Updated: 2 days ago
Spending one day in Shenandoah National Park can be a memorable experience, especially in fall or spring when the leaves are turning or flowers are blooming. As a DC local, I love exploring Shenandoah and think it makes the perfect day trip or weekend exploring the mountains!
Below is my itinerary for Shenandoah National Park as someone who has gone dozens of times. This itinerary can be done in the order I suggest or reverse, depending on where you are coming from and what time of year you are going! I also share suggestions for where to stay and lots of options for things around Shenandoah if you want to extend your trip to an entire weekend in Shenandoah.
Early Morning: Starting the Drive
Morning: Skyline Drive
Early Afternoon: Hiking in Shenandoah
Late Afternoon: Cave, Farm, Winery, or Apple Picking
Start your day early with breakfast and coffee in Front Royal, Virginia. Front Royal is a town in Warren County, Virginia. It is situated in the northern part of the state, in the Shenandoah Valley, and is known for its scenic beauty and proximity to the Shenandoah National Park.
Front Royal has a charming historic downtown area with shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The town's historic district features well-preserved 19th-century architecture. Scroll the streets and stop in some shops if you have time.
The Front Royal entrance to Shenandoah NP is the closest entrance to DC. It's common for people taking a day trip from DC to enter the park here. If you choose this as your first stop, I recommend going early, especially in the fall. Doing this itinerary in reverse will get you into the park faster in the fall.
After breakfast and walking the shops, it’s time to head into Shenandoah! The Front Royal entrance is just 5 minutes from town, making it the “gateway to Shenandoah” and the perfect first stop.
Morning: Drive Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive stretches for 105 miles, running north to south through Shenandoah National Park. The drive traverses elevations ranging from approximately 600 feet to over 3,680 feet, offering breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding mountains.
Skyline Drive features numerous overlooks and pull-off areas where visitors can stop and take in the panoramic views of the park. These overlooks offer excellent opportunities for photography and wildlife watching. The first portion of the drive from Front Royal is one of my favorites, as you’ll see the layers of mountains over the horizon and the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It really can’t be beat!
The drive offers a unique experience in every season. Spring brings colorful wildflowers, while summer provides lush greenery. Fall is particularly popular for the vibrant foliage, and winter can be a tranquil time to enjoy snow-covered landscapes.
I’d recommend driving until you get to the Skyland Dining Room, which is a perfect area to stop at for lunch!
Lunch: Picnic or Restaurant
After a morning drive, it's time to stretch your legs. You can have a packed picnic lunch at one of the designated picnic areas within the park or visit a local restaurant like Skyland Dining Room or Big Meadows Lodge if they're open.
Bkyland and Big Meadows get extremely busy during lunchtime, so I wouldn’t recommend relying on them for your food. I’d suggest bringing food and stopping at one of them to use the picnic tables.
I like stopping at Skyland because they also have a Starbucks and gift shop (plus the nicest bathrooms in the park). Other picnic areas are below:
Dickey Ridge (mile 4.6)
Elkwallow (mile 24.1)
Pinnacles (mile 36.7)
Big Meadows (mile 51.2)
Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5)
South River (mile 62.8)
Dundo (mile 83.7)
Early Afternoon: Hiking
In the afternoon, you’ll head back north on Skyline Drive from Skyland to make a stop for a hike in the park. The Skyline Drive is intersected by more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including portions of the famous Appalachian Trail. Hikers can access various trails from Skyline Drive, catering to different skill levels and interests.
Shenandoah National Park offers a wide range of hiking trails, including easy, moderate, and strenuous options. It's essential to choose a trail that matches your fitness level and the experience you're seeking. Below are a few of my favorite trails around the Thornton Gap/Skyland area that are easily accessible and make a great afternoon stop on your day trip.
You'll also likely see some recommendations for Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon when searching for an itinerary. These are long, strenuous hikes I wouldn't recommend unless you have more than one day in Shenandoah.
Limber Lost Trail (1.3 miles, easy)
Dark Hollow Falls (1.5 miles, easy)
Little Stony Man (3 miles, moderate)
Hawksbill Mountain (2.8, easy to moderate)
Mary’s Rock (3.5 miles, moderate)
Rose River Falls (3.9, moderate)
Late Afternoon: Cave, Farm, Apple Picking, or Winery
After hiking, and depending on which hike you choose, you’ll have several options nearby. This is why I like to go from Front Royal to Thorton Gap - you can choose an adventure based on how much time you have and your energy level. Of course, this also works in reverse order, especially if you have an activity you don’t want to miss.
Any way you choose, I recommend leaving the park at the Thornton Gap entrance. Thornton Gap is located on the eastern side of Shenandoah National Park, and it is one of the most easily accessible entrances for travelers coming from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. It is situated near the town of Luray, Virginia.
Options are below for your afternoon.
Luray Caverns is a popular and renowned cave system located in Luray, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. It is one of the largest and most impressive cave systems in the eastern United States, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Luray Caverns was discovered in 1878 when a local tinsmith named Andrew Campbell and a group of other explorers were drawn to a sinkhole, eventually leading them to the cave entrance.
