· ·

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary: Things to do

Welcome to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia! This stunning expanse of rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, breathtaking views, and vibrant forests offers an unforgettable adventure. This Shenandoah National Park itinerary is perfect for planning your trip, whether you’re going on a weekend or spending a few days in the Park!

I love Shenandoah National Park, after all, it was my first encounter with the National Parks of the United States! When we lived in West Virginia, Shenandoah used to be a day trip destination for us, living just 2 hrs away from it was a blessing! It is a perfect trip especially in fall or spring when the leaves are turning or flowers are blooming.

To help you plan your adventure, I’ve crafted the perfect itinerary, packed with must-see overlooks, exciting hikes for every ability level, and the best things to do in the Shenandoah National Park.

In this article, I’ll also cover the best time to visit, how to get to the park, where to stay, the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park, what to bring, and more. Let’s get started on creating your itinerary for Shenandoah National Park for first-time visitors, a must-visit for nature and adventure lovers!

Please note: This post may contain affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you purchase by clicking a link on this post. This will be at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help me keep this website up and running. Thanks for your support!

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary: Planning

Located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park boasts 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail, a popular trail for hikers. It encompasses a vast area of protected wilderness covering approximately 200,000 acres.

The park features over 500 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes, providing opportunities for all skill levels to explore the diverse landscapes of Shenandoah National Park.

Once private land, settlers originally lived on the land that was eventually donated to create Shenandoah National Park in 1935. This park is now known and loved for its hiking trails, Skyline Drive, wildlife, and mountain views.

  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle for 7 days, or America the Beautiful Pass
  • Size: 200000 acres; 500 miles of hiking trails
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes, in certain areas
  • Shuttle/Public Transportation: No
  • Visitor Center: Dickey Ridge and Harry F. Byrd, Sr.

Entrance Stations

There are four entrance stations to Shenandoah National Park, but only one has a physical address.

  • Front Royal (North Entrance), off of Hwy 340
  • Thornton Gap, between Luray and Sperryville off of Hwy 211
    Swift Run Gap, between Elkton and Stanardsville
  • Rockfish Gap (South Entrance), between Waynesboro and Charlottesville, off of Hwy 250 (It is also the northern side of the Blue Ridge Parkway)

Operating Hours

The Park remains always open, though the Drive sometimes closes for a variety of reasons. The visitor’s centers, lodges, gift shops, and waysides are mostly closed between late November and mid-March. Go here for a detailed list of opening dates.

How to Get to Shenandoah National Park

Located in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is about 1.5 hours from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington DC. It is a popular day or weekend trip from DC.

The closest major airport to Shenandoah National Park is Washington Dulles International (IAD) in Dulles, Virginia, 56 miles from the Front Royal Station. There is also Reagan National (DCA) in Arlington, VA which is 70 miles away.

You will need a car to get to Shenandoah National Park as well as to explore the park. There are no public shuttles or buses and trail heads can be far from one another.

The main attraction of Shenandoah National Park is Skyline Drive, a scenic roadway that stretches for 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which runs the entire length of the Park.

As I mentioned above, Shenandoah National Park is a popular day or weekend trip from Washington DC. The drive from DC to the Front Royal Entrance Station takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. This entrance is located at the very top of the park, and you will enter on Skyline Drive from the North Side of the Park.

If you plan on driving Skyline Drive when you arrive, this is the perfect route because you will be starting from the North end of Front Royal Entrance Station and heading to the South Thornton Gap Entrance Station.

Important Park Information

  • The park is split into 3 sections: the North Section (from Front Royal to Luray), the Central Section (Luray to Elkton)- the highest park elevation, and the South Section (Elkton to Waynesboro).
  • The overlooks in the park are designated by mile marker on Skyline Drive. So if you see mile 50, means something is located at mile marker 50 on the Drive. The north end near Front Royal is mile 1, and the south end at Rockfish Gap is mile 105.
  • The Appalachian Trail runs through the Park, shortly known as AT.
  • When hiking: “blazes” are rectangular patches of paint on trees to designate where trails are. Blue blazes are used to mark park trails, white blazes are used to mark the Appalachian Trail(AT), and yellow blazes are for horse trails.
Skyline drive during fall
Colorful autumn view of Blue Ridge mountain ridges from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

This Shenandoah National Park Itinerary can be done at your convenience. It will depend on where you are coming from and what time of year you are going! I will also include the best things to do around Shenandoah if you want to extend your trip to an entire weekend or long weekend in Shenandoah.

