There’s no shortage of things to do in Shenandoah National Park’s 195,000+ acres of wilderness – but the hardest part is figuring out what to incorporate into your plans.
In fact, there are over 500 miles of trails in the park – and avid hikers who live in the area still struggle with seeing all the park has to offer. You can spend weeks – if not months – walking the trails, looking for wildlife, and taking in the wide sweeping views.
If you’re looking for the absolute best things to do in the park, then look no further. Keep reading for our ultimate guide to the 30 best things you definitely don’t want to miss when visiting the park.
Table of Contents
- 1. Skyline Drive
- 2. Picnic
- 3. Visitor Centers
- 4. Rapidan Camp
- 5. Wildlife Watching
- 6. Dark Hollow Falls
- 7. Backcountry Camping
- 8. Big Meadows Lodge
- 9. Appalachian Trail
- 10. Bearfence Mountain
- 11. Blackrock Summit
- 12. Browns Gap
- 13. Cedar Run
- 14. Chimney Rock
- 15. Compton Peak
- 16. Hawksbill Loop
- 17. Knob Mountain
- 18. Little Devils Stairs
- 19. Lower Whiteoak Falls
- 20. Mary’s Rock
- 21. Old Rag Summit
- 22. Rose River Falls
- 23. Snead Farm Loop
- 24. Stony Man
- 25. Sugarloaf
- 26. Turk Mountain
- 27. Upper White Oak Falls
- 28. Limberlost
- 29. Miller’s Head
- 30. Fox Hollow Trail
1. Skyline Drive
One of the most popular things to do in Shenandoah National Park doesn’t even require leaving your vehicle! This main road through the park loops and curves around the mountainside for 105 miles start to finish, totaling out at about 3 hours of driving.
You’ll probably find yourself hopping out at almost every pull-off for photo ops and to take in the breathtaking views. You’ll come across nearly 70 overlooks along your journey.
Skyline Drive uses mile markers to decipher between spots, so keep an eye out if there’s a specific view you don’t want to miss.
The speed limit is 35 MPH, but many will even go slower speeds to take in the wonderful views and be extra cautious for the wildlife that commonly crosses the road. Roll down your windows, and get ready for a leisurely relaxing drive!
Like the many overlooks scattered through the national park, there are a many different picnic areas to choose from – many of which have their own unique views.
There are 7 picnic areas spread out across Skyline Drive, and each one offers restrooms, picnic tables, and grills for cooking. Many also have access to lesser known trails that are perfect for walking off lunch and taking in the wonderful scenery.
Please remember to store food properly and leave no trace when moving from one location to another so that wildlife like bears don’t become dependent on scavenging human scraps.
3. Visitor Centers
There are 2 visitor centers within the park that are both equally great to check out, depending on which part of the park you are in at the time.
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center can be found at the northern edge of the park near the entrance, and is a great place to start your journey. You’ll also learn more about the park’s history and diverse wildlife through exhibits and park rangers – while also having access to restrooms, park maps, and a bookstore.
The Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is located in the heart of the park, just a stone’s throw away from Big Meadows – and is a wonderful place to get some information before heading off to one of the trails that start on its grounds.
4. Rapidan Camp
Once a summer retreat for President Herbert Hoover, Shenandoah National Park Service has since turned Rapidan Camp into a protected historical landmark that visitors can enjoy to this day.
After painstaking restoration, the camp has been transformed back to its 1929 splendor and gives an idea of what life was like during the time and insight into the ways of the President.
Although the camp was originally made up of 13 cabins, only 3 still stand and each one can be explored with the company of one of the park staff.
Keep in mind that in order to reach this iconic camp, you’ll need to trek 2 miles down the Mill Prong Trail. You can return to Skyline Drive using the same route or opt for the more strenuous Laurel Prong Trail which will increase your mileage to 7.3.
5. Wildlife Watching
Regardless of how much time you have available to spend in the park, you’re guaranteed to spot some of the overflowing amounts of wildlife that call this area home.
One of the most common sightings is the white-tailed deer, which are usually found along the side of the road in groups of 3 or more (so always drive with caution!).
Another surprising encounter that occurs more often than not is that of the black bear, which is usually spotted on low traffic trails and near picnic areas where food can be found.
With over 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 50 species of reptiles, and 30 species of fish, there is something to see for all kinds of wildlife watchers.
6. Dark Hollow Falls
Considering the fact that Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the park, it is no surprise that it sees its fair share of foot traffic – but don’t let the thought of crowds deter you from visiting this wonder. It’s normally quite empty in the early morning and late evening.
The trail leading to the falls is only 1.4 miles (roundtrip!), but it moderate experience is needed due to its steep inclines and slippery conditions. It’s extremely important to stay on the trail at all times, because certain areas are dangerous to cross.
