15 Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park
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Shenandoah National Park isn’t just beautiful; it’s pretty popular, with an average of over 1.2 million visitors every year.

You can find this place of brilliance in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

With over 500 miles of trails, it’s perfect for hikers, bikers, campers.  

The Skyline Drive is a scenic drive in Shenandoah National Park that runs one hundred miles or so, wrapping itself in the essence of what makes the Shenandoah Valley so unique.

The park has mountains, waterways, prairies, and beaches and hosts an extensive network of trails, many of them leading to the mighty Appalachian Trail.

You’ll find several different activities to try throughout the park, so you’ll definitely want to spend more than a day enjoying nature in Shenandoah National Park.

Read on to see these 15 best things to do in Shenandoah National Park that will make your trip even more memorable!

Hike to McAfee Knob

View from McAfee Knob
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You don’t have to travel far to get a view of a jaw-dropping splendor.

If you're traveling down Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway and you're looking to take a break from the car, this is an exciting trail that makes for a fun trip.

Located in the Roanoke, Virginia area, is the trail to McAfee Knob, offering an easy hike just past Skyline Drive’s Big Meadows area.

Robert Redford visited McAfee Knob when he was in town to film 'A Walk in the Woods,' a popular 2015 movie.

Once you're here, you can relax on a bench and enjoy views that will take your breath away.

McAfee Knob
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For just over one mile, you’ll follow a path that snakes through forestland with jaw-dropping scenery before reaching McAfee Knob's 360° views of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Blackrock Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain, and White Oak Canyon.

Before reaching McAfee Knob is Whiteoak Canyon Overlook, where you can soak up breathtaking views of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.

It'll take around 4 hours total, and it covers an impressive 8 miles.

So even if you aren't used to hiking, this trail will challenge your physical boundaries and mental resolve!

Trek Through Limberlost Trail

Let the Limberlost Trail challenge you on a moderate uphill trek with some spectacular views.

A hike through the old-fashioned 1.3-mile loop adventure is a peaceful escape from crowds and traffic.

Limberlost Trail
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It's near Skyline Drive and Old Rag Fire Road, but you have to pay to get into Shenandoah National Park to access this trail.

It features over 130 feet of elevation gain.

Deer in Limberlost Trail
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Here, you’ll experience a classically American pastime, one in which a ranger leads you along a marked route through some of the more pristine trails.

And who knows, you might even spot a few deer on your walk!

Jaunt Through Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail
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It's always a good idea to see how far you can go on foot, and hiking along at least part of America's oldest national park is a great way to spend time without draining your savings.

The Appalachian Trail, stretching from Maine to Georgia, is a whopping 2,100 miles long.

It passes through 14 states, including Shenandoah National Park's section, which predates the park itself.

Appalachian Trail
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The Appalachian Trail goes through Shenandoah for almost 100 miles, so if you want to make it an overnight trip, it's up to you.

Make sure to bring layers, bottles of water, sturdy shoes or boots, sunscreen, and bug spray/bug repellent.

And if you haven't already taken your dog hiking before, maybe now isn't a bad time.

After all that exercise, they're going to want some too!

Plus, there are plenty of campsites that will let your four-legged family member stay with you.

Accept the Old Rag Challenge

Rocks in Old Rag Mountain
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If you’re up for a bit of adventure, take on Old Rag Challenge.

Old Rag Mountain, Virginia's largest mountain of the Blue Ridge at more than 3,000 feet, is an amazing feat of nature.

Over centuries, the rain and snow have carved out several high valleys on the flanks of Old Rag.

This 16-mile out-and-back will get your heart pumping with five peaks, countless rocky scrambles, and breathtaking views of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

View of Old Rag Mountain
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This excursion usually requires about eight hours of your time to conquer it if you prefer doing it just within a day.

It's quite a bit of a challenge, but tackling Old Rag will give you an even greater sense of accomplishment.

You'll be going up the peak of Ridge Trail, passing through the Saddle Trail and then through Weakley Hollow Fire Road to go back to the trailhead.

Winter in Old Rag Mountain
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Whether you tackle it one day or spread it out over several weeks, there are several ways to make Old Rag Challenge easier—or more difficult.

For starters, skip road walking along Skyline Drive and instead break it into two days by camping at Hawksbill Gap or Loft Mountain Campground before tackling Old Rag Peak.

Trek to Mary's Rock Mountain

An easy day hike that's great for kids, Mary's Rock Mountain is a short drive from Shenandoah's Big Meadows area.

The mountain is a popular spot to take pictures of stunning vistas.

During certain times of the year, you'll have a chance to spot deer and turkey on your way.

Sunset from Mary's Rock Mountain
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You can enjoy a scenic trek up to the summit of Mary's Rock in Shenandoah National Park, with one of two recommended routes for reaching this area.

Just be prepared for moderate difficulty levels in this terrain, though horses and mountain bikes also use the Appalachian Trail.