Skyline Drive: Best Thing to do in Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive is the main road that runs through the entire Shenandoah National Park, and most hiking trails are directly off Skyline Drive. It is a beautiful 105-mile long drive offering incredible views, that runs Front Royal in the north until it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway in the south. 

The drive traverses elevations ranging from approximately 600 feet to over 3,680 feet, offering breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding mountains. Allow yourself at least 3 hours for the entire drive, as the speed limit is only 35mph and the road is a series of narrow curves and windy turns!

Best overlooks of Shenandoah national park

Skyline Drive features numerous overlooks and pull-off areas where you can stop and take in the panoramic views of the Park. These overlooks offer excellent opportunities for photography and wildlife watching. I love this drive so much, the views are amazing with the layers of mountains in the distance!

There are total of 75 overlooks along the Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park. Enjoy the drive and stop at several of the overlooks along the way!

The drive offers a unique experience in every season. Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive, with its colorful foliage from mid-October to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, while Summer offers lush greenery!

All in all, you can drive the Skyline throughout the year but make sure to check the park’s website for road closures. If it’s snowing or icy, there will likely be road closures at some points. There are bathrooms available at each of the two visitor centers along the way.

Make sure you have plenty of gas or charge in your vehicle before entering as it is a long drive. There is a gas station in the park located at Big Meadows Wayside, but this is often unreliable.

Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park is a must-do activity in your itinerary. It offers amazing views, the chance to see wildlife, beautiful tree-lined roads, and much more.

Best Overlooks in Shenandoah National Park

  • Hogback Overlook, milepost 20.8, is the longest overlook in the Park
  • Mary’s Rock – 360-degree vistas and is my favorite lookout in the entire Park.
  • Crescent Rock Overlook – Best Views of Hawksbill Peak(highest Peak in Shenandoah National Park)
  • Old Rag View Overlook
  • The Point Overlook – My favorite spot in the park to catch a sunset.
  • Buck Hollow Overlook – Offers incredible sunrise views.

Best Short Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails, including portions of the famous Appalachian Trail. Hikers can access various trails from Skyline Drive, catering to different skill levels and interests.

Shenandoah National Park offers a wide range of hiking trails, including easy, moderate, and strenuous options. It’s essential to choose a trail that matches your fitness level and the experience you’re seeking.

If you’re visiting the Park for the first timers, I recommend Stony Man. It’s a short (1.6-mile RT), moderately easy hike that offers one of the best views in the park. This walk gives a great introduction to hiking in SNP. Below are a few of my favorite trails around in the Shenandoah National Park.

  • Limber Lost Trail (1.3 miles, easy)
  • Dark Hollow Falls (1.5 miles, easy)
  • Little Stony Man (3 miles, moderate)
  • Hawksbill Loop Trail (2.7 miles, moderate)
  • Mary’s Rock (3.5 miles, moderate)
  • Rose River Falls (3.8 miles, moderate)
  • Blackrock Summit Via Trayfoot Mountain (1.1 miles, easy)
  • South River Falls (4.6 miles, moderate)
  • Lewis Spring Falls (3 miles, moderate)
  • Doyles River Falls Trail (3.4 miles, moderate)

And one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park- Old Rag Mountain Loop. It offers awesome views but a very challenging 9.5-mile hiking trail. So if you have time and energy, opt for this hike!

Also, note that from March 1 to November 30, you’re required to get a park entrance pass and day-use ticket (Purchase online hereto hike the Saddle Trail, Ridge Trail, and Ridge Access Trail which make up the usual Old Rag circuit hike!

Don’t forget to bring plenty of water when hiking, especially in summer!

Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park

After driving and hiking, you’ll have several options for the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park. As someone who lived just 50 minutes from the Front Royal, I kept visiting the surrounding areas many times! I always loved exploring areas from the Front Royal to Thorton Gap.

