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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Fall Visit To Shenandoah

by Patressa Kearns

Upon signing the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin said “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, ol’ Ben, while right about a lot of things, was wrong about that one, because there is a third certainty in this world of ours: fall is busy in Shenandoah National Park—crazy busy.

Starting in late September and extending into early November, Shenandoah is one of the most popular destinations in the east for leaf peepers. So, how can you make the most of your autumn visit to this national park? Let us count the ways.

Plan Ahead
Make your lodging or campground reservations well in advance of your visit. A year is not too far ahead for lodging. Six months is not too far ahead for camping.

Arrive Early In The Day 
Traffic is less likely to be backed up at entrance stations before 9:00 a.m. You’ll be able to travel Skyline Drive more freely in the morning hours, before everyone else arrives. You’re more likely to see wildlife early in the day, too.

Visit On A Weekday
Weekends are busier everywhere for tourism. Shenandoah is no exception (see Ben Franklin quote above). You’re more likely to get a lodge or cabin room or a walk-up campsite on a weeknight. You’ll have Shenandoah to yourself (sort of) and won’t have to jostle for space at overlooks, wait in line at visitor centers, or wait as long to be served at dining rooms. Popular trails like Dark Hollow Falls, Stony Man, Hawksbill, and Bearfence will be less crowded.

Arrive Early On A Weekend, Especially On Holiday Weekends
If you’re hoping for a lodge or cabin room or a walk-up campsite and don’t have a reservation for either, arriving early on Friday morning (or even Thursday for Monday-holiday weekends) is smart.

Plan Your Route 
Look at a map and plan your route. GPS planning alone can be iffy and can make for getting lost in and near this national park; it’s smart to have a good map or two as well. Use the NPS app to help you know where you want to go and what you’ll experience. If you have an idea where you’re going and what you’ll see along the way, you won’t waste time getting lost or miss the things you’re really excited about seeing.

Be Flexible 
It’s wise to have a plan. But part of the adventure of travel, especially in a national park, is to be open to serendipity. Remember that fog is a reality, so instead of driving in the fog, hike in the fog! Remember that others want to have great park experiences, too, so if the overlook you want to stop at is too busy, visit it on your way back through or try another overlook. Remember that there is beauty and fun everywhere in Shenandoah. Be ready to pivot (the most popular word of the past couple years!) and go with the flow. You’ll have a lot more fun that way. (All the best adventurers know this!)