The caverns are known for their intricate geological formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. These formations have taken millions of years to develop through a process of mineral deposition.
Visitors can explore the caverns through guided tours that provide insight into the cave's history, geology, and unique formations. The tours typically last about an hour and cover a variety of chambers and passages.
Luray Caverns is great to visit in the summer when it's hot out. You come inside, and the cool, damp air is a nice change from the heat of the day, especially after hiking! Bring a coat or jacket if you’re visiting in the fall or winter, as it gets cold inside!
Fairview Fun Farms
If you're looking for a fun farm experience where you can feel like a kid again, Fairview Fun Farms is a great option just outside Luray! They have games, slides, hay rides, a corn maze, a petting zoo, and more. This is a great option for families or going with a group of friends.
We loved the view of the mountains from here and the pumpkin patch! It was not crowded, and the entrance fee was affordable. Well worth it!
Fairview Fun Farms will open Saturday, September 23rd, and the month of OCTOBER ONLY on Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday are only open for field trips and special events
$10.00 per person; age 2 and under is free. Admission price includes all activities, rides, pumpkin painting with the purchase of the pumpkin, fishing (fishing poles and bait included), corn maze, etc.
Stay up to date with them on Facebook.
Apple Picking at Jenkins Orchard
Apples are one of the best crops on the East Coast during the fall. You'll find apples everywhere around Shenandoah, especially outside the Thornton Gap exit! If you're looking for a spot to pick your own apples here, Jenkins Orchard is a great spot.
They are a family-owned orchard since 1954. Their apple season begins in mid-June and goes till mid-December. They also have mini pumpkins, pie pumpkins, gourds, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and delicata squash. In early fall, they have peaches, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, onions, and more.
They offer a Pick-your-own on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9-5, cash only. It's $14, and you can take many different types of apples home. It's worth a stop! This year I used all my apples to make a delicious apple crisp and shared the extras with family.
Stay up to date with the latest for them on Facebook.
It's hard to beat sipping on a glass of wine with a view of the mountains after a hike! The area around Shenandoah is also full of wineries worth a stop! The area around Shenandoah is filled with wineries, and you'll notice signs all along the drive, whether entering at Front Royal or Thornton Gap.
In the fall, many will have special events going on as well, such as live music, food truck or restaurant collaborations, and activities for kids/families. Below are a few I'd recommend:
Dinner and Drinks
If you didn't grab dinner at a winery after your late afternoon activity, consider one last stop on your day trip to Shenandoah for dinner in Sperryville!
You'll find Headmaster’s Pub (12018 Lee Hwy.) right off the highway. This is a great spot for bar snacks, burgers, and an arcade packed with dinging, pinging vintage pinball machines.
For drinks, you’ll have to make a minor detour off the trail to hit Copper Fox Distillery(9 River Ln.), for a tour and tasting of its smoky applewood-aged whiskey, and Wild Roots Apothecary(4 River Ln.), which crafts botanical syrups for cocktails in flavors such as elderberry-lavender. There's also Francis, an intimate cocktail/wine bar, or the wild-fermented sour beer at the cult brewery Pen Druid (3863 Sperryville Pike), boasting widescreen views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For other food options, Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen fires up sourdough-crusted rounds. If you’re there on the weekend, grab food from Sumac, a couple-run mobile wood-fired kitchen serving cheffy rustic fare. Last, consider the reservation-only Three Blacksmiths (20 Main St.), where chef Jake Addeo, a recent transplant who previously helmed DC restaurants such as the Occidental and the late Bibiana, crafts an elegant tasting menu leaning heavily on local ingredients and classic European techniques.
In this one day Shenandoah itinerary, I've packed tons of options for you to choose from. Of course, if you're interested in staying longer, that's always an option too. There are plenty of places to stay near Shenandoah and ways to extend your trip! A weekend in the mountains is always a good idea.
Need a place to stay in Shenandoah? Consider these options:
Great for small groups! This property is located in Front Royal and has a terrace, free private parking, and free Wifi. The villa is fitted with 3 bedrooms, a flat-screen TV, and a fully equipped kitchen that provides guests with a dishwasher, an oven, a washing machine, a microwave, and a fridge.
Great for small groups! The White Moose Inn offers a contemporary aesthetic to the Virginia countryside. Nestled in the historic town of “Little Washington,” The Moose is the closest accommodation to The Inn at Little Washington and minutes away to wineries, distilleries, shopping, and Shenandoah National Park.
They have 8 uniquely designed rooms or villas, a locally sourced breakfast, and daily happy hour, all while enjoying the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Great for a romantic getaway! The vacation home has 1 separate bedroom, 1 bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area and oven, and a living room with a flat-screen TV. Towels and bed linen are provided in the vacation home. The vacation home has an outdoor fireplace and hot tub with sparkly lights, making it extra romantic.