Shenandoah National Park is a stunningly beautiful natural wonderland located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Established in 1935, the park encompasses over 200,000 acres of rolling hills, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and 75 scenic overlooks that offer breathtaking views for miles around.
The park is renowned for its abundant wildlife and biodiversity, with over 50 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, and countless plant and insect species. Your family can expect to see deer, black bears, foxes, and a variety of birdlife during your visit.
For families, Shenandoah National Park is an ideal destination for outdoor adventures and fun-filled activities. With numerous hiking trails for all skill levels, scenic drives, swimming holes, and the Junior Ranger program, there is plenty for your family to explore.
Whether you’re looking to spend a day or a week in the park, Shenandoah is a great national park to add to your family’s must-visit list. Read on while we lay out how to experience the wonders of Shenandoah National Park! There are four entrances to the park, so we’ll divide the park’s 105-mile Skyline Drive into three districts to explore the highlights best overlooks, stops, hikes, and nearby attractions of each. Whether you complete all of Skyline Drive or just a section, our tips will help you plan a great trip.
- How to get to Shenandoah National Park
- Entrance Fees to Shenandoah National Park
- Best Time to Visit Shenandoah
- Shenandoah National Park – North District: Front Royal to Thornton Gap covering Mileposts 0-31
- Shenandoah National Park – Central District: Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap covering Mileposts 31-65.5
- Shenandoah National Park – South District: Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap covering Mileposts 65.5-105
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Options in Shenandoah National Park
- 20 Tips for Visiting Shenandoah National Park with Kids
How to get to Shenandoah National Park
Getting to Shenandoah National Park is easy, as it is located just 75 miles west of Washington D.C. There are several ways to get to the park depending on your starting point and mode of transportation.
By car, the most popular route is via Interstate 66 west to U.S. Route 29 south to U.S. Route 211 west, which takes you to the park’s northern entrance. Alternatively, you can take Interstate 81 to exit 264 and follow U.S. Route 211 east to the park’s southern entrance.
Once inside the park, the scenic Skyline Drive provides easy access to many of the park’s most popular attractions, including overlooks, hiking trails, and picnic areas. Be sure to check the park’s website for current road conditions, as the drive may be closed or restricted during inclement weather or other events.
Entrance Fees to Shenandoah National Park
A seven-consecutive-day pass can be purchased for $30 but we highly recommend buying an America the Beautiful pass for $80. The pass is good for one calendar year and is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.
If you have a 4th grader, check out the FREE Annual 4th Grade pass which is good for the duration of the school year through the following summer (September-August).
Current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, qualify for a free annual pass.
Best Time to Visit Shenandoah
Spring (March to May) is a popular time to visit the park for wildflower viewing, with the blooms typically peaking in mid-to-late April. This is also a great time for hiking, as the weather is mild and the trails are generally less crowded.
Summer (June to August) is the peak season for tourism in Shenandoah National Park, with warm temperatures and long days perfect for outdoor activities. Swimming, fishing, and camping are popular options during this time, but be aware that the park can get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.
Fall (September to November) is perhaps the most popular time to visit the park, as the foliage changes to vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red, creating a breathtaking display of color.
Winter (December to February) is the least busy season in Shenandoah National Park, but it can still be a magical time to visit. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports are available, and the park takes on a quiet, serene atmosphere.
Shenandoah National Park – North District: Front Royal to Thornton Gap covering Mileposts 0-31
Explore the amazing North District of Shenandoah National Park, which stretches from mile marker 0 to 30. It’s a breathtaking area with lush forests and magnificent waterfalls set against the backdrop of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Plan a hike or two or three on the park’s extensive trail network with over 500 miles of trails. Some popular trails include the well-known Stony Man Trail, Mary’s Rock, and Little Devils Stairs, each offering its own challenges and rewarding views. You can also learn about the area’s fascinating history by exploring the remains of old homesteads and Civilian Conservation Corps camps.
Best Overlooks and Stops for Milepost 0-31
- MP 2.3, Shenandoah Valley Overlook: Just a short drive from the park’s entrance, your family will enjoy the sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley.
- MP 4.6, Dickey Ridge Visitor Center: Learn about the park’s history and wildlife before hiking Hollow Trail.
