Camping, Hiking, Biking, Canoeing, and More at Shenandoah River State Park

About five miles of shoreline border the South Fork of the Shenandoah River

The Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. The park opened in June 1999. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east.

A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are nine river access points that enable visitors to reach the Shenandoah River. These are all good spots for fishing and tubing. If you wish to swim or put a canoe or kayak on the water, there is a boat launch near the trailhead for the Hemlock Hollow Trail and the massive picnic area. Many visitors also drop their inflatable tubes in at the boat launch. In the picnic area, there are three large picnic shelters and plenty of picnic tables.

With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Expansive views of the river and valley can be seen from high points along the trails.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain biking seems to be growing in popularity. While truly advanced cyclists might find the trail system more fun than challenge, new and intermediate riders can find easy, flat routes by the river along with moderate hills and the occasional lactate-searing climb (a cycling term meaning the fastest pace you can maintain).

Here are five of most popular hikes at Shenandoah River State Park. Every one of these hikes rewards with river, mountain, even forest views.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redtail Ridge Trail: This scenic 3.7-mile loop cobbles together three park trails—Big Oak, Redtail Ridge, and Tulip Poplar—plus a connector trail, to create a pleasing walk in the woods. The red-blazed Redtail Ridge Trail is the most scenic of the paths wowing visitors with three west-facing river overlooks. There are comfy benches, too. 

Culler’s Overlook: The hike to Culler’s Overlook is a winner thanks to spectacular views across Massanutten Mountain as well as the Shenandoah Valley. Savor the vistas and read up on Everett Cullers and the role he played in creation of the park. To reach Culler’s Overlook, take the Hemlock Hollow Trail to the Overlook Trail. You’ll pass the visitor center then it’s on to the wooden overlook.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood Trail & Wildcat Ledge: The easy hike along the Cottonwood Trail leads to a delightful slice of boardwalk trail. There are open clearing views as well as vistas of Massanutten Mountain. As you close the boardwalk loop, look left for the Wildcat Ledge Trail. This narrow, rocky trail is short, but it’s steep. The Wildcat Ledge Trail ascends to a largely unobstructed view of the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah Valley. Settle in on a rocky outcrop for the vistas.

Bear Bottom Loop & River Trail: This scenic hike cobbles together the Bear Bottom Loop Trail, Shale Barrens Trail, Culler’s Trail, and River Trail for a 6.9-mile trek across Shenandoah River State Park. This loop begins as a long walk in the woods. It’s beautiful, quiet, and shady thanks to an abundance of leafy trees. You’ll walk alongside the Shenandoah River. Stop for river views or a rest on a wooden bench. Keep your eyes open for rafters, tubers and kayakers.

Bluebell Trail: The forested one-mile Bluebell Trail is a must in late-March and early-April when visitors are wowed with a lush carpet of iconic bluebells. The blooms last just three weeks but by many accounts they are very much worth the wait. This wooded point-to-point trail set along the Shenandoah River is mostly flat, making it a good pick for families with small children. It’s dog-friendly, too.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups suitable for tents, popups, and RVs up to 60 feet in length. More than half of the sites have shade. The shaded camp sites are 1-18 while sites 19-31 are in full sun. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers and a coin-operated laundry.

Sites have steel fire-rings for cooking and campfires, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. Firewood can be purchased on-site for $6 per bundle. The family campground is a short walk from two river access points (for fishing, not for swimming or paddling) as well as the Campground Trail.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the family campground, there is a primitive campground for tents-only on the north side of the park that has 12 canoe-in or walk-in sites. All camp sites offer shade and require a walk on gravel path from the parking lot. There are wagons at the entrance to help transport gear to your site.

At the back of the Right River Campground is a group campground that can accommodate up to 30 people.