Tunnel in Mary's Rock Mountain
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The park provides interpretive signage at notable viewpoints, inviting hikers to take a break from their hike with nature observation or just taking in the view.

This hike is perfect for families with small children, as it doesn't take too much effort or time.

Since it's close to Big Meadows, you can also make plans to visit one of Virginia's most beloved nature preserves afterward.

Conquer Shenandoah National Park's Highest Peak!

Hawksbill Mountain
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Next is a trek through Shenandoah National Park's highest peak: Hawksbill Mountain.

The hike to the summit can be a bit strenuous for some, but the views from the top are well worth the hard work!

Two trails lead to the summit, each coming in at a different difficulty level.

The Upper Hawksbill Trail is a bit longer but has a much easier climb, taking about 4 hours to complete.

View from Hawksbill Mountain
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The trail's end is a beautiful overlook linked to a smaller path leading to a stunning waterfall.

For a shorter, steeper climb, you can take the Lower Hawksbill Trail.

This trail is only a mile long but takes an hour or two longer, depending on your pace.

Just remember, the hike is worth the effort, and you'll be wondering why you waited so long to take on the trails yourself!

Dip Your Toes at Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls
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Shenandoah’s Big Meadows is a serene and peaceful place.

From the top of the Skyway down to this quiet offshoot, you will discover Dark Hollow Falls (named for its lack of sunlight).

It's a secluded spot with a really high density of trees and an even higher number of boulders and hidden creeks.

It’s not for men or women who are faint at heart, but if you like it rocky and almost theatrical, then this destination should be on your list to visit while in Shenandoah.

Dark Hollow Falls
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The hike to Dark Hollow Falls is one of many hikers' favorites.

The water cascade down 100 feet into Dark Hollow, creating pools that are perfect for dipping your toes.

Hike through tulip trees and birch stands, and keep an eye out for white-tailed deer and black bears.

Also, make sure you stay until after dark: The Milky Way is bright enough that you can see it from the earth.

Stop By at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center

Bench in Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
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Travelers visiting Shenandoah National Park are the entranceway to the many attractions this newly established national park offers.

If you are looking for a spot to relax after a long journey, maps, trails info, and helpful park information are only some of the many areas these tips were meant for!

The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center located in Virginia is exactly what you need to explore every inch of the state that includes these mountains.

Southern hospitality is cool, but visiting Shenandoah National Park can be like catching Southern lightning in a bottle.

View from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
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You'll leave knowing far more about the mountains and their rich history.

And you might even befriend a park ranger who can answer any question you have while pointing out some of the coolest view spots and hiking paths amid thousands of miles of the serene wilderness!

It's like Southern hospitality taken to another level—warm and friendly yet exacting all at once.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Journey Through Luray Caverns

While most caves require a hefty hike to access, you'll be able to see Luray Caverns from Skyline Drive.

In 1878, Luray Caverns unveiled itself and became a world-class landmark, known for its unique and magical appearance.

Luray Caverns
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Luray Caverns spans an astonishing 64 acres (26 hectares) and contains impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

Luray Caverns is a cavernous wonderland with subterranean splendor formed by eons of flowing underground rivers and rich, mineral-laden seeping streams.

Since then, this magnificent subterranean masterpiece has become one of the most popular tourist attractions near Shenandoah National Park.

Reflection of Luray Caverns in the underground river
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As you explore from one massive room to another, you can see towering stone pillars and various other natural elements formed here over thousands of years.

Many people explore the different areas in this enormous cave system every year, while some enjoy observing its beauty from specific locations.

Luray Caverns
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You can walk on its well-lit, paved walkways where you can observe the details of some of the more outstanding parts of Luray Caverns' history.

Luray Caverns is just about 14 miles away from Shenandoah National Park, and it'll only take you about 20 minutes to get here.

Make sure you bring a flashlight to get an up-close look at their stunning beauty.

Take a Dip at Rose River Falls

Rose River Falls
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With temperatures soaring to levels that can be downright blistering, there’s nothing like a dip in the cool water of a waterfall to cool off.

But not all waterfalls come with swimming holes attached.

That’s what makes it so great when you find one that does!

When you get to Rose River Falls, I'm sure it'll immediately become one of your favorite refreshingly cool Virginia Waterfalls, just like what other visitors felt!

It's also in Shenandoah National Park and plunges 67 feet into a clear pond that beckons for you to dive right in!

The stomach-flipping plunge you take after jumping off the rocks is just as thrilling as it is refreshing.

A trip to Rose River Falls is perfect for those who don't want to overdo exercise but enjoy going on scenic walks.

The time to get to Rose River Falls from Shenandoah National Park will take about at least 50 minutes via Skyline Drive, and during the 24-mile drive, you get to feast your eyes with stunning views.

Hike and Drive Through Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive during fall
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Considered one of America’s most beautiful drives, Skyline Drive winds its way along more than 500 miles of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Skyline Drive is a remarkable 105-mile road path that laces the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and allows one to travel along either north or south through it.

