Introduction

Founded in 1935, Shenandoah National Park protects a section of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. The park has a long and narrow shape, being spread out across the ridge of those mountains. It covers 311 square miles (805 square kilometers) of mountains, forests and meadows, a variety of landscapes that are home to huge numbers of fauna and flora.

Shenandoah National Park’s various habitats support more than 100 species of trees, 1,400 different vascular plants, more than 190 bird species and 50 species of mammals.

The park is home to one of the densest concentrations of black bears in the United States while other mammals include white-tailed deer, groundhogs, squirrels, raccoons, bobcats and coyotes. Needless to say, wildlife watching is a hugely popular activity in Shenandoah National Park.

Visitors don’t even have to venture into the wilderness to spot wild animals. The magnificent Skyline Drive, a 105-mile (169-kilometer) road, snakes its way through the park, essentially following the mountains’ ridge from north to south. Wildlife, including black bears, often leisurely crosses the road—drivers, as well as cyclists, are advised to pay attention, also because the road includes several sharp, blind turns. The speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35 mph.

Skyline Drive is the absolute star attraction of Shenandoah National Park. It is the only road in the park; all other attractions lie along this incredibly scenic drive.

There are 75 lookout points, a number of waysides, a few visitor centers and four campgrounds. Numerous hiking trails start just off the road, many of them quite short as Skyline Drive already lies near the mountains’ summits, but some offering real challenges to people looking for them. Shenandoah National Park has more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of trails, including a 101-mile (163-kilometer) section of the Appalachian Trail.

In addition to a large black bear population and the marvelous Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park has another feature that makes it interesting for visitors—nearly 40% of the park’s surface area is designated wilderness, which is one of the highest percentages of any national park in the United States.

Opened year-round, Shenandoah National Park offers outdoor adventures for all ages and abilities, its attractions ranging from epic overnight hikes and abundant wildlife to one of the country’s most spectacular roads and photogenic waterfalls.

Yet another feature, although technically not part of the park, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. 496 miles (798 kilometers) long, this epic road starts where Skyline Drive ends, at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park in Rockfish Gap, and runs all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also managed by the National Park Service—it’s not a separate national park, though—and offers people with sufficient time on their hands a fabulous way to connect two phenomenal national parks, Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.


Best of Shenandoah National Park

Best Blue Ridge Mountains Views

A long and narrow park stretched out along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park boasts some of the greatest mountain views anywhere on the American East Coast. From the 75 overlooks on Skyline Drive to the panoramic vistas from the park’s many mountain summits, the views are amazing everywhere.

Skyline Drive overlooks

  • Hazel Mountain Overlook (MP 33)
  • Thorofare Mountain Overlook (MP 41)
  • The Point Overlook (MP 55.5)
  • Brown Mountain Overlook (MP 77)

Mountain summits

  • Stony Man (MP 41.7)
  • Hawksbill Mountain (MP 46.7)
  • Bearfence Mountain (MP 56.5)
  • Blackrock Summit (MP 84.4)

Most Beautiful Waterfalls

A lush and verdant mountain park like this has to have a few picturesque waterfalls, right? Indeed, there are no fewer than ten beautiful waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, all of them reachable via hiking trails starting off Skyline Drive. Note that although a couple of trails are pretty short, most of them require some serious hiking.

Seeing waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park is a multi-hour activity. Just be aware of that when you plan your visit, but also know that seeing a waterfall is a must-do when visiting Shenandoah.

Recommended Hikes

Shenandoah National Park is home to more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of hiking trails, 101 miles (163 kilometers) of which is a section of the Appalachian Trail. What’s so exciting about this huge density of trails is that there’s also a wide variety in them.

Some trails lead down from Skyline Drive into wooded hollows and to pretty waterfalls. Others ascend steeply to panoramic mountain tops or lead deep into the wilderness. Hiking and camping is really the best way to truly experience what Shenandoah is all about.

Where to Watch the Sunrise/Sunset

With 75 scenic overlooks and plenty of relatively easily reachable mountain summits, Shenandoah National Park is a prime destination to watch the sunrise and sunset. There’s nothing like watching the sun appear from behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in the morning or dip behind them in the evening.

Where to Watch the Sunrise in Shenandoah National Park

  • Tunnel Parking Overlook (MP 32.5)
  • Buck Hollow Overlook (MP 32.8)
  • Hazel Mountain Overlook (MP 33.0)
  • Thorofare Mountain Overlook (MP 40.5)
  • Spitler Knoll Overlook (MP 48.0)
  • Bearfence Mountain (MP 56.4)

Where to Watch the Sunset in Shenandoah National Park

  • Stony Man (MP 41.7)
  • Hazeltop Ridge Overlook (MP 54.5)
  • The Point Overlook (MP 55.5)
  • Bearfence Mountain (MP 56.4)
  • Brown Mountain Overlook (MP 77.0)
  • Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.0)
  • Blackrock Summit (MP 84.4)

Best Wildlife Watching

As an East Coast park, Shenandoah lies surrounded by high-use land. Farmlands, towns, busy highways and industrial areas encircle the park, making it a premier refuge for wildlife. This includes some really high-profile animals—mostly mammals, such as white-tailed deer and striped and spotted skunks, bobcats and coyotes, and American black bears.

Especially those black bears are a big attraction in the park. Often spotted foraging in trees or in the verge alongside Skyline Drive, their exact numbers are unknown but said to range between a couple of hundred and a thousand, depending on food availability and the time of year. The best times of the day to spot wildlife are dawn and dusk.

  • Big Meadows (MP 51) and the rest of the central part of the park
  • Trayfoot Mountain-Paine Run Loop (MP 84.4)
  • Randomly all along Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park Map


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Useful Info

Location: Central Virginia, United States

Nearest Towns: Waynesboro, Front Royal, Charlottesville

Area: 311 square miles (805 square kilometers)

Features: Wildlife, scenic road, mountains, forests, waterfalls

Main Attractions: Skyline Drive, Big Meadows, black bears, Overall Run, Old Rag Mountain, Hawksbill Summit, Whiteoak Canyon, Dark Hollow Falls

Main Activities: Hiking, cycling, backcountry camping

Suggested Stay: 2-3 days

More Information: National Park Service


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Nearby National Parks

Unlike in the West, the national parks in the Eastern United States are pretty spread out and there often are some seriously long drives in between them. The following are the parks nearest to Shenandoah National Park.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Other Mountain Parks

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Pinnacles National Park, California
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Shenandoah National Park Photos

Visit my national parks photography portfolio for a bunch of awesome photos of Shenandoah National Park.


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A Guide to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia