Visiting Shenandoah National Park
Seasons, Fees and ReservationsIt's very popular to come visit Shenandoah during the autumn, when the park's deciduous forest is set ablaze with brilliant fall colors -- rich golds punctuated by the occasional fiery red maple. But visiting in the spring can also be rewarding. When the snow thaws, creeks swell and waterfalls roar with fresh runoff. As the weather warms, wildflowers bloom. The park usually hosts a Wildflower Weekend program, which highlights native blooms during naturalist-led hikes and features keynote speakers and photography workshops. In the summer, the park's elevation offers respite from the Shenandoah Valley heat. The temperature difference averages about ten degrees, making conditions ideal for day hikes.
The park's four car-friendly campgrounds are generally available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but approximately 20 percent of the sites at Loft Mountain and Mathews Arm Campgrounds can be reserved ahead of time. These and the grounds at Big Meadows are large enough to support RVs. Campgrounds are typically open from May through October, but Big Meadows has a longer season of March through November. Backcountry campers may only use designated campsites in the wilderness, and must pick up a free permit at a visitor center. Permits can also be requested ahead of time and mailed to visitors.
Skyline DriveSkyline Drive is a 105-mile-long scenic byway that runs north-south through Shenandoah National Park. It is the only public road through the park, and maintains a 35-m.p.h. speed limit throughout its course. There are 75 overlooks scattered along the route, and there's even more opportunity to check out the park's abundant wildlife -- just be sure to watch out for white-tailed deer crossing the road. The road is wide enough to accommodate RVs and other large vehicles, but drivers should be prepared to shift into low gear for some of the road's steeper sections. The clearance on the Marys Rock Tunnel is 12 feet, eight inches.
Special Programming and EventsShenandoah has a tradition of providing a variety of family-friendly activities. These range from special programming on select weekends and ranger-led walks and talks, to concessioner-hosted entertainment and events like wine tastings and cooking demos. One popular fall event is the park's Wilderness Weekend, which explores Shenandoah's frontier heritage by demonstrating some of the traditional tools that are used to maintain wilderness trails.