Shenandoah is one of the Parks with a higher elevation on this side of the Rockies. The park is stunning no matter what time of year you visit, filled with mixed forests of evergreen and deciduous trees.
Here are the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
Things to do in summer
Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a hiking path that runs up throughout most of the East Coast. Large parts of the trail extend through Shenandoah and numerous other National Parks on this side of the country.
If you are going to visit Shenandoah and love to get your hike on, consider doing part of this trail. You can make it a multi-day adventure or keep it simple with a couple of split days. Since it winds its way in and out of popular areas, it is best to have a GPS watch for hiking safely.
If you decide to make this trail during the summer, make sure you are equipped with cool hiking gear like shorts or even some hiking sandals for easier parts or during the evenings.
Explore the backcountry
Shenandoah is expansive, covering an area of more than 197,000 acres. This means that there are spaces you can enjoy with crowds of other people. However, some areas are open to backcountry hikers.
Most of the time, you will need a backcountry permit to hike in these less accessible areas. These permits help to protect you and the National Parks since rangers can keep tabs better.
Visit during Blackberry Delight
Mid-summer in Shenandoah, Virginia, and beyond means a hearkening in of loads of ripe blackberries. The harvest is thick, and the locals are happy to share. They even host annual events to celebrate this sweet time of year.
Each year, the Blackberry Delight festival is on a different day, but they often occur during July. If this is around the time you want to visit, it is worth aligning the two events.
Things to do in fall
Go rock scrambling
Rock scrambling is one way to work at getting up a rock face or a rocky ridge in the mountains. It is like the step before actual rock climbing, but can no longer be classed as walking.
Rock scrambling isn’t for anyone. There are some trails that involve rock scrambling and are still classed at a moderate level. Others involve enough technical climbing savvy that they should only be braved by those already skilled in the art of scrambling.
Either way, safety is key to these kinds of adventures. Come equipped with a well-stocked first aid kit so that you are prepared if anything does go wrong.
Drive along Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is thus named since it brings you upwards, driving along the mountainside in a way that makes you feel almost as though you were flying. It is a historic drive, taking you along a National Scenic Byway. Not all of it rests in Shenandoah, but you can explore a breathtaking chunk of it.
The entirety of the drive is 105 miles. It winds up throughout the north and south parts of the park, and right along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
You can access most of this drive throughout the whole year. However, it is typically thought to be the most beautiful during the Fall. The mountainsides are sprinkled and dabbed with gorgeous yellows, greens, golds, and reds. The only thing you have to watch out for is the road!
Check out the Visitor Center
Just like any other National Park, the Visitor Center in Shenandoah is worth a visit. It boasts plenty of history and easier-access to some of the park’s rangers if you need anything.
The Visitor Center is a great place to start learning more about the park. Head here to get maps and suggestions about where to go and when. They also have a gift store with items particular to this park. It is an excellent opportunity to pick up some hiking gifts for the avid outdoorsmen in your life.
The Visitor Center will also be the base point for any ranger-led activities you have opted for. From here, they will take you out into the forest or touring around the camps.
Things to do in winter
Take in the snowy views
Winter is not one of the more popular seasons for this park. It is just this fact that can make it extremely alluring for someone, especially if you have already visited the park when it is filled with crowds of people.
The weather is temperamental at best in this part of the country during the winter. Check with the park rangers to verify that it is open. As long as the entry has been cleared, then you can get it. From there, it is up to you whether you want to try some low-key hiking or drive along some of the roads.
Fair warning, be extremely careful when going along these roads. They can be very icy and are sometimes blocked off because of large snowdrifts.
Try cross country skiing
Cross country skiing is a fun activity to try out in the winter, but it is even better when accompanied by a view. Shenandoah National Park allows you to traverse part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the front range of the Appalachian mountains.
One aspect of Shenandoah’s allure for this wintertime sport is its proximity to major urban hubs like Washington, D.C., and Richmond, VA. If you are craving a snowy adventure and some time away from the bustle, get on your winter boots and get ready for a lot of snow.
When you prepare for trips like these, consider options like heated gloves and other safety supplies. You never realize quite how cold your appendages are until it is too late.
Spend a night stargazing
Stargazing in National Parks as vast as Shenandoah is a popular pastime. Doing so in the winter can be even more stunning since the frozen air becomes clearer than it will be throughout the rest of the year.
Shenandoah is far enough away from major sources of light pollution to present you with a clearer picture of the night sky. If you can get up to some trailheads along the ridgeline, try to find a space that offers a clear view of the night sky.
If you do head outside of your vehicle for these nighttime treks, take along heated vests or heated jackets since stargazing tends to be more of a sedentary activity.
Things to do in spring
Seek out waterfalls
During the springtime, waterfalls are bigger and better than any other time of the year. The snow is melting, and the rain falls hard enough to get everything growing again. Shenandoah National Park holds within it some incredible examples of waterfalls.
Take short, medium, or long hikes, and you are bound to find some iconic waterfalls. There are the Overall Run Falls, the Rose River Falls, South River Falls, and many more to explore. If you want to get up close and personal, bring a rain jacket.
Watch fog oceans drift between the foothills
In the Spring, the tourists start to pour into Shenandoah, but so does the fog that this region is famous for. In all of its mystic winding throughout the foothills, it is beautiful, shrouding the entire area in secrecy.
Although these fog oceans generally don’t last very long, opening up the view for hikers at the peaks to enjoy, they are a wonder to behold. Get up early in the morning to see the mist over the sunrise and drift around the foothills.
Take up a picnic
Springtime can be warm enough for long days spent in the sunshine, but it can also be chilly. If you are not sure you want to spend the whole day outside, try packing a picnic. Take your camping cooler to one of the many park areas that offer benches and respite to tired wanderers.
Picnics are also an excellent choice for campers. Pack up your coffee percolators to rejuvenate with a fresh cup of joe any time of day.
Things to do with kids
Tour through caves
Set your kid’s curiosity ablaze with the twists, turns, and creepy crevices present in the many layers of caves in the Shenandoah Valley.
Some of the most spectacular caves to explore include the Skyline caverns, which host rare anthodites, or six-sided crystals. There is also the Luray and Shenandoah Caverns, as well as the Endless Caverns. Try not to get endlessly lost by bringing along headlamps for you and your guests.
Visit Rapidan Camp
Taking your kids to visit National Parks is an excellent way to get them acquainted with the joys of nature. That isn’t the only thing that they are good for, though. History is interwoven into the fabric surrounding the formation of many of these parks, and it is no different in Shenandoah’s case.
Rapidan Camp was a summer retreat built by President Hoover during his administration. It was a place for respite and relaxation after the rigors of being President began to take their toll during the Great Depression. It was the precursor to what is currently the presidential retreat, now called Camp David.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.