Reservations can be made on line or by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275). All sites are specifically reserved.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other lodging options include three yurts, four camping cabins (bunkhouses), regular cabins, and a lodge. Camping cabins sleep four people by way of two sets of bunk beds. Yurts sleep up to four people by way of one queen-size bed and a twin-size trundle bed. Bring linens for camping cabin and yurt stays. Pets are not allowed in yurts. You can bring pets to camping cabins but you will pay a $10 per night fee.

A non-refundable $5 per transaction fee is charged for overnight site rentals. The fee is directly tied to expenses that support overall facility rentals—credit card fees, 800 number fees, and overnight inventory and reservation system vendor fees. It is charged per reservation and for walk-in stays.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Be sure to bring confirmation letter(s) or reservation number(s) when you check in. If someone else is checking in for you, make sure the person has the reservation number. The number is needed to enter the cabin or lodge. Camping, cabin and lodge guests should also be prepared to show an ID.

Shenandoah River State Park is a good central location for the area’s many activities. Caverns and caves such as Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns make good activities for rainy days. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive is a short distance away making for a great day trip. The area is also famous for its many vineyards.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Elevation: 547 feet

Park size: 1,619 acres

Trails: 24 miles

Park admission fee: $10/vehicle

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping fee: $40 + $5 transaction fee (Virginia residen); $46 + $5 transaction fee (non-Virginia resident)

Location: The Park is in Warren County, 8 miles south of Front Royal and 15 miles north of Luray. It’s off State Route 340 in Bentonville

Address: 350 Daughter of Stars Drive, Bentonville, VA 22610

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

National Drink Wine Day: February 18

Use this National Drink Wine Day to try a new bottle and relax with the knowledge that you’re celebrating a long, long human tradition

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

Does anybody really need an excuse to open a bottle of their favorite red (or white)? Absolutely not! Still, that shouldn’t stand in the way of celebrating National Drink Wine Day.

Moon Curser Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is held each year on February 18, so get ready to unwind with a glass or two of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Wine has been a staple in human culture since its invention in 7000 BC. Some ancient societies enjoyed their wine so much they even worshiped it! These days, hundreds of types of wine are produced all over the world so there’s an endless variety to choose from.

It’s also suggested that a glass a day keeps the cardiologist away. From connoisseurs of wines from around the globe to casual fans that enjoy the odd glass at the restaurant or on an evening spent with friends, National Drink Wine Day is an undoubted highlight in the calendar.

Cheers!

Cooper Vineyards, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unsurprisingly, National Drink Wine Day is a day to celebrate wine which includes drinking a glass (OK, bottle) of wine. However, its purpose isn’t to result in millions of people staggering around bars after losing self-control or to leave participants facing the mother of all hangovers on National Drink Wine Day +1. Wine should be enjoyed responsibly on this day more than any other.

The annual event is a time to reflect on the many benefits of wine as well as the role it has played in human history and society. The social aspects are particularly pertinent on this day which should be enjoyed with friends and family. After all, there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of the good stuff while sharing fun and entertainment with the people that matter most.

Wine is one of life’s little luxuries that should be enjoyed far more regularly than once per year. Nonetheless, National Drink Wine Day is that special moment where millions can raise a glass to the benefits it brings while also paying homage to the winemakers of previous generations.

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Drink Wine Day

While we know humans have been making wine for thousands of years, no one is certain who was the first to ferment grapes into the beverage we now call wine. Evidence of ancient wine production has been found in China, the Middle East, and Greece so it appears many different cultures discovered the process at nearly the same time.

The oldest known winery was found in a cave in Armenia and is over 4,000 years old—the vinters there were using a grape still used to make wine today. Barrels of wine have been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs and the Ancient Greeks used wine in religious ceremonies.

Although wine has taken all sorts of different forms throughout the ages the process has changed very little in the thousands of years since its invention. Grapes are crushed, pressed, and fermented and the mixture is sealed into barrels. The mixture is aged and then bottled. Using these simple steps an infinite variety of wines can be created and different regions of the world are known for the distinctive vintages they produce.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soil, temperature, and weather all affect the way wine grapes grow and make each batch unique. Two bottles of the same wine from the same vineyard might taste totally different depending on the year they were produced and some vintages become highly sought after as a result.

