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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

You only have to travel 75 miles outside of our nation’s bustling capital to find a peaceful and quiet national park, fully equipped with massive mountains, majestic forests, and breathtaking views. It looks like a small slice of wild heaven, filled with wildflowers in the spring, incredible foliage in the fall, and opportunities to observe wildlife.

Much of Shenandoah consisted of farmland and growth forests used for logging. Today, it is sometimes difficult to know where agriculture, logging and grazing occurred, as much of the forests have grown over time. It is now full of rugged trails, 500 miles to be exact, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and serves as a refuge for many wild animals. There are more than 200 species of resident and transient birds, more than 50 species of mammals, 51 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 30 species of fish that can be found in the park.

Many visitors choose to drive Skyline Drive, which travels 105 miles along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains for a breathtaking view of the park. But get out there and get a whole new perspective on this rich national park.


Unlike most national parks, Shenandoah has been inhabited by settlers for more than a century. To create the park, Virginia state officials had to acquire 1,088 private areas and donated land. This was a historic movement; Never before has such a large area of private land been converted into a national park.

In the early 1900s, the first calls for national parks in the East were heard in Congress. However, it would be two decades before Shenandoah National Park was authorized and another 10 years before it was established. During that time, President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover established their summer White House on the Rapidan River while construction began on Skyline Drive. The Civilian Conservation Corps was established and moved to the area, and more than 450 families of mountain residents were relocated from Blue Ridge.

Shenandoah National Park was authorized on May 22, 1926, and was fully established on December 26, 1935. Wilderness areas were later designated on October 20, 1976, and September 1, 1978.

When to visit

The fall. Simply put, when fall foliage bursts into Virginia, so do tourists. The majestic scenery is well worth the crowds, so try to arrive early and preferably plan your trip on a weekday. Shenandoah is also nice to visit during the spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom, or during the warmer months of the summer.

Get there

Convenient airports are located at Dulles International, near Washington DC, (Find Flights) and Charlottesville, VA. If driving from Washington, DC, take I-66 west to US 340 and then head south to the park’s Front Royal entrance. The trip is approximately 70 miles.

If traveling from the west, take US 211 through Lurray to the Thornton Cap entrance or you can go east on US 33 to the Swift Run Gap entrance.

Fees / Permits

An entrance fee will be charged upon arrival. For a 1-7 day vehicle pass, the fee is $ 25. A $ 20 motorcycle fee will be charged for a 1-7 day pass. Additionally, walkers or bikers will be charged $ 10 for the 1-7 day pass.

A Shenandoah Annual Pass that allows a full year of unlimited visitation can also be purchased for $ 50. All other national park passes will be honored upon entry as well.

Main attractions

There are two different ways to approach this national park: a scenic drive or a hike along numerous trails. Both highlight some of the main attractions, so if you can, try to mix your time behind the wheel and on foot.

Also, keep in mind that Shenandoah is one of the few national parks that is dog friendly, so take a look at the trails you want to hike with your furry friend.

Skyline Drive – One suggested route is to travel from Front Royal to Big Meadows, which can take a full day. Before you start driving, take the 1.2-mile self-guided Fox Hollow Trail to see the homes named after the family that settled there. Once behind the wheel, keep an eye out for several overlooks to stop for the view of the Shenandoah Valley. In good weather the views are spectacular.

Trail Trail Easily accessible at Matthews Arm Campground, this 1.7-mile trail takes visitors into an oak forest that feels like a step back in time. See traces of the first settlers, such as stone walls and ancient paths.

Corbin Cabin Cut Trail – This steep 3-mile (roundtrip) trail takes visitors to see a typical mountain residence still used by members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Stony Man Nature Trail – After 1.6 miles, you will reach the cliffs at the summit of Stony Man, the second highest peak in the park.

Dark Hollow Falls Trail – If you want to see a waterfall in the shortest amount of time, take this 1.4 mile trail.

Rapidan Camp – A national historic landmark that President Herbert Hoover and his wife used as their summer camp.

Bearfence Mountain – The 0.8 mile hike to this mountain takes visitors climbing over the rocks, but the payoff is a 360 degree view that is truly amazing.

Hightop Summit Trail – If you’re looking to see wildflowers, this 3-mile (roundtrip) hike is your best bet.

Loft Mountain – Located at the southern end of the park, this area is ideal for exploration. Trees are being reforested, birds are singing, and two views from the summit show the Shenandoah Valley.

Blue Ridge Parkway – At the southern end of the parks, you’ll find this national park service highway connecting Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


There are five campgrounds located within the park, all with a 14-day limit. Matthews Arm, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain are open from mid-May through October and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Big Meadows is open late March through November and is also on a first-come, first-served basis. Dundo Group Campground is open from April to November. Reservations are required.

There are also three affordable accommodations within the park:

Big Meadows Lodge offers rooms, cabins, and suites and is open April through October.

Some cabins at Lewis Mountain Cabin offer outdoor grills. 

Skyland Lodge is open from April to November and offers accommodation units, suites and cabins.

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