Thornton Gap is located on the eastern side of Shenandoah National Park, and it is one of the most easily accessible entrances for travelers coming from the Washington DC area. It is situated near the town of Luray, Virginia. Here are a few of the best things to do in the area.

Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns is the most popular cave system in the USA, located in Luray, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. It is one of the largest and most impressive cave systems in the Eastern United States, attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Luray Caverns was discovered in 1878 when a local tinsmith named Andrew Campbell and a group of other explorers were drawn to a sinkhole, eventually leading them to the cave entrance.

Luray caverns

The caverns are known for their intricate geological formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. These formations have taken millions of years to develop through a process of mineral deposition.

You can visit the caverns through guided tours that provide insight into the cave’s history, geology, and unique formations. Read more about things to do in Luray, Virginia.

Luray Caverns is great to visit in the summer when it’s hot out. You can get respite from the heat, especially after hiking!

Apple Picking at Jenkins Orchard

If you’re visiting the Shenandoah National Park during the late summer/Fall, apple plucking is one the best activities apart from hiking and driving around the Park! You’ll find so many apple orchards on the East Coast and everywhere around Shenandoah, especially outside the Thornton Gap exit!

If you’re looking for a spot to pick your own apples, Jenkins Orchard is a great spot. They are a family-owned orchard since 1954. Their apple season begins in mid-June and goes till mid-November. During the fall, they have peaches, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and more.

They offer a Pick-your-own on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 AM to 5 PM. It’s $14, and you can take many different types of apples home. It’s worth a stop with the family looking for fun experiences!

Visit Lavender Farm

If you’re looking for unique things to do in Shenandoah Valley, visit the Lavender Farm. White Oak Lavender Farm is a small family-owned farm in the beautiful Shenandoah. Located on I-81, at exit 247A, this beautiful Farm offers a “U-pick” for the flowers during the summer months.

The farm also has wonderful places to sit and relax while you enjoy the beautiful mountain views. They also have animals on the site, which is perfect to enjoy with the children.

They also make lovely soap, lotions, creams, and aromatherapy products for purchase. If you love lavender, it is a must include Place in your Shenandoah National Park Itinerary.

Visit a Winery

Do you know Virginia is famous as a Wine region? With more than 300 wineries and dozens of wine trails in Virginia, it ranks 5th in the country! And most of them are located around Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway in north Virginia by lavish scenery, and breathtaking views.

You’ll notice signs all along the drive, whether entering at Front Royal or Rockfish Gap! In the fall, many will have special events going on as well, such as live music, food trucks, and activities for kids/families. Below are a few I’d recommend:

  • Narmada Winery
  • Magnolia Vineyards & Winery
  • Chester Gap Cellars (amazing views during the Fall)
  • Northern Mountain Vineyard & Winery
  • Castle Vineyards
  • Wisteria Farm and Vineyard
  • Sharp Rock Vineyards
  • Glen Manor Vineyards

Learn from the Park Rangers

If you’re interested in having a guide during your first visit, the park’s Ranger Program offers a range of activities for every age. From wildlife walks, geological history talks, junior ranger programs for the kids, and ranger-led hikes, there’s something for everybody.

Visit the Charming Town Front Royal

Front Royal serves as the gateway to Shenandoah National Park. Take your time to sneak peek into this charming and cute little town during your Shenandoah National Park itinerary. Take a Walk around the historic main street of downtown, where you can appreciate our many murals by incredible local artists, and experience unique shops and nostalgic entertainment.

Make sure to grab a coffee and snacks before visiting the National Park or visit a local brewery after the hike and dine at any restaurants in the town.

Dinner Options in Shenandoah National Park

There aren’t many options to eat inside the Park but here are a few options to eat outside the National Park.

  • Big Meadows Lodge, Mile 51.2, enjoy the fresh air by eating on the outdoor patio.
  • Elkwallow Wayside, Mile 24.1, Stop here for carry-out & groceries.
  • Big Meadows Wayside, Mile 51.2, another option for Grab ‘n Go food.
  • Pollock Dining Room at Skyland, Mile 41.7 and 42.5, enjoy delicious meals while enjoying great views of the park.
  • Loft Mountain Wayside, Mile 79.5, is the best place to have breakfast, and sandwiches in a beautiful setting.

