Located in the state of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park encompasses parts of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. Given national park designation in 1935, Shenandoah has long attracted visitors with its scenic vistas that include Hawksbill Mountain, its highest peak, and the Shenandoah River. The park is merely 75 miles from Washington D.C. and features its Skyline Drive, so it’s among the nation’s most easily accessible national parks. From its abundant wildlife to its stunning landscapes, Shenandoah is brimming with unforgettable natural attractions.
Traversing the length of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is a 105-mile two-lane road through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Throughout the drive, there are more than 70 outlooks that offer spectacular views of the Shenandoah River and its surrounding valley. The road also provides access to many renowned trails that lead to park attractions like campgrounds, lodges, and waterfalls. Travelers looking for the best views of the park are sure to discover them along this magnificent scenic roadway.
Located on the Rapidan River, Rapidan Camp is a restored fishing retreat that was built by President Herbert Hoover in 1929. During his presidency, Hoover and his wife enjoyed visiting the rustic retreat that they referred to as “the Brown House” in contrast to their more formal abode on Pennsylvania Avenue. The camp was also a precursor to Camp David, the current presidential country retreat. Today, Rapidan Camp is open to the public and is accessible from Mill Prong Trail. During the warm months, the park offers tours of the historic retreat.
Shenandoah Park boasts a myriad of trails, but Dark Hollow Falls Trail is among its most celebrated. The trail is named for its 70-ft scenic cascade. The trail begins at mile 50.7 of Skyline Drive and winds downhill through foliage and beside creeks. Parts of the trail are steep, and the rocks near the cascade are slippery. The park advises hikers to stay on the trail as a precaution. Furthermore, wildlife like black bear and timber rattlesnakes frequent the area, so visitors should be on their guard.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile hiking trail that stretches from Maine southward into Georgia. About 100 miles of the trail extends through Shenandoah National Park. The trail crosses Skyline Drive and features scenic highlights like Compton’s Peak, Mary’s Rock, and Lewis Spring Falls. Along the trail, hikers and backpackers can witness panoramic views, fields of wildflowers, waterfalls, and foliage-covered cliffs.
Hawksbill Mountain, rising more than 4,000 feet, is the highest mountain peak in Shenandoah National Park. There are several hikes that visitors can take to the summit, including part of the Appalachian Trail, where they can witness majestic views of nearby natural attractions like Stony Man Mountain and Old Rag Mountain. The park lists its trails as moderately difficult. In recent years, the park has managed a falcon restoration project on Hawksbill Mountain, another attraction for hikers hoping to catch a glimpse of area wildlife.
Like Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic road with dazzling views of mountain landscapes. The road leads from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Travelers driving the parkway in Virginia will want to take note of major attractions like Humpback Rock, Rockfish Gap, and Ravens Roost. During the winter months, parkway access is intermittent due to inclement weather.
Though there are numerous campgrounds throughout Shenandoah, many visitors prefer to book a stay at one of the park’s lodges: Skyland or Big Meadows. Skyland dates to 1895 and was originally known as Stony Man Camp. It features a restaurant, gift shop, and multiple lodge buildings. Big Meadows is a recreational area that includes a lodge, camping area, store, and visitor center. Big Meadows is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located near Mill Prong Trail, which passes by the historic Rapidan Camp.
Shenandoah has a number of impressive waterfalls, many of which can be viewed from the trails. If you’re visiting the park to witness its cascades, you’ll want to make a point to see Dark Hollow Falls, Doyles River Falls, Lewis Falls, and South River Falls that are particularly popular with hikers. Some of the falls dry up during the summer. Spring is a great time to take a tour of the park’s significant cascades.
Camping is a popular pastime at Shenandoah. While there are many different campgrounds, two lodges, and cabins, in the park, backcountry camping remains an exciting activity for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy getting off the beaten path. There are roughly 196,000 acres of backcountry wilderness. Visitors may camp in the backcountry, but they must adhere to a strict “leave no trace” policy, and campfires are not permitted outside of designated campground areas. Campers should also suspend food in bear bags or place in the park’s bear-proof canisters.
Fall is a spectacular time to visit Shenandoah Park, which bursts into color with its impressive autumn foliage. The Skyline Drive is one of the best places to take in the park’s majestic fall views. Some of the most popular places to witness fall foliage from the drive is at Little Stony Many Outlook and Crescent Rock Overlook.