Explore Better with Flo’s Favorites: Discovering Shenandoah National Park
In recent years, I promised I’d spend more time outdoors exploring our beautiful country. So naturally, national parks rank highest on my list of destinations. These natural wonders always awaken feelings of joy and awe.
My recent visit to Shenandoah National Park with Explore Better did not disappoint. What a gem! The park encompasses over 200,000 acres of protected land with hiking trails, waterfalls, stunning rock formations, the Appalachian Trail, and Skyline Drive, the main road winding through the total length of the park.
Where is Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah National Park is in Virginia, about 75 miles outside Washington, DC. Our one-hour and 20-minute flight from Chicago was direct to Washington Dulles airport. The Royal North entrance to Skyline drive is about an hour from the airport.
Before hitting the Royal North park entrance, stop by The Apple House for a bite. The apple cider donuts and their BBQ pulled pork are delicious. They also have a fun gift shop to browse.
Driving Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is the only public road that runs through Shenandoah National Park. The route extends 105 miles through the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains resulting in spectacular views during your drive. The calming and pleasant ride through lush green trees lining the roadside was the perfect introduction to Shenandoah National Park. The serenity melted away any stress from our day’s travels. We marveled at the scenery around the bending road. Even better than the views from the car are the overlooks. There are over 75 overlooks along Skyline Drive, so stop at them, get out of your vehicle, and savor the rich, colorful panoramic scenery.
Where to stay in Shenandoah National Park
We stayed at Skyland Resort within Shenandoah National Park. The resort sits at the park’s highest elevation and offers remarkable cotton candy sunsets over the ridge, on-site dining, entertainment, activities, and more. There’s even some wildlife; a wild turkey walking the grounds greeted us daily. Our suite was rustic and comfortable and included a spacious balcony overlooking the woods. It was the perfect spot to start the day or relax after outings.
Another option for accommodations on Skyline Drive is Big Meadows Lodge. It has similar amenities, including picturesque overlooks of Shenandoah, and sits next to a large grassy meadow. An excellent spot for stargazing under the nighttime sky.
Activities in and Around Shenandoah National Park
With over 500 trails in Shenandoah National Park, there’s abundant opportunity for outdoor activities. The trails range in difficulty levels but have plenty of accessible routes. The National Park Service has categorized the hikes on its website for easy reference. You can easily choose hikes based on distance or interests, such as waterfalls and bird-watching. We hiked the Stony Man trail, a relatively easy 1.25-mile trek that led to a breathtaking overlook view of the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten Mountain. Birds were flying close overhead. It was a phenomenal site!
If you’d told me a few years back that I’d be rock climbing on the side of a cliff, I would’ve said you were crazy. Yet, I did just that. Andy of Shenandoah Mountain Guides led our excursion. Did I mention that I used to be afraid of heights? I had no idea what to expect during this experience and enjoyed absorbing everything. As we hiked up through the woods, Andy pointed out and expounded on the plants we came across. He truly enhanced our outing with his nuggets of knowledge. I was a bit nervous once I reached the top and took in the elevation. That all melted away as Andy thoroughly explained how our equipment worked and safety precautions. As a result, I trusted the process and focused on the climb. The experience was thrilling, and the views were unforgettable! Rock climbing is an activity for all levels, and Shenandoah National Park is an ideal location. WOW!
We spent our first evening at Skyland Resort under the night sky with NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador Greg Redfern as he discussed outer space. He pointed out planets, galaxies, constellations, and numerous stars, sharing their names and interesting facts regarding their purpose. We saw countless stars that night!
Horseback riding and pony rides are available at Skyland Stables. Our wranglers led us on a lovely trot through the woods of the Limberlost trail. The wranglers were friendly and engaging and told the best stories. In addition, they perfectly matched me with Tonto, the sweetest and gentlest horse. I was in heaven!
We spent a magical afternoon at Luray Caverns. The caves were a 30-minute drive from Skyland resort and a must-see! I’d never seen such spectacular formations! I had a hard time moving from the Dream Lake area because it was remarkable, and at first, my eyes did not realize that part of what I saw was a reflection of the ceiling formations. It was wild! In addition, while in Saracen’s Tent, I had difficulty believing that the delicately thin shapes of flowstone suspended overhead weren’t drapery. It was mind-blowing! There are 19 areas to explore; a unique experience.
There are many more recreational activities in and around Shenandoah National Park. I have a list of other things to dive into when I return, and I can’t wait! Hope you have the opportunity to experience this fantastic destination for yourself!