Aside from having its own song, its own chapter in history textbooks, and its own culture and folklore, Shenandoah National Park is easily one of the most recognizable and well-known national parks in the U.S.
There are many reasons why so many people adore visiting Shenandoah, whether it be for its beautiful fall colors, its accessibility, and the vast range of activities that are available there. Whatever your reason is for planning a trip to Shenandoah, history proves that you won’t be disappointed.
Shenandoah National Park spans nearly 500,000 acres across the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. Shenandoah’s location is a large part of what makes it so accessible to visitors. Anyone living on the east coast can arrive in Virginia within a day or two drive while visitors from the Midwest or the West Coast have the fun opportunity to make a road trip out of it!
Shenandoah’s history spans all the way back past its founding year, 1935. In the early 1700s, Native Americans settled in Shenandoah for its vast amount of resources like game, farmland, and plentiful water sources. Visitors can see some of these first settlers’ villages outside of the park.
After the 1750s, English settlers cohabitated with the Indians and began using the land for more than just primal resources like the introduction of livestock and orchards. They also took a huge interest in the mountains for their lumber, copper, and iron industries, and these were the first known settlers of the “mountain people” of Virginia, which have been sources of inspiration for all kinds of literature, music, and folklore. In fact, one can even argue that without these mountain people, the folk and bluegrass music genres probably wouldn’t exist today.
When this land was set to become a national park in the 1930s, many residents had to move out of their mountain homes and cottages. This is when the Civilian Conservation Corps came in and started building railroads, trails, and facilities for visitors to start visiting the park. Every year, an estimated 1 million people visit Shenandoah National Park.
What Is Shenandoah National Park Known For?
Shenandoah National Park is known for its beauty, history, and celebration of early American history. Shenandoah attracts a wide range of visitors, which makes it quirky in a sense; it has a certain level of popularity among avid photographers, and it also is a haven for adventure junkies. You can’t find this kind of versatility anywhere else.
In recent years, Shenandoah has gained massive popularity for its fall colors; between September and December, the forests of Shenandoah light up with the most vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows.
What Can You Do At Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah National Park is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for chill activities. Probably one of the most popular activities people travel to central Virginia for is driving Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive.
Skyline Drive is the only main road that runs through the entirety of Shenandoah. Visitors can either drive, bike, or walk on portions of the highway. It’s not the kind of road you’ll want to speed on either; it’s extremely curvy and has over 70 overlooks stationed along the way. In other words, be prepared to stop often and take in the views.
Many cyclists like the challenge of riding their bikes on Skyline’s zig-zag pattern; this activity can be dangerous depending on season, so be sure that you’re experienced or with a seasoned cyclist if you choose this route.
Other options include hiking their trail system of over 500 miles, fishing in the many watersheds, and rock climbing.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
While Shenandoah National Park is beautiful at any time of the year, its true colors are most vibrant in autumn. Shenandoah attracts a significantly higher number of visitors during the fall because of the beautiful fall colors showcased in the millions of trees outlining Skyline Drive.
Keep in mind that Skyline Drive closes during the winter for icy conditions. You can still camp and hike during these months, but any winter drives will have to happen outside of the park gates.
How Many Days Do You Need in Shenandoah National Park?
The proper length of your visit completely depends on what you plan on doing there. If you’re planning on simply driving, cycling, or fishing, you can have a very nice time in just one day. However, if you have your sights set on hiking and camping in the backcountry sections of the park, consider a 1-2 week trip to get the entire Shenandoah experience. Make sure you’re aware of Shenandoah’s backcountry camping rules and regulations beforehand.
Tips For Visiting Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park has an incredibly high volume of wildlife, so be prepared for any impromptu photo ops or, if you encounter some of the larger animals that call the park home, a backup plan.
Invest in products like bear resistant food canisters and bear spray, and prepare for worst case scenarios with first aid kits. Of course, these are just precautions and all emergencies can be avoided if you keep your distance. The Park Service emphasizes that distance is key when it comes to viewing any wildlife; stay far away from them and don’t approach any animals that could cause you harm like bears and snakes. Shenandoah also has a high volume of ticks and poison ivy, so prepare for that as well.
You should also be careful of wildlife if you’re driving on Skyline Drive; many accidents have occurred because of animals standing in the middle of the road, so just be aware, and let your friend in the passenger seat take the pictures.
Plan Your Visit
Shenandoah National Park does have entrance fees, however, the passes you’ll receive will be valid for seven days after purchase, so you can come and go as you please. These are Shenandoah’s fees:
- Single vehicle: $30
- Single motorcycle: $25
- Individual person: $15
- Annual pass: $50*
Many of Shenandoah’s visitors choose to camp inside the park; if this is your plan, be prepared to pay a camping fee on top of your entrance fee. If camping isn’t your style, Shenandoah has four lodges throughout the park where visitors can rent rooms. There are also several campgrounds for RVs, vans, and travel trailers.
Parking your car overnight on Skyline Drive is prohibited. You may, however, park at the visitors center before starting your hike. You can also pay the camping fee, set up camp at a campsite, and leave your car there if you’re planning on camping in the backcountry, where there are no roads.
*(Every visitor to Shenandoah has the option to purchase an annual Shenandoah-specific pass or a National Parks Service pass that grants them admission to any U.S. National Park.)
Why Is Shenandoah National Park Worth Visiting?
Shenandoah National Park is worth visiting because of its unique backcountry camping experience in such an accessible location. Not many parks have the flexibility that Shenandoah has; you can do both chill and strenuous activities, it’s your pick!
Whether you just want to drive and look at all the pretty fall colors or plan a full backcountry hike, Shenandoah has a versatile experience waiting for you.