Once you get to the falls, you’ll be in awe of the gushing water cascading down 3 shelves of rock and the immense greenery that engulfs it.
7. Backcountry Camping
With over 196,000 acres of parkland and nearly 500 miles of trails, the options for backcountry camping are endless – and provide the perfect way to be fully immersed in nature.
Prior to setting out on your backcountry adventure, you’ll need to acquire a backcountry camping permit and familiarize yourself with the regulations.
It’s also important to note that there are certain sections of the park that strictly prohibit backcountry camping, like Hawksbill Mountain and Whiteoak Canyon, so you may want to speak with a ranger before heading out.
For the best chance at enjoying solitude in the wild, avoid camping along the popular Appalachian Trail during the summer months. Feel free to check out the national park service website for some recommendations.
8. Big Meadows Lodge
Located right off of a giant meadow, Big Meadows Lodge is impossible to miss and is a great place to stop even if you have no intention of spending the night.
If you are looking for a place to rest your head, you can’t beat the accommodations at the lodge – which vary from lodge rooms to small cabin rentals with pet friendly options and a nearby campground.
The lodge is also one of the best options to grab a bite to eat along your travels, thanks to Spottswood Dining Room’s extensive dining menu and food offered from breakfast to dinner.
Stop at the New Market Taproom for a pizza and a few drinks before making your way to the Terrace for breathtaking views overlooking the mountains.
9. Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is famously known for being the challenge of the century for hikers who take on its 2,181-mile trek. The trail passes through 14 states between Maine and Georgia, and it just so happens that 101 miles of its journey travel through Shenandoah National Park.
Much of the trail follows Skyline Drive and shares the same wonderful views and vistas that can be found along the way.
Hop on the trail from any of the trailheads at the various overlooks along Skyline Drive, and make your trek as short or long as you’d like before doubling back!
10. Bearfence Mountain
For one of the most mesmerizing views in all of Shenandoah National Park, a visit to Bearfence Mountain is a must. The trailhead can be found with ease right off of Skyline Drive, and your climb starts almost immediately with 380 feet of elevation gain in a little more than half of a mile.
Surprisingly, the trail sees very little foot traffic and is quite often free of other hikers. You’ll need to scramble carefully up and between a series of rock formations in order to reach the summit, which makes many hikers nervous – but the views at the top are more than worth the journey.
The best time to visit is during sunrise or sunset when you watch the vibrant colors transform the sky over the Blue Ridge Mountains in every direction.
11. Blackrock Summit
The hike to Blackrock Summit is almost too easy for the amazing views it provides and is a hotspot for watching the sunrise or set.
Although you’ll almost never have the trail to yourself, it’s more than worth a visit; its spectacular summit view is only .5 mile off the main road of Skyline Drive.
The elevation gain is a measly 175-feet, so the trail is suitable for just about every skill level. There’s also a second route for hikers who are looking to add on an extra 0.6-mile round trip.
When you reach the summit, you’ll be instantly rewarded by sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the picturesque rocks that surround you.
12. Browns Gap
If you’re looking for a hike that’ll get your blood flowing and provide views of three sets of falls, look no further than the Browns Gap Trail.
The trail is a whopping 6.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet, so it’s sure to pack a punch. The good news, is there are plenty of places to cool off.
The Upper Doyles River Falls is the first set of falls you’ll come across. It’s the smallest of the bunch, but still a beautiful sight to be seen.
Second, you’ll find is the Lower Doyles River Falls which is the largest of the three, standing tall at 63 feet. The lower falls leads into the Doyles River, which you’ll continue to hike alongside.
Last but not least, you’ll reach the Jones Runs Falls, which is considered to be the most beautiful for the green folliage that surrounds it and the way it cascades along the rocks.
13. Cedar Run
Located in the heart of Shenandoah National Park, Cedar Run is a popular waterfall hike with 2 routes to choose from.
- Start at the top of the mountain right off of Skyline Drive and work your way down.
- Start at the bottom from Weakley Hollow Road and work your way up.
The trek down is more popular because of its convenient location, but the Weakley Hollow trailhead is less steep, more secluded, and slightly shorter.
Whichever way you go, you’ll end up at the top of a beautiful waterfall that drops into a large swimming hole. If you’re interested in going for a swim, make your way down the far side of the falls, and enjoy!
14. Chimney Rock
Known for its spectacular views and unique rock formations, Chimney Rock is one of the shorter hikes in the park (although sees a lot of foot traffic, as a result).
This out-and-back style trail totals out at 3.6 miles long with an elevation gain of 860 feet, so prepare to dedicate at least 2 hours for the adventure.
