Shenandoah National Park has a reputation of being a driver’s park, with 75 scenic pullouts along its 105-mile Skyline Drive. But there’s a lot more to the park than taking photos of the Blue Ridge scenery—including some rugged hikes.
If you know what hikes or activities you want to do on a visit, write down the mile markers for each ahead of time—it’s easy to pass your destination while driving. Larger RVs will have no problem parking in the overlook lots, but some of the smaller trailheads could be a tight fit.
The Hawksbill Summit is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and for good reason: Hikers reaching the top earn spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. But getting there does require either a 2.1-mile (one way) hike with a fairly gradual 400-foot ascent or a shorter, 1.5-mile trek with a more pronounced 700-foot rise. Loose granite covers much of the trail, and I recommend using a hiking pole or stick for extra stability.
The rangers at the Big Meadow Visitor Center advised me against doing the out-and-back Dark Hollow Falls hike and pointed me to the Rose River Falls loop and adding on Dark Hollow instead. The 4-mile hike was full of waterfalls and was one of the highlights of the park. If you’re a photographer and have the time, spend an entire day on this trail.
Stargazing is another popular activity in the park and with the right conditions you can see the Milky Way.
To capture stargazing images, use a camera capable of shutter speeds that are at least 20 seconds long, with a f2.8 or larger aperture lens.
The rolling terrain and 35 mph speed limit of Skyline Drive makes Shenandoah an ideal spot for road bicycling, especially if you time your visit for a less-trafficked midweek day. Biking the entire 105 miles in a day is doable if you’re a strong rider, but you can also break the route into 3 days for a slower pace.
Getting There by RV
To drive the entire length of the park, enter from the north at the Front Royal entrance off Route 340 (near I-81 and I-66) or the south Rockfish Gap entrance near I-64. If you’re short on time, head to the northern end for hiking and other activities. To fully experience the park, devote at least 3 days to your visit.
Where to Stay
I started my trip by entering at the north entrance, and spent my first night at Mathews Arm Campground. The sites are primitive and mostly first come, first served—you can reserve a spot on Recreation.gov. I could only get a cell phone signal with my booster in the upper part of the A loop, but pick a site in the lower A loop if you’re looking for more privacy as it has a bit more separation and tree cover.
Located nearly in the middle of the park, Big Meadows is arguably Shenandoah’s most popular campground, and it fills up fast. Like Mathews Arm, Big Meadows has no electric hookups, but some sections of the campground allow generator use for limited periods.