Sponsored by Virginia Tourism
We’ve just discovered a new mountain region to love in the Southeast: Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, home of Shenandoah National Park, the famous Skyline Drive, the spectacular Luray Caverns, and cute small Virginia towns.
This richly fertile region is perfect for outdoor adventures, scenic viewpoints, farm-to-table dining experiences, family-owned wineries and breweries to explore, and U-Pick farms. Needless to say, there are tons of things to do in Shenandoah Valley.
We took a five-day family road trip here to kick off our summer vacation and discovered many top attractions in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, in partnership with Visit Virginia.
If you’re looking to find out what to do in Shenandoah and need help planning your itinerary, don’t sweat, because this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Where is the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia?
The Shenandoah Valley is sandwiched between the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghenies to the West.
It stretches approximately 200-miles from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia, and is about two hours west of Washington D.C.
In between these two mountain ranges, and rising up from the Shenandoah Valley floor, is the 50-mile long, 6-mile wide Massanutten Mountain Range, which is home to the massive and popular Massanutten Resort, which was our home base for our trip. (See below)
History buffs will also love to know that the Shenandoah Valley was once considered the American Frontier and played a crucial role in the American Civil War.
Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
When researching what to do in Shenandoah Valley VA, the highlight for many visitors will be the spectacular Shenandoah National Park.
Opened in 1935, the park encompasses nearly 200,000 acres along the Blue Ridge Mountains to enjoy with dozens of waterfalls, 500 miles of hiking trails through lush forests, and 75 scenic overlooks of mountain vistas.
A long stretch of the famous Appalachian Trail winds through Shenandoah National Park.
We were disappointed we didn’t have more time and have bookmarked it for a return visit so we can hike and camp in this beautiful US national park.
Here’s what we did.
1. Drive the Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park
Of course, we took the National Scenic Byway to Massanutten Resort.
The Skyline Drive catches the baton at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and runs through the entire 105-mile length of the Shenandoah Valley National Park on the crest of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s one of the USA’s best scenic drives in the USA.
Be prepared for endless viewpoints over the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Massanutten Mountain Range. Plan your drive well to incorporate hikes, picnic spots, the best viewpoints, and lodges.
There are viewpoints every couple of miles. Despite the beauty of each overlook, you can quickly catch fatigue, so plan your stops well on either side of the road as the views are different.
The East is more mountainous with lush forest, and the West is more mountains with expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Some notable viewpoints: Range View Overlook (one of the best views of the northern section of the park), South River Overlook (great for sunrise), Baldface Mountain Overlook, and Moormans River Overlook.
There are many entrances onto Skyline Drive, but the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station in the South or the Front Royal Entrance in the North tend to be the most popular as it allows you to drive from one side to the other.
The Thornton Gap Entrance is also popular as it’s located near a town you can stay in.
Driving the Skyline Drive is one of the top things to do in Shenandoah National Park and should not be rushed. If you want to have a full day exploring the drive, we recommend staying at Skyland Resort or Lewis Mountain Cabins, which are around halfway on the drive.
Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
If you want to get more information about the drive and the things to see, we recommend making a trip to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. It’s located to the North of the drive and is where you can get maps and information from park rangers.
You can learn all about the wildlife you might encounter, such as black bears, and what to do if you come across them.
It’s also one of the only restrooms on the drive, since there aren’t any along the way.
The park rangers are stationed here to be your resource on everything Shenandoah National Park, so it’s a good idea to get orientated, learn about the hikes and ranger programs.
2. Hike the Dark Hollow Falls Trail
We only had time for one hike on our road trip, so we chose the most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park, which is also one of the best for families.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a 1.4-mile loop hike down to the Dark Hollow Waterfall. Allow for at least an hour and pack a picnic lunch if you want to spend more time enjoying the falls.
The first viewpoint is not the bottom of the Falls but is the best view of the Falls. You can walk a little further down the trail to the very bottom of the falls.