- MP17.1 Range View Overlook: There’s a lot to see here. View Jenkins Mountain, Pickerel Ridge, Keyser Mountain, Old Rag, Stony Man Mountain, Pass Mountain, and Hogback Mountain.
- MP 20.7, Hogback Overlook: Broadest panorama view of any scenic overlook at 0.2 miles along Skyline Drive. Enjoy views of the Allegheny Mountains, Gimlet Ridge, and Mathews Arm.
- MP 22, Mathews Arm Campground: The nearest campground for those entering the Park from the north. It is next to a nature trail and the trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away.
Shenandoah North District Suggested Hikes
- MP 4.6, Fox Hollow Trail: This 1.2-mile circuit hike in Shenandoah National Park, located near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, features historic rock walls, a cemetery, and periwinkles, with an elevation gain of 310 feet. The trail is designated as a TRACK Trail, providing a self-guided brochure and informational sign for kids
- MP 4.6, Dickey Ridge: 2.7 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of approximately 600 feet. This family-friendly trail leads to the historic Snead Farm, showcasing farmlands and remnants of the region’s agricultural past
- MP 4.6, Snead Farm Loop: 3.7-mile circuit and 580-foot elevation guide. Passes Dickey Hill and Snead Barn.
- MP 9.2, Lands Run Falls: 1.3 miles roundtrip with a 325-foot elevation gain. Park at the Lands Run parking area. Follow the fire road for about 0.6 miles and then follow the stream about 25 feet to the right for the small falls.
- MP 10.4, Fort Windham Rocks: 0.8 miles round trip and 130-foot elevation gain. A short hike from the Compton Gap Parking Area leads to deeply split boulders rising 50 feet above the ground.
- MP 22.2, Overall Run Falls: 1.7 miles roundtrip
Nearby Kid-Friendly Attractions Between Front Royal and Thornton Gap
- Dinosaur Land: Located in White Post, Virginia, is a family-friendly attraction featuring over 50 life-size dinosaurs, providing visitors with an immersive prehistoric experience. This unique park opened in 1963 and has a gift shop filled with dinosaur-themed merchandise. Visitors can explore the park’s trails, take photos with the dinosaur statues, and learn about these fascinating creatures from the informative signage.
- Frontier Culture Museum: Staunton, Virginia. Showcases the history of early American settlers through interactive exhibits and living history displays. Spread across 200 acres, the museum features reconstructed homes, farms, and workshops from various time periods and cultures, such as England, Germany, Ireland, and West Africa. Visitors can immerse themselves in the daily lives of the settlers, participate in hands-on activities, and attend special events and workshops throughout the year.
- Shenandoah Caverns: Quicksburg, Virginia. Shenandoah Caverns offers an underground adventure through a mile-long guided tour of 17 stunning chambers filled with captivating rock formations. The caverns boast a unique feature called the “Breakfast Bacon,” which is a world-famous, ribbon-like stalactite formation. In addition, the complex offers attractions like the American Celebration on Parade, showcasing floats from famous parades, and Main Street of Yesteryear, a nostalgic exhibit of antique store window displays.
- Grand Caverns: Grottoes, Virginia. The oldest continually operating show cave in the United States was discovered in 1804. The caverns are renowned for their shield formations, unique to only a few caves worldwide.
- Skyline Caverns: Front Royal, Virginia. Skyline Caverns is one of the few places where visitors can witness anthodites, rare crystal formations resembling spiky clusters. Open year-round, the caverns provide guided tours showcasing spectacular rooms, a 37-foot Rainbow Waterfall, and a miniature train ride through a fairyland-themed section.
Shenandoah National Park – Central District: Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap covering Mileposts 31-65.5
Discover the Central District of Shenandoah National Park, which spans from mile marker 31 to 65. This region offers a captivating combination of stunning views, diverse wildlife, and fascinating historical sites. The Central District also features several campgrounds and picnic areas. And don’t forget to explore the historical landmarks, such as Rapidan Camp (not accessible from Skyline Drive), which was once President Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat.
