Entrance Sign to Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Where is Shenandoah National Park

Located in the northern commonwealth region of the state of Virginia, Shenandoah US National Park is situated among the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park encompasses several different geographical highlights including the Shenandoah River, rolling hills, and Hawksbill Mountain. Shenandoah National Park also contains a designated wilderness area, which is protected as a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and Skyline Drive. The latter of which is the main park road that allows visitors to navigate from one point in the park to the next. Visitors traveling to the park will find that the park is about 90 miles (a two hour drive) southwest of Washington D.C, and about 95 miles (a two hour drive) north of Richmond, Virginia. All together the national park resides within eight separate counties in the state of Virginia. The nearest developed cities to the national park are Front Royal and Waynesboro.

How Large is Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park stretches and covers a total area of close to 200,000 acres. The park’s exact area totals 199,173 acres, and about forty percent of these acres are designated within the national park’s protected wilderness area. The highest point of elevation found within Shenandoah National Park is the peak of Hawksbill Mountain. The mountain sits at an elevation of 4,051 feet above sea level. In addition to Hawksbill Mountain, Shenandoah National Park also contains several other notable features prominent in visitor recreation including a series of waterfalls and coordinating hiking trails. The highest falls in the national park are the Overall Run falls which sit at a height of around 93 ft. This waterfall like most others in the park can be reached after a moderate hike from a trailhead located on Skyline drive. Waterfall viewing, hiking, scenic driving, and camping are the outdoor recreation activities most practiced within the national park.

Shenandoah National Park Weather

According to the Koppen Climate Classification system, Shenandoah National Park resides within a humid continental climate. Locations equipped with such a climate normally experience the four seasons of the year fully. The commonwealth of Virginia is well known for its hot and humid summers and continued precipitation throughout the year. Summer temperatures in Shenandoah National Park average between highs of 85 and 50 degrees, whereas in the winter, temperatures in the park fluctuate between 55- and 0-degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the winter months in Shenandoah National Park consistently bring snowfall and winter weather. The average yearly snowfall for the park accumulates to around 41 inches. The months of January and February are consistently responsible for much of this total. 

Autumn Sunrise at Shenandoah National Park Virginia

When Did Shenandoah Become a National Park

Shenandoah National Park first became a national park on December 26, 1935 after a long history of state and national negotiation. The creation of the park was a tumultuous prospect for several reasons including historic national park policies which gave more confidence to national parks located in the western United States, the state of Virginia’s use of eminent domain to construct skyline drive, and the negotiations of local landowners who refused to give up their residences. In the end, about 40 landowners who owned land within the borders of the national park were allowed to keep their land. The first call for the creation of Shenandoah National Park was ushered back in 1901 by Henry D. Flood, a Virginia congressman. This plan received a high level of support from Theodore Roosevelt. However, the bill would fail to pass through congress several times and the park would remain an unfinished idea for the next 34 years.

Things to do in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is one of the best places for outdoor recreation on the east coast. The national park contains a series of waterfalls, several challenging and diverse hiking trails, skyline drive, and various camping opportunities. These adventures and a few others, which can be added to your Shenandoah National Park itinerary, are discussed in further detail below! 

Start at a Visitor Center

Our National Park Visitors Guide suggests the best place to begin your adventure at Shenandoah National Park is at one of the park’s two visitor centers. The Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is located centrally within the park and is the more popular of the two centers. However, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is a great option for visitors starting in the more northern reaches of the park. Each visitor center contains an array of educational displays and exhibits that discuss topics relating to the park’s geography, geology, history, cultural ties, and ecology. In addition, the visitor centers are also the perfect place for you to become oriented with the park since not only are park maps and trail guides available within the centers, but the centers also employ park rangers who can answer specific questions about Shenandoah National Park. While in the visitor center make a point to inquire upon the schedule of interpretive programs being offered during your trip.

Join an Interpretive Program

After getting a preliminary education on the different aspects of Shenandoah National Park through your visit to the visitor center, the best way to learn more about the park is to join an interpretive program. These programs usually look closer at one particular aspect of the park. Popular programs offered at Shenandoah National Park include guided meadow hikes and explorations of the area’s flora and fauna. Every program offered during your visit to the park will be led by an experienced park ranger who can provide a vast expanse of information relating to the park and its many unique qualities.

