Favorite thing: Fall is everyone's favorite season to visit Shenandoah! The Blue Ridge Mountains turn gold, red, and brown this time of year, the weather cools down, and the skies become a beautiful blue. The crowds are out, too- during weekends on peak foliage times, expect trailheads and overlooks to be crowded. To catch the best of the fall foliage, come after Columbus Day (early October). The first leaves will start turning around late September; but come before Columbus Day (first weekend of October) and the park will still be mostly green. Peak color begins in the highest elevations of the park around the middle weekend of October and moves slowly down the mountain; by the end of October, the highest mountaintops will be bare but the slopes of the mountains will be in full color. Peak color then occurs in the Valley around the end of October, while peak color in the Piedmont doesn't come until about the first week of November, after which most of the fall color burns out. Skip the waterfall trails (unless, of course, it's raining or foggy)- go straight for the mountaintop views in the fall. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite.
Favorite thing: During the winter, views all over the park open up. Even though most trees no longer display any spectacular foliage, they still look peaceful and beautiful during the winter. It gets cold- expect temperatures below freezing every night, and temperatures that barely hover above freezing during the day. Snow is common and Skyline Drive will close when it's covered by heavy snow. Admission to the park is less during winter than during summer. The number of visitors drops sharply- you can expect to have many trails to yourself. Avoid hikes like Old Rag, where the rock scramble can be slippery, but hike the waterfall trails if the weather is below freezing and you have a good amount of hiking experience. The frozen waterfalls in winter are particularly beautiful.
Favorite thing: Summer is probably the second most popular season at Shenandoah, though it may be the least pleasant. The heat can often become oppressive during the summer, reaching the 90s or on occasion even 100 degrees Fahrenheit (upper 30s C). Add to that Virginia's intense humidity and you'll have weather that often isn't fun! Summer weekends are especially crowded (expect campgrounds to fill up). Many waterfalls become smaller in the summer as the water volume of most runs drop (the exception is after rain and thunderstorms). Views from mountaintops or from Skyline itself often aren't great, either, as the smog and humidity limits how far you can see. However, the trees are a particularly beautiful dark green during the summer, so when there are views, seeing ridge after ridge of dark green trees is very satisfying. Expect summer temperatures by early to mid June- they'll last until September.
Favorite thing: Spring is a good time to visit Shenandoah- the waterfalls are usually the fullest, the crowds aren't out in full force yet, and the mountains are a pretty yellow-green as the trees begin to bud. "Spring" doesn't really begin until late April; if you're in the higher elevation central section of the park, flowers and trees will begin their activity roughly a month after everything starts in the Piedmont and the Valley. Temperatures are still cool during the early and late hours- expect temperatures hovering around freezing during those times even into early May. Views are also fairly good prior to mid-May, as the humid weather of summer and the dense smog hasn't set in yet.
From the beginning, National Park planners called for Shenandoah's greatest single feature to be a SKYLINE DRIVE on which motorists could enjoy a leisurely drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and where they could experience the awe and inspiration of the magnificent views.
Skyline Drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. At its southern end it joins the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Some of the Overlooks we saw along Skyline Drive are:
Hazel Mountain Overlook - 2770 feet above sea level
Jewell Hollow Overlook - 3320 feet
Pinnacles Overlook - 3320 feet (mile post 35)
Pinnacles Picnic Area - we had lunch here
Hemlock Springs Overlook- ( near mile post 40) - 3380 feet
Crescent Rock Overlook - (near mile post 45) -3550 feet
Hawksbill - highest peak in the park - 4051 feet
Tanners Ridge Overlook - 3465 feet
The Oaks Overlook - (near mile post 60) - 3125 feet
Bacon Hollow Overlook (near mile post 70) - 2450 feet
Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at the I-64 & Waynesboro where we got off (mile post 105)
We were looking forward to seeing some Fall Foliage and we were not disappointed.
Fall colors peak between October 10 and 15 and we were there during the peak time. There were still lots of oranges, yellows and reds. Oaks dominate the forest with leaves turning yellow, rust and various shades of red. The real stars of the show are the Black Gums (bright red), Sugar Maples (orange), and Red Maples ( red or yellow). Hickory leaves turn golden yellow, while Striped Maples, Birches, Cherries and Tulip Poplars turn lemon yellow. Dogwood leaves turn deep purple.
Flowers still blooming include Chicory, Goldenrod, Aster, Violet, Viper's Bugloss and Yarrow.
Chipmunks are stuffing their cheek pouches with seeds, acorns and nuts to keep them in their underground burrows over winter.
Mary's Rock is the eight highest peak in Shenandoah National Park at about 3514 feet above sea level. There are many legends about how Mary's Rock got its name. The first legend says that Francis Thornton (for whom Thornton Gap is named after) married Mary Savage and he climbed to this rock to show her the land they would own. Actually, Thornton had a daughter (but not a wife) named Mary. A second legend says that Thornton brought his daughter Mary to this rock to show her the land she would inherit. The third legend says the young Mary one day climbed up to this rock with a bear cub in her arms.
To reach the summit of Mary's Rock, you can either hike there from Meadows Spring Parking, or take the Appalachian Trail south from the Panorama development (now under renovation).
Favorite thing: If you're on one of the many trails in Shenandoah and find a major viewpoint crowded, head out to a number of smaller, un-named rocks and viewpoints that may not have views that are quite as good, but offer much more solitude. For example, on the Mary's Rock Trail, you hike to the end where there is an often crowded viewpoint (we went on Memorial Day weekend; there were about five families at the top). A better choice, though, would be to spend some time on one of the smaller rocks along the way. While the views are quite as wide, it's peaceful and quiet.
This is a great place to stop if you're camping and entering from the south. They have a very good selection of camping gear, outdoor wear, freeze-dried food, MSR/Primus style fuel canisters, and those little doodads you forgot. Camping supplies get sparser once you get in the park, so it's a good idea to stock up here.
It's on Hwy 250, a couple miles from the Rockfish Gap Entrance.
There is so much invaluable and intrigiung information you can obtain from the National Park visitor centers. There is always a display showcase or movie that hightlights the parks history and uniquness.
Talk to the Park rangers! They love to share their knowledge. Their enthusiam is quite contagious. We always get their hiking trail advice.Their information never lets us down.
Fondest memory: Great trails... Great Weather!
The Blue Ridge Mountains, with the Blue Ridge Parkway , Skyline Drive and Shenandoah Nat'l Park are those types of places that you see on maps that you just have to see but never seem to be able to schedule a trip to see them.
We di the Shenandoah drive in March , maybe not the best time to go.
The trip from Waynesboro to Front Royal is only 110 miles. The road is very windy , back and forth , back and forth.
We had to bail out at mile 74 as the turn turn turn motion was making people woosey .
We left the Ridge Drive at the Luray exit and descended into the Shenandoah Valley.
Favorite thing: The Skyline Drive has many overlooks where you could see for miles on a clear day. It is part of the Shenandoah National Park. The cost of entrance for Shenandoah National Park is $10 per car. Well worth the price of admission.