The history of wine itself can be dated back over 8,000 years to winemakers in the Eurasian region that is now Georgia. Alcoholic beverage has played a major part in society ever since and has been drunk in all four corners of the globe for many generations. Iranians, Italians, and Europeans in the Balkans all have rich histories of wine production that date back to ancient times while China created very similar alcoholic beverages as early as 7000 BC.

In today’s world, nearly 20 million acres of the earth’s surface are dedicated to grape farming for wine fermentation. There are literally thousands of brands and variants covering red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, and rose wines while mead, fruit wine, and ice wine is readily available to millions. Moreover, the experience of enjoying wine is closely linked to human history. For example, tapping glasses to say cheers harks back to the Ancient Romans.

Twisted Oak Winery, Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is a far more contemporary addition but is now in its second decade. Awareness of the event has increased at a fairly rapid rate with the annual event reaching new locations and a greater variety of demographics by the year. In truth, it’s only natural given the universal appeal of the beverage.

Whether red or white, National Drink Wine Day is not an event to be missed.

Ernest Hemingway said: “wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection and it offers a greater range of enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

Black Hills Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day activities

Drink wine: Get some friends together and uncork your favorite bottle of wine. Or simply enjoy it while watching a movie on the couch.

Try a new wine: Splurge a little on that bottle of wine that’s slightly above your budget but that you’ve always wanted to buy for yourself. Enjoy a glass or two and then save the rest for a special occasion.

Sip it in an unusual place: In the bath, at sunset on a mountain, or on a picnic blanket in your garden. Create a new wine-drinking experience for yourself.

Methven Cellars, Willamette Wine Country, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a wine tasting: A wine tasting is a great way to sample different varieties of wine all while receiving instruction from a certified sommelier. This will help you develop your palate and your appreciation for wine.

Take a winery tour: Many wineries run tours of their vineyards and cellars. Seeing where and how they make your favorite wine is an excellent way to learn more about the art of winemaking.

Head out to a wine bar: Spending time at a wine bar is a great way to hang out with friends and family and sip some amazing wine to boot. Additionally, most wine bars serve local wines, so you can get a taste of what’s happening in your area’s wine scene.

Fazeli Cellars, Temecula Wine Country, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wine Trails less traveled

A true oenophile doesn’t need a special day to enjoy a glass of their favorite vino. And a true oenophile also knows that there is more to wine country than California’s popular Napa and Sonoma Valley. Let’s take a look at other regions to enjoy fine wines and beautiful vineyards.

Willamette Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

If you enjoy a good pinot noir, head to Oregon’s Willamette Valley which is known for producing world-class pinot noir wines. The oldest winery here is Tualatin Estate Vineyard dating to 1973 and newer ones like Sidereus Vineyards which opened their tasting house in 2022 and was promptly named one of the Top Ten New Wineries by USA Today. For a map of the wineries in the area, visit willamettewines.com which also has all kinds of options for tours. Red Barn Rides offers e-bike and bicycle rentals for those who choose to tour the area on two wheels while the Tesla Custom Winery Tour offers small tours in a private Tesla.

Helwig Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil, and warm temperatures that give the wines their distinctive flavor. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangiovese. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Fridays and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah Valley Wine Country

Hester Creek Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till, and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

>> Get more tips for visiting Okanagan Wine Country

Robert Renzoni Winery, Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

The Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s. For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019 shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Temecula Valley Wine Country

Pillsbury Wine Company, Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the Valley of the Grapes because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

>> Get more tips for visiting Verde Valley Wine Country

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

The Ultimate Guide to Shenandoah National Park

All you need to know about trails, campgrounds, and mountain adventure

When mentioning Shenandoah National Park, visitors often get that faraway look in their eye fondly recalling adventures at this scenic mountain jewel rising high atop Virginia’s Appalachians.

