When to Go
Of the more than one million people who visit the park each year, the majority go in October to see the foliage. To avoid fall traffic jams, arrive early (preferably on a weekday), park at an overlook, and walk a trail. Snowstorms sometimes close Skyline Drive, the park's north-south highway. Facilities close in winter. Campgrounds fill on summer weekends, but day-trippers still have plenty of park. Wildflowers bloom from early spring to late fall.
How to Get There
From Washington, D.C. (about 70 miles away), take I-66 west to US 340, then head south to the park's Front Royal (North) Entrance. From Charlottesville, take I-64 to the Rockfish Gap (South) Entrance. From the west, take US 211 through Luray to the Thornton Gap (Middle) Entrance or head east on US 33 to the Swift Run Gap Entrance. Airports: Dulles International, near Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville, Va.
How to Visit
On a day's drive-in visit, whatever entrance you use, get out and walk a trail. Even if you venture only a few hundred feet from an overlook, you will see a different Shenandoah beyond the scenic drive. For a longer stay, make a base at one place, such as Big Meadows or Skyland, and explore from there.
Where to Stay
Lodging Inside the Park:
Shenandoah National Park has lodges, cabins, campgrounds, and backcountry camping available to visitors. Call ahead for pet-friendly options.
Skyland Resort (milepost 41.7), located at 3,680 feet, is the highest lodge along the Skyline Drive and features grand views of Shenandoah Valley. Accommodations include traditional hotel rooms and cabins. Open April-November.
Big Meadows Lodge (milepost 51.2) is a historic lodge built with stones cut from nearby Massanutten Mountain in 1939. Guests can stay in one of 29 rooms or small cabins. The lodge provides free nightly family-friendly entertainment. Open May-November.
Lewis Mountain Cabins (milepost 57.5) features one- and two-bedroom cabins at Lewis Mountain. Cabins are fully furnished, with towels, linens, heat, and electric lights (unlike some more primitive cabins in the park). Picnic tables and sheltered charcoal grills are located outside each cabin. Open April-November.
The park's four campgrounds are open from spring to late fall. Visitors can make reservations or take sites on a first-come, first-served basis at Mathews Arm, Big Meadows and Loft Mountain. Lewis Mountain Camp Grounds are exclusively first-come, first-served. Additional fees apply.
Forty percent of Shenandoah's acreage is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, a protected area that has no roads and few traces of civilization. Backcountry camping is allowed in most of the wilderness areas. Tip: Stay in the Hazel and Nicholson Wilderness Area (Miles 33.5-37.9), which has many remnants—old farmhouses, schoolhouses—from original settlements. A free permit is required for all backcountry camping.
Lodging Outside the Park
Northern Shenandoah There are countless locally owned inns and bed-and-breakfasts located near the park's northern entrance at Front Royal.
White Fence B&B (Traveler staff pick). This small bed-and-breakfast has four airy rooms with fireplaces and/or whirlpool tubs. Gourmet breakfast served each morning. 275 Chapel Road, Stanley, Va. 22851; +1 540 778 4680. From $150.
Inn at Narrow Passage (Traveler Stay-List pick). Rustic colonial-era 1740 log inn on five acres (two hectares) fronting the Shenandoah River. 12 rooms and old-fashioned appeal: lemonade on the front lawn, fly-fishing on the river. US Rt 11 South at Chapman Landing Rd., Woodstock, Va. 22664; +1 540 459 8000. From $135.
The park's Rockfish Gap and Swift Run Gap entrances are the closest to these quaint stays in the middle and southern ranges of the park.
Afton Mountain B&B. Just seven miles from Skyline Drive, this bed-and-breakfast has five guest rooms with private baths and wireless Internet. 10273 Rockfish Valley Highway, Afton, Va. 22920; +1 540 456 6844. From $95.
High Meadows Vineyard Inn (Traveler staff pick) This colorful inn was built in 1832 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stay in one of the seven rooms and enjoy fresh breakfast made with eggs from the inn's own hens. 55 High Meadows Lane, Scottsville, Va. 24590; +1 434 286 2218. From $150. blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/intelligenttravel/2009/04/charlottesville-charms.html
Pets are allowed in campgrounds and on most of the trails in the park, though all dogs must be on leash at all times. Dogs are not allowed on the following trails: Fox Hollow Nature Trail, Traces Trail, Stony Man Nature Trail, Limberlost Trail, Old Rag Ridge Trail, Ragged Run Trail, Old Rag Saddle Trail, Dark Hollow Falls Trail, Story of the Forest Nature Trail, Bearfence Mountain Trail, and Frazier Discovery Trail. Click here for more details about the park's pet policies.
The weather in the mountains is usually 10 degrees cooler than in the valley. On any hike, bring layers, bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water.