You can find Shenandoah National Park on the crest of the spectacular Blue Ridge mountains, in northern Virginia. This park has over 500 miles of amazing hiking trails filled with the dreamiest mountain views, meadows covered in endless amounts of wildflowers, and incredible rushing waterfalls. And if that is not enticing enough, the scenic 105-mile Skyline Drive is worth the trip alone. Skyline Drive is filled with 75 stunning overlooks and you are probably thinking they can’t ALL be lovely enough to warrant stopping at every one, but I promise you they are ALL indeed that lovely! Before starting off on this National Park adventure I must admit I had never heard of Shenandoah National Park before, but now I can not recommend this gem of a park enough. It is the perfect place for an adventure, especially with small children. You are in the mountains yet there are large fields and meadows which gave my kids more independence while exploring. Also, the park is not nearly as populated as many of the other parks we have visited. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! Below is a two day itinerary to help get your planning started!
Entrance Fee: $30 per 7 consecutive days, includes a map
Lodging: There are three main lodging areas at Shenandoah National Park. Skyland, Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins. Rooms are a mix of traditional hotel rooms, suites, and cabins. Reservations for all three options can be made here- Shenandoah Lodging. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club also offers public cabins both inside and outside the park. Reservations for those can be made here-PATC. The best lodging outside the park can be found in the cities of Front Royal, VA (north of park), Harrisonburg, VA (west of park) and Charlottesville, VA (southeast of park). There are five campgrounds inside the park-Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain, and Dundo (group camping only). Campground reservations can be made at Recreation.gov. Backcountry camping is available as well and permits are required.
Dining: Dining options inside the park can be found in the following areas- Elkwallow Wayside (meals to go, groceries), Skyland (sit down dining, meals to go), Big Meadows Wayside (sit down dining, meals to go, groceries), Big Meadows Lodge (sit down dining, meals to go), Loft Mountain Wayside (sit down dining, meals to go). *The view at Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room is stunning! All hours and menus are included here- Shenandoah Dining. The lodging cities above also have plenty of dining options outside the park as well. Picnic areas with grills are available through the park.
Must Know Before You Go:
1. My best advice for this park- if possible, stay in the park. The first time we went, we stayed outside the park, and we spent 1-2 hours every morning getting to our first trailhead. If you are only visiting for a short time, staying on property would allow you more exploring time!
2. Review all Shenandoah National Park wildlife safety tips.
3. If you plan on hiking Old Rag Mountain- a ticket must be purchased ahead of time on Recreation.gov
4. As with all parks, please follow the Leave No Trace principles.
Cell Service: Not reliable throughout most of the park.
2 Day Itinerary
Skyline Drive– 105-mile drive that runs the entire length of the park. We started at the Rockfish Gap (South) entrance and drove all the way to the Front Royal (North) entrance. 105 miles does not seem too long but when you are only going 25 miles an hour and constantly looking out for wildlife and taking in the continuously amazing views at one of the 75 overlooks, it can last most of the day. We made the most of those views the first day and stopped at all of them. If you wanted to do only part of the drive there are two other entrances(Thorton Gap-northern middle and Swift Run Gap- southern middle) where you could enter and exit as well.
Bearfence Viewpoint Hike– 1.1-mile roundtrip. This is an easy hike to an incredible view. If you are feeling more adventurous or have older children and want the full 360° view the Bearfence Rock Scramble Hike starts here as well and is similar in length but rocky terrain makes it a bit more difficult with little ones in tow😊
Dark Hollow Falls Trail– 1.4 miles roundtrip. There is a parking lot right at the trailhead. The end is steep and rocky both uphill and down to the waterfall but a large portion of the trail is wide and flat so I would say moderate in difficulty only because of the steepness at the very end, the rest of the trail was quite easy. You follow a shallow stream most of the way, so the kids had a lot of freedom to explore and get a little wet which they loved. And the waterfall was spectacular!
Sunset at the Stony Man Overlook- We went at the end of October so this might be difficult in the summer months with small children and early bedtimes. But if you stay at the park- the sunset over the west side of the park is absolutely beautiful. Other great sunset outlooks would be Brown Mountain Overlook or Rockytop Overlook especially if you are staying on the South side of the park.
Lower Whiteoak Falls Trail– 2-mile roundtrip trail. Park in the Whiteoak Canyon parking area. This is an easy and enjoyable walk with kiddos to see the lower falls in Whiteoak Canyon. We were short on time but next time we visit I would do the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. It is 9.5 miles roundtrip and is supposed to be strenuous, but I think still doable if that is your only hike for the day and seeing 5 waterfalls on one hike is something that is hard to pass up.
Little Stony Man Cliffs– We did the short version of this hike making it only 1 mile roundtrip. It is steep but quick and the views are worth it!
Big Meadows Trail Loop- 2.5-mile loop. Big Meadows is exactly what it sounds like- a very large meadow on top of a mountain. It is a great place to see plenty of wildlife and wildflowers(in the right season). This trail is easy in difficulty and was really nice to walk with the kids.
It was time to head home, so we stopped at a few more overlooks and kept our eyes peeled for all the wildlife! We saw SO MANY white-tailed deer!
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!