“Beautiful Things Don’t Ask For Attention”

If there’s one place I want to visit again soon, it’s Virginia’s  Shenandoah National Park. Our family planned a cabin vacation in Luray, VA and spent a week of our summer exploring this slice of heaven here on earth. From breathtaking scenery to curious wildlife encounters, Shenandoah National Park has something for everyone.

Family Time Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park
Family hikes to one of the many waterfalls of Shenandoah National Park.

About The Park

Shenandoah National Park is about 75 miles from Washington DC and boasts 200,000 protected acres of woodlands. There are 500 miles of hiking trails to explore, stunning waterfalls to visit, and majestic overlooks to gaze upon during sunrises and sunsets.

Our family rented a cabin near Luray, Virginia and it gave us access to the park and Skyline Drive through the Thornton Gap entrance. Here are the other access points from the Shenandoah website.

  • Front Royal Entrance Station – Most northern entrance (Mile 0.6), accessible via U.S. 340 (5 minutes from the town of Front Royal)
  • Thornton Gap Entrance Station – (Mile 31.5), accessible via U.S. 211 (15 minutes from downtown Luray)
  • Swift Run Gap Entrance Station – (Mile 65.7), accessible via U.S. 33
  • Rockfish Gap Entrance Station – Most southern entrance (Mile 105.4), accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250

I’m sure there are many reasons that a family would want to visit this gem of a park, but here are my top five.

#1: Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park, 105 miles of it and mostly on the ridge line. With plenty of overlooks to view the expansive mountains that surround you, its a phenomenal route to take in a vehicle. But if you decide to make this trek in the autumn season, that roads and trail heads can be crowded. Although I’ve never been during autumn, I hear the changing leaves are magnificent to behold.

Skyline Drive Overlook Sunset
One of Skyline Drive’s awesome scenic overlooks during a sunset.

#2: Waterfall Hikes

Generally when my wife and I are hiking a trail, it’s to visit a waterfall somewhere. 🙂 So I decided to group these activities together. The park is home to a number of cascading waterfalls and hiking is the only way to get to a viewing location. We visited Dark Hollow Falls and Lewis Falls during our visit and was well worth the effort.

Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park
Dark Hollow Falls, one of the park’s signature waterfalls.

#3: Captivating Photography

You certainly want to brush up on your camera skills prior to visiting Shenandoah. The park is full of opportunities to capture some amazing images. Whether it is from an overlook on Skyline Drive or hiking a trail, you should always have a camera handy. You never know what you might find along the way.

Don’t get stuck on the expansive landscapes from the overlooks though. Pay attention to the small things. There are beautiful details everywhere.

Skyline Drive Fern Shenandoah National Park
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This little fern is growing out of a rock with almost no soil.

#4: Wildlife Viewing

The biggest surprise for our family was the abundance of black bears in the park. Until this vacation, we’d only seen one bear on our travels. We stopped counting somewhere around 25 during this vacation and it became normal to see them in the mornings and evenings while they forage for meals.

Black Bear Peeks Shenandoah National Park
Black bears were foraging for food at dusk and dawn of our trip. They are commonplace during the summer months.

#5: Luray Caverns

Although not technically in the National Park, Luray is is a nearby town with a captivating cave system to be explored. They provide guided tours through the expansive cave systems, some caves ceilings nearly 10 stories in height. The caves stand in stark contrast to the openness of Skyline Drive and the natural beauty is a site to behold.

Interior View Luray Caverns Virginia Natural Wonder Cave
An interior view of the Luray Caverns.
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