It’s not spectacular, but I loved the perspective of the waterfall trickling down the moss-covered rocks, so definitely consider this when planning your Shenandoah Valley hiking trails.
It is a bit of a steep climb coming back out, the hardest part is from the bottom of the falls to the top of the falls. After that, it is more of a gradual climb.
If you have time, you can explore more of the Big Meadows area, such as the Byrd Visitor Center and camp at Big Meadows Campground (of Big Meadows Lodge if you don’t like camping).
Another popular hike where you can see waterfalls and variations in the landscape is the Rose River Falls. It connects to the Dark Hollow Falls Trail and takes you to a beautiful 67-foot waterfall. If you have time, it’s worth adding this on to your hike.
3. Walk an Alpaca
Just how good can walking an alpaca across a field be? I pondered this when looking for fun things to do in the Shenandoah Valley.
It’s not something we’ve done before, and since we don’t have any pets, I knew the girls would love an opportunity to hang out with animals.
Let me tell you, walking an alpaca is a cool experience any family will love.
It’s like having your favorite teddy bear come to life: petting it as you walk and stopping for as many cuddles as you can fit into 60-minutes. I didn’t even care that my fifth gear walking place was dropped back into first. I could have hung out with these adorable, gentle animals all day.
We were all glowing after it and will forever remember our sweet time with the alpacas.
The farm also has a small store with products made from alpaca fiber – which is 8 times warmer than wool and much softer and more comfortable. You can pick up a scarf made from the fiber of the alpaca you walked.
The Point of View Alpaca Farm is located near Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley.
This Shenandoah Valley activity was definitely Teen Approved, and we all highly recommend it for your list of Shenandoah Valley things to do!
4. Explore the Luray Caverns
We have seen plenty of stalagmites and stalactites in caverns and caves all over the world, so I was uncertain as to just how good the Luray Caverns would be.
And as they are the largest and most popular caverns in the Eastern USA, I was worried how its popularity may have diminished their value.
I did not need to worry. It’s popular for a reason. The Luray Caverns are possibly the best I’ve ever seen.
I was stunned by the pristine condition and the abundance of stalagmites and stalactites formations, full-length draperies, and huge columns that this ancient cave has formed over millions of years.
It was enchanting.
Savannah stopped at every self-guided number to read the description and take in things like the Giant Redwood (biggest formation); the Double Column (where a stalagmite and stalactite grow connected next to each other); the Fallen Stalactite (a massive piece that fell in an earthquake 7,000 years ago); and the exquisite Dream Lake with the most stunning reflections you’ve ever seen.
So perfect that you can’t even tell it is a reflection, thinking instead it’s purely a floor of stalagmites reaching up to a ceiling of stalactites.
It now has the y Travel approval as a top USA attraction.
5. Horseback Riding with Jordan Hollow Stables
We love horseback riding, and the Virginia mountains are a beautiful place to soak up the views on the back of a horse.
We took a horseback ride on Bliss, Cloude, Jasmine, and Treena, beautiful gentle horses that took us across the small Hawksbill creek and winding through a series of trails winding through a 140-acre property.
The Jordan Hollow Stable trails also go through beautiful country fields surrounded by a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.
6. Explore Downtown Luray
Both the horse riding and Luray caverns are near the town of Luray. Spend time exploring the small downtown area and peruse a few local stores.
The 2-mile Hawksbill Greenway trail runs alongside Hawksbill Creek and through town. There are places to dip your feet in to cool off from the summer heat. We walked a small section of downtown past the lovely public spaces of the Cliffside Pocket Park and Butterfly Garden.
I’d rate it as a top 5 coffee I’ve had in the country. Yes. I get excited about those kinds of discoveries. Pair it with a gluten-free pound cake with whipped crème and lemon sauce. Taste sensation!
Moonshadows Restaurant is a favorite upscale dining experience in Luray. We splurged with a three-course meal of ceviche and mussels for apps; duck confit linguini and spring sirloin for mains; and chocolate panna cotta and strawberry cream puff for dessert.
