Shenandoah National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah national park
Simon/Flickr/CC by 2.0

The 197,411-acre Shenandoah National Park was authorized in 1926 and established in 1935. The park is located in northwestern Virginia, near Luray Skyline Drive, which winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro. Along the 105-mile drive are 75 pullouts that overlook mountain peaks, gorges, and hollows. The heavily forested park also has 500 miles of trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail, along which are streams, waterfalls, black bear, deer, and other wildlife.

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 540/999-3500

arrow-icon  Park Hours:  Park Opens Daily. Park Headquarters open weekdays. Drive closes during bad weather and nights during the hunting season.

arrow-icon  When to Go: Busiest July and October. Least crowded January and February.

arrow-icon  Helpful Links:

arrow-icon  What to Do: Hiking, fishing, horseback riding (guided rides, Skyland), picnicking, scenic drives, wildlife viewing, bird-watching.

arrow-icon  Facilities: Two visitor centers, Overlooks, wayside exhibits, amphitheaters, 500 miles of hiking trails, Book and map sales areas, fire pits and grates, picnic tables, gas, gift shops, laundries, showers, and restrooms.

arrow-icon  Programs/Events: Ranger-led nature and night walks, talks, evening programs (mostly late May-October).

photos-national parks  See Photos.

arrow-icon  Address: Front Royal Entrance Station, 17157 Skyline Dr, Front Royal, VA 22630
arrow-icon  Directions: Choose Starting Point  national parks

arrow-icon  Address: Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, 3655 US-211, Luray, VA 22835
arrow-icon  Directions: Choose Starting Point  national parks

arrow-icon  Number of Visitors/Year:
3,537,575 (Year 2018)

arrow-icon  Fees and Permits:  Entrance fees are valid for a period of seven days and vary accordingly. The access fee for a vehicle is $30, a motorcycle $25. Individuals walking or on bicycles $15.  Camping has a separate fee and must be coordinated with the park’s management.

  Accessibility: Most facilities and services in the park are accessible or accessible with assistance. Some may need previous coordination with the park to access.

arrow-icon  Pets: The park features areas and trails that are pet-friendly and restricted or closed to pets. Pets must be restrained on a 6 feet leash, never left unattended, and owners are responsible for removing pet waste.

Major Attractions

Shenandoah National Park is known for its famous scenic Skyline Drive and the extensive network of trails throughout the park. The ideal approach to the park would be to hike on one or two of the trails with interesting sites and drive the scenic highway.

Skyline Drive: There are so many places of interest and breathtaking overlooks that it can easily take the entire day to cover the entire length of the Skyline Drive. The most popular approach is to start from the town of Front Royal driving toward Big Meadows. Read through information about the Skyline Drive to know where to go and where to stop.

A good start to hiking the park’s trails in the park is the Fox Hollow Trail. This 1.2-mile self-guided trail goes through old houses and roads and traces that reveal the rich history of the first European settlers in the region.

The more popular trails include:

Traces Trail: The 1.7-mile trail goes through old-growth forest and stone walls, roads, and bridges build by early settlers in the region.

The 3-mile Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail: goes through old-growth forest to a typical mountain residence.

The 1.6-mile Stony Man Nature Trail reaches the cliffs of Stony Man’s summit, which is the second-highest peak in the park.

The 1.4-mile Dark Hollow Falls Trail goes to a waterfall.

The 3-mile (round trip) Hightop Summit Trail goes through old-growth forest and open country where, depending on the season, wildflowers are a major attraction.

Sites of interest include:

Rapidan Camp: was the summer camp used by president Herbert Hoover and his wife.

The 0.8-mile Bearfence Mountain Trail goes to an overlook that allows 360-degree vistas of a section of the park.

Loft Mountain features trails that like other trails in the park are ideal for a pleasant walk observing birds and other wildlife.

Tips:   Plan to spend at least two days to visit. Go in spring for wildflowers, migratory birds, and full streams leading to waterfalls; summer for more deer and black bear sightings; fall for foliage; and winter for clearest views. Stay off rocks above waterfalls. Avoid fall weekends when the park is crowded with leaf-peepers. Park is usually 10 degrees cooler than the valley below.

Shenandoah National Park’s Summary Reviews

The following are summaries of actual reviews made by visitors to Shenandoah National Park.

What is good:

Lots of restrooms, information booths & lookouts, along the way. Very informative stations along the route. Nice campgrounds. Place, to buy gas, if running low. Small stores, along the way.

Absolutely amazing National Park. We love going there to hike and there is so much to see and explore. Can’t wait to go again.

I love all of the overlooks. Fall is especially beautiful to see the leaves changing color and the cool temperatures.

Everyone that worked within the park was really friendly. Trails are well maintained.

Truly a breathtaking place to visit during the fall months. The Front Royal entrance can get very congested during the fall and peak hours. Suggest using one of the other park entrances.

My favorite place to visit and hike. Trails range in skill level and very well maintained. Always clean, no matter where I stay. Great chances of seeing wildlife too!

Absolutely beautiful National Park. I had an amazing time backpacking in Shenandoah for the first time in my life.

The vistas are truly stunning. While I previously called Skyline Drive the “little brother to the Blue Ridge Parkway”, there’s absolutely nothing diminutive about it. In many ways, I now esteem the park’s offerings higher than it’s longer, Southern cousin.

Beautiful campground with tons of hiking trails and places to fish. It has bathhouses and toilets at different campgrounds which is super nice when you camp for several days in a row.

Very clean park and the speed limit is 35 mph for the entire 105 miles. I could do this every year.
Loft Mt. Campground has a nearby store and restaurant. Trails are well marked. A great camping experience. Abundant wildlife…deer, rabbits, bears, butterflies, and birds.

What is not so good:

They have a “very bad” management system for paying in the entrance door. It was a long line and wait to pay the entrance fee. It wastes a lot of time for visitors.

Rules are extensive, complicated, and contradictory… almost like the rules are designed to generate revenue.

On “free” day there are swarms of “rangers” looking for anything they can write tickets on. If you go, good luck, have you checked your taillights lately?

$15 per night to camp with no hookups (plus the entry fee) and it was almost impossible to get level. The staff was rude.

I decided to shower at the camp store because of not being level. Paid $1.75 for a 5-minute Lukewarm shower with horrible water pressure. Honestly, it’s not even that picturesque. My advice is to go somewhere else.

Hardly any animals to see anymore. The Rangers have destroyed what once was a beautiful place to go and see wildlife.

We stopped at 2 of the entrances and nobody knows anything about the park they work for in Dickey Ridge or Thorin Gap entrances.

Too expensive. There should be no charge for the same taxpayers who paid to have it built in the first place. Another government RIP OFF.

Nothing big, ok good view and colors of the trees but you see that everywhere in VA. Basically nothing special, wasted 30 Dollars and hours on the road. I don’t recommend it at all.

I loved it! until I learned that to make this park, the government stole the land, homes, and livelihoods from those who lived in these mountains for generations.

I don’t like it. Very few scenes are available and all are the same. It is not worth $20.

Read more about other national parks: