How to Budget Your Time in Shenandoah National Park
Looking for a great escape during these unprecedented times? Shenandoah National Park is just 75 miles from Washington, D.C. and is bursting with nature! From the endless vistas to the fields of wildflowers and countless wildlife, you will find a reprieve from the daily pandemic life! It’s the perfect getaway for families, friends, couples, or even a solo traveler. Shenandoah is known for its fall foliage, so naturally we went in the beginning of November. Although we were able to see some really beautiful vistas with colorful leaves, many of the leaves had already changed. The peak time to see fall foliage is mid-late October. Shenandoah has so much to explore, but it’s our hope that this guide will help you make your perfect itinerary.
Important Park Information
- If you own the American Parks Pass ($80 annual pass), you are granted access to the park with up to 4 people in your car. Otherwise, the park is $35 a day for one vehicle.
- National parks are open 24/7!
- The park is split into three sections: North Section (from Front Royal to Luray), Central Section (Luray to Elkton), and the South Section (Elkton to Waynesboro).
- Skyline Drive is the main road that runs through the entire park until it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway in the south.
- Pay attention to the mile markers on Skyline Drive. Locations and trails are designated by these mile markers. For example, Front Royal is mile marker 1.
- When hiking, you will notice “blazes” (rectangular paint marks) on trees to designate what trail you’re on. 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.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of lodging options in and around SNP. If you’d like to stay in one of the park’s lodges, cabins, or campgrounds, visit their website for booking information. We opted to book an AirBNB (click here to receive up to $55 off your first booking!) outside of the park in Rileyville, VA. It was about a 20 minute drive to the park and about 10 minutes to Luray, where we wanted to see the Luray Caverns. It turned out to be a nice, quiet, and secluded area. It felt like we were staying right inside the park.
Skyline Drive is 105 miles of beauty! If you have some strenuous hiking days planned, it would be great to plan a drive in between your hiking days to give your legs a rest. Give yourself at least 3 hours to complete this drive with several stops at the overlooks. I would even recommend designating an entire day to this drive, if you have the time. The speed limit is 35 mph the entire way and the road is very curvy and narrow.
Recommended Day Hikes
How do you decide on a hiking trail in a park that offers over 500 trails? SNP has trails for all levels and abilities. It can seem very overwhelming, but here are a few tips to help you narrow down your options.
- Use Alltrails (website & app) to find any type of trail, whether you’re looking for a casual walk or a strenuous hike to the peak of a mountain. Set your preferences on the AllTrails app to find the perfect hike for you.
- Visit Shenandoah NP for updated trail maps, alerts, road closures, and current conditions.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Dark Hollow Falls trail offers two options for a hike to the waterfall. There is a moderate 1.4 mile out and back and a 6 mile difficult trail. We opted for the more challenging, longer hike: Dark Hollow via AT and Story of the Forest. You will see two beautiful waterfalls and plenty of vistas with fall foliage or wildflowers depending on the time of year.
Dickey Ridge is the northernmost hike in SNP located near Front Royal, VA. The trail covers a massive amount of land, about 18 miles out and back. We jumped onto the trail near mile marker 15 on Skyline Drive during “golden hour”, so we didn’t have much time to hike before the sun set, but still saw a lot of beauty!
Old Rag Mountain
Old Rag is the most popular destination in SNP and a MUST DO hike. It is highly trafficked so be prepared to hike with other people for most of the trail. It’s a 9.4 mile out and back, difficult trail with many adventurous rock scrambles. People were lending a hand to each other to tackle many of the scrambles. I don’t think I could’ve done the hike without the help of another person. It took us around 8 hours to complete, including our stop for lunch at the summit. The views at the top and along the way are incredible and worth the uphill battle to get there. It was exhilarating and I was so proud of myself for accomplishing it!
Sunset at Shenandoah
There are numerous ways to watch the sunset in SNP. You could stop at many of the overlooks on Skyline Drive or take a short hiking trail to a mountain top. We used this blog to guide our research, however, we decided on the Spitler Knoll Overlook (milepost 48 west looking) for the sunset one night. This particular overlook is not too exciting during the day, however, during sunset, the field of wildflowers illuminate beneath the sun as you watch the sun slowly disappear behind the mountains. It’s GORGEOUS!
Luray Caverns is the largest and most popular caverns in Eastern America. Explore the caverns on foot and discover the enormous chambers filled with stone columns, crystal-clear pools and lakes that create a mirror images of the stalactites hanging from the ceiling. And, don’t miss The Great Stalacpipe Organ – the world’s largest musical instrument, it makes stalactites sing by gently tapping them throughout three acres of the caverns.