6. Smell the Lavendar at White Oak Lavender Farm and Purple Wolf Vineyard
Visiting the White Oak Lavender Farm and Purple Wolf Vineyard, only 20 minutes from Massanutten was an unexpected favorite Shenandoah Valley attraction.
We visited last minute after our river tubing adventure was canceled due to flash-flood warnings.
Savannah considers herself a green witch, so part of my love for this place was watching her enthusiasm for picking lavender for her spells, purchasing a lavender plant, and diligently studying how to take care of them.
Giving our children opportunities to follow their passions is one of the reasons we love family travel so much. It’s beneficial to them but allows parents to experience so much joy watching and experiencing it alongside them.
The lavender farm has beautiful gardens you can wander around (for a small fee) that include farm animals, reflection chairs, and a labyrinth. (There is a section you can visit that does not require a fee).
Grab some lavender-flavored ice cream for the kid’s when you’re done and head to the wine tasting room and gardens for lavender wine tasting. You could also try some blackberry ice cream, which is a famous delicacy in the Shenandoah region (or look for wild blackberries when hiking).
The Purple Wolf Vineyard has six lavender-flavored wines you can try (white, rose, and red). If lavender-flavored wine is too flamboyant for you, there are more traditional whites and reds to try. But if you’re looking for Shenandoah Valley wineries with a difference, go here.
The wine garden is a tranquil spot to sit and savor. Be sure to adopt the mantra artistically displayed throughout the farm, “Just Breathe and Relax.”
The lavender aromas surrounding you definitely help you do that.
7. Go Peach Picking at Chiles Peach Orchard
Ready for the most delicious peaches you’ve ever tasted?
Just near the southern entrance to the Shenandoah Valley National Park is the Chiles Peach Orchard. The fields of pick-your-own-fruit (peaches, blueberries, and strawberries) are surrounded by beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There is also a farm market with fruit, jams, apple cider donuts, and ice cream.
Since we had never picked peaches before and were short on time, we chose peaches and are so thrilled we did. They were perfect snacks for us as we explored the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia mountains.
8. Try Craft Beer at Blue Mountain Brewery
Once you have finished your peach picking, head down the road to the Blue Mountain Brewery, a favorite for those on the Shenandoah Valley Road trip trail.
Opened in 2007 as the region’s first rural brewery. We arrived early at 11:30 and were surprised by how many people were strolling in. With its mountain setting, full-service restaurant, and a large selection of craft beers you can see why it’s a favorite.
They also have their own cider: pear and apple flavor, which I enjoyed.
9. Go Wine Tasting at Veritas Vineyards and Winery
Did you know that the Shenandoah Valley is Virginia’s premier wine-growing destination? I had no idea wines were even produced here.
Veritas Vineyards and Winery is close to Blue Mountain Brewery (and many other wineries) and your perfect introduction to Virginia wines.
It’s an elegant, yet homely vineyard started on a simple horse and cattle farm in 1999 by Andrew and Patricia Hodson. This 20-year-old family business produces outstanding wines, ranging from sparkling to beautifully balanced red wines.
We enjoyed a flight tasting sitting on Adirondack chairs on the lawn with those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain views.
I want to return for a more in-depth experience of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail. Girls’ trip anyone?
10. Explore Downtown Staunton
Staunton (pronounced Stanton) was our favorite of the small towns in the Shenandoah Valley (that we visited).
We enjoyed a delicious coffee from Crucible Coffee Roasters before walking along the streets admiring the historic homes into the pedestrian. street.
We stopped in at Blu Point Seafood for a delicious lunch outside. The fish and chips here were very similar to what you’d find in Australia, including the tartare sauce (I’ve never had anything in the US that remotely tastes the same).
Explore the downtown stores with cute local wares such as By the People, for the People, Latitudes Fair Trade Co., and Stanton Olive Oil.
A highlight was visiting the Sunspots Glass Blowing Studio for a glassblowing demonstration and to see the stunning glass products made on-site by various local artists.
