Why You Need To Explore Shenandoah National Park

Take in all the glory of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

By: Jess Fischer

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Shenandoah National Park may have always been on your bucket list or maybe you’re from the Western US and you’re not even sure how to pronounce the name. Either way, there is a reason over a million people visit every year: it’s unbelievably beautiful. If you still need convincing, check out these 10 reasons why you should pack your bags and head to the Blue Ridge Mountains ASAP.

1. The Sunsets and Sunrises

Between all of the outlooks along Skyline Drive and the many mountain top vistas, there is no shortage of spots to watch the sunrise or sunset in Shenandoah National Park. A park map can help you locate any lookout you might want to check out along Skyline Drive and, since the road runs north to south, almost every vista looks out to the sunrise in the east or the sunset in the west. If you’re more interested in a mountaintop view, you can take one of a handful of hiking trails up to the viewpoints. Some hikes are only a mile or so long so you won't have to trek too far in the dark to enjoy the view and it'll be the best place to start or end your day. Don’t worry about missing out if you’re visiting in the winter either; just bring a hot thermos, bundle up, and you can watch the sky turn into a fiery canvas without ever leaving the warmth of your car. My favorite sunrise spot is Moorman's River Overlook and favorite sunset spot is The Point Overlook.

Backpack Rocky Mount Trail in Shenandoah National Park | Photo: Christin Healey

2. Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trails

With over 500 miles of trails that lead to countless outlooks, mountain tops, waterfalls and swimming holes, the options truly are endless when it comes to hiking in Shenandoah. The paths throughout the park are well kept, distinct, and most importantly, beautiful. The park is host to an astounding variety of hiking experiences: you can travel through tunnels of mountain laurel or pad across soft pine needles, kick it up a notch with some rock scrambling or hop rocks to cross a river. Whether you're feeling an easy stroll while still getting to enjoy some views or if you're craving an intense, but scenic 7+ mile hike, there's something at SNP for everybody.

3. Skyline Drive

Beautiful views accessible by roads that wind along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains? Yes, please. The 109-mile long Skyline Drive runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park and boasts some amazing scenery to enjoy as you make your way to your trailhead or campground. The fee to get on the road is nominal but it's still smart to invest in a yearly pass if you plan on frequenting the park. The best part of the drive? Every few miles or so, there are lookout points where you can stop, take pictures, and enjoy the expansive view. It's like taking a tour of the heart of Virginia- from 2,000 feet above the valley.

4. Water Therapy

If you love water, this park is the place for you. Rivers, creeks, waterfalls, swimming holes – you name it, Shenandoah’s got it. In the fall, go for a hike alongside roaring mountain river or pack a swimsuit and cool down in a mountain water swimming hole in the summer. And, off of some of the quieter trails, you can even find fly fishers trying their luck catching one of the many species of trout that reside in the park. My favorite waterfall filled hikes are White Oak Canyon or Doyles River.

Hike White Oak Canyon | Photo: Christin Healey

5. 100 Miles of the Appalachian Trail

An impressive 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park. Follow the white blazes to trace the trail through the entire park. There are many backcountry campsites throughout Shenandoah where hikers will rest their feet after a long day. This section of the Appalachian Trail is great for those looking to try out backpacking for the first time. The hiking is challenging but the views are rewarding and the park has multiple parking locations that make it easy to access many different points of the trail.

6. It's Dog Friendly

Whether you're just letting your best slobbery pal stick their head out of the window during a leisurely drive through the park or you’re going for a hike because your dog craves adventure more than you do, Shenandoah lets your furry friends enjoy themselves just as much as you.

Hike Moormon’s River | Photo: Christin Healey

7. Fly Fishing

If you enjoy fly-fishing, Shenandoah National Park is the perfect place for a challenge. Take advantage of the smaller-than-normal headwaters and the more than 70 mountain rivers to test your skills as a fisherman. You'll find lively and beautiful brook, rainbow and brown trout throughout the various waterways in the park and If you're lucky you might even spot a lazy black bear wandering along the edge of the stream. Be sure to review the current guidelines and regulations in the park that are in place to protect the diverse trout populations that call Shenandoah home.

8. There's Something to Do in Every Season

Whether you want to cool off in a swimming hole during the summer or trek through the snow to watch the sunrise in the winter, Shenandoah is flexible enough to enjoy in any season. The park does a great job clearing roads after inclement weather and you can stay updated by using their 24/7 phone line. Even when the park isn't accessible via Skyline Drive, there are still trailheads that will provide access to much of the park. In the winter, I suggest hiking to a frozen, snow covered waterfall. During the summer, instead of going to see waterfalls, consider hiking up to a cool breezy mountain top to enjoy the view in a patch of shade.

9. You'll Be Sure to Have a Great Adventure

At Shenandoah National Park, there truly is something for everyone. Relax, take a drive, and enjoy the amazing views or push yourself and hit one of the many trails for a hike. Go camping with friends and get familiar with the local wildlife or take some time to yourself and go for a quiet trail run. Climb to the mountaintops or wade through the rivers. No matter what you choose to do, you can be sure that, at Shenandoah, there’s an adventure to be had.

72 Hours In Charlottesville | Photo: Christin Healey

10. You’re only 40 minutes from Charlottesville

After exploring Shenandoah, you’ll be ready for a drink, some tasty food, and good company. Lucky for you, Charlottesville is in striking distance and has all of that and more.

Cover photo: Sarah Giek

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.