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NATIONAL PARKS
National Park Service

From summits to waterfalls, Shenandoah National Park is perfect for the entire family

Shenandoah National Park is a playground for the Appalachian Mountains, and everyone has an invitation.

Those who are more daring can tackle challenging rock scrambles or summit hikes. Others can enjoy the beauty of the mountains without exiting the car via the famously scenic Skyline Drive. Along the winding 105-mile drive 鈥 which is also the only road in the park 鈥 visitors can spot wildlife, such as deer or black bears, and take in sweeping vistas at one of its 75 overlooks.

Even furry friends are welcome to Shenandoah, one of the few national parks that allow pets on trails. The Virginia park has over and many campgrounds open to curious dogs.聽

鈥淲hen you arrive here, there鈥檚 just a wide range of activities to choose from,鈥 said Allysah Fox, Shenandoah National Park鈥檚 Public Information Officer. The park is home to over 200,000 acres of protected lands and 60 peaks, allowing for adventures like waterfall hikes, fly-fishing, white-water rafting and more.聽

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What makes the park even more accessible is that it鈥檚 鈥渙n the East Coast鈥檚 back door鈥 鈥 a quick hour-and-a-half drive from Washington, D.C., she said.

Here鈥檚 everything travelers should know about Shenandoah National Park.

What is so special about Shenandoah National Park?聽

Spring colors in foreground at Thornton Hollow Overlook at sunrise.

Shenandoah National Park鈥檚 proximity to Washington, D.C., and other major Virginia cities makes it special for nature lovers. 鈥淲e鈥檙e fortunate to be in a location that we are,鈥 Fox said. The park is also nestled within several smaller, charming communities worth exploring, like Front Royal. Driving along these towns allows travelers to 鈥渄rive parallel with the mountains and get a good view of the landscape.鈥

From forests to wetlands and rock outcrops, the rich, diverse biodiversity of the Appalachian Mountains and Shenandoah Valley also provides a wide variety of natural beauty for parkgoers to explore. 鈥淭here are so many hikes that allow for all sorts of skill levels with different viewpoints, like waterfall hikes, summits and rock scrambling,鈥 said Fox.聽

What is the best time to visit Shenandoah National Park?

Autumn is the most popular time for visitors to Shenandoah.

Anytime, actually. 鈥(Shenandoah) has something for parkgoers every season,鈥 Fox said. Fall is by far the most popular time for visitors when the mountains transform into shades of amber, yellow and orange. 鈥淚t goes into full technicolor,鈥 she noted.聽

Spring also attracts many visitors to the park when the valleys and mountains burst with over 850 species of colorful wildflowers starting in late March. 鈥淚n the spring we have wildflowers coming into bloom, lining the hiking trails, lining Skyline Drive,鈥 Fox said.聽

Don鈥檛 forgo the summer or winter either. The park is worth a visit during the summer since the mountains are about 10 degrees cooler than in the valleys, offering a 鈥渘ice retreat鈥 into shady, lush forests, Fox said. In the wintertime, the park becomes a place of peace and solitude, and is also one of the best times to witness wildlife.聽

A winter sunrise at Hazel Mountain.

What is the most beautiful part of Shenandoah National Park?

Fox recommends most travelers start their journey in Shenandoah at Limberlost Trail, a fully accessible, gentle stroll through an old grove of hemlock trees. At just 1 mile long, the trail is 鈥渁 good leg stretcher,鈥 Fox said. The paved path makes it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. The shady trees are also home to various birds.

Hawksbill Summit is Shenandoah's highest peak.

For one of the absolute best views, hikers can tackle Shenandoah鈥檚 highest peak, , standing tall at 4,000 feet. The platform at the end of the hike offers an epic 360-degree vista of Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Virginia Piedmont. There are two ways to hike the summit, which is located in the central portion of the park by Skyland and Big Meadows. The hike is brief at around 2 miles roundtrip but moderately difficult, according to NPS. You can bring your leashed dog too.聽聽

Can you drive through Shenandoah National Park?

Skyline Drive takes park goers through the stunning foliage of the park.

Yes. In fact, that鈥檚 one of the biggest attractions in the park. is the only road going through the entire park. The road has four entrances, which run north and south along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains鈥 Blue Ridge Mountains. On a day with good weather, it takes approximately three hours to drive through the park.聽

What shouldn鈥檛 I miss at Shenandoah National Park?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but exploring Skyline Drive is a must-do at Shenandoah, according to Fox. 鈥淒riving the length of Skyline Drive is going to give you a lot of perspective from what you might see from the summit, you can see from the comfort of your vehicle,鈥 she said.聽

Along the drive, Fox recommends travelers stop at Camp Rapidan, the historic summer retreat of President Herbert Hoover and first lady Lou Herbert 鈥 and the first presidential retreat in the nation. Hikers up for the challenge can traverse the , a 7.4-mile loop that passes the camp and also crosses three streams.

Parkgoers should bring their appetite, too, as the park is famous for its blackberry ice cream pie, which can be found at the Skyland and Big Meadows dining lodges. 鈥淚t鈥檚 the crown jewel of the park,鈥 Fox said.聽

What airports are closest to Shenandoah National Park?

Travelers to Shenandoah can fly into any of the airports near Washington, D.C., such as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is only about 72 miles from the park. Another option is Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, about 50 miles away.聽

How many days is enough for Shenandoah National Park?

A black bear peeping over a rock wall.

鈥淭hree to four days gives you the best bang for your buck,鈥 Fox said. That way, visitors can enjoy a waterfall or summit hike and still make the Skyline Drive including stops at the lodges and vantage points along the way.聽聽

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for 91影视 based in Hawaii. You can reach her at kwong@usatoday.com.

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