One of the most beautiful places on Earth, Shenandoah National Park is home to many scenic views and activities for visitors. It was established in 1935 as a way to protect the land from development and preserve it for future generations. Today, there are so many fun things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
There are over 200 miles of hiking trails that lead through forested areas, past waterfalls, alongside rivers and streams, up mountainsides, across meadows of wildflowers, or along ridgetops with panoramic views. Additionally, the park has plenty to offer visitors including camping, fishing, and even some historical sites.
So if you are planning on visiting this national treasure, here is our list of the top things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
The Expert’s Favorite Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
1. Go for a Hike in the Appalachian Mountains
With over 200 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult, hikers will surely find a trail that works for them. Some of the more popular trails include Big Run Loop Trail (easy), Mill Prong Trail (moderate), Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail (moderate), and Old Rag Mountain Trail (difficult). All trails have beautiful views, so consider taking multiple hikes while stopping at each overlook along the way.
Of all the things to do in Shenandoah National Park, make sure you go for at least one hike.
2. Watch for Wildlife
The national park is home to an abundant amount of wildlife from black bears, bobcats, deer, and a variety of songbirds. One of the best ways to view animals is by taking a drive along Skyline Drive or hiking one of the trails that pass through forests.
The most important thing to remember: never feed or approach wild animals!
3. Smell the Wildflowers
The Park has over 2,000 types of flowering plants including mountain laurels, rhododendrons, azaleas, and dogwoods. Many bloom in mid-April through late May depending on elevation and latitude. The most popular locations include Bearfence Mountain Road, Compton Peak Trail, and Big Meadows.
4. Take a Scenic Ride on Skyline Drive
This road follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains with stunning views of Shenandoah Valley to the west and endless ridgelines to the east. You will also pass several overlooks where you can stop and enjoy the view before turning around to head back down into one of the valleys.
It’s impossible to partake in our favorite things to do in Shenandoah National Park without visiting Skyline Drive. This scenic road has 8 overlooks, 6 picnic areas, 5 parking areas, and many other scenic pull-outs along its length.
5. Go White-Water Rafting
Another great way to experience some water action is by taking part in white-water rafting through the park on the Calfpasture, South River, or James River. You have a wide range of difficulty levels including Class II (beginner) – Class V (expert).
While this is technically done outside the park, it’s still one of the best things to do in Shenandoah Valley.
6. Spend a Night Camping
Shenandoah National Park has five campgrounds with over 300 campsites available for rent near popular hiking trails, fishing spots, or picnic areas. The best time to find a site is during the off-season, typically October through May, when there are fewer visitors.
7. Reel in a Fish or Two
The Park has over 50 miles of trout streams open for fishing as well as many rivers that offer different species including smallmouth and largemouth bass, freshwater drum, rockfish, and yellow perch among others.
8. Hike to Stunning Waterfalls
There are over 70 waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park so if you’re lucky enough to visit during the spring and summer, be sure to take part in waterfall viewing. Most falls occur along Mill Prong, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, or Hazel Run Creek with beautiful overlooks at Whiteoak Canyon and Doyles River Overlook.
Hiking along any of the trails will lead to waterfalls so make sure you purchase a trail map at any visitor center or stop into one of their offices to find out which trails offer the best opportunities. You can even hike up to the top of Old Rag Mountain and come out on a small waterfall! With so many to choose from, waterfall viewing is definitely one of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
9. Try Rock Climbing
There are over 500 different routes ranging from easy to advanced in difficulty on rocks found throughout the park, including Hawksbill Mountain which is considered to be one of the best rock climbing locations in Virginia. If you’re up for a challenge, try scrambling up Old Rag Mountain, Whiteoak Canyon, or along any of the trails if you’re feeling adventurous!
10. Stroll Through Rapidan Camp
This campsite is located in Rapidan and named after the river that flows through it, a tributary of the Rappahannock River. The site has been used as a headquarters for some of General Robert E. Lee’s Generals during the Civil War including J.E.B Stuart, James Longstreet, and Wade Hampton III.
The camp is best known, however, as the retreat for President Hoover. For this reason, it’s also called Camp Hoover. Park rangers offer guided tours here if you’re interested. You can also explore the grounds on your own. This is one of the most unique things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
11. Hike Old Rag Mountain
Probably one of the best-known hiking sites within Shenandoah National Park, this trip offers some serious challenges for hikers willing to take on its strenuous 3-mile trail which concludes at an elevation of 3,180 feet. From the peak, you can experience panoramic views of peaks like Hawksbill Mountain and Whiteoak Mountain. Prepare to rock scramble!
12. Attend a Ranger Program
The Shenandoah National Park offers ranger programs that include talks, walks, and campfire programs in the spring, summer, and fall months. Be sure to check the park’s website for exact dates and times.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) campsites can also be visited on ranger-led walks. These were built as part of the New Deal program during the 1930s. Ranger also lead guided tours of Rapidan Camp.
13. Take a Self Guided Tour Through CCC Campsites
There are 6 CCC campsites located throughout Shenandoah National Park. These include Big Meadows, Skyland, Pinnacles, Piney River, Baldface, and Dundo. All of these can be found near Skyline Drive. This is one of the more special and unique things to do in Shenandoah.
