With Shenandoah in our backyard, we thought we would put together a few recommendations to help plan the best possible Shenandoah National Park vacation. There is so much to do and see on a Shenandoah vacation that you’ll need to start planning early, make your reservations as soon as you have your date firmed up and hopefully use some of these recommendations to make the most of your time in the beautiful Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah National Park encompasses 300 square miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is popular for its scenic driving as well as the many outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping, and observing flora & fauna. The main and only road in the park is the 105 mile long Skyline Drive which includes 75 overlooks and affords access to over 500 miles of trails. Whether hiking or driving be prepared to enjoy the stunning mountain vistas and forests.
The north entrance to the park is located just outside of Front Royal, Va. and is the start of the famed Skyline Drive (mile 0). Make sure to fuel up your vehicle before entering the park as the only gas station available is at mile 51.2 on the Drive. The Front Royal Entrance Station is at mile 0.6. There are vehicle/individual entrance fees to enter the park.
Heading south, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at mile 4.6 is a great place to start your trip as it offers information, trail maps, exhibits, and some videos to watch about the Shenandoah National Park. The next visitor’s center is the Harry F Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center at mile 51.
Now, let’s move on to lodging, camping, food, overlooks, hiking and more!
Skyland Lodge sits between mile 41.7 & 42.5 at Skyline Drive’s highest elevation – 3,680 feet. Lodging accommodations range from premium rooms to small cabins, traditional rooms, suites, and pet-friendly rooms. Located in twenty-eight buildings along the wooded ridge. Big Meadows Lodge is at mile 51 and across the Skyline Drive from the large grassy meadow that it gets its name from.
Big Meadows is a great place to view the night skies! Lodging accommodations range from main lodge rooms to small cabins, traditional rooms, suites, and pet-friendly rooms. Lewis Mountain Cabins are at mile 57.5 and offer comfortable accommodations to everyone wanting to get away from it all and put the digital world behind them for a while. Great for families, couples and anyone seeking a real Shenandoah National Park experience. No in-room phones or internet access so you can connect to nature. Please check with the Park website or Ranger Stations for the opening and closing dates of all lodging.
Mathews Arm Campground is at mile 22.2, the closest campground to the northern entrance of the park. The camp is close to trails, Overall Run Falls & Elkwallow Wayside which has camping supplies and foodservice.
Big Meadows Campground is at mile 51 and is close to a lot of facilities and popular hiking trails in the park. Three great waterfalls are within walking distance.The Big Meadow, which is always popular for nighttime sky viewing is right across the Skyline Drive.
Lewis Mountain Campground is at mile 57.5 is the smallest campground in the park, but is known for its natural beauty and secluded feel. Don’t let its size stop you from spending some time at this wonderful campground.
Loft Mountain Campground is at mile 79.5 and is the largest campground in the park. With outstanding views to the east and the west, the camp sits on top of Big Flat Mountain. Two waterfalls are within hiking distance and the Big Run Wilderness area is nearby. Please check with the Park website or Ranger Stations for opening and closing dates.
There are many place to get something to eat while visiting the Park, but only a couple of places to get a real Shenandoah National Park regional specialty experience. For those that what a real treat, make sure to make a reservation to have a meal at either Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room or Big Meadow’s Spottswood Dining Room. Both restaurants offer signature specialties that will have you wanting more. If you have enough time in the Park, be sure to make a reservation for a meal at both restaurants.
After your meal make sure to leave enough time for a drink or two in the Taprooms. Skyland features the Mountain Taproom and Big Meadows features the New Market Taproom, each with their own flare, specialty drinks and live music. Be sure to check the entertainment schedule. If eating off the Park is more your thing there are many options in Front Royal, Luray, Elkton and Waynesboro.
Carry-out food & groceries, as well as camping supplies, are available at several waysides along the Skyline Drive at approximately every 25 miles or so. The first wayside is Elkwallow Wayside at mile 24.1. A bigger wayside is Big Meadows Wayside at mile 51 which features more services and fuel for your vehicle.
Moving down the road you will come to the Loft Mountain Wayside at mile 79.5 with the same carry-out, groceries and supplies. These waysides do close down for the season at certain times in the Fall, so make sure you check the Park website or the Ranger Station before your trip so you’re not caught off guard.
With 75 overlooks to stop at as you make your way south through Shenandoah you won’t get a bad view, but we thought we would give you a couple of our favorites. Starting from the northern entrance you’ll come to Signal Knob Overlook at mile 5.7. One of the northernmost pull-offs offers a view west across the Shenandoah River of Signal Knob on Massanutten Mountain. Spectacular sunsets. The view also highlights sections of the Shenandoah River that Front Royal Outdoors offers canoe, kayak, raft & tube trips on.
Continuing south to mile 17.1 you will come to Range View Overlook, one of our most favorite spots. This overlook also shows sections of the Shenandoah River that we offer river trips on. At mile 20.8 is Hogback Overlook which affords a stunning view of Hogback Mountain. Continuing on to mile 48.1 is Spitler Knoll Overlook which looks out over the Page Valley and again the Shenandoah River. Can you tell we like the river? Moving on again at mile 81.2 you will come to what some have said may be the most scenic of all overlooks, Big Run Overlook, a must see. Our final pick is at mile 92.6, Crimora Lake Overlook. This overlook is popular for its expansive view with the lake as its centerpiece.
Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails including about 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail. These trails range from short easy walks to long tough trails. We have broken our suggestion down into three categories, Waterfall Hikes, Summit Hikes & Family Hikes.
While planning your vacation, consider a Shenandoah guided hiking and Shenandoah River trips package with Front Royal Outdoors. Hit the trails for a guided interpretive hike, lunch and then float the legendary Shenandoah River. All this located just outside the Park. For details please visit our website!
Our favorite Waterfall Hikes are Cedar Run Falls Trail, White Oak Canyon Trail, Overall Run Falls Trail, Dark Hollow Falls Trail & South River Falls Trail. Our favorite Summit Hikes are Marys Rock Trail, Stony Man Trail, Old Rag Mountain, Hawksbill Summit Trail & Blackrock Summit Trail. Our kid’s favorite trails are Limberlost TRACK Trail, Blackrock TRACK Trail & Fox Hollow TRACK Trail.
Guided Horseback riding is available at Skyland Stables at mile 42.5, always a popular way to see the Park. Other planned activities and entertainment are offered nearly every day! During peak season (summer) through the Park Service and the Park concessioner. Make sure to check the Park website before your visit for schedules and get the Park newsletter when you arrive for updates.
While we feel there is no bad time to visit Shenandoah, there may be better times than others. Spring, Summer and Fall are always the best time to visit the Park, but can come with more crowds. Summer and during the Fall foliage period are by far the most crowded period in the Park with the peak of Fall foliage being the most crowded. Plan to avoid peak Fall foliage on the mountain, instead call Front Royal Outdoors for ways to enjoy the colors without the crowds. Winter can be a bit dicey with road closures due to icy conditions.
There are no shuttle services available anywhere inside the Park. For those that do not have access to a car, we recommend renting a vehicle in your home town or the airport and driving out to the park. There are car rental facilities in Front Royal.
When planning your Shenandoah National Park vacation, it’s important to book your lodging, transportation, and activities as early as possible. The popularity of our National Parks is rising and visitation is up. Ensure your Shenandoah National Park vacation is the best one yet!
Skyline Caverns and Luray Caverns are always a hot ticket for visitors to the area as is an unforgettable Shenandoah river trip. Let Front Royal Outdoors handle all the details of your next float down the river. Whether you want a half-day, full-day or multi-day trip on the river we will be happy to help you get everything lined up