Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935 so there would be an outdoor playground for the growing east coast and the Washington DC metropolitan area. The park is one of the few on the east coast with dense forest and Skyline Drive which began construction in 1928 before the park was established, was built solely for the enjoyment of the park.

Today, Skyline Drive stretches 105 miles with stunning overlooks. This two land road brings 1.5 million visitors through the park each year. With 195,000 acres, this park has over 200 species of birds, a large population of black bear, deer, turkey and other small mammals.

Park Entrances

Front Royale

  • northernmost entrance to the park
  • Milemarker begin here at zero
  • Enter from US340, 5 miles from the town of Front Royal
  • Known as the canoe capital of Virginia
  • Front Royal is known for its breweries being the home to 3 of the 49 establishments along the Shenandoah Spirit Trail

Thornton Gap

  • Enters from US211
  • the closest town is Luray 15 minutes away
  • enter at mile marker 31.5
  • Luray is the home of Luray Caverns, many wineries and breweries and the famous Shenandoah River

Swift Run Gap

  • Enters at mile 65.7
  • Accessible via US33
  • Near the town of Stanardsville, VI

Rockfish Gap

  • Southern Entrance at mile marker 105.6
  • Enter from US250 close by to Interstate 64
  • You can continue on the road, it becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway at this point
  • The town of Waynesboro is only 4 miles away with the South River nearby known for its fly-fishing and kayaking

Mary’s Rock Tunnel

Mary’s Tunnel is at mile marker 32.2 on Skyline Drive. It’s the only tunnel on the 105-mile stretch. I mention it here mostly for the recreational vehicles that travel this road because the maximum height of the tunnel is 12 feet 8 inches. The tunnel is 670 feet long. So please check your height before entering.

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah national Park
Skyline Drive

One of the most scenic roads in the United States, the 105 miles of Skyline Drive runs through the park. It’s one lane in either direction that has some curves and a 35-mile speed limit throughout. You will not make time on this road and if that’s what you want to do, take one of the exits out and go drive on Interstate 81.

Overlooks

There are 75 scenic overlooks on the road, one more beautiful than the other. You get to see views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmonts to the east.

Visitor Centers

Whenever visiting a national park make sure to stop at the visitors center as their staff is a wealth of information so you can enjoy your visit. For those of you with the National Park Passport, make sure to get it stamped.

Dickey Ridge Visitor Center

Located just south of the north entrance to the park at mile 4.5, be sure to stop here to get all the park information you will need for your visit. They also have a movie and several exhibits. A large topographic map of the entire park is there for you to view.

Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center

Located in the Big meadow complex at mile 51, the Harry F. Byrd Visitors Center should be on your list of places to see in the park. They feature exhibits on the history of the park as it was in the 1930s-1940s. You can also obtain hiking maps and park information.

Shenandoah National Park Hiking

For details about hiking in the park read my article Hiking Shenandoah National Park.

The Appalachian Trail

Shenandoah National Park lies basically at the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail which runs approximately 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. There are 95 miles of the trail in the park. There is easy access along Skyline Drive since the trail crosses it in many areas of the park. You can take this opportunity to hike some of these trails and if you’re lucky enough, meet up with a thru-hiker and hear stories of their experience on this majestic trail.

Shenandoah National Park Lodges

There are two lodges and cabins in the park where you can stay and really enjoy your visit without driving into the park every day. There are also 4 campgrounds. To make reservations visit this site. All concessions of this park are run by Delaware North Corporation.

Skyland

Skyland is the largest facility in the park with 179 rooms located at 3680 feet elevation. At mile marker 42, this facility has a full-service restaurant, rangers station with an amphitheater. Most of these rooms have been renovated and are modern with most rooms now having TVs and air conditioning. I’ve stayed at Skyland many times over the years and always enjoyed the beauty of walking around and taking in all the scenery.

Rooms at Big Meadow Lodge

Big Meadow Lodge

Big Meadow (located at mile 51) is my favorite lodge to stay at because I love the rustic woodsy feeling when there. The rooms are basic but clean, it is really your surroundings that make this place so nice. It’s location, in the center of the park also makes it convenient to see the park in one visit.

Big Meadow has the most open space anywhere in the park making it easy to spot wildlife. It is very common the see deer grazing in the field

Lewis Mountain Cabins

Although I’ve never been to Lewis Mountain Cabins, they are a good choice for families. Nestled in the woods are 15(total) one and two-bedroom rustic cabins with bathrooms. Also included with your rental is a picnic table with a charcoal grill fire pit. These cabins are located at mile marker right on Skyline Drive and have a camp store for your convenience. Prices for the 2020 season range from $136 to $163 per night. These cabins are open from the end of March to the end of November.

Restaurants

Skyland

The restaurant overlooks the mountains with gorgeous views while dining and offers full-service dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also have a full bar with nightly entertainment. This facility is the largest full service in the park. You can also get sandwiches, salads, coffee, and pastries to go.

Blackberry Ice Cream Pie

Big Meadow

Big Meadow has a rustic feel to it with a large fireplace inside the restaurant, many nights while eating you can watch the wildlife from their large windows. They offer full-service dining but has a much smaller dining room. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and also have a full-service bar. The bar area also offers light meals and has family-friendly entertainment nightly.

Both Skyland and Big Meadows is famous for their blackberry ice cream pie. It is absolutely delicious. Also, anything blackberry is my favorite and what he park is known for, as I have had blackberry martinis, cobbler, and pancakes on numerous visits.

