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There’s No Time Like That First Time

(by Patressa Kearns) 

We get it. Planning a trip can be exhausting – almost as exhausting as hiking a trail or setting up a campsite. And when you’re planning that trip to a place you’ve never been before…well, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  

But don’t let yourself off the hook! Adventure awaits at Shenandoah National Park—the fun kind of adventure! Just because you’ve never been to this beautiful national park is no excuse to skip it and travel to the same old places you’ve always gone. There’s a wealth of resources to you to help you visit Shenandoah and have a fantastic and safe time, even if it’s your first time. 

  1. Before you visit, visit the internet. We get this, too. You can find yourself in the internet weeds mighty quick, especially when you’re trying to learn about a new place. But relax. Get yourself a cup of coffee, sit down at your computer, and visit the Park’s official website. On the home page, directly under “Shenandoah,” you’ll see Plan Your Visit. Start there. There’s Basic Information, Eating & Sleeping, Places To Go, Things To Do (here’s where you’ll find hiking maps, suggestions, and descriptions), and more. Within those topics are subtopics – camping in a campground, backpacking and backcountry camping, fees, driving directions (hint: Don’t rely on Google Maps or GPS!), maps, you name it. Don’t concern yourself with the other headings at this point; you may not ever need to consult those. Just start with Plan Your Visit and you’ll be fine. Also note the Alerts tab at the top right. That’s where you’ll find any up-to-the-minute information about Skyline Drive and trail closures, as well as anything you might need to know regarding safety and COVID guidelines. Use the Contact Us option at the very bottom of any webpage to send an email or call the Park with specific questions. You can even request that paper maps and information be mailed to you! 

2. Making the trip. Remember what we just said about not trusting Google Maps to get you to the Park? Good! Keep this in mind when you’re traveling. Take a look at the Directions page for driving directions and Google Maps info (if you simply must have that Google Maps info). 

3. Once you arrive. Skyline Drive, the scenic highway that takes you through Shenandoah National Park, is 105 miles long, from its northern end at Front Royal to its southern end at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro. There are four drive-in entrances – one at either end and two in the middle – so it’s easy to find your way to one of them. Your first stop will be at one of those four entrances. There’s where you’ll pay your entrance fee or buy a Park pass, or show the ranger on duty your Park pass if you already have one. The ranger on duty will give you a great map of Shenandoah. Use it. That map will be your best friend for the duration of your stay. It will show you where the good stuff is: restrooms, visitor centers, picnic grounds, campgrounds, Skyline Drive overlooks, restaurants, gift shops, and some trails. Stop at a visitor center  (Dickey Ridge VC at mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive or Big Meadows VC in the middle of the Park at mile 51), if you can, to get detailed information from a ranger. 

4. Be up for an adventure! Because, in Shenandoah you are bound to have a fun one! There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails here, including 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, along with seven picnic grounds, four campgrounds, two visitor centers, three lodges, five restaurants, two taprooms, and almost 70 scenic overlooks.  

Count yourself lucky if you’re seeing this park for the first time…or for the hundredth. But whatever you do, do count yourself in for Shenandoah National Park! 

“There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.” 

– Charlotte Eriksson