If you follow any of our social media, you’ll quickly see that we’re at Shenandoah National Park (SNP) A LOT. That’s because we love it! From Arlington, Virginia, the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in Front Royal is a short hour and 15 minutes away. This means Shenandoah is easy to get to in the wee hours of the morning because, as photographers, we’re often up before the sun to try and see wildlife.
Speaking of wildlife, SNP is teeming with fauna with one of the highest concentrations of black bears on the east coast (although we have not had a confirmed sighting yet). It also boasts white-tail deer, turkey, barred owls, hawks, snakes, and more! Every spring, the landscape comes to life with mountain greens and wildflowers, and every autumn/fall brings a colorful sight not to be missed. At SNP, no two trips are ever the same!
The Skyline Drive is SNP’s scenic roadway following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles before turning into the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is open (weather permitting) 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. There are 75 overlooks along the drive, many with designated accessible parking spots, offering stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. The Appalachian Trail (AT) parallels the drive throughout much of SNP, with many of the park’s local hiking trails intersecting it.
SNP offers a range of accommodations from simple campgrounds to cabins to rooms at the Skyland Resort. Lewis Mountain Cabins, Big Meadows Lodge, and Skyland Resort all offer accessible room options. We have stayed overnight at SNP twice, both at Lewis Mountain Cabins. Lewis Mountain has one wheelchair accessible cabin that always seems to be booked when we plan a trip. We’ve been able to manage the standard cabins, which have 4-5 steps onto a porch and small bathrooms. So, a word of advice when trying to book accommodations at SNP, book as far in advance as you can, because accommodations are very popular! In addition to campgrounds and lodges, SNP offers three waysides, which are wheelchair accessible, that have hot and cold food options along with hiking/camping supplies and restrooms. There are also seven picnic grounds along the Skyline Drive with tables, grills, and wheelchair accessible bathrooms. Just a reminder, as the park says, “Be bear aware!” …or you may have unwanted guests at your table.
Shenandoah is a hiker’s paradise with ample trails for outdoor enthusiasts, including Limberlost at mile marker 43 along the Skyline Drive. This trail is a 1.3-mile wheelchair accessible loop through the woods consisting of hard-packed crushed greenstone with minimal grade and ample benches along the route. There is also the Rapidan Fire Road, which can be accessed from the small parking lot at Big Meadows. While not an official trail, you can still walk it and get great views of the meadow and the wildlife that visit at dawn and dusk. It consists of mostly hard-packed gravel and is somewhat easygoing and continues for a few miles through the woodland beyond the meadow. As frequent visitors to SNP, we would love to see additional access to trails for all to enjoy.
Tips for Visiting Shenandoah National Park
- If you can, stay overnight. The Skyline Drive often comes to life early in the mornings before the crowds arrive or at night after they leave. Staying overnight also offers the chance to try your hand at sunset photos, along with night time photography. For early birds, sunrises can be pretty spectacular as well.
- Shenandoah’s peak season is fall. Arrive early! There will be lines at entrances and crowds at overlooks, trailheads, and lodges/waysides/picnic grounds.
- Always have a camera, or two, at the ready! You never know what might dart in front of you on the road or pass by you on the trails. Speaking of darting in front of you, the Skyline Drive has a strict speed limit of 35 mph. The road is windy and narrow, and we’re in nature. The animals have the right of way.
- Leave only footprints (or wheelchair tracks)!
The next time you’re in Virginia, we recommend visiting Shenandoah National Park and a leisurely drive along the Skyline Drive. There’s nothing like the call of the mountains and the beauty of nature.
Until next time!
Maggie & Abe