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Best Things to do in Shenandoah National Park

Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is your escape to rest, relaxation and recreation. Meander along Skyline Drive — a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, generally along the ridge of the mountains. Hike to cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas and quiet wooded hollows. Or picnic with the family and enjoy the 200,000 acres of protected lands are haven to deer, songbirds, and an incredible night sky.

The park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley to the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont to the east. Although the scenic Skyline Drive is the most prominent feature of the park, almost 40% of the land area has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 50 of our 61 National Parks — and I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m here to offer some suggestions! If this is your first time to the park, or you’re returning after many years, check out some of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park!

Experience Skyline Drive

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the park, at mile 51. All park maps and information use these mileposts as a reference.

Shenandoah National Park - Skyline Drive

The speed limit is 35 mph, so you can roll down your windows, feel the breeze and experience every curve and turn of this beautiful drive. There are nearly 70 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. Black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels. Watch carefully for these animals who may dart across your path without warning.

Who Doesn’t Love a waterfall?

Shenandoah National Park - Dark Hallows Falls

Besides small cascades along streams, there are large and lovely waterfalls in each section of Shenandoah National Park. All are accessible from a parking place along Skyline Drive. But they all involve a hike downhill—and, of course, the harder hike back up! Check out the waterfalls — each with its own beauty and personality. Here are some of the more popular falls…

  • Overall Run Falls at mile 21.1
  • Whiteoak Canyon Falls at mile 42.6
  • Cedar Run Falls at mile 45.6
  • Rose River Falls at mile 49.4
  • Dark Hollow Falls at mile 50.7
  • Lewis Falls at mile 51.4
  • South River Falls at mile 62.8
  • Jones Run Falls at mile 84.1

Get Out and Hike!

Shenadoah National Park - Hiking

There’s so much more to see than just waterfalls, and hiking is the best way to get out an explore the park. There are over 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah ranging from easy to very strenuous. You can even hike part of the Appalachian Trail! When you are out on the trails, look for the concrete trail markers with directional information at trailheads and intersections. Here are some suggestions for hiking the North, Central and Southern Districts of the park.

North District Hikes in Shenandoah

From the tallest waterfall in the park, to the quiet historical Fox Hollow Trail, the North District of Shenandoah has something for everyone. Hikes in the North District of Shenandoah National Park include the quiet, historical Fox Hollow Trail, the scenic Overall Run Falls, and Compton Peak, with impressive columnar jointing geological features. While in the North District be sure to talk to a ranger at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Central District Hikes in Shenandoah

Whether you are looking for a short hike through the forest or a destination hike leading to peaks or waterfalls, the Central District of Shenandoah National Park offers many options for recreation and relaxation. Hiking options in the Central District include scenic waterfalls like Dark Hollow Falls and Whiteoak Canyon, sweeping summits like Stony Man Mountain and Marys Rock. The Central District also includes Big Meadows and Skyland, areas rich with history that currently are home to lodging, dining, and shopping options.

South District Hikes In Shenandoah

The South District is the most remote area of Shenandoah National Park. Whether you are looking to take a shorter hike to rugged talus slopes or a longer trip into the Wilderness, your adventure starts here. The South District offers plenty of hiking opportunities from the easier Blackrock Summit — featuring a rocky talus slope and majestic views — to the very strenuous Riprap Trail featuring cascades, and views of Shenandoah’s Wilderness. While there is no visitor center in the South District, the Loft Mountain Wayside and Campground can offer some services.

Bicycling Through the Park

Another great way to see the park is on two wheels! Bicycling is permitted along Skyline Drive and on paved areas in the park. Bicycles (road and mountain bikes) are not permitted on trails, unpaved roads or in grassy areas. Because Skyline Drive is a two-lane road with steep hills and numerous blind curves, cyclists are urged to use extreme caution.

Shenandoah National Park - Bicycling - Neal Lewis
Photo Courtesy NPS/Neal Lewis

Cyclists should be prepared to operate their bicycles during periods of low visibility, or while traveling through a tunnel, or between sunset and sunrise. During periods of fog, reflectors will not provide the necessary safety for bicyclists. Lights on both the front and rear of the bicycle are required. Mountain areas can experience dramatically different weather than what is being experienced in the lowlands, so be prepared!

Camping & Sleeping Under the Stars

There’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah! Beautiful campgrounds, each with unique features and access to nearly 200,000 acres of backcountry to explore are perfect for your next camping adventure!

Shenandoah National Park - Moonrise

Mathews Arm Campground

Mathews Arm, at mile 22.1 of Skyline Drive, is the nearest campground for those entering the park from the north. It is next to a nature trail and the trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away.

Big Meadows Campground

Located at mile 51.2 of Skyline Drive, Big Meadows Campground is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the park. Three waterfalls are within walking distance; the Meadow, with its abundant plant growth and wildlife, is close by.

Lewis Mountain Campground

Lewis Mountain Campground is located off mile 57.5 of Skyline Drive and is the smallest campground in the park.

Loft Mountain Campground

Located at mile 79.5 of Skyline Drive, Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in the park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to east and west. Two waterfalls and the trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby.

Fishing in Mountain Streams

Shenandoah National Park - Fishing
Photo courtesy NPS/Neal Lewis

Shenandoah National Park contains over 70 mountain streams that support diverse aquatic resources including brook trout populations. Fishing opportunities are abundant but are also regulated in order to preserve and protect fish resources. For current rules, license requirements, guidelines on ethical fishing techniques, and planning a fishing trip, make sure to review the park’s fishing regulations.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is a popular activity in Shenandoah National Park. Opportunities for all levels of climbers abound. Providing these opportunities are part of Shenandoah’s mission as is protecting the resources. Responsible rock climbing practices will ensure that these opportunities will be enjoyed by future generations.

Ranger Programs

Ranger-guided programs give visitors the opportunity to explore the wonders of the park with a Ranger. Programs are offered in spring, summer, and fall. Discover the many stories of Shenandoah’s past, take a walk through the splendor of a unique mountain meadow, or learn about the many animals and plants that thrive in Shenandoah National Park.


I’ve created a poster for Shenandoah National Park that features Dark Hollow Falls.

Shenandoah National Park

Click here to see the Shenandoah National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob & the National Park Poster Project!

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Best Things To Do at Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier from Reflection Lake

Mount Rainier National Park is home to Washington State’s 14,410-foot-tall active stratovolcano — and the highest point in the Cascade Range. Mount Rainier is surrounded by valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, and old-growth forests. More than 25 glaciers flank the sides of the volcano, which is often shrouded in clouds, which dump enormous amounts of rain and snow. So, whether you’re coming to tackle the mountain on a challenging hike, eager to see Paradise’s wildflower meadows, or drive to Sunrise – there is something for every visitor. Even in winter, when portions of the park are closed, activities are available for outdoor adventurers, including skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

2019 marks the 120th Anniversary of Mount Rainier National Park…and you can see the commemorative poster I’ve created at the bottom of this post!

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m here to offer some suggestions! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, check out some of the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park!

The park has five developed areas — Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise and the Carbon River & Mowich — with three visitor centers, a museum, and several wilderness and climbing centers and ranger stations. There are three main drive-in campgrounds, and two inns that provide lodging within the park.

Longmire

Mount Rainier from Longmire
Mount Rainier from Longmire

The original 1916 headquarters and museum are located here and offer information and exhibits that tell the story of the early days of the park. The Longmire Wilderness Information Center as well as the National Park Inn are located here, too. There are several hiking trails within Longmire, including the Trail of the Shadows, a short loop that begins near the museum, takes you on an easy walk past Longmire hot springs, through the surrounding forest and past a replica of one of the park’s earliest homesteads.

Paradise

Paradise, located at 5,400 feet, is a great place to start your park visit. Here you’ll find the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center — the main visitor center for the park. It offers general information, exhibits, a park film, guided ranger programs, a gift store and cafeteria. The historic Paradise Inn — usually open from mid-May to early October — is located here. And, you’ll also find The Guide House, where climbers can obtain permits and hiking and backcountry camping information. In the summer, this area is perfect for wildflower viewing. In winter, it’s the place for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing.

Ohanapecosh

Located 42 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance, Ohanapecosh is thought to mean “standing at the edge.” Situated among Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock, you can experience the beauty and complexity of an old-growth forest. The east side of the park is also somewhat drier and sunnier than the west side, making it a good destination when Paradise and Longmire are wet or foggy.

Sunrise

Mount Rainier from Paradise
Mount Rainier from Sunrise

Sunrise is the highest spot in the park that can be reached by vehicle. And at 6,400 feet, you’ll have amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys. You also have views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, as well as other volcanoes in the Cascade Range. The spectacular views, coupled with a varied trail system, make Sunrise one of the more popular destinations in the park.

Carbon River & Mowich

Rainforest near the Carbon River
Rainforest near the Carbon River

The history of this quiet corner of the park goes back well beyond the mining and logging that took place here. The Carbon River, named for coal deposits found in the area receives consistently high amounts of rainfall so the climate and plant communities found here resemble that of a temperate rainforest. Mowich Lake is set in a glacial basin surrounded by fragile wildflower meadows, and is the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park.

Hike to Waterfalls & Wildflowers

Narada Falls
Narada Falls

Mount Rainier National Park offers more than 260 miles of maintained trails that lead through peaceful old-growth forest, river valleys and high subalpine meadows. From these trails you can explore and experience the forests, lakes, and streams and view the fields of wildflowers and network of glaciers.

If you’re looking for easy and enjoyable trails that the whole family can experience together, here are some of my favorites.

Sunrise Nature Trail & Sunrise Rim Trail

At Sunrise, you can access two short hikes: the Sunrise Nature Trail and the Sunrise Rim Trail. The 1 ½-mile Sunrise Nature Trail starts from the Sunrise picnic area and is a self-guided loop that weaves through meadows with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. The 1-mile-long Sunrise Rim Trail leads to two overlooks of Emmons Glacier.

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail

Located west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the Ohanapecosh River, this 1-mile loop takes you to an island where 1,000-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees tower overhead. There’s also a swinging suspension bridge on this trail!

Silver Falls Trail

This 3-mile round-trip trail begins at the Ohanapecosh Campground and takes visitors to the spectacular Silver Falls. It is relatively flat and easy to hike, making it popular with families. The trail follows the river to the falls, crosses a bridge and then loops back to the campground.

Skyline Trail

Fall Colors along the Skyline Trail
Fall Colors along the Skyline Trail

This 5 ½-mile hike starts near the entrance to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center and is marked by stone steps inscribed with a quote by John Muir that reads: “… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” Head clockwise and the trail climbs 2 miles to Panorama Point, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views.

Climb a Volcano!

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active volcano. Will you be next?

Climbing Glaciers
Climbing Glaciers

To reach the summit, you’ll have to climb some 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. You must be in good physical condition and well prepared! Proper physical conditioning can offset the effects of fatigue that lead to mistakes and injuries. Weather, snow, and route conditions can change rapidly, so before beginning a climb, obtain a current weather forecast.

Experience the Wildflowers

Penstemon
Penstemon

Mount Rainier’s renowned wildflowers bloom for a limited amount of time every year. The “peak” bloom for wildflowers is heavily dependent on weather and precipitation patterns, so accurate predictions are difficult. But in most years, many flowers will be blooming by mid-July, and by the first of August the meadows should be very impressive. Frost can occur by late August, but even after light frosts the meadows continue to be very beautiful, thanks to changing leaf colors and seed pod development that take the place of colorful blossoms.

Bicycling

At Mount Rainier, cyclists can enjoy bicycling that is both challenging and scenic. Bicycles are allowed on park roads but they are not permitted on any hiking trails and the park does not have any designated bike trails. September and early October are generally excellent times for cyclists to visit Mount Rainier. During these months, there are usually fewer vehicles on the roads and fall colors enhance the scenery.

Fishing

Mount Rainier National Park isn’t known for its fishing, so don’t be disappointed if you fail to catch fish, or if the fish are small! Only experienced anglers do well and then only during limited times of the season. Rivers and streams are open from late-May or early-June through late-October, and most lakes are ice-free July through October.


I’ve created a poster for Mount Rainier National Park, featuring a view of the volcano from Reflection Lake.

Mount Rainier National Park

Click here to see the Mount Rainier National Park 120th Anniversary poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob & the National Park Poster Project!

Share this with Friends, Family & Followers
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America’s National Parks Map

America's National Parks

What better way to plan your next National Park road trip than with this National Parks map, newly-updated to include all 61 — including our newest parks — Gateway Arch and Indiana Dunes!

The United States has 61 protected areas known as National Parks that are operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. National parks can only be established by an act of the United States Congress. The first National Park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Seven National Parks (including six in Alaska) are paired with a National Preserve, areas with different levels of protection that are administered together but considered separate units.

Click here to get your very own National Park map!

The America’s National Park Map features all 61 national parks.

Acadia National Park
Arches National Park
Badlands National Park
Big Bend National Park
Biscayne National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Bryce Canyon National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Channel Islands National Park
Congaree National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park
Denali National Park & Preserve
Dry Tortugas National Park
Everglades National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gateway Arch National Park

Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Great Basin National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Haleakala National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park
Isle Royale National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Katmai National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Kobuk Valley National Park
Lake Clark National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park

Mesa Verde National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
National Park of American Samoa
North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Pinnacles National Park
Redwood National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Saguaro National Park
Sequoia National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Virgin Islands National Park
Voyageurs National Park
Wind Cave National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park
Zion National Park

Currently, there are more than 400 sites under the protection of the National Park Service, including National Lakeshores, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Monuments — and many other sites that showcase this country’s vibrant culture, rich history, and awe-inspiring landscapes!


About the Artist

Photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker studied photography with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1979 when he was just 19. It was an experience solidified his love of photography and our National Parks. Now he is on a journey to photograph and create iconic WPA-style posters of all 60 major national parks as we celebrate the next 100 years of the National Park Service.

“I feel it’s important to protect America’s special places, and to connect people with nature. And it’s up to all of us to pitch in. Perhaps more importantly, we need to inspire the next generation of park stewards. I’m trying to make a difference by giving back to the amazing organizations that support our National Parks. I donate 10% of annual profits, so when you buy one of these original works, you’re helping these trusts, conservancies and associations, too.”

Click Here to See the Entire National Park Poster Collection!

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