Cabin in the Mountains
  8. Cottage at Frog Jump
  9. Tiny Living on The Hilltop
  10. Secluded Airstream in Stanardville

Shenandoah National Park Tours

Shenandoah National Park,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Explore the heart of the park on a self-guided tour of Luray Caverns. Tours are open and available every day. $30 per adult, social distancing guidelines strictly enforced, no reservation needed.

Looking for more? Shenandoah Motorcoach tours offers an all-inclusive tour package that includes three nights lodging, breakfasts, dinner at Skyland, a guided tour on Skyline Drive and of Shenandoah National Park, tours of the Shenandoah Valley, Luray Caverns, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Highland, the National D-Day Memorial, and more.

Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park,
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

A 105-mile stretch of road that connects the park’s lakes, forests, and mountains. Skyline Drive is the only public road in Shenandoah National Park and takes about three hours to cruise from start to finish.

Shenandoah Natural Bridge 

Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

215 feet of solid rock reaches over Cedar Creek at Virginia’s Natural Bridge State Park. Famous fans of Shenandoah’s natural bridge include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who dubbed the bridge “the most sublime of nature’s works.”

Dream Lake at Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns, Luray
Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

The largest caverns on the East Coast, Luray Caverns is home to cathedral-sized rooms with ceilings 10-stories high, twinkling lantern-lit paths, and towering stone formations. The caverns’ biggest body of water, Dream Lake, reflects the stalactites hanging from the ceiling.

Whiteoak Canyon Trail

Whiteoak Canyon Trail, Robertson
Whiteoak Canyon Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Hikes to Whiteoak‘s falls range from easy 2-mile walks to arduous 9.5-mile out-and-back treks. Make sure cool off in one of the trail’s six waterfalls along the way.

Mary’s Rock Tunnel

Marys Rock Tunnel, Sperryville
Mary’s Rock Tunnel, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Constructed in 1932 and over 600 feet long, Mary’s Rock Tunnel is a mountain underpass blown out of of Mary’s Rock: a 3,514 foot mountain in Shenandoah National Park. RVs, camping trailers and horse trailers are welcome. To spot it for yourself, drive to mile-marker 32.2 on the Skyline.

Old Rag Mountain

Old Rag Mountain, Robertson
Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and dangerous hike. Allow for 7 to 8 hours, bring proper gear (2 quarts of water per person, headlamp, spikes), and leave the doggos at home.

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls, Robertson
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Dark Hollow Falls is a super popular series of waterfalls and cascades in the park. The trail can be wet and slippery, so good footwear is a must.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, Stanley
Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Conveniently across from Big Meadows. Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is home to all park info, maps, exhibits & ranger programs (plus restrooms & first aid!)

Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at Big Meadows Lodge

Big Meadows Lodge, Stanley
Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

If pies could win awards (can they?), the blackberry ice cream pie at Big Meadows Lodge would win all of them. Graham cracker crust, blackberry ice cream, meringue, blackberry compote. Holy moly, folks.

Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloon

Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloon, Front Royal
Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

For just $225 per person (honestly a steal), Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons takes you over the valley’s famous mountain ridges, farms, ponds and apple orchards. Each flight ends with a traditional post-flight toast with your choice of champagne or local sparkling apple cider. 

American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse

American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton
Blackfriar’s Playhouse, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse‘s indoor theater hosts Shakespeare & other classics. Highlights include romantic flickering lights and bench seating —cushions for rent if you’re worried about your booty!

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, Harrisonburg
Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

A woodland sanctuary on the James Madison University campus, the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is a public garden and green space. Exhibits include a labyrinth, monarch waystation, and tranquility gardens.

The Little Grill Collective

The Little Grill Collective, Harrisonburg
Little Grill Collective, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

The only 100% vegetarian cafe close to the park, Little Grill Collective does comfort food right. If fresh french toast, veggie-heavy breakfast burritos, hearty chili, and warm seasonal veggie bowls are your thing, add this spot to your itinerary ASAP.

Black Dog Salvage

Black Dog Salvage, Roanoke
Black Dog Savage, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

As seen on HGTV, DIY, Discovery, and Great American Country, Black Dog Savage is a gigantic warehouse that specializes in unique antiques.

Bear Mountain Ziplines

Bear Mountain Ziplines, Luray
Bear Mountain Ziplines, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Thrill seekers, here ya go. The Mama Bear Zipline at Bear Mountain Ziplines promises 7 treetop zips. The last 1000 ft stretch drops you on the tower above their 3-story Bear Scramble climbing wall.

White Oak Lavender Farm

White Oak Lavender Farm
White Oak Lavender Farm, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Lavender fields, wine tastings, U-pick, classes and seasonal farm tours are just the tip of the magic at White Oak Lavender Farm & Purple WOLF Vineyard. The farm’s annual Firefly Night promises an evening under the stars with lavender ice cream, lavender lemonade, and your very own firefly habitat jar for the keeping.

BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe

BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe, Harrisonburg
BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe,Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Located in Harrisonburg, BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe is the perfect place to refuel after a long day hiking. Menu highlights include: tempeh teriyaki summer rolls, vegan rendang made with jackfruit, and the vegan fried rice.

Stable Craft Brewing

Stable Craft Brewing, Waynesboro
Stable Craft Brewing, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, US.

Shenandoah-adjacent Brewery specializing in craft beer and ciders with a farm-fresh menu. Stable Craft is the perfect summertime spot. Order the cauliflower steak with a Robot Cowboy (IPA).