You can also just bring your own food and have a nice picnic with the views! Just remember the “leave no trace” rule – whatever you bring into the park! 

Breweries inside Shenandoah National Park

For the drinks, you’ll have to make a minor detour off the National Park. Here are my few recommendations to grab a drink after spending your day hiking to chill off!

  • Copper Fox Distillery
  • Blue Mountain Brewery
  • Elkton Brewing Co. / Elkton Brewing Company
  • Cave Hill Farms Brewery

In this Shenandoah National Park Itinerary, I’ve packed tons of options for you to choose from.

Where to Get The Gas in the Park

Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51.2) is the only gas station in Shenandoah National Park. Also, gas is much more expensive along the Drive, so I suggest filling up before entering the Park.

Where to Stay in Shenandoah National Park

If you are visiting the Shenandoah National Park during the weekend (or longer), there are two options if you want to stay overnight in the Park – using the campgrounds or staying at one of the lodges. Shenandoah National Park is a fantastic place for campers to enjoy. Or you can stay outside of the park at a hotel in a nearby town like Waynesboro or Luray.

There are several options as per your preferences and needs, from cozy and luxurious to rustic and quaint. 

The lodges: There are two main resort areas, Skyland (mile 41.7 and 42.5) and Big Meadows (51.2). Both of them offer hotel-style rooms and full cabins that you can rent. They also both have full-service restaurants. If you prefer to enjoy the mountains with all of your creature comforts, stay at one of these two places.

If you want to stay at one of the lodges during peak season, you must make reservations at least a year in advance!

The campgrounds: There are four campgrounds spread out along the Drive: Mathews Arm (mile 22.1), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), Lewis Mountain (57.5), and Loft Mountain (79.5). Three of them are RV-friendly. Reservations can be made here.

The campgrounds are seasonal, opening in early spring and closing in late fall. They all have their own schedule. They are first-come, first-served, but during peak season, they require reservations.

I highly recommend you book well in advance if you want to visit Shenandoah during the summer. They are generally updated on the NPS website.

You can camp in your RV in Shenandoah, but there are no electricity or water hookups. There is drinking water available at all the campgrounds.

Outside Shenandoah National Park: Luray, Waynesboro, and Front Royal are the closest towns near the Park entrances with budget accommodations. Best Western Plus Waynesboro is a 10-minute drive from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station to the park. Hotel Laurance is a 15-minute drive from the Thornton Gap Entrance Station.

If you’re traveling in a group, check out this amazing Airbnbs with amazing locations and breathtaking views.

Skyline Yurt with Hot Tub

This property is located in Front Royal and has a terrace, free private parking, and free Wifi. The villa is fitted with 3 bedrooms, a flat-screen TV, and a fully equipped kitchen that provides guests with a dishwasher, an oven, a washing machine, a microwave, and a fridge. Book your Stay Here.

Shenandoah Yurt with Hot Tub

This property is located in Stanely, Virginia, and has private Parking and free wifi. The villa has 3 bedrooms, perfect for a group of 8 people comfortably. It has a fully equipped kitchen with a dishwasher, an oven, a washing machine, a microwave, and a fridge. This premier cabin has modern construction, modern amenities, a hot tub, a wood-burning stove, an archery, an EV charger, an Outdoor fire pit, and a wood-burning fireplace. Book your dreamy stay here.

Dreamy Couples Cabin in the Shenandoah

Great for a romantic getaway! The vacation home has 1 separate bedroom, 1 bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area and oven, and a living room with a flat-screen TV. The vacation home has an outdoor fireplace and hot tub with sparkly lights, making it extra romantic. Book your Stay here.

Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful in all seasons! But Spring and Fall are my favorite times to visit. Shenandoah National Park is famous for its fall foliage, and the peak time is usually mid-to-late October. It’s a must-see, but know that everyone else wants to see the color-changing leaves too, so it can be quite busy during the Peak foliage!

Summer is also perfect for hiking while spring is perfect for enjoying the Shenandoah Blossom Festival. If you want to avoid crowds, plan a spring trip between March and May. I highly suggest going in May as it is slightly warmer, but there aren’t summer crowds yet. You can squeeze in many of the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park this time of year.

