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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina D'Angelo

The Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Explore this beautiful national park at its peak season for an amazing adventure.
Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park - Alpacka My Bags

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Welcome to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Forested and filled with breathtaking views, waterfalls, and wildlife, Shenandoah National Park is a must-visit for nature and adventure lovers.

If you haven’t started planning a trip here yet, this is your sign to get planning and booking! Shenandoah National Park exceeded our expectations, so we’re here to tell you all about it and how you can plan your own adventure.

Shenandoah is great for all types of adventurers to explore. Plan a solo trip, family outing, or round up some friends and have a great time admiring views, hiking, and more. You can even make a dog-friendly road trip out of your visit!

With tons of hiking trails, awesome campgrounds, scenic drives, and a diverse wildlife scene, you can’t possibly get bored in Shenandoah National Park. So now let’s cover the important details so you can make the most of your time here.

Article Contents

Visiting Shenandoah National Park

Visiting Shenandoah National Park

Located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park boasts 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail, a popular trail for thru-hikers. This is only one reason you should visit. There are over 500 miles of total hiking trails in the park that covers almost 80,000 acres, or over 311 square miles.

Once private land, settlers originally lived on the land that was eventually donated to create Shenandoah National Park in 1935. This park is now known and loved for its trails, Skyline Drive, wildlife, and mountain views.

  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle for 7 days, or America the Beautiful Pass

  • Area: 80,000 acres

  • Dog-Friendly: Yes, in certain areas

  • Shuttle/Public Transportation: No

  • Visitor Center: Dickey Ridge and Harry F. Byrd, Sr.

  • Park Open: Year-round, dependent on weather

Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Virginia's weather is fairly humid; they usually experience mild summers and cold winters here. While the park is technically open year-round, I do not recommend visiting Shenandoah National Park from December through February.

It often snows during these months, and parts of Skyline Drive, the main road throughout the park, can close. November and March can get pretty cold too, but the chance of snow is lower.

Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Another important thing to know: the campgrounds in Shenandoah are only open seasonally. So they are not open in the winter months (generally November through March).

If you want to really enjoy hiking, camping, and being outdoors, the best time to visit Shenandoah National Park is between May and October.

Keep in mind that it never gets particularly hot here, so summer is actually a great time to visit; however, there will probably be more people visiting this time of year as well.

Fall is a great option if you are okay with hiking, camping, etc. in cooler weather. Just remember lots of layers! The fall foliage is so gorgeous in Shenandoah, it is definitely one of the best places to see fall foliage in the US.

Because it is so gorgeous in the fall, it is also busier. Keep this in mind if you plan on visiting in September or October.

How to Get to Shenandoah National Park

How to Get to Shenandoah National Park

Located in northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is about 1.5 hours from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington DC. It is actually a popular day or weekend trip from DC; more on this below.

The closest major airport to Shenandoah National Park is Washington Dulles International (IAD) in Dulles, Virginia, 56 miles from the Front Royal Station. There is also Reagan National (DCA) in Arlington, VA which is 70 miles away.

There are also closer regional airports, including Charlottesville-Albemarle (CHO) which is 31 miles away, and Shenandoah Valley Regional (SHD) which is 27 miles away.

There isn’t much of anything close to the park, including shops, gas, and restaurants, so make sure you have plenty of supplies to make it through your trip. There is a gas station and decent, but expensive, store at Big Meadows wayside.

This is convenient if you’re staying at Big Meadows Campground, but the gas pumps are not always reliable. There are also a couple of other stores in the park; one at each visitor center and at 3 of the 5 campgrounds.

You will need a car to get to Shenandoah National Park as well as to explore once in the park. There are no public shuttles or buses to take you around and trail heads can be far from one another. Skyline Drive, which runs the entire length of the park, is over 105 miles long.

Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park

Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park

As mentioned above, Shenandoah National Park is a popular day or weekend trip from Washington DC. The drive from DC to the Front Royal Entrance Station takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. This entrance is located at the very top of the park, and you will enter on Skyline Drive.

If you plan on driving Skyline Drive when you arrive, this is the perfect route because you will be starting from one end and heading to the other. But if you have a specific destination, this entrance might not be the best for you.

Because it is such a long, narrow park, there are several entrance stations, and if you are heading straight to a campground from DC, it is better to enter from a different location. For example, Big Meadows Campground is a popular one, and you would enter from the Thornton Gap Entrance Station.

Google Maps worked pretty well for us when we entered Big Meadows Campground; this should be the case for other campgrounds and lookouts as well.

Campgrounds Near Shenandoah National Park

Campgrounds Near Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is a fantastic place for campers to enjoy. With 5 established campgrounds, tent sites, RV sites, and backcountry camping in the park, there is something for every camper here.

If you plan on backcountry camping, make sure you obtain a permit before your trip. Some areas require a day-use ticket as well. Learn more about backcountry camping in Shenandoah National Park here.

The campgrounds are seasonal, opening in early spring and closing in late fall. They all have their own schedule. They are generally updated on the NPS website.

At certain times, they are first-come, first-served, but during peak season, they require reservations. I highly recommend you book well in advance if you want to visit Shenandoah during the summer.

You can camp in your RV in Shenandoah, but there are no electricity or water hookups. There is drinking water available at all the campgrounds except Dundo. There is also laundry available at Loft Mountain, Big Meadows, and Lewis Mountain campgrounds.

Some sites are tent-only; they are available in Big Meadows, Loft Mountain, and Dundo Group Campground.

If you wish to stay outside the park, check out these campgrounds near Shenandoah National Park.