You’ll be surrounded by a field of small rocks almost immediately as you walk the clearly marked trail and make your way to the Calvary Rocks, the trail’s first attraction.
After you’ve spent some time admiring these mysteriously large rocks, continue on to see the flat tops of the Chimney Rocks – which are absolutely perfect for taking in 360 degree views.
15. Compton Peak
When it comes to variety, the Compton Peak Trail has you covered with its breathtaking vistas, cool rock formations, and dense greenery. The trail is 2.4 miles long with an elevation gain of 835 feet.
You’ll enjoy a scenic and leisurely walk through the forest before reaching the intersection that divides the trail into two equally beautiful parts. Its unique T shape allows for hikers to enjoy 2 very different viewpoints.
To the right, you’ll find Compton Peak with its sweeping views, while to the left is a set of greenstone columns that were formed by past volcanic activity.
Both branches are relatively short – so you can easily hike over to both sides to enjoy all that this trail has to offer.
16. Hawksbill Loop
Hawksbill Loop is easily one of the most traveled trails in Shenandoah National Park. The parking lots fill up rather quickly, so make sure to plan your visit in the early morning to score a spot.
Like many trails in the park, there’s more than one way to tackle the summit – but just keep in mind that although the out-and-back option is a mile shorter, it’s actually much steeper.
Regardless of which path you choose, the starting point remains the same – and it’s a steady uphill trek without the use of switchbacks, so be prepared to work up a sweat.
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be blown away by the views from every direction and can even enjoy a picnic in a historic lean-to before heading back down one of the two paths.
17. Knob Mountain
This 12-mile trek isn’t for the faint of heart – but those up for the challenge won’t be disappointed by the non-stop views along the way.
Due to its strenuous and lengthy nature, you’ll see very little foot traffic on the trail. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll walk its entirety without seeing another person.
However, you’ll never really be alone; the trail is known for its frequent wildlife sightings (black bears especially, as they tend to stay clear of busier areas).
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be standing at the top of one of the iconic Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 2,671 feet and with views in every direction.
18. Little Devils Stairs
As its name suggests, Little Devils Stairs starts off with a rather strenuous incline that lasts for a good portion of the 6-mile hike. In fact, you’ll be gaining nearly 1,500 feet in elevation.
You’ll spend the first 2 miles of the trail climbing to the top of a ravine, with sections that require a bit of scrambling, before it begins to level out.
Along your journey, you’ll encounter many creek crossings and small, flowing waterfalls that really come to life during the spring season.
As you break away from the beautiful Keyser Run, you’ll approach the end of the trail. Enjoy a picnic by the 15-foot waterfall before reaching the summit and making your descent.
19. Lower Whiteoak Falls
Although considered to be one of the easier waterfall hikes in the park, the road leading to the Lower Whiteoak Falls trailhead is often closed due to weather conditions that can quickly turn it into a nearly 10-mile trek.
Make sure to do your homework beforehand, and if the road is open, get there bright and early to score a spot in the parking lot before it hits max capacity.
The hike is about a 3-mile long round-trip from the parking lot, and doesn’t run into any steep inclines or rock scrambling like many other trails in the park.
You will, however, have your fair share of creek crossings, bridges, and views of the river along your journey before reaching the popular Lower Whiteoak Falls and its large swimming hole.
20. Mary’s Rock
Just a stone’s throw away from the Thornton Gap park entrance, you’ll find one of 4 trailheads leading up to the Mary’s Rock viewpoint.
The shortest of the four options can be found at the Meadow Spring parking area, with a round-trip trail length of 2.8 miles.
You’ll see a majority of your 1,000 ft. elevation gain within the first half mile, and the historic homestead along the way is the heads up that things are about to level out.
The remainder of your hike will be relatively flat, with wonderful viewpoints to stop and admire along the way before reaching the grand finale that is Mary’s Rock Summit.
21. Old Rag Summit
Prepare to spend the entire day trekking and scrambling along this strenuous 9-mile round trip hike to Old Rag Summit.
This hike should only be attempted by experienced hikers in great physical shape, as it can be pretty dangerous and is known for many rescue missions that are carried out each year, mainly due to poor planning and exhaustion.
The first 2 miles are a steady incline through the woods – but everything after, requires some pretty intense rock scrambling.
Navigate your way through, up, and around giant boulders for about 1.5 miles before coming to a clearing – where you’ll hop across more boulders for an additional mile.
Once you reach the top, all your hard work will be instantly rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the national park and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
22. Rose River Falls
The trailhead to Rose River Falls starts in the same location as the popular short hike to Dark Hollow Falls, so this area can get pretty congested. For the best experience, arrive early and head straight to Rose River Falls.