The studio gallery is filled with one-of-a-kind art pieces, as well as functional art for the home and garden such as vases, hummingbird feeders, oil candles, and artisan jewelry.
This is the unique Virginia mountains souvenir you’re looking for. We purchased some drinking glasses and Savannah picked up a glow in the dark mushroom.
11. Enjoy Local Cider at Sagebird Ciderworks, Harrisonburg
What started as a way to save money for couple Amberlee and Zach Carlson has now turned into a popular and thriving local cidery in downtown Harrisonburg.
Word got out about the dry tart flavors of ciders they experimented with and produced from locally sourced fruit and flavor. They won a lot of awards, learned as much as they could, and eventually opened the first cidery in Harrisonburg, Sage Bird Ciderworks.
I enjoyed a tasting flight of five flavors. They also have a cider slush and cider mimosas, plus frozen lemonade for the kids.
12. Try Sushi at Mashita: Harrisonburg
What started as a Harrisonburg food truck favorite has now turned into a 14-seat restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg.
Chef and owner, Mikey Reisenberg, wanted to bring diversity to the local dining scene with innovative Korean dishes (his birth home). He began with a simple focus on steamed buns and Korean lettuce wraps called ssam and soon won multiple awards and expand his menu.
Mashita restaurant now offers finely crafted, made from scratch cuisine utilizing fresh ingredients from local suppliers and has many options for vegans and gluten-free requirements.
It was delicious.
Our Kimbap (Korean-style sushi) was up there with the best sushi I’ve had, and the Mashita Bibimbap with brisket took all the words out of mouth. I just wanted silence so I could savor the flavors.
13. Stay at Massanutten Resort, Virginia
Our friends visit Massanutten Resort every year to go skiing, so we were very aware of this premier year-round resort destination on the East Coast.
They were not lying when they spoke of how BIG Massanutten Resort is.
On over 6,000 acres, you’ll find condo and hotel accommodations and unique amenities like an Indoor/Outdoor Water Park, Ski and Adventure Park area, golf courses, farm-to-table dining experiences, shopping and recreation options, mountain biking and hiking trails and a day spa for complete relaxation and rejuvenation.
And deer. Everywhere we turned there were deer (and fawns!) grazing on the grass.
Its central location gives you easy access to all the amazing things to do in the Shenandoah Valley.
We stayed in a spacious and comfortable 2-bedroom Summit Condo with beautiful views over the mountains. Enjoy it with your morning coffee on the screened-in porch.
The kitchen is huge allowing for self-catering and Savannah LOVED the gigantic jet bathtub.
For those now remote working and learning, I really liked the inclusion of a desk in the main bedroom. It’s often difficult to escape the busy family noise when working in the main living areas of your accommodations. This was a great feature.
14. Ziplining at the Family Adventure Park
The Massanutten Resort’s Family Adventure Park has a Kid’s Adventure Course (12 and under) a Ridge Rappel and Climbing Excursion, a Mega Zip, and tubing (summer and winter).
As we’re always up for a canopy adventure, Kalyra and I scaled up the trees together to take on hanging vines, bridges, and six zip lines – the longest at 470 ft long.
We LOVED the zip, where we could swing back and forth on the line in between the trees.
It was just Kalyra and I as there is a minimum weight of 78 pounds, which Savannah did not meet. So, this Canopy Adventure is teen approved!
I could imagine this activity would be a great thing to do in Shenandoah in October when the fall foliage is bright with oranges and yellows.
15. Splash Around the Indoor and Outdoor WaterPark
I was impressed by the size of the Indoor and Outdoor WaterPark at Massanutten. It’s a place the kids will want to spend hours.
Unfortunately, due to thunderstorms, the outdoor section was closed when we visited. We enjoyed a couple of hours in the indoor section instead of relaxing in the Lazy River and speeding through the dark down the Melting Mogul.
The Outdoor Waterpark has a wave pool and thrill waterslides and a 296 ft mat racer! Those water-slides looked amazing! There are also plenty of lounge chairs, swimming areas, hot springs, and kiddie splash pools.