This drive takes about three hours to complete if the weather is good (and four if it isn't).

Along your journey, you can hop out to hike through some of northern Virginia’s most breathtaking natural landscapes.

Skyline Drive
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Each hike is unique, but all offer plenty of opportunities to take photos and enjoy nature up close.

Start with one or two hikes before exploring beyond that—it’s easy to get lost in Shenandoah's deep wilderness!

And if you prefer driving through it, you won't be disappointed either.

The 105-mile scenic drive in Shenandoah National Park takes about three hours to complete and is well worth the journey if you enjoy passive recreation and getting back to nature.

Skyline Drive
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There are wildflower displays in the park's open meadows during March and April, and many blueberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, and other fruits grow abundantly from June to September!

Before setting out, though, you should always go online to check the weather forecast so that you don't get caught unprepared along the way!

Watch the Sun Set at Humpback Rocks

Humpback Rocks
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Humpback Rocks offers one of the best sunset views in all of Virginia.

This summit hike is conveniently 7 miles just outside the doorstep of the Shenandoah National Park.

You can reach it via Blue Ridge Parkway in only about 12 minutes by car.

It’s free, and it also has some of the best views on either side of Skyline Drive.

From Humpback Rocks, you will see nearly two-thirds of Shenandoah Valley as well as Charlottesville, Staunton, and Blacksburg.

And on a clear day, you might spot Washington DC if you’re really far away.

Woman sitting on Humpback Rocks
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Hike up to Humpback Rocks and take a look at one of America’s natural wonders.

It won’t cost you a dime and is easy for almost anyone to do!

Bring a camera (maybe even your drone!) with you; you won’t regret it.

Explore Natural Bridge

One of Shenandoah’s most recognizable landmarks, Natural Bridge offers a unique hiking experience and stunning views over an ancient rock formation.

At 215 feet high and 90 feet wide, it may seem more like a doorway to another world than an actual arch.

And you're going to like the fact that it offers cool shade on hot days.

Made entirely of limestone, Natural Bridge also sometimes goes by its alias 'The Keyhole' because of its unique shape.

Natural Bridge
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If you're looking for a longer hike, you can take part in a two-mile roundtrip hike or add miles by continuing to other viewpoints, such as Cedar Run Overlook and Whiteoak Canyon Overlook.

The area also draws many cyclists because of its flat terrain and well-maintained trails.

If you plan to bike here, you will find plenty of parking, but be sure to park only in designated areas, as overcrowding causes damage to certain zones.

There’s even a need for volunteers during the peak season to help keep traffic moving.

You will find the natural bridge in the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, about 58 miles; it'll just take you about 53 minutes to get there.

Climb Steep Rocks at Bearfence Mountain Trailhead

Rocks in Bearfence Mountain Trailhead
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About 15 miles away from Shenandoah National Park, you’ll be taking a moderate hike that offers stunning views of Massanutten Mountain.

The 1.2-mile trek features more than 311-foot elevation gain and provides hikers with some challenging terrain.

Before reaching Bearfence Mountain’s summit, you'll pass through a series of rock outcroppings called bear fences built by early settlers to keep bears from raiding their livestock pens.

You may spot white-tailed deer on their way up, but be sure to watch for black bears as well.

Landscape of Bearfence Mountain Trailhead
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These animals occasionally pose a danger to humans and should never be approached.

Bearfence Mountain Trailhead won't be available during hunting season (in late summer and early fall), so you should check park signage before embarking on any backcountry trips at those times.

Trek Through Doyles River Falls

Lower Doyles River Falls
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The Doyles River Falls are just 26 miles outside of Shenandoah National Park if you take the route through Browns Gap Turnpike.

It's less than an hour away, so even if you have limited time, you can still enjoy the sights along the way.

On a three-mile hike from Timber Hollow Overlook to Doyles River Falls, you'll marvel at panoramic views of old-growth hardwoods and open meadows.

The falls themselves cascade down a 60-foot rock face into a small pool, surrounded by terraced rocks that were worn smooth by crashing water over millennia.

This is bound to deliver if you are looking for an actual true hike rather than walking trails.

You can really bring your adventurous side out here, with hanging bridges among waterfalls and the looming presence of wildlife along the route.

Doyles River Falls
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Be warned, though, because past trail hikers described the trail as being a bit grueling.

You might find it a challenge at first, but the trek offers some great rewards near the end for all of those strenuous efforts.

Plus, it has excellent photo opportunities!

The journey back to the car won't be a joke, though!

Final Thoughts

Shenandoah National Park is a haven for adventure!

The warm breeze caressing your cheeks as you stroll down trails and wide-open spaces surrounded by lush green trees and sappy dogwoods can be a highly invigorating experience.

It's the perfect place to get away from everything and explore Virginia's mountains.

So make Shenandoah your next getaway spot!

Check out these recommendations for your itinerary so as not to miss a thing.