My first visit to Shenandoah National Park was in the Fall several years ago. While driving into the park. we were greeted by a blanket of fog. Slowly we crept along Skyline Drive, the 150 mile road that cuts directly through the park. With each mile, layers of fog lifted revealing colors of cranberry and gold. The trees were putting on their last show. Since then, I returned to enjoy the other seasons along with the peace and open spaces. With over 200,000 acres of wild and intense beauty, here is what you need to know in order to plan your next adventure.
There are four park entrances; Front Royal, Thornton Gap, Swift Run Gap, and Rockfish Gap. A National Scenic Byway, Skyline Drive starts at the Front Royal entrance and runs 105 miles through the entire length of the park and alongside the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On a day with good weather conditions, it takes approximately three hours to travel from one end to the other. Have your camera ready as there are 76 overlooks where you can stop and take in some of the sweetest views. There is nothing like watching the clouds roll overhead shifting shadows and light over the cobalt mountains and pastoral valleys below.
Driving Distance and Mileage From Other Cities
The park is 263 miles from Pittsburgh, ( Four hour drive), 70 miles from D.C., ( One hour drive), 209 miles from Philadelphia, (three hour drive), and 143 miles from Harrisburg, (2.5 hour drive). *These are all approximate and based upon where you enter the park.
If you are looking to stay within the park, I have a list of options below. However, there are endless options outside of the park within the towns that surround the area.
Skyland sits at 3680 ft. which is the highest point on Skyline Drive. There are 27 acres of property with premium rooms as well as cabins. Restaurant, bar, (occasional live entertainment), kids play area/activities, and hiking. Open April through November. * Pet friendly rooms available.
Big Meadows Lodge provides sweeping views of the valley below and is close to an open meadow for those who love to stargaze. There are regular lodge rooms as well as cabins. Restaurant, bar, (occasional live entertainment), kids play area/activities, and hiking. Your pet is welcome on the terrace when dining. Open April through November. *Pet friendly rooms available.
Cabin rentals Available at various locations throughout the park.
Horseback riding, wine tasting events, (some of the best wineries are here in Virginia), water falls, hiking, trout fly fishing , twilight hikes, rock climbing, children’s activities, and stargazing programs.
With over 500 miles of hiking trails within the park, there is something for everyone. I’ll start you out with just a few. Old Rag Mountain sits at 3200 feet. It is not for amateurs. The loop hike is 9.5 miles which has you thinking on your feet as you maneuver around and over boulders. The payoff is heavenly with 360 degree sweeping views. Fox Hollow Trail combines history and natural beauty. It is a 1.2 mile loop that will take you past a rock wall built by the Fox Family who once made this area their home. There is a historic cemetery in the area where generations of the family have been laid to rest. Limberlost Trail is a fully accessible ADA compliant trail. This 1.3 mile loop takes you alongside mountain laurels and is dotted with other flora and tall trees.
There are more than 850 types of flowers nestled within the park. In the Spring, wild pink azaleas dot Skyline Drive. In addition, bluets, trilliums, and violets can be found along the trails. Late May into Summer, pink lady slippers, along with the iconic mountain laurel abound. In the Fall, keep your eyes open for asters, wild sunflowers, and goldenrods that are found in the banks along Skyline Drive.
Other Important Information
Two visitor service centers are located within the park. For those in need of snacks or camping supplies, there are wayside stations approximately every 25 miles along Skyline Drive.
There are more than 50 mammal species in the park. Personally, I have never seen a bear at the Shenandoah Park, however, I know many that have. The parkland is very dense and provides the perfect habitat. On occasion, white tail deer have darted out of the woods in front of my car on Skyline Drive. Stay alert when driving!
More info to come on the picturesque towns, history, accommodations, wineries. shops, and restaurants that are all a part of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. I hope that you come to love it as much as I do.