It often snows from December through February and winter provides a unique experience. It’s usually too cold for comfortable hiking, but you’ll have the Drive to yourself and many of the rocks are transformed into beautiful ice formations. The Parts of Skyline Drive, the main road throughout the park, can close during the winter, so check the Park conditions before your drive during the winter.

One Day Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

If you are starting your Shenandoah National Park Itinerary from Washington DC, here is the perfect sample itinerary. If you’re doing this trip during the fall season, start early! If you’re traveling from the south, just reverse this itinerary.

Early Morning: Start your day early with breakfast and coffee in Front Royal, Virginia. The Front Royal entrance to Shenandoah NP is the closest entrance to DC. Walk down the main street, have breakfast at any restaurant, and start your drive to Shenandoah. You can grab your supplies for the trip from the town.

Morning: Skyline Drive and stop at overlooks to get the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountains. I’d recommend driving until you get to the Skyland Dining Room, which is a perfect area to stop at for lunch!

Lunch: After a morning drive, it’s time to stretch your legs. You can have a packed picnic lunch at one of the designated picnic areas within the park or visit a local restaurant like Skyland Dining Room or Big Meadows Lodge if they’re open.

Early Afternoon: Choose any hike in the Park. In the afternoon, you’ll head back north on Skyline Drive from Skyland to make a stop for a hike in the park.

Late Afternoon: Choose an adventure of your own. Visit Luray Cavern, visit the Winery, or go for Apple Picking. Whatever you choose, I recommend leaving the park at the Thornton Gap entrance.

Evening: Dinner and Drinks. If you didn’t grab dinner at a winery after your late afternoon activity, consider one last stop on your day trip to Shenandoah for dinner in the nearby town.

2-Day Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

Day 1:

  • Watch the sunrise at Bearfence Mountain View Trail.
  • Drive the Skyline Drive and have lunch at Spottswood Dining Room. 
  • Afternoon Hike to Lewis Spring Falls.
  • Spend the evening with an easy hike to the Stony Man trail.
  • Watch the sunset at Point Overlook (mile 55.5).
  • End your day with a visit to a brewery!

Day 2:

  • Start your day by watching the sunrise at Buck Hollow Overlook (MP 32.8).
  • Have breakfast at Pollock dining room before going on the hike.
  • In the morning, hike the “Highest Peak in Shenandoah”- Upper Hawksbill Trail.
  • Have lunch and hike to Dark Hollow Falls.
  • Afternoon, hike to the popular Mary’s Rock trail.
  • If you have time, visit the winery with the best views in the evening!

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary FAQ

How many days do you need at Shenandoah National Park?

Shenandoah is a big National Park and to fully experience everything, plan at least 2-3 days, so that you’ll have ample time to do the best hikes, drive the Skyline Drive, visit waterfalls, and marvel at the beautiful Luray Caverns.

What not to miss at Shenandoah National Park?

Don’t miss these when you’re at Shenandoah National Park:

  • Skyline Drive
  • Lewis Springs Falls
  • Blackfoot Summit via Trayfoot Mountain
  • The Point Overlook Milepost 55.5 for Sunset
  • Dark Hollow Falls
  • Bearfence Mountain Trail

How long does it take to drive the Whole Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park?

Skyline Drive is over 105 miles long with many overlooks and pullouts along the way. You don’t need to stop at all of them but plan to stop at a few to admire the scenery and take stunning photos. Allow yourself 3 to 4 hours to drive the length of Shenandoah National Park depending on how often you want to stop.

What is the most scenic part of Skyline Drive?

The valley of Big Run is one of the park’s most scenic on Skyline Drive. On one side of Big Run is Rockytop Ridge; on the other side stands Rocky Mountain and Brown Mountain.

Should you carry bear spray in Shenandoah National Park?

There are black bears found in Shenandoah National Park. It’s a good idea to carry bear spray when hiking. Make sure to attach a bear bell to your bag or continue talking or making noise when you hike.

I hope now you can plan your Shenandoah National Park itinerary with all the details above. From where to stay, how to get to the park, and the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park. I hope this Itinerary and guide may be helpful for you to plan your first-ever trip to Shenandoah National Park!

You might like to read next…

Similar Posts