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Top 10 Tips for Visiting Shenandoah in the Summer

A young man stands on top of a scenic overlook and takes a picture with his phone.

There are plenty of amazing things to do Shenandoah National Park! Hike on the famous Appalachian Trail. Marvel at scenic vistas of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley along Skyline Drive. Experience the thrill of a seeing a family of black bears crossing your path. Romp in a butterfly-filled meadow. Listen to the sweet serenade of a wood thrush as you stroll in the forest. Be uplifted by the jubilant splashing of waterfalls and streams cascading over rocks. Discover the beauty of wildflowers up close. Find a quiet spot to listen to the heartbeat of the wilderness.

So what’s the best way to have fun in Shenandoah National Park? Plan ahead! Unmet expectations can be a major cause of frustration, so know what you’re getting into before you come to Shenandoah. Here are some tips to help make your memories of Shenandoah good ones. And, while you're planning your next summer adventure, why not explore some tips for visiting one of the many other national parks nearby?

Weekends (Fridays through Sundays) are usually busier than weekdays during the summer. Plan to come as early in the day as you can in order to avoid long lines at entrance stations or lack of parking spaces at trailheads.

Due to the potential for long lines at entrance stations during the summer, we strongly encourage you to purchase your entrance pass in advance online. In addition to purchasing your daily entrance pass online, you can purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (good for entry to any national park site that charges a fee), Senior Pass (for those age 62 and older, good for your lifetime) or the Shenandoah National Park Annual Pass (good for one year from time of purchase).

Reserve campsites and lodging ahead of time. If they are full, find alternatives at commercial cabins, campgrounds, hotels or motels in the neighboring towns outside of the Park.

Be prepared if you want to camp in the backcountry. There are no designated backcountry camp sites, so dispersed camping is the rule. Study detailed trail maps ahead of time and make sure that you know the regulations. Permits are required. They are free, and available online or at self-registration kiosks at the four entrance stations on Skyline Drive, as well as Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon trailheads.

Very few trails in the Park are off-limits to pets, so make sure you know where pets aren't allowed before visiting. Pets must be kept on a leash no longer than 6-feet at all times in the park. Clean up after your pets and carry out the trash.

Enjoy waterfalls from the viewpoints provided or from a safe distance. Many injuries in the Park have resulted from people climbing waterfalls. Wet rocks are slippery!

Knowledgeable employees are available at both visitor centers. Stop by and chat before hiking, and get a free trail map!

Everyone wants to hike Old Rag and Dark Hollow Falls. You may enjoy a different trail, waterfall or summit view just as much without the crowds.  

The speed limit along Skyline Drive is 35 miles per hour in most places. That’s the top speed you're permitted to go. The scenic drive is very winding, with some tight curves. Expect animals to show up on the Drive at any moment: deer, bears, squirrels, bobcats, turkeys, owls and other wildlife may cross in front of your vehicle. There is no shoulder, so watch out for bicyclists and hikers along the Drive. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you want to go!

The new NPS App can help you plan your trip. Explore more than 400 national park sites with interactive maps, self-guided tours, and information about accessibility, amenities (such as food, restrooms and stores), news, alerts and events. Be sure to download content beforehand for offline use, as remote places may lack connectivity.

Last updated: May 26, 2021