Jason & Rae Miller
January 12th, 2024
If you’re looking for a place with panoramic views and ample wildlife sightings east of the Mississippi River, it’s time to book your stay at Shenandoah National Park. From pastoral landscapes to wooden hollows to waterfalls and mountain streams, this park embraces the beauty of eastern Virginia.
Let’s dive in and see why you should visit this East Coast national park!
Where Is Shenandoah National Park?
Located in Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park lies only 75 miles from our nation’s capital.
Over 20,000 acres of waterfalls, meadows, forests, and ridges are protected here in eastern Virginia, and about 40% of the land is designated wilderness area. The park stretches 105 miles from Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south.
When Did Shenandoah National Park Become a National Park?
In 1901, Virginia Congressman Henry D. Flood tried to introduce legislation to protect the Appalachians. But it wasn’t until December 1935 that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt formally opened Shenandoah National Park.
Unlike western parks like Crater Lake, Grand Canyon, and Zion, no federal funds were used to establish this southeastern park. Virginia had to raise private funds and authorize state funds on its own.
What’s So Special About Shenandoah National Park?
Approximately 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through Shenandoah National Park, along with 400 miles of additional trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Fly fishing, whitewater rafting, and camping are other popular activities.
The 20,000 acres of dramatic topography lure adventurers, birders, wildlife enthusiasts, and those who just want to enjoy a scenic drive.
Although the park is known for its natural beauty and spectacular vistas along Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park also protects the personal history of this region. Visitors can learn about the eras of logging, railroading, and millwork.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was instrumental in building and establishing this national park. So, Shenandoah National Park preserves a stunning natural landscape and a rich cultural heritage.
3 Most Popular Attractions in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is one of the most accessible parks in the United States. Visitors of all ages and abilities can fully enjoy the beauty and history of eastern Virginia by hiking, driving, and birding.
Hike to Old Rag Mountain
Old Rag Mountain is the most popular destination. Because of this, hikers must get a day-use ticket in advance when visiting from March 1 to November 30. This strenuous hike isn’t for the faint of heart, but the 360-degree views at the summit are worth it. This is a day-long hike, and pets aren’t allowed.
Drive Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive travels the entire length of the park from the Front Royal Entrance Station to the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station near Wanyesboro. This 105-mile road offers 75 overlooks and pull-outs and remains open 24/7 unless there’s inclement weather.
Marys Rock Tunnel at mile 32.2 has a maximum clearance of 12 feet 8 inches, but as long as you can safely clear it, you can travel in your RV along the entire length of Skyline Drive. This is a must-do because of the breathtaking scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Keep in Mind: While you’re in Virginia, add these 9 spots to your itinerary!
Go Birding at Big Meadows
Big Meadows is one of the hot spots for birding in Shenandoah National Park. You’ll likely see year-round residents like red-tailed hawks, Carolina chickadees, wild turkeys, and barred owls. And during the migratory season, you might spot transient birds that return year after year. Warblers, sandpipers, grosbeaks, swallows, and more species dominate the wildlife in Shenandoah National Park.
Visit This Hidden Gem in Shenandoah National Park
We highly suggest booking a horseback ride through Skyland Stables. A ride through the wooded forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains gets you right in the thick of Shenandoah National Park. Skyland Stables sits at mile 42.5 on Skyline Drive and offers one-hour horseback riders for guests at least 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighing less than 250 pounds. These rides cost $59.99 per person.
Best Place for Camping in Shenandoah National Park
Big Meadows Campground is the best spot for camping inside the national park. Reservations must be made in advance on Recreation.gov. This campground offers no hookups but is centrally located at mile 51.2 on Skyline Drive. During the camping season, there’s a camp store, ice, and firewood.
Laundry, a dump station, flush toilets, coin-operated showers, and potable water are also available seasonally. The campground remains closed from November 26 through March 23.
If you prefer hookups, the most convenient campground to Shenandoah National Park is Spacious Skies Shenandoah Views. Full hookups and partial hookups are available, as well as amenities like cable, WiFi, big-rig friendly sites, sites with pergolas, patio sites, a swimming pool, a dog park, a playground, and more.
Keep in Mind: Virginia is home to dozens of mountains and these are the best spots for camping in the Virginia mountains!
Is Visiting Shenandoah National Park Worth It?
Nestled in one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, Shenandoah National Park is a place of beauty. It’s a destination where you can relax and enjoy a picnic overlooking the valley or hike the difficult 9.3-mile loop trail to Old Rag Mountain. The park is also a birder’s paradise with more than 190 species of resident and transient birds.
So, if you want a place to explore this camping season on the East Coast, consider visiting this park. It’s not one of the overcrowded parks, with only 1.5 million annual visitors. And because the park is so spread out, it’s an enjoyable three-hour drive from end to end.