My family and I love to travel and explore new places. We have been blessed to travel across the United States.
For our family vacation in 2017, we drove out to Virginia on a week-long road trip. We spent the first three days in Virginia Beach and another two in the Washington D.C. area. On the final day of our trip, we headed to Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia. It is amazing. There is so much to see and do there. Here is a look at the top 10 things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
1. Drive Skyline Drive
Driving Skyline Drive is incredible. It is 105 miles long and cuts the park in half from north to south. Visitors drive along a mountain ridge kind of like Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park or Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park but nowhere near as high. The four entrance stations (Front Royal Entrance Station, Thornton Gap Entrance Station, Swift Run Gap, and Rockfish Gap Entrance Station) to Skyline Drive cut the park into quarters. There are ample places to pull out and take in the beauty of God's creation. Skyline Drive is home to many of the park's trailheads. Many of the trails connect to the famous Appalachian Trail.
When we were there, we entered the park at the Front Royal Entrance Station and drove the full length of Skyline Drive. We pulled over many times to enjoy the views as well as take a few short hikes. We also pulled over and watched an incredible sunset that was amazing.
2. Hike to Old Rag Mountain
The Hike to Old Rag Mountain is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park and also one of the most difficult. The trail is a 9-mile loop and climbs over 2,400 feet. The difficulty comes with the challenging rock scramble through narrow passages with some hand over hand climbing required. Hikers that want to avoid the rock scramble can hike the loop counterclockwise and then return the same way. Or choose to keep going and descend over the rock scramble where it may be a little easier. The views are incredible from the summit.
Insider Tips for Hiking to Old Rag Mountain
Allow seven to eight hours to complete the hike. It is best to make this hike during the week because it is usually packed on the weekends when the weather is nice. Visitors who decide to hike on weekends should plan on starting before 7 am. Be sure to take at least two quarts of water per person as dehydration can be an issue on this hike. Also, check the weather as it is dangerous to attempt this hike when there are wet or icy conditions.
3. Hike to Dark Hollow Falls
Dark Hollow Falls is a great hike. It is a little less than a mile and a half roundtrip and is beautiful. The trailhead is right off Skyline Drive near mile marker 50.7. The trail descends 440 feet to the base of the falls and is well marked. The falls is a cascade falls and about 70 feet high. The return trip is a little more strenuous because it is uphill on the way back. Dark Hollow Falls is beautiful.
We enjoyed our hike to Dark Hollow Falls. The trail is in the shade and a few degrees cooler than Skyline Drive. The falls were refreshing and well worth a stop. We saw several butterflies among the wildflowers on the trail. The most memorable part of the hike was on the way back when we saw an incredible owl on the side of a tree. It was amazing.
4. Hike to the Top of Bearfence Mountain
The hike to Bearfence Mountain is beautiful especially during the peak of fall colors. It is a 1.2-mile loop trail with an elevation change of 380 feet. There is a rock scramble after the first quarter mile, but it is not too difficult to pass. After that, the trail is an easy hike the rest of the way. The Bearfence Mountain Trail meets up with the Appalachian Trail and offers incredible views. I highly recommend this quick hike.
5. Hike the Appalachian Trail
Hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park is an adventure. The portion that runs through the park is 101 miles long. The Appalachian Trail first intersects with Skyline Drive at Compton Gap (2,415 feet) and generally follows it through the rest of the park and exits the park at Waynesboro, Virginia. Many trails in Shenandoah National Park intersect the Appalachian Trail so hikers can choose the portion that they most want to hike. The Appalachian Trail offers visitors incredible viewpoints and access to wildlife in their natural habitat. I cannot recommend it enough.
6. Visit Skyland
Visiting the Skyland area in Shenandoah National Park is a must. It is the highest elevation (3,680 feet) on Skyline Drive and offers incredible views, lodging, a gift shop, and more. I highly recommend checking this area out.
Go Horseback Riding at Skyland
Skyland is a great place to go horseback riding. They offer rides daily that leave from the Skyland Stables, which is near mile marker 42.5 on Skyline Drive. Call 877-847-1919 for reservations as they are required.
7. Hike to Rose River Falls
Hiking to Rose River Falls is worth it. Park at the Fisher's Gap Overlook (mile marker 49.4). The trail starts on the other side of Skyline Road. It is about 3.7-mile loop trail with an elevation change of about 900 feet. Rose River Falls is a two-tiered waterfall that drops a total of 45 feet. It is most impressive when the water is running high, not so much when the water is low. Either way, it is a beautiful hike.
8. Hike to Mary's Rock Summit
Hiking to Mary's Rock Summit is spectacular. It offers incredible 180-degree panoramic views of Shenandoah National Park and the valley down below. Mary's Rock Summit is one of the best places to watch a sunset in Shenandoah National Park. The views are amazing.
I recommend parking at the Meadow Spring Parking area, which is at mile marker 33.6 on Skyline Drive. It is the closest parking area to Mary's Rock Summit and is only a 2.8-mile hike in and out. The hardest part of the trail is the first half mile or so as the trail climbs 1,000 feet. After that, it is relatively flat with several viewpoints. There are two other trailheads (Panorama Parking Area - 3.7-miles roundtrip and Jewell Hollow Overlook - 6-miles roundtrip) that lead to the summit, but both require a longer hike.
9. Hike to Hawksbill Mountain
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. The trailhead is at mile marker 45.6 on Skyline Drive. The most direct route is the Lower Hawksbill Trail, which is very steep. It is 1.7 miles out and back. It climbs 800 feet in less than a mile. The views at the summit are panoramic and amazing! Visitors can see 270-degrees of mountains and valleys. It is an excellent spot to watch the sunset. The Hawksbill Mountain hike is an absolute must.
10. Hike to Dickey Ridge
Hiking to Dickey Ridge is one of the most northern hikes in Shenandoah National Park. This hike uses a combination of the Fox Hollow Loop, Snead Farm Loop, and Dickey Ridge Trail. The trailhead leaves from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. It is about a 5.3-mile hike and gains a little less than a 1,000 feet of elevation. It offers views of Snead Farm ruins, an FAA tower, and incredible views of the Massanutten Range to the southwest. This hike a great for watching sunsets as well.
Don't Miss a Chance to Visit Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is incredible. It is well worth spending a few days exploring. There is so much to see and do there. My family and I loved our quick visit. We cannot wait to go back and attempt more of the summit hikes.
Map of the Top 10 Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
© 2019 Eric Cramer
Eric Cramer (author) from Chicagoland on March 29, 2019:
Liz Westwood from UK on March 29, 2019:
This is a really useful and interesting article, with top class illustrations.