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive which runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail-side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that creates the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah—the first of Virginia’s national parks—was dedicated on July 3, 1936. Cobbled together along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the long narrow preserve divides the beautiful Shenandoah Valley from the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park contains a wide array of flora and fauna as it rises from a mere 550 feet at its lowest elevation to over 4,049 feet at its highest atop Hawksbill. The park clocks in at 200,000 acres with over 500 miles of trails offering plenty of room to spread out and enjoy any type of outdoor adventure you can think up.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the traditional lands of the Manahoac, Shenandoah’s mountains and valleys have long called to humans in some way or another. European colonizers arrived in the 1750s and throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was farmed, logged, and mined. Some recognized the touristic value of the area, however, and conversation about building a nature reserve began in the early 20th century. Eventually, the land was seized via eminent domain (a move that displaced hundreds of families that lived there), and the park was established in 1935 built and maintained by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the park first opened, nearly a third of it had been cleared by logging, farming, and tree blight. Today, mature forests have grown atop of these scars and a profusion of wildlife make their homes in and beneath the canopy: black bears, bobcats, migratory birds, amphibians such as the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, and more. 

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains starting in the north at Front Royal to Waynesboro where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Skyline Drive is Shenandoah National Park’s linear conduit with 75 overlooks connecting travelers to all the major visitor centers, campgrounds, lodges, picnic areas, and most trailheads. Concrete posts numbered every mile keep you apprised of your whereabouts.

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurels.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to the historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (Milepost 4.6). Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (Milepost 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. At Mathews Arm Campground (Milepost 22.2) numerous hikes are available from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (Milepost 24.0). Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (Milepost 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—the highest park elevation, the highest point on Skyline Drive, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (Milepost 33.5). Pinnacles Overlook (Milepost 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area. Hike to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak from Milepost 46.7. The next must-stop is Big Meadows (Milepost 51.0) which includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Related article: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Consider camping at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (Milepost 57.5). The pull-through and back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. It offers a more serene experience than Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit the 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (Milepost 62.8).

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance: 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District. Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap, you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (Milepost 71.2) where boulder fields known as talus slopes are exposed. The Loft Mountain area is found at Milepost 79.5. A side road takes you to appealing Loft Mountain Campground which also offers showers. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrances to Skyline Drive:

  • Front Royal at US-340
  • Thornton Gap at US-211
  • Swift Run Gap at US-33
  • Rockfish Gap at I- 64 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway)
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Trails

Shenandoah is a hiker’s paradise—trails lined with wildflowers, mushrooms, and berry bushes weave and dip through valleys and across peaks delivering full-sensory journeys through lush forests of red oak, chestnut, maple, and yellow poplar trees.

The wild and less seen side of Shenandoah awaits those who leave Skyline Drive behind and take to their feet. The rewards increase with every footfall beneath the stately oaks to rocky vista points and into deep canyons where waterfalls roar among old-growth trees spared by the logger’s axe. In other places, your footsteps lead to Shenandoah’s pioneer past. Discover both the human and natural history of Shenandoah.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out the staircase of cascades that run along Dark Hollow Falls Trail (1.4-mile loop), take in the views from Shenandoah’s tallest peak on the Hawksbill Loop (3-mile loop), or find Lewis Falls tucked away on the side of the mountain behind Big Meadows (3.3-mile loop). 

Long-distance hikers won’t be bored here either because 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs through Shenandoah—follow the famous trail for maximum mileage gains and access to many shorter trails along the way. Besides the AT, perhaps the most well-known long hike is the Old Rag Circuit, a 9.4-mile loop that takes you up to the rocky peak of its namesake mountain via a steep climb and some rock scrambling; you’ll need a day pass ticket.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping and Campgrounds

Skyline Driver runs 105 miles along the crest of Shenandoah’s the Blue Ridge Mountains and given the slow speed limit on Skyline Drive (35 mph) plus the 70+ scenic stop-offs it can take you hours to get from one end of the park to the other. Pick your campground strategically—you’ll want to stay relatively close to the trails you plan to hike if you don’t fancy a lengthy drive to get there.

Related article: Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and they give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mathews Arm

  • Location: Milepost 22.2
  • Elevation: 2,920 feet

The hilly campground has first come, first served and reserved sites most of which are shaded. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and a tow vehicle. No electric or water hookups. Campground has potable water spigots and a dump station. The higher elevation keeps it a good 10 degrees cooler than the Shenandoah Valley below.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Meadows

  • Milepost 51.0
  • Elevation 3,480 feet

Big Meadows Campground is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the Park with three waterfalls and Big Meadows within walking distance. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lewis Mountain

  • Milepost 57.5
  • Elevation 3,390 feet

This is the most centrally located of all Shenandoah’s campgrounds and the smallest. The 30-site locale offers first come, first served sites only. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups or dump station. The campground has potable water spigots.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Loft Mountain

  • Milepost 79.5
  • Elevation 3,320 feet

Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in the Park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to the east and west. Two waterfalls and numerous trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. The Appalachian Trail circles around the campground highlighting the richness of hikes nearby. The hilly campground has first come, first served, and reserved sites. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. Note, however, that the low canopy and trees on some turns can present challenges for taller RVs. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips for planning the perfect trip to Shenandoah

From keeping safe to packing the right clothes here’s what you need to know before you go:

  • Respect the wildlife and be prepared for bears: Shenandoah is known for its above-average population of black bears so hike smart—make noise, bring bear spray, and use bear-resistant containers if you’re backpacking.
  • There are ways to avoid crowds: Shenandoah’s proximity to the nation’s capital means that crowds can get dense, particularly in the warmer months. Visit during the week for more solitude and hit the trails early to score parking and a quiet trail.
  • Pack for all weather and dress appropriately: Due to Shenandoah’s relatively high elevation in comparison to the surrounding areas, it’s not unusual for weather conditions to quickly change, be it fog, rain, or snow. Check the weather before you go out and bring layers to ward off moisture and chill from the cool mountain air.
  • It’s not free to visit Shenandoah: Like in most US national parks, you’ll either have to pay the $30 single car entry or opt for an annual pass. The entry fee does not include camping fees, which have recently been upped to $30/night in all developed campgrounds.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 199,000 acres, 40 percent designated as wilderness

Established: May 22, 1926

Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

Park Elevation: 550 feet-4,049 feet

Park entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Speed Limit: 35 mph

Recreational visits (2021): 1,592,312

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning Daughter of the Stars.  Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and many other things so the origin of the National Park name is unclear.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is undoubtedly the most popular and the most difficult hike in the park. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But for those of you ready to take on the challenge, you will find yourself in the clouds. The circuit hike is about 9 miles with significant elevation change and strenuous rock scrambles. This hike takes 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—waiting in line to pass through scrambles is par for the course. Hitting Old Rag on a weekday and/or during off-season is a much more pleasing experience. As of March 1, 2022, those wishing to hike Old Rag are required to purchase a day-use ticket.

Related article: Finding Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Beyond

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: The Skyline Drive scenic byway is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road travels through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know? 

Skyline Drive rides the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. As an aside, this is the same ridge that was walked by American Indians and early settlers of Virginia. 

Shenandoah is without a doubt one of the coolest leaf-peeping spots in the United States when fall foliage changes color each year. 

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

— Bill Bryson

Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park hugs the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering panoramic views and ample wildlife sightings

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah—Virginia’s first national park—was dedicated July 3, 1936. Cobbled together along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the long narrow preserve divides the proud Shenandoah Valley from the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park contains a wide array of flora and fauna as it rises from a mere 550 feet at its lowest elevation to over 4,049 feet at its highest atop Hawksbill.

Related: Finding Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Beyond

Along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders! Shenandoah is without a doubt one of the coolest leaf-peeping spots in the United States when fall foliage changes color each year.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Related: Now Is the Best Time to Visit the Smokies

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  • Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  • Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  • Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  • Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness. And we drove this scenic byway all the way to the southern entrance, stopping by the numerous lookouts for different and unique views. Skyline Drive joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Drive is a worthy destination in its own right.  As an aside, this is the same ridge that was walked by American Indians and early settlers of Virginia. 

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These posts help you find your way through the Park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 in Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the Park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the Park, at mile 51.

Related: The Other Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The speed limit is 35 mph, so feel free to roll down your windows, feel the breeze, and experience every curve and turn of this beautiful drive that offers stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. Be sure you will clear Marys Rock Tunnel (mile 32.2), with a maximum clearance of 12 feet 8 inches.RVs, camping trailers, and horse trailers are welcome, but prepare to shift into low gear.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

Related: Discover the Spirit of Adventure in National Parks of Eastern U.S.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

While I’m familiar with Napa, the throngs of tourists and the overpriced wines that accompany them have caused me to explore elsewhere

Napa Valley may be synonymous with wine country trips. The well-established region with 400 wineries consistently churns out award-winning labels. But there are many more wine trip destinations that shrug off the pretension and make damn good vino and also offer outdoor recreation to break up your wine tastings. While these regions have managed to quietly “sip” under the radar for years, they boast big flavor without touristy crowds or the tourist prices that typically go with them.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the remarkable pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Shenandoah Valley to Canada’s largely undiscovered wine region in the Okanagan Valley, these authentic spots are ripe for exploration.

Here are five alternatives to Napa for your next wine country escape. Get ready to indulge in these underrated wine regions because it’s always wine o’clock somewhere.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noirs–producing areas in the world. The Willamette Valley is a huge and varied appellation that includes nine nested appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood District, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east, and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the flagship Pinot noir grape, wineries also produce Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Gamay among other lesser-known varieties.

While wineries are the centerpiece of a wine tourist’s itinerary, there are also other things to see and do like visiting an art gallery, biking, hiking, or floating above wine country in a hot air balloon.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise, and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s.

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula and this has a balanced combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay, and Syrah to Grenache.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. Cottonwood, a quick drive from the red rocks of Sedona, is located in the 200-square-mile Verde Valley. More than 20 vineyards form the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production.

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the “Valley of the Grapes” because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Southwest Wine Center on the campus of Yavapai College in Clarkdale. Not only is it a place for students to learn winemaking and land jobs in the industry but visitors are welcome to visit the 13-acre vineyard and sample wines from the center’s own label.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

Wine Country and National Parks: A Perfect Summer Pairing

Combine spectacular national park scenery with a nearby wine country tasting experience

In an era of shrinking wilderness, it seems downright visionary that early U.S. presidents put pen to paper to protect diverse ecosystems for the public good. Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864. Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872. And, at the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt earned the moniker “The Conservation President” for his amazing number of protections.

Ironside Vineyards in Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 252 distinct wine regions and even more grape varieties across the U.S. (There are about 10,000 varieties of wine grapes worldwide), wine lovers can savor their favorite wines and explore new ones on their way to and from great parks including Yosemite in the High Sierra south to Joshua Tree in the desert and east to Shenandoah in the Appalachians. Like the stewards of America’s unique national parks, winemakers and growers also feel a deep connection to the land―and making it easy for travelers to find the perfect wine to complement their journey.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Yosemite National Park

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls but within its nearly 1,200 square miles you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.

70 miles northwest is Murphys, one of California’s richest “diggins” during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s—hence its former name, Murphys New Diggings. The draw today isn’t gold though. It’s quaint, as you’ll see when strolling down the town’s idyllic little Main Street with its clapboard buildings and white picket fences. But where prospectors and gamblers once mingled in between gold-digging expeditions (fit in a visit to the Old Timers Museum if you can), now winemakers hold sway and there are upwards of two dozen wine-tasting rooms along Main Street and several vineyards in the vicinity. As the so-called Queen of the Sierra, Murphys has a small population of around 2,213 but plenty of homestyle restaurants and cozy country inns. One such is the Murphys Hotel whose illustrious guests have included Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: White Sands National Park

Prefer a less crowded park experience? While four million people trek to Yosemite each year, White Sands National Park receives just 600,000 visitors across 275 square miles of desert. As its name implies, the park’s gypsum sand shimmers enough to mimic snowy dunes.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bright and dry days help vines flourish in nearby Mesilla Valley, New Mexico’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA). Straddling the Rio Grande River, the climate supports the production of rich reds from varieties like Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon plus a bit of Tempranillo. The town of Las Cruces serves as a jumping-off point to explore local wineries like Lescombes Winery, Rio Grande Winery (see photo above), La Viña Winery, and Luna Rossa Winery.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Pinnacles National Park

As throngs fight for reservations to Yosemite, in-the-know travelers go to Pinnacles National Park. Not only does it serve around 200,000 visitors a year, Pinnacles neighbors the beautiful coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Central Coast wine regions in Monterey County.

Vineyards near Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much like the ancient soils that nurture nearby Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, the park’s landscape was born of geological upheaval. More than 23 million years ago, volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates created the unique Talus caves and rock formations, or pinnacles. Hikers and cavers test their athleticism and nerve on challenging terrain though there are also easier hikes for the less ambitious. All highlight diverse wildlife from hummingbirds and condors to salamanders and mountain lions.

Wine lovers can tackle the 5.3-mile hike from Condor Gulch to High Peaks in the morning followed by lunchtime sips in the Santa Lucia Highlands. There’s a clutch of wineries along River Road with Hahn Family Wines near the south and Wrath Wines further north.

Pillsbury Wine Company tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is a showstopper of the American Southwest. With upwards of six million visitors each year, reservations for the vast gorge’s lodges and campgrounds are often booked up to a year in advance. However, a photo of the winding Colorado River from the South Rim is far easier to land. Lookout points at Navajo Point and Desert View Drive swell with crowds but for good reason. The two-billion-year-old layered red sedimentary rock is peppered with pines, spruces, and firs. It’s peerless in its beauty.

Wine tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two hours south, near Sedona, another hiking haven amidst sublime scenery sits Verde Valley. Winemaking dates to the 1800s but the modern industry was resurrected in the 1980s. Vineyards offer mostly red grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Mourvèdre. Taste along the Verde Valley trail or at the numerous tasting rooms in Cottonwood and Jerome.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah which teems with vistas, wildlife, and waterfalls attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year. About 75 miles from Washington D.C., the centerpiece of the 200,000-acre park is the 105-mile Skyline Drive that features dramatic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains around every turn. Well-marked trails offer hikes through woodland valleys and across streams. History buffs might want to stop at nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of a devastating 1861 Civil War clash.

At the southern end of the park lies Charlottesville, the pastoral area that Thomas Jefferson called home. Though he failed to make fine wine, wineries like King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Barboursville, and Veritas produce Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and red blends in the Monticello AVA.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Joshua Tree National Park

