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  • Georgina D'Angelo

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary: 2 Days of Hiking

Updated: 1 day ago


Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park - Alpacka My Bags

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! Shenandoah National Park exceeded my expectations, so I'm 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 northeast national park road trip out of your visit!


In this article, I'll cover the best time to visit, how to get to the park, where to stay, the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park, what to bring, and more. Let's get you to Shenandoah!


Article Contents


Visiting Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park Itinerary: Planning


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, including the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park.


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

  • Size: 80,000 acres; 500 miles of hiking trails

  • Dog-Friendly: Yes, in certain areas

  • Shuttle/Public Transportation: No

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

  • Entrances: Front Royal (north), Thornton Gap, Swift Run Gap, and Rockfish Gap (south)

  • 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, it often snows from December through February, 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.


Fall foliage in Blue Ridge Mountains - Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

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


If you want to enjoy hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing, 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 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. This can make it busier in the fall months.


How to Get to Shenandoah National Park


Blue Ridge Mountains on a sunny day - Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

Located in northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is about 1.5 hours from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington DC. It is 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 in the park at Big Meadows wayside, but it is more expensive.


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 3 of the 5 campgrounds.


You will need a car to get to Shenandoah National Park as well as to explore the park. There are no public shuttles or buses 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


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.


Road with pines along the sides - Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park

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 well for us when we entered Big Meadows Campground; this should be the case for other campgrounds and lookouts as well. I recommend downloading the Shenandoah National Park map on Google Maps before your trip.


TIP: If you're visiting Shenandoah National Park and Washington DC, make sure you add Alexandria, Virginia to your trip!


Where to Stay When Visiting Shenandoah National Park


FJ Cruiser with rooftop tent - Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

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.


There are also cabins and lodge rooms available to stay in at Shenandoah National Park. Or you can stay outside of the park at a hotel in a nearby town like Waynesboro or Luray.


Where to stay when visiting Shenandoah National Park:


  • Camping: I recommend Big Meadows Campground. It is located in Shenandoah National Park and has a camp store, laundry, and showers.

  • Lodging: Skyland and Big Meadows Lodge offer pet-friendly rooms and cabins to stay in.

  • Hotel: Best Western Plus Waynesboro is a 10-minute drive from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station to the park. Hotel Laurance is a 15-minute drive from the Thornton Gap Entrance Station.


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.


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.


9 Best Short 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 need to add Shenandoah National Park to your list.


There are hikes for all levels here and of various lengths. Below I'll cover the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park. You will find mountain views, waterfalls, beautiful forested areas, wildlife, and more.


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. Before you hit the trail, make sure you're prepared with all the day hiking essentials you need!


The best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park are below.


Hawksbill Loop Trail


Length: 2.7-mile loop trail

Elevation Gain: 744 ft

Trailhead Location: Hawksbill Loop Trailhead Parking Lot

Difficulty: Moderately

Dogs Allowed: Yes


The Hawksbill Loop Trail is a slow incline to the summit if you go counterclockwise, and you'll enjoy the best views at the end of your hike in this direction. There are a few small rock scrambles on the trail, but nothing the average hiker can't tackle.


Best Short Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Hawksbill Loop Trail

Dark Hollow Falls Trail


Length: 1.6-mile out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 583 ft

Trailhead Location: Dark Hollow Falls parking lot

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs Allowed: No


Dark Hollow Falls trail is shaded making it the perfect hiking option for summer. There is a viewing platform at the bottom of the trail so you can enjoy the view of the falls and the sounds of nature. This is a peaceful hike, but it is uphill on your way back.


South River Falls Trail and South River Fire Road


Length: 4.6-mile out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,272 ft

Trailhead Location: South River Picnic Area

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs Allowed: Yes


South River Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park. Once you've reached the observation point, you can continue for about 1.5 miles more to reach the base of the waterfall (I highly recommend doing this!).