Waysides

Elkwallow Wayside mile 24.1

There is a camp stove with groceries and carry out food such as sandwiches and salads. There is also a gift shop for your favorite Shenandoah National park souvenirs. Opened mid-April to early November.

Big meadow Wayside mile 51

This wayside is the biggest offering grab and go food, take out and sit-down food service. It also has a fully stocked camp store with groceries and camping and hiking supplies. There is a large souvenir and gift shop at this location as well as a gasoline station which now also sells diesel fuel. This area is opened mid-April through early November.

Loft Mountain Wayside Mile 79

Opened MidApril through early November, there is a full-service camp store with groceries, camping and hiking supplies, and a large gift shop. There are also showers and laundry located here.

Park Campgrounds

As typical of all national parks, the campgrounds in Shenandoah have no hookups available. Below is a description of all the campgrounds within the park.

Matthew Arms

Located at milepost 22, the campground has 178 sites, some re available for reservations, but the majority are first come, first serve. Campsites are spacious and can accommodate up to 50′ RVs. There are three group sites and a camp store is 2 miles away for your convenience.

This campground is opened from May to October and is $15 per night and group camping is $45 and can accommodate from 7 to 25 people. There are flush toilets and sinks in the bathrooms but no hot water and no showers. You would need to shower at Big Meadow. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and a food storage box. Remember this is bear country and many bears are seen in the campground.

Deer in Big Meadow Campground
Deer in Big Meadow Campground

Big Meadow Campground

As mentioned earlier Big Meadow is my favorite area in the park and the campground is no different. Located at mile marker 52 right in the center of the park, it’s camping at its best. With over 200 RV and tent sites, there is always that perfect site available. I would encourage you to make your reservations early as in any national park, it gets crowd during the peak summer season. Although there are no hookups available here don’t let that discourage you from coming, the bathroom and showers are well kept and clean.

This campground is opened the longest from March to November. It was a full-service camp store and also a gasoline station located near the campground in the Big Meadow complex.

Lewis Mountain Campground

This is a much smaller campground at milepost 57 with 31 sites available only on a first come first serve basis, no reservations available. Camp fee is $15 and a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring, and food storage box is at each site. This campground is mostly tenting and can only accommodate small RVs.

There is a well-stocked camp store at this location along with bathrooms with hot water, showers (fee) and laundry (fee).

Loft Mountain Campground

The biggest campground in the park with 200 sites, Loft mountain sites atop of Big Flat Mountain located at mile 79.5. This campground has outstanding views and is nearby several trails. Camping fee is $15 and tenting and RV sites are available however they are many unlevel sites so be aware if traveling with an RV.

Although you can reserve some spots in advance most sites are on a first come first serve basis. However, most of the reserve sites are located in the generator free zone meaning you cannot use your generator. I find this kind of strange since most Rvers would prefer to reserve sites due to limited spaces available due to their RV length but they would be most likely the ones to use generators.

This campground has a fully stocked camp store, bathrooms with hot water, coin-operated showers and laundry available for your convenience. There is also an RV dump station.

Black Bear on road in Shenandoah National Park

Wildlife

If you send anytime in Shenandoah you will see deer. The population is large and they roam around especially in the meadows, lodges, and campgrounds. The last time we were there, at Big meadow Campground, there was a doe with four fawns. The park rangers had collars on them and were trying to keep them in the campground so they could monitor them.

If you are lucky enough, you can see black bear roaming around too. One of our visits there, we saw 11. Caution is needed by bears as they are wild aminals and need to be treated as such. We saw quite a few that year right by Skyland where we were staying. I remember doing a beer run to Big Meadow wayside and coming back to Skyland only to be stuck in the car with the kids cause there was a mother bear with her cubs near the motel building where the entrance to our room was.

Conclusion

There are so many things to do and see in Shenandoah National Park. Come for the day and stay for the weekend. Camping and beautiful park lodges awaits you. Come and explore this beautiful park, nature at its best and maybe, just maybe you will get your chance to see that big black bear in the wild! Kathy xoxo

If you are planning a visiting to any of the National Parks in the near future take a look at my article about Tips for making your visit better.

Pin for later

Sharing is caring!

14 thoughts on “Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park”

  1. I absolutely love Shenandoah National Park. It’s been many years since I’ve been, and after reading your post I’m going to actively prioritize going back (it’s about a 2 hour drive for me). Thanks for this post, it brought back so many wonderful memories!

    1. Your welcome, it is so beautiful, I’m about an 8-hour drive but try to get there every couple of years even for just a couple of days.

  2. Wow, I have ever heard of this place before but the road looks well maintained and very scenic. I’m sure it must be supper pretty in autumn with the colourful leaves. I can only imagine how busy it must be on weekends with hikers!

    1. It is beautiful in the fall and yes very crowded. The whole area is beautiful and if you want you can continue after Skyline Drive to the Blue Ridge parkway

  3. I have not heard of this NP until now! I’m still working on exploring the West Coast NP’s, and hopefully soon I can start visiting some on the East, this looks gorgeous!

    1. I’ve seen all on the east coast and are now starting to explore the west coast. East coast mountains are much lower in altitude then the west coast and forests are much different so it’s nice to see both.

      • I love everything nature too. We haven’t been to Cumberland Gap, I need to look into that and add it to my bucket list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *