1 Perfect Day in Shenandoah National Park and Environs

I lived in Virginia in the early 2000s and never made it to the only national park in that state. I was excited to finally make it to Shenandoah earlier this year. With only 1 day to spend in the park, I wanted to make the most out of it. This post will help you do just that.

Views from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
How to Get There

Shenandoah is over 100 miles long. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park and driving its entire length with stops would take about 4 hours. There are 4 entrances onto Skyline Drive and the northern-most one is in Front Royal, just an hour west of Washington DC. For this reason, flying into DC and going north-south would be the most convenient, which is what I did and how this itinerary is organized. If you’re driving in, you can just pick whichever one of the 4 entrance stations is closest to you. This map can help orient you.


Planning a 1-day trip in Shenandoah actually proved to by a little bit of a research project. Knowing that I didn’t have time to drive the whole length of Skyline Drive, I had to pick a portion of it to explore. I looked at the locations of the best hikes in the park and how long they would take. I also found out which part of the drive is the most scenic and considered what other things I wanted to do around the park. Based on this, I focused on the middle part between the Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap entrances and added 2 attractions outside the park on either end. Here’s the itinerary:

9 AM: Luray Caverns

This is the largest caverns in the eastern US. Get your timed-entry tickets in advance to be sure to get the time slot you want; when I visited, you could only get tickets on site.

10:30 AM: Thornton Gap entrance

Enter park through Thornton Gap entrance, the second one from north to south and really close to Luray. Stop at whichever overlooks strike your fancy!

11:30 AM: Bearfence Mountain hike

Bearfence mountain is a short hike – just 1 mile – but it requires a rock scramble that’s not for the faint of heart. Afterwards, continue south and exit the park through Swift Run Gap entrance station.

If you have more time, consider adding a hike to Dark Hollow Falls (add 1.5 hrs). You could also drive all the way to the southern end of the park. This can take as long as you want depending on how much you stop. The distance between these two entrances is about 40 miles.

Dark Hollow Falls – NPS photo

2:00 PM: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Monticello was the primary plantation of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, the property is a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can find it pictured on the reverse side of the nickel (US 5-cent coin). You can tour the grounds and/or the inside of the home.

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