Article Overview: Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
Are you planning a trip to Shenandoah National Park and looking for the best things to do while there? If YES, you’re in luck!
This stunning park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia boasts over 500 miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, and countless opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. All these make it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers looking for a memorable adventure.
In this article, we’ll explore the fifteen best things to do in Shenandoah National Park to help you plan your perfect trip. So, pack your bags, grab your hiking shoes, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in one of America’s most beloved national parks.
Table of Contents – Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park?
- Things to Know Before You Visit Shenandoah National Park
- Where to Stay at Shenandoah National Park
- Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Top 15 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Top 10 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Top 5 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- List of Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Map of Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
Things to Know Before You Visit Shenandoah National Park
$30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Cell Service is fairly reliable throughout the park.
The Best Guide Book for Shenandoah National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Shenandoah National Park.
Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.
Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park
The Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park is during the fall to see the kaleidoscopic foliage displays all throughout Skyline Drive.
Maps of the National Parks
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps, this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay at Shenandoah National Park
Visiting Shenandoah National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our favorite hotel for Shenandoah.
Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
Top 15 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
15. Learn About Shenandoah’s Past at Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center
The best way to learn about Shenandoah National Park’s fascinating history is to check out the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center located at mile 51 on Skyline Drive. Here, you can browse exhibits, watch historical films, and interact with rangers to learn more about the park’s past.
Discover the Native American origins of the park’s name, the history of mountain residents, and the role of the Civilian Conservation Corps in creating the park. With many hiking trails in the area, the center is a great starting point for a day of exploration. So don’t miss out on this among your list of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
14. Admire the Basalt Columns
If you’re looking for unique things to see in Shenandoah National Park, don’t miss the chance to witness the impressive basalt columns. While most people associate basalt columns with famous landmarks like Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Stuolagil Canyon in Iceland, Shenandoah National Park is also home to these natural wonders.
To get there, park at the Compton Gap parking lot (located at mile 10.4 on Skyline Drive) and take the Compton Peak Summit via the Appalachian Trail. You’ll eventually come across a trail that intersects the one you’re on. Going west will take you to a summit with breathtaking mountain views, while going east will lead you to the columns themselves. The trail is 2.4 miles out and back and takes 1.5 to 2 hours to complete.
13. Enjoy breathtaking views of Shenandoah National Park at the Bearfence Mountain trail
For an unforgettable hiking experience in Shenandoah National Park, climb the Bearfence Mountain trail. Despite being only 1 mile long, this hike will challenge you with a series of rocks and boulders to scramble over.
However, once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the stunning Shenandoah Valley. The best part? The elevation gain is only about 250 feet, making this hike a bit easier on your legs. So, be sure to include it on your list of amazing things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
12. Hike the Stony Man Mountain
It’s evident that there are a lot of exciting things to do in Shenandoah National Park, but if you’re looking for a short and rewarding hike, you can’t go wrong with climbing Stony Man Mountain. This peak stands at 4,040 feet, making it the second highest in the park.
The Stony Man Mountain trail starts at the Stony Man parking lot in Skyland and is only 1.5 miles long, taking about an hour to complete. With a manageable elevation gain of just over 300 feet, the trail offers beautiful views of the park’s lush forests and sweeping vistas.
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Check out our Complete List of National Parks with comprehensive resources for each one including FREE National Parks Maps, best hikes & trails, interesting facts, amazing things to do, & more.
11. Catch the View at Marys Rock
Wondering what fun activities to do in Shenandoah National Park? Why not catch the breathtaking views at Marys Rock? After all, it is one of the best viewpoints in the park.
The Mary’s Rock Trail takes hikers to the summit of Mary’s Rock Mountain, offering breathtaking vistas of the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain. But be careful – the rocky terrain is home to fragile plants, so watch your step as you ascend.
There are two trails to get to the top of Marys Rock. If you prefer a shorter and less challenging hike, opt for the Marys Rock South trail, a 3.1 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 800 feet. On the other hand, if you’re up for a more strenuous hike, take the Marys Rock North trail, which is a 3.4 miles round trip with 1210 feet of elevation gain.
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
10. Take a scenic hike along Limberlost Trail
Limberlost Trail is a must-do on any list of cool things to do in Shenandoah National Park. This easy 1.3 trail is perfect for families with young children or anyone who prefers an easy and scenic hike.
The trail is covered in crushed greenstone, providing a smooth surface to walk on. And with only a moderate 130 feet of elevation gain, the loop can be completed in about an hour.
What makes this hike even more special is that it is a TRACK Trail, offering a self-guided brochure with information about the local flora and fauna.
Although the hike doesn’t have any breathtaking views, it offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere that sets it apart from other popular trails in the park. You can also relax on the benches along the trail, making it an excellent spot for a picnic or a quick rest.
9. Visit the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is another of the top places in Shenandoah National Park that you should visit. Located at the park’s northern end, this center provides essential facilities like maps, exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms. But what sets it apart, however, is the presence of knowledgeable park rangers who can help you plan your visit and suggest the best hikes and activities that suit your interests.
Therefore, it is worth stopping by to orient yourself in the park and shore up your strategy for hiking and driving. You’ll find it 4 miles south of the Front Royal Entrance Station along Skyline Drive.
8. Chase Waterfalls at Doyles River Falls hike
We continue with this list of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park, with a must-visit spot for waterfall enthusiasts; Doyles River Falls. Unlike the more popular Dark Hollow Falls, this trail sees fewer visitors and offers a more secluded and serene experience.