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

This national park covers over 80,000 acres with over 500 miles of designated hiking trails. If you are a hiking lover, then you definitely need to add Shenandoah National Park to your list.

There are hikes for all levels here and of various lengths. There are many day hikes, thru-hikes, and short hikes for everyone to enjoy! Here you will find mountain views, waterfalls, beautiful forested areas, wildlife, and more.

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park - Lewis Spring Falls
Lewis Spring Falls

The best hikes in Shenandoah National Park are below.

  • Old Rag Mountain Loop: 9.3-mile loop trail, difficult, dogs not allowed

  • Lewis Spring Falls: 3-mile loop, moderate, dogs allowed

  • Hawksbill Loop Trail: 2.7-mile loop trail, moderately difficult, dogs allowed

  • White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop: 8.3-mile lop, difficult, dogs allowed

  • Bearfence Mountain Trail: 1-mile loop trail, moderately difficult, dogs not allowed

  • Rose River Trail: 3.8-mile loop, moderately difficult, dogs allowed

  • Dark Hollow Falls Trail: 1.6-mile out-and-back, moderately difficult, dogs not allowed

  • South River Falls Trail and South River Fire Road: 4.6-mile out-and-back, moderate, dogs allowed

  • Blackfoot Summit via Trayfoot Mountain: 1.1-mile loop, easy, dogs allowed

  • Doyles River Falls Trail: 3.4-mile out-and-back, moderate, dogs allowed

You will need a car to get to most of these trails as there are no shuttles in the park. Lewis Spring Falls trail, however, is within walking distance from Big Meadows campground.

Many of these trails are also still fun to hike a portion of, even if you don’t want to complete the entire hike.

Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park

Along with an insane amount of gorgeous hikes, Shenandoah has a well-known scenic drive that is a great alternative to hiking. Or do both and tack on some hikes along the drive!

Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park is the only public road that runs through the park. It is 105 miles long and you can enter it from the four park entrance stations. You can stop at many viewpoints and still admire a lot of the park from your car.

It is open all day, every day of the year depending on the weather. If it’s snowing or icy, there will likely be road closures which means you won’t get to drive the entire length of it.

There are bathrooms available at each of the two visitor centers along the way. Keep this in mind when planning your route as they are 46 miles, about 1 hour and 15 minutes, from each other.

It takes about 3 hours to complete the entire drive, but there are many viewpoints that are worth stopping for along the way. If you like to enjoy mountain views and take your time, tack on a couple more hours onto your trip.

Make sure you have plenty of gas or charge in your vehicle before entering as it is a long drive. There is a gas station in the park located at Big Meadows Wayside, but this is often unreliable. There are also electric vehicle charging stations at Skyland and Byrd Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park is a must-do activity while visiting. It offers amazing views, the chance to see some wildlife, beautiful tree-lined roads, and more.

What to Bring and Wear Hiking

Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

The climate in Shenandoah National Park is generally cool. Even in the summer, the average high is 75°F. This weather is really nice for camping and hiking as you can bundle up and not worry about heat exhaustion.

I do not recommend hiking in Shenandoah National Park in the winter as it can get snowy and icy. This can be very pretty, but the roads are not always open. If you do want to enjoy a winter hike here, pack accordingly as temperatures can often reach the teens.

Spring and fall are both quite chilly. Fall is actually a little warmer than spring, averaging a high of 60°F and a low of 30°F. Spring’s average high is 50° and low is 20°F.

No matter what trail you're going on, you definitely need to bring plenty of water with you. I recommend packing a day bag with a large water bottle, snacks, bug spray, hiking poles, and sunscreen.

Essentials for the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park:

  • Daypack: Keep your water bottle, snacks, bug spray, etc. organized in a daypack

  • Hiking Boots: Comfortable and durable hiking boots make all the difference; Solomon are our favorites (women's and men's)

  • Layers: Plan according to the weather, but layers are always a good idea; think base shirt, light jacket, rain jacket, or coat depending on the weather

  • Water Bottle: Always carry plenty of water when hiking; we recommend the insulated, 40 oz Hydroflask

  • Snacks: Our go-to hiking snacks are Clif Bars, trail mix, nut butter and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and candy for rewarding ourselves, wink wink

  • Sun Protection: sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and sun shirt (men's and women's)

When it comes to sun protection, you should be careful any time of year. Thankfully Shenandoah is a fairly chilly place, so wearing a long sleeve sun shirt will likely not make you uncomfortable.

Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Now you know all the important details about visiting Shenandoah National Park, you can start planning your own trip. This natural beauty is so worth exploring; the animal and plant diversity here is gorgeous.

If you want to avoid crowds, plan a spring trip between March and May. I highly suggest going in May as it is slightly warmer, but there aren’t summer crowds yet. This is the best time. to visit Shenandoah National Park. You can squeeze in many great hikes this time of year.

Make sure you are prepared for cooler weather and lots of time in the sun. Bring plenty of water if you go hiking, and check out our camping essentials checklist if you plan on camping in Shenandoah National Park.

If you're interested in visiting other parks, check out more of our US national park guides here. Happy exploring; Shenandoah awaits you!

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We're Georgina and Nathan, two adventure enthusiasts and creators of Alpacka My Bags. We're here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 


We've been exploring this insane planet that we call home together for over 3 years now. After college, we knew the "traditional career path" was not for us, and honestly the "traditional life path", in general, just wasn't for us.


We needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer, it sounds cliché but you do only live once. So we made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that we wanted to share them with others so they can enjoy them too! 

Our passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join us, and often our dog, JoJo, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as we have, we hope you find our tips useful for any and all of your future travels.

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