Drive Down Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is the only public road that runs through Shenandoah National Park. The drive spans a total distance of around 105 miles and normally takes visitors about three hours to navigate on a clear day. However, you do not have to drive the entire distance to experience several wonders on your drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once you start traveling on Skyline Drive, you will begin to notice several overlooks, trailheads, and other attractions which you can stop at and enjoy. To better orient yourselves on the drive, know that mile 0 of skyline drive is located near Front Royal, whereas the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center is located around mile 51.

Hike the Dark Hollows Falls Trail

The Dark Hollows Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails located within Shenandoah National Park. This trail is popular for several reasons, but paramount is the access it provides to the Dark Hollows Falls. This waterfall is the closest waterfall to skyline drive. The Dark Hollows Falls Trail begins at mile marker 50.7 and continues for about three quarters of a mile before reaching the base of the seventy-foot waterfall. While the Dark Hollows Falls Trail is one of the shortest trails in the national park it still maintains a difficulty of moderate for the various sections that are steep and challenging to some visitors.

Cast a Line Within Shenandoah National Park

Anglers visiting Shenandoah National Park will rejoice when they learn of the 70 mountain streams that are located within the park. These streams support diverse aquatic ecosystems that include populations of a variety fish species including brook trout. Individuals wishing to fish within Shenandoah National Park will first need to obtain a valid Virginia freshwater fishing license. All other state fishing regulations also apply to the mountain streams located within Shenandoah National Park. The national park strictly enforces the protection of its brook trout population. 

Camping Within Shenandoah National Park

Visitors wishing to camp within Shenandoah National Park can do so at a variety of front country and backcountry campsites. The park contains a total of five front country campgrounds, which contain a variety of sites suitable for tents and recreational vehicles. Visitors wishing to camp within the park’s backcountry must first obtain a free wilderness permit online or from the park’s visitor center. Reservations for the park’s five front country campgrounds can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal.

Wildlife Viewing in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park supports a diverse array of woodland wildlife species. The park’s most notable species are the black bear and white-tailed deer. However, visitors arriving at the park may also spot species such as racoons, wild turkeys, Virginia opossums, squirrels, rabbits, woodland songbirds, and a variety of other species. More information regarding wildlife found in the park can be located within the park’s visitor centers.

Waterfall at Shenandoah National Park Virginia

When to Visit Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park and skyline drive are usually open every day throughout the year. Visitors may plan their trip to the park within any of the four seasons. However, the park receives its highest percentage of visitation during the summer months when temperatures in the park are the most conducive to outdoor recreation. Wildlife in the park is most active during the spring. The autumn months also attract large crowds to the park as visitors look to enjoy the changing colors of the season.

Must Have Items to Bring with You to the Park

List of Parks created a list of items you may wish to bring with you to Shenandoah National Park. 

Water & High Energy Snacks

Water is the most essential supply for any outdoor adventure. Visitors looking to camp within Shenandoah National Park for several days should bring additional supplies of water and high energy snacks with them to the park.

Sturdy Hiking Boots

A sturdy pair of hiking boots are essential for any visitor wishing to navigate any of the trails found within Shenandoah National Park. These boots will help visitors traverse the various terrains found in the park.

Layers of Clothing

Throughout the year, weather in Shenandoah National Park can change frequently. Visitors looking to enjoy a trip to the park should bring a variety of layers with them to the park to combat everything Mother Nature throws at them.

Camping Equipment

It can be quite challenging to remember to pack all of the camping equipment you will need on your trip. The best way to tackle this task is through the creation of a camping checklist!

Field Guides & Binoculars

Visitors hoping to spot wildlife within Shenandoah National Park should remember to bring a pair of binoculars and field guides with them to the park. These field guides will aid in the identification of wildlife species. Visitors interested in vegetation or geology can also find field guides suited for them. 

Waterfall at Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Where to Stay in Shenandoah National Park

Visitors looking to stay within Shenandoah National Park have a few options they can decide between. Visitors can either decide to camp within the park’s various front country campgrounds, hike and camp in the backcountry or grab a room at the park’s various lodges. Reservations for the campgrounds and lodges can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal.

Food Near Shenandoah National Park

The closest food to Shenandoah National Park is actually located within the park. The park manages and maintains several restaurants and dining rooms including the Elkwallow Wayside, the Pollock Dining Room, and the Big Meadows Wayside. These restaurants and the others located within the national park can provide visitors with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.

Airports Near Shenandoah National Park

The closest international airports to Shenandoah National Park are located near Washington D.C and Richmond, Virginia. The Dulles International Airport is located about an hour and forty-five minutes northeast of the national park, whereas the Richmond International Airport is located about two hours southeast of the national park.

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