14. Hike to Dark Hollow Falls
This is one of the most popular things to do in Shenandoah National Park. The trail can be done by hikers of all levels if they take their time as the 1.5-mile trail includes steep, rocky sections. Note that this trail is very popular, so prepare for crowds.
15. Stop by the Skyland Resort
While it may seem like one of the odder things to do in Shenandoah National Park, this is a gorgeous location. You can book dinner at the restaurant while staying overnight at one of 12 log cabins or 20 rooms in this gorgeous historic retreat where rock walls were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
The inn was built in 1911 and now has a library, sun porch, and game room to complete its natural beauty!
16. Enjoy a Picnic
Just about every picnic area within Shenandoah National Park offers access to water sources like streams, rivers, or lakes. Enjoy your meal alongside a babbling brook.
Note: don’t picnic with the bears, and absolutely do not feed them!
17. Hike on the Appalachian Trail
The famous Appalachian Trail covers over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. About 101 miles of that is located here, making this one of the more unique and exciting things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
You certainly don’t have to hike all 101 miles, but why not spend a day on the Appalachian Trail?
Did you know that Shenandoah National Park is an International Dark Sky Park?
That means that it has been recognized for both its natural, dark night skies and the educational programs it offers to the public. Park rangers work hard each year to educate visitors about astronomy and provide them with opportunities to get into the field.
The annual Dark Skies Festival in October celebrates these goals by providing guests with a program schedule of astronomical talks and presentations as well as hands-on activities like telescope making, constellation tours, and nighttime photography workshops.
While there are plenty of things to do in Shenandoah National Park during daylight hours, don’t forget about some of the wonderful opportunities the park can provide after dark.
19. Become a Junior Ranger
Shenandoah National Park, and all national parks across the country, offer junior ranger programs. Some parks allow adults to participate, too!
These are usually free for you to participate in, though some parks may charge a fee. Children can even earn a badge once they complete their junior ranger booklets. There are some rules that you must follow so make sure to read them carefully beforehand!
20. Catch an Autumn Leaf Show at Skyland Visitor Center
Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to see a display of fall foliage along Skyline Drive and it was one of my favorite experiences during that trip.
The main display is generally in October, weather dependent, but other events are scheduled throughout the season too (such as “Fall Foliage Hikes” led by park rangers).
21. View Old Rag Sunrise or Sunset from Mountain Cove Overlook
There are many places to witness beautiful sunrises and sunsets inside Shenandoah National Park, so make sure to plan ahead if you are interested in seeing one. A popular spot that is particularly stunning would have to be Mountain Cove Overlook where there are several areas for you to park and view the different colors of the sky (and Old Rag) as they transition from one time period until another.
If Mountain Cove is crowded, try Timber Hollow or Buck Hollow instead. No matter where you watch from, watching the sunset is one of the most spectacular things to do in Shenandoah.
What to Pack for Shenandoah National Park
Packing for a trip can be tricky. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can range from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 50 degrees once the sun goes down. If you’re visiting in the winter, it will likely snow. Here’s a list of things you may need, with some items varying based on the season you decide to visit.
- Reusable Water Bottle: Literally the most important thing to have in the national parks.
- Moisture-wicking Layers: You’ll want short- and long-sleeve shirts to wear underneath your jacket. In the summer, you may also want a tank top. Choose polyester over cotton.
- Jacket: I always have a packable down with me on trips. I also love this new jacket I got a few months ago, as it’s very light yet warm. Synthetic is a good alternative to down if you’re worried about rain or snow.
- Hiking Pants or Shorts: My favorite hiking pants can be found here. As a taller woman, I also love Columbia’s pants because they offer long sizes.
- Hat: Depending on the season, you’ll need a winter hat or summer hat.
- Gloves or Mittens: Gloves are critical if you’re visiting in the winter.
- Wool Socks: Smartwool is my favorite brand for wool socks. Make sure to get wool so your feet stay warm and dry.
- Grippers, Spikes, or Crampons: If you plan to hike in the winter, I strongly recommend grippers for potentially icy trails. Come prepared and avoid the fall!
- Camera: I had my trusty Canon Rebel T5i, my Canon Powershot SX620, and a GoPro with me on my most recent trip to Colorado.
- Tripod: If you’re hoping to take decent photos of the slot canyons, sunsets, or wildlife, I’d strongly recommend carrying a tripod with you.
- Boots: I love my Keens, and will never choose another brand for my everyday boots. In winter, I choose a much warmer pair of Solomon boots.
- Backpack: I brought my North Face pack, but a friend of mine had a water-resistant Patagonia pack I was extremely jealous of.
- Packing Cubes: Never find yourself unorganized or frantically searching for missing items ever again with these. Plus, it’ll help you squeeze more into your bag!
- Travel Scarf: I love the ones with hidden pockets!
More from Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park Map
Shenandoah Hiking Guide
Shenandoah National Park Sticker
Where to Stay Near Shenandoah National Park
- Days Inn
- Cardinal Inn
- South Court Inn
- Luray Caverns Motels
- River Rock Cabin
- The Nest
- Hampton Inn
- Holiday Inn
- Mountain Home B&B
Pin These Fun Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
I hope these tips help you plan your next trip to Shenandoah National Park! I know it’s one of my favorites and I always have an amazing time whenever I visit. Let me know if you partake in some of my favorite things to do in Shenandoah in the comments.