The 4-mile hike sees an elevation gain of a little over 850 feet, so you’ll break a sweat – but for the most part, the trail is pretty leisurely.
You’ll follow the creek for most of your journey, and once you cross it, you’ll be faced with stunning cascading falls that stand 67 feet tall.
23. Snead Farm Loop
Located right at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in the northern edge of the park, the Snead Farm Loop provides an easy hike for all skill levels.
You’ll have no trouble finding parking in its spacious lot. You’ll start your hike by walking through a picnic area – so feel free to enjoy a scenic lunch before continuing on.
The trail is 3.4 miles long with a gradual elevation gain of 541 feet, and runs alongside the Dickey Ridge Trail (so make sure to follow the Snead Farm markers).
Once you get about a mile into the hike, you’ll start to see remnants of the historic Snead Farm, including its giant white barn and root cellar.
24. Stony Man
Located right outside the entrance to the Skyland Resort, Stony Man is an extremely popular hike that is usually jam-packed regardless of the time.
However, the crowds seem insignificant when you consider the breathtaking views that await you at this 4,011-foot high summit.
Stony Man Mountain is the second tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park – but the trail itself only sees an elevation of 400 feet!
The trail is a little under 2 miles, round trip – and the spectacular vista is hard to beat, especially for the little effort you have to put in to reach it.
If you’re looking for something more strenuous, there’s another trailhead that leads to the summit totaling out at 3 miles, with a bit more of an elevation gain.
If you’re looking to enjoy all the scenic features Shenandoah National Park has to offer, look no further than the 5.5 mile Sugarloaf Loop Trail. You’ll also have the option to add on an additional mile if you’re up for a bit of rock scrambling to reach the summit of Hogback Mountain.
Otherwise, the trail is pretty easy – with very little elevation gain, and wonderful views of what lies within the dense forests of the park.
Admire the variety of flowers, plants, and unique geological features – and if you’re lucky, you may even spot some of the park’s wildlife species.
26. Turk Mountain
Hidden in the shadows of mountain hikes like Hawksbill and Stonyman, the Turk Mountain trail offers similar views with little to no foot traffic.
Located in the southern part of the park, the trail is very secluded and is great for hikers who prefer to take on a trail in solitude. The hike is short, and relatively easy – so you can enjoy the peaceful views all to yourself without much work.
Keep in mind that there are 2 trails leading to Turk Mountain – so unless you’re up for a 10-mile challenge, make sure you start at the Turk Gap Parking Area.
27. Upper White Oak Falls
Known as the much more challenging sibling of Lower White Oak Falls, Upper White Oak Falls packs a punch – but many feel that the views are even better if you’re up for it.
The trail is a total of 4.6 miles long (roundtrip) with the option of adding another 1.35 miles if you’d like to check out the Lower White Oak Falls while you’re at it.
You’ll have very little trouble on the way to the falls, as you’ll follow a steep, downhill slope – but the trek back up will definitely leave you winded.
Once you arrive, make your way over to one of the ledges for the best views overlooking the beautiful falls as it cascades down 86 feet.
The easiest and most accessible trail in the park by far, Limberlost is great for all skill levels and offers some stellar bird-watching opportunities.
The trail is 1.3 miles long and is completely made up of boardwalks – so it’s actually wheelchair accessible. There are also many benches peppered along the trail for trekkers to rest their legs.
The elevation gain is 114 feet, but it’s so gradual that you’ll hardly notice it – especially because you’ll be busy taking in the views of the wildflowers and looking out for wildlife.
The Limberlost trail crosses a variety of other trails along the journey, making it a great addition to other hikes or a great starting point for new adventures.
29. Miller’s Head
This hidden gem provides sweeping views without any of the crowds. Its trailhead is conveniently located within the Skyland Resort grounds. The trail starts at the Skyland Amphitheater, but it can be easily missed, as there are no trail markers guiding you here.
Ask a nearby park ranger for directions, but know that it follows the “authorized vehicles only” sign at the amphitheater pull off.
The hike is an easy 1.5 mile roundtrip, and is almost always empty – so you can enjoy the 2 breathtaking viewpoints all to yourself.
30. Fox Hollow Trail
Dive into the history of the people that once called this area home before they were forced to leave when the national park was established in the 1930s.
Take a stroll down Fox Hollow Trail, which starts right across from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (so you can ease your mind knowing that there’ll be an abundance of parking and bathrooms available).
The loop is an easy 1.2 miles, and takes you through an abandoned farm where you’ll see the remnants of what life was like before the state deemed the area park land.
You’ll also come across the ancient Fox family cemetery along the way, with its most recent headstone being from 1916.