For a more sedate swimming experience, Massanutten also has an indoor and outdoor pool at the main recreation building.
16. Escape from the MayDay Escape Room
Our first fun family attraction at Massanutten Resort was the Escape Room. It’s one of our favorite family activities to do for the team-building experience of trying to decipher clues together.
We escaped with one-minute to spare, sealing the ships doors, and saving the ship from sinking.
17. Try Casual Dining at the Base Camp
Base Camp is the place to chill out under the umbrellas on the ski lodge deck at the base of the mountain.
Enjoy the views, local craft beer, and a casual dinner of burgers, pizza, or seafood dishes. Don’t skimp on a brownie sundae for dessert.
18. Enjoy a Campfire Grill
The Campfire grill has a beautiful mountain setting with a large wraparound deck overlooking the golf course.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At night, you’ll find live music, camp stove chili, campfire chicken and pizzas, boned steaks and burgers, and S’mores. I loved my campfire skillet for breakfast.
19. Check out the Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge is a small town that connects to the Natural Bridge State Park, which has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s most well known for its caverns, which were opened to the public in 1977.
The caverns venture down 34 stories below the surface, offering an immense underground area to explore. You can explore the expansive rock chambers and discover cave formations such as the Colossal Dome.
The caverns are massive, and a guided tour will take around 45 minutes. It’s definitely worth adding to your list of things to do in Shenandoah National Park.
20. Hike up Old Rag Mountain
Some of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah Valley are up Old Rag Mountain. These are challenging, rock scrambling hikes that are not for the faint-hearted.
There are two hikes up the mountain, the Old Rag Circuit, and Old Rag Summit via Berry Hollow. both are challenging hikes and require an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance.
For those serious adventurers, this one is for you.
21. Walk the Fridley Gap Loop
Located in George Washington National Forest, this 14.8km loop trail is a moderate hike in the Elkton area of Shenandoah.
It’s a reasonably challenging hike because it’s so long, and takes around 5.5 hours to complete. However, it’s definitely a rewarding experience. Not only because of the sense of achievement you get from it, but because it’s a great place to enjoy some quietness and solitude.
In the spring, the wildflowers are in bloom and the birds are churping. You can even camp if you have time to spare.
22. Visit the Frontier Culture Museum
The Frontier Culture Museum is an open-air living history museum in the Shenandoah Valley. It brings history to life with costumed actors portraying information about the region’s past.
You’ll learn about Native American tribes, as well as about the arrival of German, English, and Irish immigrants who settled here, as well as learn about the jobs they had from blacksmithing, tailors, and yarn spinners.
You’ll also learn about the prominent slavery history of African people by British colonies in North America in a sensitive and child-friendly way.
This is a family-friendly attraction in Shenandoah that offers an insightful glimpse into Virginia’s history.
23. Hike up to Hawksbill Mountain
Hawksbill is the highest mountain in Shenandoah so if you’re a serious hiking fan, then this is one activity to add to the list.
Standing at 4,051 feet, this is undoubtedly the best place to see views of the Shenandoah Valley, as well as views as far as the Blue Ridge Mountains and Virginia Piedmont. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset,
There are three hiking trails to the Hawksbill Viewing Platform at the peak, but most people take the Hawksbill Loop Hike, which is less than 3 miles so not too long, but it is steep. The entire hike is about 690 feet of elevation gain.
The parking lot for the hiking trails is located on Skyline Drive between the Thornton Gap Entrance Station and the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station.
Before You Go
So there you have it, those are 23 of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park and as you can see, there is so much to do!
If you don’t have long to spend, I recommend you take a trip down Skyline Drive and stop off to do some hiking along the way. Stay in a small town and be sure to try some of the local wines and cider.
And above all, have a fantastic trip!
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What other Shenandoah Valley adventures should we add for our next visit? Which of the above activities would you like to experience the most? Let us know in the comments.