One of my favorite places to visit is Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Located only 75 miles from DC, Shenandoah rises above the Shenandoah Valley in the west and Piedmont region in the east, Shenandoah is an expanse of sweeping meadows, lost waterfalls, jagged peaks and over 500 miles hiking trails.
The highlight of Shenandoah is the 105 mile Skyline Drive, an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Skyline Drive is designed for travelers to enjoy the views from their car, but also be able to stop roadside for perfect vistas, hiking paths and convenient waysides and lodges.
Shenandoah is steeped in history from the pre-Columbian era to present day. It was part of America’s first frontier; the land a witness to our history (bloody and valiant). The wandering vistas, rugged wilderness and pastoral scenes invite travelers to pause and enjoy the beauty of the land.
Shenandoah National Park is known for it’s scenic Skyline drive, but it offers so much more for travelers. I’ve visited the park several times and it would take a 1000 more visits to see everything. The Appalachian Trail runs parallel to The Skyline Drive. If you aren’t up for tackling the AT – meandering hikes like Limberlost or the breathtaking Dark Hollow Falls are great day hikes.
My mom and I enjoyed are last trip to Shenandoah over Labor Day (2021), which was also my birthday weekend. We splurged an booked a room at Big Meadows Lodge.
Big Meadows is one of two main lodges in the park (Skyland and Big Meadows). Shenandoah also has several other lodging sites like Lewis that provide cabins and campgrounds. During a pre-pandemic trip we enjoyed staying at the Skyland Cabins. All of the park accommodations are beautifully sited with a rustic vibe – perfect for family adventure.
We checked in at Big Meadows Lodge on Friday night (after ten p.m.) Big Meadows is centrally located at the midpoint of Skyline Drive at milepost 51. It was pitch black and you could see a ‘million’ stars. Big Meadows is named for the vast meadow that reminds me of western grasslands from my time in Montana.
Our room was a quaint lower level rustic space with a bathroom and our own view of the Shenandoah Valley.
Tip: If you are staying in Shenandoah and have any disabilities (like my slipped disc) for information about accessible rooms. We loved our room at Big Meadows but we practically fell down the mountain to even unload our luggage in the dark. It was not very accessible. We managed and the view was great, but I would probably request an accessible room next time.
We started our adventure in Shenandoah on Saturday morning with a delicious breakfast at The Big Meadows’ Spottswood Dining Room. The hearty meal of eggs, bacon and home fries with the house blend of coffee fueled our appetite for the days adventures.
My mom and I started off our morning by exploring The Big Meadows area. I spent twenty minutes walking the small trail to the stunning Black Rock Vista. We then explored the gifts shops, which included a variety of Shenandoah gear including pottery and tee shirts.
The Big Meadows Lodge exudes character – it is a national landmark, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and dedicated by FDR. The main lodge exudes rustic elegance ‘parkland’ architecture. It was built from stone from the nearby Massanutten Mountains and the now nearly extinct native wormy chestnut.
The lodge game room has picture window views overlooking the Blue Ridge and valley below. It is the perfect place to play a game of ‘Clue’ or reading a book while taking in the view.
After exploring The Big Meadows area, my mom and I decided to drive north on The Skyline Drive.
Skyline Drive starts in the south at the terminus of The Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish, and then runs northbound for 105 miles to Front Royal VA. We decided we would drive back to Raleigh southbound on the Skyline Drive and continue to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home. Today would be focused on exploring the park’s northern territory.
Just north of Big Meadows is Skyland. As it’s name suggests, this quaint tourist area is among the clouds. The lodge and surrounding cabins are right in the breath of the Blue Ridge Mountain crest. When we stayed at a Skyland cabin several years ago – the vivid blues and expansive valley right outside my window made me feel like I’d stepped into the clouds.
Skyland is a great place to stay. I really like the cabins and restaurant there. Skyland has several popular trails like Limberlost (did that last trip and saw a bear) and the popular Little Stony Man Trail.
A historic abandoned (but preserved) mountain castle – Massanutten is also at Skyland. To learn more about this history click here.
I love to drive on winding roads, enjoying the scenery, praying and listening to music (John Denver and bluegrass with some Dave Matthews too). Mountain driving (and hiking) is my release. So I savored every mile we spent exploring the Skyline Drive.
Every vista is extraordinary. I love the Blue Ridge because they amble wildly – inviting you into their kaleidoscope of color and moods. The Blue Ridge carry a mystery and magic – that you don’t find in the Rockies. These vistas are the time that truly make you sit and ponder – and invite you to discover. To sit and enjoy the view.
We stopped briefly for coffee and a snack at the wayside Elkwallow (camp store). This is a great spot if you want to camp. The camp store provides supplies and the area offers great views and forest access.
With a few hours of daylight left, my mom and I decided to briefly exit the park and drive to the town of Luray – home to the world famous Luray caverns.
We have seen the caverns before, but thought it would be fun to visit again. Unfortunately with COVID – the crowds were too big to risk a trip to the caverns this time. (Fully vaccinated, but erring on the side of caution)
Instead we followed a road sign to a nearby state park – Shenandoah River State Park. This phenomenal state park offers stunning views of the Shenandoah River. The park includes a wonderful visitor center with excellent exhibits on area wildlife and the geologic and human history of the region.
My mom and decided to hit one of the state park river access trails – this particular trail climbed up a ridge offering views of Massanutten Mountain and the Shenandoah River below.
The Shenandoah River – was an important river for early American’s who used it for travel, commerce and community.
I highly recommend this state park. We are glad we took a detour.
After a full day of scenic driving and hiking, my mom and I drove back to Big Meadows for dinner.
I was not a fan of the menu – their signature dish was avocado pasta. It was a little pseudo-gourmet (and I’m a foodie). I ended up getting a Caesar Salad and enjoying a decadent gluten free dessert and a taste of the blackberry ice cream pie.
I would recommend eating in the New Market Brewery – who has pizza and live music. Although the atmosphere in the main dining room has the perfect mountain ambiance.
After dinner, I enjoyed stargazing and also hung out in the lodge game room, reading a cozy mystery and devotional. I will treasure the memories of our weekend in Shenandoah for years to come…
On Sunday morning we loaded up our car and enjoyed a beautiful drive south on the Skyline…stay tuned for my next blog entry on the rest of our Shenandoah/Blue Ridge Adventures.
For more information about Shenandoah
I am blogging about our National Parks on American Nomad (adelelassiter.com) and my sister site (adelelassitercreative.com).
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