Best Overlooks and Stops for Mileposts 31-65.5
- MP 32, Mary’s Rock Tunnel: This unique feature of the park is carved through the mountain and provides a scenic passage for the Skyline Drive. Completed in 1932, this 670-foot-long tunnel offers a glimpse of the engineering marvels that went into creating access to the park. You’ll be tempted to get out for a pic but note that road traffic and those pulling into and out of the stop make doing so dangerous.
- MP 36.6, Pinnacles Overlook: The area offers multiple trails, including the Pinnacles Picnic Area Trail and the Pinnacles-Beahms Gap Loop. In the distance, you’ll see Hot Mountain, Hannar Run, Old rag Mountain, and Pinnacle Ridge.
- MP 38.6, Stony Man Mountain Overlook: The summit of Stony Man Mountain is the second-highest peak in the park, providing a fantastic vantage point for panoramic views and photography.
- MP 39.1, Little Stony Man Cliffs: Another must-visit stop is the Little Stony Man Cliffs, which offer an incredible vista of the park’s landscapes. The cliffs are accessible via a short hike along the Little Stony Man Trail. This 0.9-mile round-trip trail is family-friendly.
- MP 41.7, Entrance to Skyland: Skyland is a historic resort located within the park, offering accommodations, dining options, and various recreational activities. The resort is situated at the highest point along Skyline Drive, providing visitors with stunning views of the surrounding area. Besides lodging, Skyland offers horseback riding, ranger-led programs, and easy access to nearby hiking trails.
- MP 44.2, Crescent Rock Overlook – Enjoy great views of Hawksbill Peak, the highest peak in Shenandoah. You’ll also be able to see Naketop, Herberger Ridge, and Shenandoah Valley.
- MP 51, Big Meadows: The Big Meadows area, located at mile marker 51, is particularly popular among birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. Its open meadows provide an ideal setting for spotting these magnificent creatures. Big Meadows is also one of the most popular places in the park to view the night sky.
- MP 57.5, Lewis Mountain Picnic Grounds: This well-maintained area offers numerous picnic tables and grills, making it an ideal spot for families and groups. The grounds also feature restrooms and a nearby campground.
- MP 62.6, South River Picnic Grounds: Situated near the South River Falls Trail, these grounds provide easy access to one of the park’s most stunning waterfalls. The 2.6-mile round-trip hike to South River Falls is moderately challenging but rewards visitors with a spectacular view of the 83-foot waterfall
Shenandoah Central District Suggested Hikes
- MP 39.1, Little Stony Man Cliffs: The parking lot for this short 0.9-mile round trip hike only has 8-9 spots. You’ll want to warn your littles/ set some safety rules for this rocky viewpoint from the cliffs.
- MP 41.7, Stony Man Nature: This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail leads to the second-highest peak in the park, with panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail is relatively easy, with gentle slopes and a well-marked path.
- MP 42.6, Skyline Drive to Upper Whiteoak Falls: A moderate difficulty 4.6-mile round trip with a 1040-foot elevation gain to falls. An additional 2.7 strenuous miles add five more falls.
- MP 43, Limberlost: This easy 1.3-mile loop trail winds through a beautiful forest of hemlocks, passing by a small waterfall and a wildlife observation area. It’s a great hike for families with younger children, as it’s relatively flat and doesn’t require much climbing.
- MP 45.5, Hawksbill Summit: This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail leads to the highest peak in the park, with stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley. The trail is relatively easy, with a gentle ascent and a well-marked path.
- MP 45.6, Crescent Rock: 1.3 miles round trip
- MP 50.4, Dark Hollow Falls: 1.4-mile round trip hike along a stream to a waterfall. The return hike includes a 440-foot elevation gain. This is a popular hike, and there are only about 30 parking spots.
- MP 51, Story of the Forest: 1.8-mile round trip hike through the woods near the Big Meadow Air Quality Station. 290-foot elevation gain.
- MP 52.8 Tanners Ridge Road: 2.1 miles round trip Mostly level trail to a former homestead on the Appalachian Trail
- MP 56.4, Bearfence Mountain Viewpoint Hike: This 1.2-mile loop trail leads to the summit of Bearfence Mountain, with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The trail includes a short scramble up a rocky outcropping, which can be a fun challenge for kids.
