If you’re looking for a cool, spacious place to spend the Fourth of July holiday or a summer trip with your family, look no further than Shenandoah National Park. Located in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, with beautiful vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, it has a wide variety of fun activities for you and your family to enjoy.
People have lived in the Shenandoah Valley for at least 9,000 years, traveling through the area for good hunting and gathering, as well as gathering specific types of stone for tool-making. Europeans arrived about 300 years ago, and settled in the area, mining and farming it. It was dedicated as Virginia’s first National Park in 1935. Long and narrow, and with over 196,000 acres of protected land, the park is divided into three distinct districts: North, Central, and South. The weather in the park at its altitude tends to be about 10 degrees cooler than the lowlands surrounding it, which makes it a great summer getaway.
Shenandoah has over 500 miles of trails to explore, some of which connect with what some people consider to be the most scenic part of the Appalachian Trail. You can hike to a series of waterfalls, granite peaks, and other beautiful scenic points around the park. There are hiking trails available for all skill levels, and with so many available, it’s easy to find the perfect hike for your family. The park offers guided hikes as well, which is a great opportunity for the whole family to learn more about the Blue Ridge mountains and the plants and animals that live there. Another way to enjoy some of the trails is to enjoy the scenery on a guided horseback ride. If you’re traveling with a pet, some of the trails allow them, provided they are kept on a leash. Be sure to check the regulations for the trail you wish to hike, however – not all of them are pet-friendly.
Shenandoah National Park is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Simply driving through the park on Skyline Drive, the 105-mile main road through the park, can be an excellent way to view them safely. Because not all of the resident animals are safe to be close to (black bears, for example, are frequently spotted all over the park), it is recommended for visitors to view wildlife from afar with binoculars, and not to feed any wildlife, no matter how docile they seem. For a more up-close way to explore the park’s plants and animals, the park’s Ranger programs are an excellent way to learn about the diverse life in Shenandoah. The park is also home to around 850 species of wildflowers, with beautiful displays of different varieties year-round.
The park has many additional recreational activities for the whole family to choose from. There are different special events throughout the year, from astronomy evenings to culinary events and wine tastings. There is also a year-long calendar of live entertainment in the park. For more family-focused activities, you can take advantage of a guided hike, bike riding along Skyline Road, or rock climbing and rappelling. Fishing is regulated to protect the native population of eastern brook trout, so be sure to check the park regulations before choosing a spot to fish. There are also workshops available such as learning basket-weaving or survival skills. If you would like to to grab a souvenir of your time there, there are even multiple shopping opportunities in the park.
There are a number of different options for lodging throughout Shenandoah Park. With cabins, a hotel, and lodge accommodations, you can stay inside with modern conveniences on hand. Or if your family prefers camping, there are four separate campgrounds with water and restroom facilities that can accommodate tents, trailers, or RVs. For an even more rustic lodging experience, there are options for backcountry camping around the park. And when you and your family are ready to eat, there are multiple dining opportunities around the park, from fancy restaurants to small grocery and camping supply shops.
Regardless of which trails you choose to hike, or which of the many park activities you want to explore with your family, Shenandoah National Park has amazing outdoor activities for everyone, and a cool and beautiful microclimate to enjoy a great summer trip.
Be sure to check information regarding safe practices and regulations at the park before you go. While most park amenities are open during this time, there are some restrictions and program cancellations due to COVID-19 precautions.