The 3.4-mile out-and-back trail is challenging but worth it, as it leads to not one, but two beautiful waterfalls. And if you’re lucky, you might even have a waterfall all to yourself! It will take you around 2-3 hours to complete this hike.
7. Take a hike along the Rose River Falls
Another must-see attraction for nature enthusiasts looking for the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park is the Rose River Falls. This 3.8-mile loop trail takes you on a journey through a number of stunning waterfalls along the Rose River, with the highlight being the 67-foot-high Rose River Falls located near the end.
The trailhead is located in the Big Meadows Area and accessible via Skyline Drive. And with an elevation gain of 875 feet, the hike is moderately challenging but well worth the effort. Don’t forget to check the National Park Service website for additional information before embarking on this unforgettable adventure.
6. Hike Hawksbill Mountain; the Highest Mountain in Shenandoah National Park
Looking for an adventure in Shenandoah National Park? Look no further than Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in the park at 4,049 feet. With multiple trails available to get to the summit, hiking Hawksbill Mountain is a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts.
If you feel up to the challenge, take on the Hawksbill Summit Trail for a steep and rewarding climb. This 1.5-mile round-trip trail gains almost 700 feet in elevation, but the panoramic views at the top are worth every step.
If you’re looking for a shorter but still scenic hike, opt for the Upper Hawksbill Trail. With a round trip of only 2.1 miles and an elevation gain of 500 feet, this trail is perfect for hikers of all levels. And for a longer, interesting and challenging adventure, combine these two trails into the Hawksbill Loop Trail.
No matter which trails you choose, hiking Hawksbill Mountain is one of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
5. Stay Past Sunset for Views of the Night Sky
Shenandoah National Park is not just beautiful in the day; it’s also a fantastic spot for stargazing at night! If you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear evening, stay past sunset for amazing night sky views.
Although the park is not an International Dark Sky Park, its relative remoteness and higher elevations provide a relatively dark environment for stargazing. On a clear night, you can see over 2,500 stars and even the Milky Way! And this makes it one of the top attractions in Shenandoah National Park for stargazing enthusiasts.
The Big Meadows area is an excellent spot for stargazing. I recommend you bring binoculars, which can help you spot even more stars. So, get ready to be mesmerized by the incredible beauty of the night sky in Shenandoah National Park!
4. Admire the Wildlife in Big Meadows
Are you ready to have a wild time? If so, add Big Meadows to your list of must-visit spots in Shenandoah National Park! While driving through the park, you might catch a glimpse of a few deer here and there, but there’s a whole world of wildlife waiting to be discovered in Shenandoah.
With over 50 species of mammals and 200 species of birds, you never know what kind of amazing creature you might encounter. From playful squirrels to majestic black bears, the possibilities are endless.
To maximize your chances of spotting some furry (or feathered) friends, head straight to Big Meadows. This wide-open field is a haven for all sorts of critters, and you’re sure to witness some incredible animal behavior.
3. Hike the Old Rag Mountain Loop
One of the most thrilling and adventurous things to do in Shenandoah National Park is to hike the Old Rag trail. This circular trail covers a distance of 9.4 miles and offers a challenging terrain that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
While the hike is challenging, the views from the top are absolutely worth it, provided the weather is not foggy. Keep in mind that if you are short, climbing the rocks might be a bit of a struggle, but having a companion to boost you can make all the difference.
The trail is full of surprises, and it’s important to think strategically before navigating each scramble. And once you reach the summit, take a moment to enjoy the stunning views and congratulate yourself on completing one of the toughest hikes in Shenandoah. Fortunately, the descent is much easier, so you won’t struggle much.
2. Hike to Dark Hollow Falls
The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a must-do for hikers visiting Shenandoah National Park, especially those looking for an easy-to-moderate hike. And as one of the top trails in Shenandoah National Park, it takes you to one of the park’s tallest waterfalls: The Dark Hollow Falls.
The trail leading to the waterfall is a 1.4-mile out-and-back hike, which can be challenging as you’ll go downhill to the falls and then climb back up. Despite the hike’s challenge, it is a fairly quick one, and you can complete it in 1-1.5 hours.
1. Take a scenic drive along the Skyline Drive
Finally, driving the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is an unforgettable experience that offers breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This scenic roadway cuts through the heart of the park, starting in Front Royal and ending in Rockfish Gap.
As you drive along Skyline Drive, you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints that offer panoramic views of the park. Some of the best include Range View Overlook, South River Overlook, Baldface Mountain Overlook, and Moormans River Overlook, all of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
You’ll also have the opportunity to pass through Mary’s Rock Tunnel, an impressive engineering feat that spans 610 feet (located at mile 32.2). Built in 1932, this tunnel is a fascinating part of the drive and adds to the overall experience.
With a lot to see and do along the way, driving the Skyline Drive is definitely one of the top things to do in Shenandoah National Park. So be sure to bring your camera and some snacks, and allow plenty of time to explore all the amazing viewpoints along the way.
List of Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Skyline Drive
- Dark Hollow Falls
- Old Rag Mountain Loop
- Big Meadows
- Hawksbill Mountain
- Rose River Falls
- Doyles River Falls
- Dickey Ridge
- Limberlost Trail
- Marys Rock
- Stony Man Mountain
- Bearfence Mountain Trail
- Basalt Columns
- Harry Byrd Visitor Center
Map of Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
Summary of Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
These are some of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park that will make your trip memorable. Exploring the park’s various trails, taking in the breathtaking views, and immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains are just a few of the many experiences that await you.
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Tips for Visiting Shenandoah National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
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