Nearby Kid-Friendly Attractions Between Thornton and Swift Run
- Luray Caverns: Luray, Virginia. The largest and most popular cavern in the Eastern United States features towering stone formations and a mesmerizing underground lake. The caverns are home to the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ, a unique musical instrument that uses stalactites to produce melodic tones. Besides the caverns, the complex offers a variety of attractions, including a car and carriage museum, a ropes course, and a garden maze. We enjoyed the cave tour but the whole compound seemed like a tourist trap. We recommend driving into Luray to eat instead of at the caverns to avoid crowds and high prices.
- Shenandoah River Outfitters Tubing: Luray, Virginia. Water-based activities on the scenic Shenandoah River, including tubing, kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. The outfitters also provide riverside camping and cabin rentals, allowing guests to fully immerse themselves in the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.
- Jordan Hollow Stables: Stanley, Virginia. Memorable horseback riding experience through the picturesque trails of the Shenandoah Valley. With experienced guides and well-trained horses, riders of all skill levels can enjoy scenic views and the tranquility of nature.
- Massanutten Waterpark: McGaheysville, Virginia. Massanutten Waterpark is an indoor and outdoor water park offering year-round fun for the whole family. The park features thrilling water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, and a children’s play area, ensuring endless entertainment for all ages. In addition to water attractions, the park offers an arcade, a virtual reality gaming experience, and a climbing wall for guests to enjoy. The resort offers a two-bedroom apartment that sleeps 8.
- Bear Mountain Ziplines: Luray, Virginia. Provides an adrenaline-pumping adventure with a 2,700-foot long zipline course, including seven ziplines and a 100-foot suspension bridge. The facility also offers a “Mama Bear Zipline” for younger thrill-seekers
Shenandoah National Park – South District: Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap covering Mileposts 65.5-105
The South District of Shenandoah National Park offers about 25 overlooks along the 40-mile stretch of Skyline Drive. Trails in this district offer a more remote experience than hikes in the North and Central Districts.
Best Overlooks and Stops for Mileposts 65.5-105
- MP 66.8, Swift Run Overlook: This overlook, situated at an elevation of 2,365 feet, offers spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.
- MP 79.8, Loft Mountain: With a 2,455 feet elevation and diverse terrain, Loft Mountain provides unmatched panoramic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. You can see Brokenback, County Line, Fox, and Loft Mountains. The area features several hiking trails, including the challenging Loft Mountain Loop Trail, which takes hikers through dense forests and rocky outcroppings.
- MP 98.9, Calf Mountain Overlook: At an elevation of 2480 feet, this overlook boasts views of Waynesboro, Virginia.
Shenandoah South District Suggested Hikes
- MP 79.4, Deadening Nature: Leads to an overlook atop Loft Mountain. 1.3 miles round trip.
- MP 81.1, Doyles River Trail: A moderately challenging 7.7-mile loop, takes hikers through lush forests and past two beautiful waterfalls.
- MP 84.8, Blackrock Summit: 1-mile circuit. Embark on a brief trek to a scenic overlook situated atop a rugged boulder-strewn incline, offering amazing panoramas of the Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten Mountain, and more.
Nearby Kid-Friendly Attractions Between Swift Run and Rockfish Gap
- Monticello – 25 miles east of Rockfish Gap Entrance in Charlottesville, Virginia. The historic home of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The estate showcases Jefferson’s architectural genius, his passion for gardening, and his extensive collection of books and artifacts. Visitors can tour the house, explore the beautiful gardens and grounds, and learn about the history and daily life on the plantation through informative exhibits and presentations.
Without stopping, it takes about 3 hours to drive the 105-mile Skyline Drive at the posted 35 mph limit. It is possible to visit the park in a day. The time to cover these itineraries will depend on the time of year, weather, and number of visitors in the park.
- One-day Shenandoah itinerary: Choose 3-4 overlooks and a short hike for each section of the park. Bring a packed lunch to save time.
- Two-day Shenandoah itinerary: Divide the park in half and stay at Skyland Resort inside the park. You’ll be able to complete a longer hike or multiple hikes each day and stop at more viewpoints.
- Three-day Shenandoah itinerary: Each morning explore one of the three districts and add on an activity outside the park for the afternoon.