Two major deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran come together in Joshua Tree National Park, an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. And the hiking is fantastic.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to this park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Temecula about two hours southwest. The Temecula Wine Region invites you to savor the hundreds of award-winning wines in Southern California’s wine county. Wine snobs may scoff at the wines of Southern California in favor of the grapes of Napa or Sonoma but the vineyards of Temecula Valley have established a reputation over the last decade for producing fantastic Bordeaux and Rhône varietals as well as those from Spain, Italy, and Portugal. With more than 40 vineyards throughout the region, you can find something to satisfy any tasting desire from lavish, over-the-top wine resorts to small, mom-and-pop operations.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stunning modern Moorish architecture and warm hospitality are the hallmarks of Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli’s beautiful winery which has one of the widest ranges of varietals in the Temecula Valley. Produced both from estate vineyards and select local growers the names of the collections are an homage to Fazeli’s Persian roots—The Heritage Collection honors five Persian poets, Embrace the Chaos includes Pandemonium, Rukus, Mayhem, and Uproar and the popular Season Collection celebrates annual solstices and equinoxes. If you’re visiting at lunchtime, stop by Baba Joon’s Kitchen for Mediterranean/Persian-influenced shareable appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Located in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world

The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 scenic overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The speed limit is 35 mph. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Clearance for Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12 feet 8 inches.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders!

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section, winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (MP 4.6), once a dining hall with a stellar view. After orienting, consider walking the Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail. Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (MP 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. Views stretch wide to match the overlook. Walk to Piney River Falls from Milepost 22.1.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overnight at Mathews Arm Campground (MP 22.2) and enjoy numerous hikes directly from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (MP 24) or enjoy your own meal at the adjacent picnic area. Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (MP 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—highest park elevation, highest point on Skyline Drive, most land mass, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too. Start your view-fest from both road and trail by hiking to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5).  Mary’s Rock has 360-degree vistas from an outcrop and is a favorite lookout in the park. Pinnacles Overlook (MP 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider an overnight at Skyland Lodge (MP 41.7) and combining it with a hike to Stony Man, highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in the park. Speaking of high points, it is a ritual to head to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak, from milepost 46.7. At the peak you will find an embedded directional indicator, pointing out all the sights you will see from this lofty height.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next must-stop is Big Meadows (MP 51) where deer are often spotted. Big Meadows includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking facilities. Explore the displays here; this visitor center is a great place to stop and learn about the park. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Load up with goodies at the camp store or hit the lodge dining hall. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the site of the first presidential retreat from Milam Gap (MP 52.8), Rapidan Camp where Herbert Hoover trout fished and entertained world leaders. Agile teens and adults will have fun navigating the boulders of the Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble (MP 56.4). Enjoy great views, too. Consider renting a cabin or pitching your tent at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (MP 57.5). It offers a more serene experience than does Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (MP 62.8).

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area. Interestingly, despite being very rocky the area also has the park’s biggest stream in Big Run, plus other aquatic destinations such as Doyles River and Moormans River. The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (MP 71.2) where boulder fields, known as talus slopes, are exposed. Another geological show is revealed at Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.1). At the Loft Mountain area (MP 79.5) you can obtain supplies, books, and souvenirs at the camp store. A side road takes you to Loft Mountain Campground that also offers showers. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy three major waterfalls on one loop hike from Browns Gap (MP 83.0)—two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run. Browns Gap is also a jumping off point for exploring the wilds of Big Run with cool clear pools for a summertime dip. The park narrows heading south, limiting opportunities. However, a short walk to Chimney Rock from Riprap parking area (MP 90.0) will put an exclamation point on your Skyline Drive experience. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park presents the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the heart of the Appalachian Trail

Stretching more than a hundred miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers a patchwork quilt of wilderness and pastoral landscapes underpinned by stories from more than 300 years of history. Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that create the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Scenic Byway rides along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive draws over 1.2 million visitors every year and is famous for bursting into a landscape of rainbow-colored foliage every autumn.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the 105-mile stretch which climbs to 3,680 feet above sea level, you’ll have the opportunity to pull off the road at 75 scenic overlooks and take part in an array of recreational activities—from hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who are ready to take on the challenge will find themselves in the clouds. Be sure that you are physically able to complete this hike. The circuit hike is about 9 miles. There is a significant elevation change (2,415 feet) and a strenuous rock scramble that requires good upper body strength. Allow 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—a line up to pass through scrambles is par for the course. The best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson