I believe there is nothing more relaxing and restorative than spending time in nature.
This was never more true than our road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I’m so excited to share my list of things to do and see in Shenandoah National Park.
My husband and I love hiking in our beautiful wooded area of New Jersey. We were excited to plan our first ever family vacation as a family of three with our son, Gavin, when he was 10-months old.
We want to share our love for the outdoors with him at an early age, and we quickly decided that the Blue Ridge Parkway would be a perfect destination for our first family adventure.
We spent the first two days of vacation visiting my cousin in Washington, DC. This is another great East Coast destination for families, and we enjoyed a slow-paced visit walking the National Mall and viewing the monuments.
Washington DC is a short 2 ½ hour drive from the North entrance of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, so it’s a great stopping point or add-on.
Here’s the deal: I did mention we’re traveling with a 10-month-old, right? Well, our darling baby foiled our vacation plans two days in when he woke up with a 104 fever. We ended up spending one whole day in the hotel room watching movies and eating room service. We also ended up heading home five days early as he still wasn’t feeling well, and we decided it was best to cut our losses and head home.
This is the reality of traveling with kids. Trips will be canceled, plans will be changed, you will get little to no sleep, and things will happen that are out of your control. Read on to the end where I will share tips on traveling with kids and a recommendation on booking trip insurance.
We did have a few awesome experiences I’m excited to share, and I’ll also give you the itinerary for the rest of the Blue Ridge Parkway that was researched extensively, although we were never able to experience it.
Let’s hit the road with the ultimate list of things to do and see in Shenandoah National Park…
ARRIVING AT SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK FROM WASHINTON, DC METRO AREA
As I mentioned, the North Entrance of Shenandoah National Park is about 2 ½ hours from Washington, DC. The most direct route is to travel west on Interstate 66 to Front Royal, Virginia (62 miles). Take the exit onto Route 340 South and follow signs for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
I was going through an Amazing Race obsession at the time so we made a pact we would do the trip without GPS. With a good ol’ map in hand, once we were out of the city of Washington, DC we thought it was very well-marked and easy to find the entrance of the park.
You need to purchase a Shenandoah National Park Pass, $30/vehicle. All entrance fees at Shenandoah National Park are valid for unlimited entry for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase. You can get all the details on the park fees on the National Park Service Website.
Also, Skyline Drive will close with inclement weather, so if you are traveling on a snowy or stormy day, you can call (540) 999-3500 to make sure it’s open.
SKYLINE DRIVE OVERLOOKS
Once you enter Shenandoah National Park, there are stunning scenic lookouts at every turn. Some of the most breathtaking spots include:
- Hazel Mountain Overlook (MP 33)
- Thorofare Mountain Overlook (MP 41)
- The Point Overlook (MP 55.5)
- Brown Mountain Overlook (MP 77)
You will want to add a buffer to any travel time as you’ll want to stop and check out the views along the way.
WHERE TO STAY
Skyland Resort, Skyland Upper Loop Mile 41, Luray, VA 22835
I cannot recommend this resort enough. We stayed three nights, and as I mentioned we had a sick baby so we were cooped up in the hotel for an entire day. The scenic views from our room were so calming, and we could enjoy the gorgeous sunsets from the patio off our room. The rustic décor made you feel like you were right at home in nature.
We also ate every meal at the Skyland Dining Room which was a short walk from our room and also offered stunning views of the valley. The meatloaf was the bomb, and I will never forget the blackberry ice cream pie for dessert.
If you’re traveling with a baby and need to store milk, be sure to call ahead and request a mini-fridge because not all rooms have them. Also the “Laurel Rooms” looked like they had the best view.
Sugar Tree Inn, 145 Lodge Trl, Vesuvius, VA 24483-2307 (MM 27 BRP)
We had planned to stay here as we continued our drive down Shenandoah National Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This quaint, family-owned inn includes a breakfast buffet and the option to order a dinner basket. It’s about a 2 ½ hour drive from Skyland Resort and is a great jumping-off point for some amazing hikes further down on the BRP.
WHERE TO HIKE
Stony Man Trail (MP 41.7): This is a two-minute drive from Skyland Resort and the route starts at the Stony Man Trail parking lot. The Stony Man Trail starts on the Appalachian Trail – look for the blue and white blazes. The hike is nearly 2-miles, and we managed it easily with a 10-month old in a backpack carrier (he actually slept the whole way).
After a half-mile, keep straight at the junction following the blue-blazed Stony Man Trail for an additional 0.3 miles until you reach the final viewpoint. It took us about an hour up and back.
And the reward was truly spectacular. We would have liked to come during the sunset and would recommend doing so if you don’t have a baby in tow. We’d also love to come back in the Fall when the foliage is in full bloom.
After taking some time to enjoy the view, continue on the blue-blazed loop back to the trail junction and retrace your steps to the parking lot.
This ended up being the only hike we squeezed in before baby got sick, but here are some other trails we had planned on hiking:
- Big Meadows and the Byrd Visitor Center: (15 min drive from the hotel) There is no official trail through or around Big Meadows, instead there is a network of game trails that hikers can follow as they explore the beauty of the meadow. Big Meadows is just under a mile wide and about a half-mile across and is the only sustained meadow in Shenandoah. The Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center lies across the road from Big Meadows. There, you can learn about the park’s creation and history.
- Dark Hollow Falls Trail (MP 50.7) (1 min drive from Big Meadows) The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is just 1.4 miles and it’s a great hike for kids. Keep in mind that it’s almost entirely downhill to the base of the waterfall, which means that it’s almost entirely uphill to get back to the parking lot.
- Blackrock Summit (MP 85): Blackrock Summit is a short 1-mile loop. The parking area is just north of mile marker 85 on Skyline Drive. After taking some time to enjoy the view, continue around the boulders to follow the yellow-blazes on the Appalachian Trail back to the parking lot.
- Spy Rock: The hike is part of the George Washington National Forest and the entire trip is about 3 miles. This hike can easily be combined with nearby Crabtree Falls and is 3.1 miles total. There is an easy scramble to get to the top, and this could be a sunset or sunrise hike, but the views to the west are slightly better looking into the valley.
- Humpback Rock: This little hike is one of the most popular in the area. It’s a short and steep one-mile to the top but the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park are some of the best around.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Luray Caverns: Just outside the park, you’ll find Luray Caverns, which is a tour unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Luray Caverns is open every day of the year (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and tours depart approximately every twenty minutes. The guided walking tour of the caverns takes a little over one hour. The paved walkways on the tour are 1.25 miles in length.
The cavern system is a magical walk through stalactites, stalagmites, and mirrored pools. These caverns are famous for the Great Stalacpipe Organ which actually makes noise by striking the ancient stalactites in the cave. I felt like I was in The Goonies!
The tour guide was very knowledgeable and shared many fun facts about the history and evolution of the caverns. Our group was incredibly patient with us bringing a babbling baby along.
The paved path was easy to navigate with our stroller, but it is a haul to get it in and out of the cavern via a steep set of stairs. If you are traveling alone, I would call ahead and make sure an employee would be able to help you get the stroller down.
The General Admission also includes a self-guided tour of the Car and Carriage Caravan and we enjoyed taking a quick look at all of the vintage cars.
Natural Bridge (15 Appledore Ln, Natural Bridge, VA 24578): This Natural Bridge has been named One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It requires a small detour where the BRP crosses the Virginia Byway.
The 215-foot tall Natural Bridge is a limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek and is a stunning example of nature at work.
You can take a shuttle bus or a short hike down to the bridge.
Previously owned by Thomas Jefferson, you can still see the place where George Washington carved his initials into the stone when he surveyed the area.
VACATION EXTENTION: ROANOKE & ASHEVILLE
We had originally planned to road trip from the North entrance of Shenandoah National Park to Asheville, but we cut the trip short when Gavin’s fever didn’t improve. Here’s the route we would have taken…
Shenandoah National Park -> Roanoke
- Stay at Hampton Inn & Suites Roanoke-Downtown
- Morning hike at Hanging Rock State Park
Roanoke -> Asheville
- Stay at Four Points by Sheraton Asheville Downtown
- Visit Biltmore Mansion & Biltmore House Grounds
- Basilica of Saint Lawrence
- Asheville Brewery Tour
- LaZoom Kids Comedy Tours or Trolley Tour
- Hike Mt. Mitchell
- Chimney Rock State Park + The Great Woodland Adventure Trail
PREPARING FOR TRAVEL WITH BABIES & TODDLERS
The one thing that surprised me most about becoming a mother is that kids get sick ALL.THE.TIME. They are touching everything and putting their hands in their mouth and are just a magnet for germs and viruses.
It’s possible that you may be on a long-awaited vacation and your child falls ill. Here are some precautions you can take BEFORE embarking on your adventure in the unfortunate event this also happens to you.
- Book travel insurance: After this trip, we started booking trip insurance with World Nomads. It kind of pains me to pay for something you will (hopefully!) never use, but traveling with children is so unpredictable it’s reassuring to know you are covered should your circumstances change. Do note that their policy is a little vague on coverage in the event of a pandemic such as the coronavirus. Their website says “Cancellations due to fear of travel are not covered under the plan. However, our plan does not exclude losses associated with pandemic or epidemic conditions; meaning that if you, your traveling companion or family member were to become sick (after you purchase the plan) as a result of the COVID-19 virus, you could still receive benefits for losses covered by the plan.” For more information, visit their designated coronavirus page.
- Pack some essentials: I’m a huge advocate of minimalist packing and only bringing what you absolutely need, but when it comes to traveling with kids, it’s good to bring some essential health and wellness items should your child fall ill. I always bring the following: thermometer, Baby Tylenol, Nose Frida, vitamins. If you know for certain you will have access to a pharmacy, you can consider leaving these things home. When we stayed at Shenandoah National Park it was a 40-minute drive out of the park to the closest pharmacy, so now I just throw these things in a small bag and bring along for all trips.
- Find Urgent Care in the area: During this trip, we needed to bring Gavin to a minute clinic in Roanoke as his fever was still high after a few days. On all future trips, I will be sure to note any urgent care locations around our travel destinations in case of an emergency.
- Take precautions to keep them from getting sick: Especially if you’re traveling on a plane, washing hands and using hand sanitizer is key. Kids tend to touch everything in sight and then rub their hands all over their faces, so remembering to clean those little fingers as much as possible to help keep germs at bay. Using sanitizing wipes to quickly wipe down airplane seats, restaurant tables and other places that breed germs is a good tip as well.
- Keep kids hydrated: And also watch what they’re eating. If they seem to be suffering from stomach issues, keep to a BRAT diet (banana, rice, apple, toast) until they feel better.
- Don’t forget your insurance card: Always travel with your insurance card, especially if traveling overseas.
I’d love to hear about your favorite things to do and see in Shenandoah National Park. Please share in the comments section below.
Looking for other kid-friendly vacations? Check out this post on Ocean City, MD.