Where to Stay: Accommodation Options in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park offers visitors a variety of accommodation options to fit any budget and travel style. From cozy lodges and rustic cabins to campgrounds and RV sites, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat in the heart of the park’s wilderness or a convenient home base for exploring nearby attractions, we have you covered. Here’s a breakdown of places to stay in and near Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah In-Park Lodging
The in-park hotel in Shenandoah National Park is the Skyland Resort. It is located near the southern end of the park and offers suite and cabin options for families of 5 and 6. The resort also has a restaurant and gift shop, as well as easy access to hiking trails and other park attractions.
Big Family Hotels Near Shenandoah National Park
No matter where you decide to stay, we list hotels that will sleep your big family.
- Hotels near Fort Royal and the North Entrance.
- Hotels near Luray and the Thornton Gap Entrance.
- Hotels near Elkton/Harrisonburg and the Swift Run Gap Entrance.
- Hotels near Waynesboro and Rockfish Gap/South Entrance.
Shenandoah National Park Camping/RV
There are five campgrounds within the park, including Big Meadows, Dundo Group, Loft Mountain, Lewis Mountain, and Mathews Arm.
- Mathews Arm Campground: The nearest campground for those entering the Park from the north. It is next to a nature trail and the trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away.
- Dundo Group Campground: Three campsites available for up to 20 people.
- Big Meadows Campground: Near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the Park. Three waterfalls are within walking distance; Big Meadows, with its abundant plant growth and wildlife, is close by.
- Lewis Mountain Campground: Located off mile 57.5 of Skyline Drive, Lewis Mountain is the smallest campground in the Park.
- Loft Mountain Campground: The largest campground in the Park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to the east and west. Two waterfalls and the trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. Dundo Group Campground Dundo Group Campground has three camping sites for groups of 7 to 20 people.
If you’re traveling in an RV, there are also options for RV camping at the campgrounds, with electric and water hookups available at some sites. Additionally, there are several RV-friendly campgrounds located just outside the park, such as the Shenandoah Hills Campground and the Luray KOA.
Spending more time in the area? Or have a large family? Book a vacation rental near Shenandoah National Park.
20 Tips for Visiting Shenandoah National Park with Kids
- There’s only one gas station in the park at Big Meadows Wayside, mile 51.2.
- Plan ahead and book accommodations in advance, especially during peak season.
- Pack plenty of snacks, water, and sunscreen for the trail.
- Dress appropriately in layers for the changing mountain weather.
- Bring insect repellent to keep bugs and ticks at bay on the trails.
- Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center for a fun and educational experience for the kids.
- Take easy and short hikes to accommodate younger children, or opt for longer hikes if your kids are up for the challenge.
- Keep a lookout for wildlife such as deer, bears, and birds, and teach kids about respecting their space. It is estimated there is anywhere between 200 and 1000 black bears in the park.
- Bring binoculars for birdwatching and spotting wildlife.
- Pack a first aid kit for any minor scrapes or injuries on the trail.
- Encourage kids to disconnect from technology (with limited service, it might be easy to do!) and enjoy the beauty of nature.
- Be on the lookout for bicyclists. The many-curved road leads to blind spots where you might not see bicyclists around the bend. Drive the speed limit and be courteous.
- Check out downloadable Junior Ranger activity booklets to do at home in preparation for your trip.
- Two hikes are designated TRACK trails which feature a self-guided brochure designed for kids. Check out Fox Hollow Trail and Limberlost Trail.
- Watch the 12 virtual Jr Ranger Program videos to learn about the park before you go.
- Pack a lunch to eat whenever your crew declares time to eat. You don’t have to eat at a picnic area – enjoy a great view from a pull-out while you tailgate. Remember to Pack in, Pack out.
- Buy the GuideAlong audio tour and download it to your cell. The app has information on 170+ audio points throughout the park.
- Download the NPS app for more information on hikes, self-guided tours, and overlook details.
- Best places to view the sunrise: Buck Hollow, Hazel Mountain, Little Devils Stairs, Old Rag View, and Thornton Hollow Overlooks.
- Best places to watch a sunset: Hazeltop Ridge, Tanners Ridge, Timber Hollow, and Two Mile Run Overlooks.