Changing Views in Shenandoah National Park

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Back in the 1890s, visitors to the region we now call Shenandoah National Park took trains from Washington, DC  to the small depot in Luray. There they would climb into horse-drawn wagons for the final leg of their journey—about three miles of dirt switchbacks– to a cluster of rustic cabins called Stony Man Camp.

A lot has changed since then. Four entrance stations to Skyline Drive allowed 1.4 million visitors to enter last year. New technology provides for buying Digital Entrance Passes so you can zip through the entry stations. The Park’s Official Mobile App (left) can give you a wealth of Park information in an instant.  Want to see fall  leaf color ahead of your trip? The Park now has three online ways to check, described here. Driving an electric vehicle? You can charge it at Skyland or Byrd Visitor Center.

And, don’t think for a minute that the Park isn’t worth the trip at this time of year.  In recent years, fall color on Skyline Drive has remained strong well into November. And when the brilliance of autumn finally does begin to fade, and the leaves fully drop, you’ll realize how much farther the views extend. Waterfalls and rock formations are more evident.  If you’ve seen the Park in spring or summer, late fall presents a more stark but somehow deeper panorama.

What’s Open
The Park itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some facilities in the Park—lodging, campgrounds, waysides, etc.—will be open at least through part of November. Find specifics here.

Closing dates for the two Visitor Centers, Dickey Ridge and Byrd Visitor Center, have not been announced. All park facilities, with the exception of a few picnic grounds and restrooms, are closed during the winter.

Skyland Lodge—today’s name for that old cluster of cabins called Stony Man Camp, will stay open until November 29. Located at the highest point on Skyline Drive, Skyland rooms take full advantage of spectacular views.  Accommodations range from Premium rooms with AC, TV, wood plank laminate flooring, patios and balconies to suites, and cozy rustic cabins. The Pollock Dining Room, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serves wonderful regional specialties with farm-to-fork flavors, overlooking views of the Shenandoah Valley.  Find Skyland at mileposts 41.7 and 42.5 (Booking Information here.)

Big Meadows Lodge, (right) extensively renovated last year by Delaware North, the official concessionaire for the Park, is named for the large grassy meadow near the lodge where deer often graze.  The main lodge has 29 cozy, little hotel rooms and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Sixty-three additional accommodations include cabins with fireplaces, traditional rooms sitting in a wooded area, and preferred rooms with AC, TV and patio or balcony. (Booking Information here.)

Visit the Spottswood Dining Room, New Market Taproom and Craft Shop, which are located in the main lodge building. The New Market Taproom offers a lighter fare menu plus free nightly family-friendly entertainment. The Spottswood Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lodge, located at milepost 51 on Skyline Drive, will be open this year until November 15.

Lewis Mountain Cabins, at milepost 57.5, will put you in touch with nature in historic, furnished cabins. Enjoy the fun of cabin rental with private bathrooms, heat, electric lights, towels, linens and an adjacent outdoor pit grill for cooking. The absence of in-room phones and internet access may feel strange at first, but is soon comforting. The cabins are open until November 29. (Booking Information here.)

Backcountry Camping Options
Campgrounds are generally closed now (except for Big Meadows, open until the 11th), but you can still pitch a tent in the backcountry. The Park has 196,000 acres of wilderness and over 500 miles of trails to explore. A free permit is required for backcountry camping.

You Also Need to Know:
The Park is in Phase 3 of COVID 19 precautions.

Entry fee to the Park is $30 per vehicle. This fee covers unlimited entry for one vehicle and passengers for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase. Other fees apply—click here

November 11 is a fee free day.

Charge your electric vehicle at Skyland or Byrd Visitor Center. There is one gas station in the Park, at Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51); it is always a good idea to enter the park with a full tank.

Skyland, Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain Cabins are all pet-friendly.

  • The entrance stations into Shenandoah National Park are:
  • Front Royal at US 340
  • Thornton Gap at US 211
  • Swift Run Gap at US 33
  • Rockfish Gap at I-64 and US 250 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway).

Banner photo courtesy National Park Service

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