One Day in Shenandoah National Park: The Ideal Itinerary

If you have yet to visit the layers of magical mountains in Shenandoah National Park, you are surely missing out.

Nestled in the southwest of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for a day trip or longer adventure far from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

As National Park enthusiasts and full-time travelers, we have been fortunate to experience parks all over North America…and Shenandoah National Park is one of the special ones.

We are breaking down how to spend one day in Shenandoah National Park, including how to plan your day to make the most of your time in the park!

Let’s go!

About Shenandoah National Park

Golden trees and the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains illuminated at sunset along Skyline Drive in Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a lush natural paradise and playground for the outdoorsy located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, USA.

Covering an area of 200,000 acres, the park boasts a diverse range of landscapes, including scenic mountain vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, dense forests, and cascading waterfalls.

You can explore the park through its 500 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail that runs through the heart of the park, or take a scenic drive along Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the park’s ridgeline.

What To Know Before You Go

Yearly Visitors: Roughly 1.5 million visitors a year

Airports near Shenandoah National Park:

  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD): 56 miles from the Front Royal entrance
  • Ronal Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA): 70 miles from Front Royal entrance
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI): 105 miles to the Front Royal entrance

Best Time of Year to Visit: Spring for smaller crowds, flowing waterfalls, and wildflowers, summer for perfect weather, and fall for beautiful foliage (fall and summer will be busier times in the park)

How Many Days To Spend In The Park: In order to do some longer hikes and experience all that the park has to offer, 3-4 days can be ideal. Don’t worry though – we will show you how to make the most of your time if you only have 1 day in the park!

Entrance Fees: $35/vehicle for a 7-day pass. National Park Passes accepted (the best value if you plan to visit 3 or more parks in a year)

Getting Around: You will need a vehicle to explore Shenandoah National Park, there is no shuttle system through the park

Accommodations: Covering a sprawling section of mountains, there are multiple places to stay near Shenandoah National Park, depending on which side of the park you want to be closest to.

Best Things To Do During A Day Trip To Shenandoah National Park

Female hiker standing with her arms up on the rocks of Hawksbill Mountain, Shenandoah National Park's highest peak

One day in Shenandoah National Park is more than enough time to soak in the area’s amazing vistas, get out on a trail, breathe the crisp mountain air, and get a feel for what makes this park so special.

First, we dive into activities we think you shouldn’t miss during your visit to the park, followed by an example itinerary to help you plan your precious time.

Check Out A Visitor Center

Depending on where you plan to stay, Shenandoah National Park can be accessed through four different entrance stations.

  • Front Royal Entrance (north entrance) at U.S. 340
  • Thornton Gap Entrance at U.S. 211
  • Swift Run Gap Entrance at U.S. 33
  • Rockfish Gap Entrance (south entrance) east of Waynesboro off U.S. Highway 250

We highly recommend stopping at the Dickey Ridge Visitor (near Frony Royal) Center or Byrd Visitor Center (in the center of the park) to help you learn more about the park from the rangers, learn about the best trails to hike during your visit, and find out about trail conditions or any potential road closures.

Hike Some Trails

Female hiker and her brown dog atop Mary's Rock in front of the layers of mountains of Shenandoah National Park

With so many great trails to explore, a trip to Shenandoah National Park would not be complete without a hike!

Whether you are looking for a short easy hike with stunning views, a cascading waterfall surrounded by spring flowers, or a longer adventure where the reward is worth the climb, this park has something for everyone.

Our favorite long hike for adventure seekers is Old Rag Mountain, but there are also plenty of scenic trails right off Skyline Drive that would be perfect if you only have one day in the park. If you visit during spring there are also several great waterfall hikes in Shenandoah that are easy to fit into a one-day visit to the park!

READ MORE: 10 Best Hikes In Shenandoah National Park

Drive Skyline Drive

A beautiful curve of Skyline Drive in Virginia with views of layers of mountains and green trees beyond a short stone wall

Virginia’s Skyline Drive is the only road that runs directly through the entire length of Shenandoah National Park.

Winding its way 105 miles along mountain ridges offering spectacular sweeping views of the soft forested valleys and peaks of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive stretches north from Front Royal Virginia all the way south to Waynesboro.

It is a well-marked and nicely paved road with mile markers that help you navigate between the many trailheads located along the road, while also being full of scenic overlooks and pullouts.

It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire length of Skyline Drive.

Luray Caverns

While not actually located within Shenandoah National Park, the Luray Caverns are a popular attraction that draws visitors exploring the park each year.

The largest cavern in the eastern United States, this is a great stop if you are looking to add something different to your trip and learn more about the geology of the area, and is also a great option if you happen to get rain or inclement weather during your visit to the park.

For reference, the Luray Caverns sits about 45 minutes from the Byrd Visitor Center via Skyline Drive.

  • Cost: General Admission Tickets start at $34

Shenandoah National Park Itinerary

A male hiker and brown dog sitting on  rocks looking out over the mountain in Shenandoah National Park


Start your day on Skyline Drive.

Not only is this a scenic drive that will provide you with some of the best overlooks and views in the area, it is also the main road and the only public road leading through the entirety of the park.

Whether you are staying north of the park, more central, or south, you will make your way onto Skyline Drive to start your adventure.

If you want to experience the entirety of Skyline Drive and are staying near the center or northern sections of the park, we recommend starting your day by entering the park through the Front Royal entrance station. (This will allow you to make a loop and not have to do any backtracking).

Head to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center first and then continue south, stopping at the various overlooks along Skyline Drive. An early start will be better to beat the crowds.

If you are staying in the southern section of the park, you can simply head north on Skyline Drive. The first Visitor Center you will hit will be Byrd Visitor Center (just over an hour north).

The graved paved road of Skyline Drive cutting through the green mountains of Shenandoah National Park

Mid Day

As you make your way along Skyline Drive, you are going to want to take your time to stop at the overlooks, take photos, and learn about the park and its features.

Early in the day, you will also pass a few short trails right off Skyline Drive that are worth considering:

If heading south from Front Royal you could hike Meadow Spring Trail (1.4 miles to sweeping mountain views) or Mary’s Rock Summit (3 miles with 1,200 feet of elevation gain), although you will likely feel you got similar views from the Skyline Drive overlooks.

If you only have time for one or two short hikes during your one day in the park, we would choose Hawksbill Mountain to be on that list. This is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park, and is accessed via a 1.7 mile trail.

If you are heading north along Skyline Drive, we would recommend Bearfence Mountain (a 1.2-mile flat trail with fun rock scrambles and 360-degree mountain views) as your morning or mid-day hike.

After doing a portion of Skyline Drive and a short hike or two, by the middle of the day it will be time for a bite to eat!

Luckily there are places to stop for food at several places along Skyline Drive and plenty of scenic spots nearby to enjoy a picnic:


After stopping for a bite to eat, it is time to finish the rest of your Skyline Drive route.

At this point in your journey, whether you are traveling north or south you will likely be near the center of Shenandoah National Park.

In the heart of the park, consider taking some time to hike the Dark Hollow Falls trail (1.4 miles) to see a popular waterfall.

From North to South, these are the top 3 trails we recommend considering if you only have 1 day in Shenandoah National Park:

  • Hawksbill Mountain (1.7 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes)
  • Dark Hollow Falls (1.4 miles, 1 hour)
  • Bearfence Mountain (1.2 miles, 30-45 minutes)
Female hiker sitting on top of Bearfence Mountain enjoying 360 degree views of Shenandoah National Park after completing a fun rock scramble on the trail


During the peak summer season, the Luray Caverns are open until 7 pm, making this an option for an evening activity after you have completed your exploration of the park.

In addition, there are several great restaurants around to grab a bite to eat for dinner:


Where to stay:

Glamping is a great option near the park if you are looking for a more upscale nature-centric stay. Here are some great options near Shenandoah National Park:

You can explore all Shenandoah National Park area accommodations, including hotels and private rentals, and compare prices on, which is a great resource for unique stays at the best rates. Some top towns to consider include:

Shenandoah National Park Campgrounds:

Here are some highly-rated private campgrounds not far from Shenandoah National Park:

What to pack:

  • Bug Spray
  • Long pants and layers
  • Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Waterproof hiking shoes
  • Binoculars + Camera
  • *If you will be camping in the park we recommend stocking up on groceries and supplies first, as you are far away from conveniences

Looking for inspiration for other great East Coast National Parks to explore? Check out these guides:

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