Blackfoot Summit via Trayfoot Mountain


Length: 1.1-mile loop

Elevation Gain: 180 ft

Trailhead Location: Blackrock Summit Parking

Difficulty: Easy

Dogs Allowed: Yes


Blackfoot Summit via Trayfoot Mountain and Appalachian Trail is the best easy hike in Shenandoah National Park. This hike offers amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain, and it's also a great hike to watch the sunset.


Old Rag Mountain Loop


Length: 9.3-mile loop trail

Elevation Gain: 2,595 ft

Trailhead Location: Old Rag parking lot off the 600

Difficulty: Challenging

Dogs Allowed: No


While on the longer side of a "short hike," Old Rag Mountain Loop is one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park. To avoid crowds, do this hike on a weekday. It's also recommended to complete in cooler weather as it is more challenging.


Lewis Spring Falls


Length: 3-mile loop

Elevation Gain: 872 ft

Trailhead Location: Park at milepost 51.2 in the Big Meadows area

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs Allowed: Yes


Lewis Springs Falls trail is the best short hike in Shenandoah National Park. It's not too difficult and the scenery along the way is gorgeous. You can hike across the stream (at the top of the falls) and there's a little lookout area with a different view of Lewis Falls (pictured below).


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

Bearfence Mountain Trail


Length: 1-mile loop

Elevation Gain: 242 ft

Trailhead Location: Bearfence Rock Scramble Parking

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Dogs Allowed: No


While Bearfence Mountain Trail is short, it is fairly challenging due to some rock scrambles and very steep parts. It is not recommended for kids under 10. However, if you're not afraid of heights, the 360-degree views are amazing.


Rose River Trail


Length: 3.8-mile loop

Elevation Gain: 875 ft

Trailhead Location: Fishers Gap Overlook parking lot

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs Allowed: Yes


To get to the trail, park at Fishers Gap Overlook parking lot and then cross Skyline Drive to start your hike. It's best to hike Rose River Trail clockwise; you'll pass the river first and then the falls.


Doyles River Falls Trail


Length: 3.4-mile out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,184 ft

Trailhead Location: Doyles River parking lot at mile 81.1 off Skyline Drive

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs Allowed: Yes


Doyles River Falls Trail boasts three waterfalls for hikers to enjoy, Upper and Lower Doyles River Falls, and Jones Run Falls. The trail is downhill on the way out, so be ready for an uphill hike on your way back. Overall, it's very scenic and one of the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park.


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 at some points. 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 drive.


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

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


Essentials for the best short 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.


Shenandoah National Park Itinerary FAQ:


How many days do you need at Shenandoah National Park?

You can accomplish some of the best hikes and cruise down Skyline Drive in 2 or 3 days at Shenandoah National Park. There is plenty to see and do if you want to stay longer; it's a big national park. However, a couple of days will allow you plenty of time to check out some of the park's best spots.


What not to miss at Shenandoah National Park?

Don't miss these when you're at Shenandoah National Park:

  • Skyline Drive

  • Lewis Springs Falls

  • Blackfoot Summit via Trayfoot Mountain

  • The Point Overlook Milepost 55.5

  • Doyles River Falls Trail


How long does it take to drive the length of Shenandoah National Park?

Skyline Drive is over 105 miles long with many overlooks and pullouts along the way. You don't need to stop at all of them but plan to stop at a few to admire the scenery and take stunning photos. Allow yourself 3 to 5 hours to drive the length of Shenandoah National Park depending on how often you want to stop.


Should you carry bear spray in Shenandoah National Park?

There are black bears found in Shenandoah National Park. It's a good idea to carry bear spray when hiking, especially solo, and attach a bear bell to your bag or continue talking (making noise). If bears hear you approaching, chances are they will run off to hide from you.


Best Time to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Now you can plan your Shenandoah National Park itinerary with all the details above. From where to stay and how to get to the park, to what to bring and the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park, you now know all about visiting and hiking here.


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. You can squeeze in many of the best short hikes in Shenandoah National Park this time of year.


Make sure you are prepared for cooler weather and lots of time in the sun. Bring plenty of water when 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.

 

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