July 31, 2020

An Overnight Trip through Shenandoah National Park

This day trip takes you from Washington, DC through gorgeous Shenandoah National Park and into the Shenandoah Valley. Hike the park’s trails or drive along its scenic roads, taking in expansive views of the mountains, which are especially pretty in autumn when the foliage is a riot of red, orange, and gold.

To help combat the spread of covid-19, some venues below may be closed or by appointment or reservation only. Check opening hours before you go. Note that masks are required inside all venues except when you’re eating.

Bearfence Mountain Trail, Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Sarah Hauser, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

DAY ONE

First Stop: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Before leaving DC, pack a picnic to eat in Shenandoah National Park (mezzes, pita, and salads from MICHELIN Bib Gourmand restaurant Zaytinya make a delicious picnic). There are four entrances to Shenandoah National Park, and the Front Royal, VA gate is the closest to DC. Stop at Main Street Daily Grind in Front Royal for a bit of caffeine (and a bathroom) before entering the park. Entrance to Shenandoah National Park is $30/single vehicle and is valid for seven consecutive days; you’ll come back to DC through the park, so you can use it twice. (An annual pass is $55 for up to 14 adults; kids 16 and under enter free).

Downtown Front Royal in spring. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Visitors come to Shenandoah to drive along 105-mile Skyline Drive, which has incredible vistas of the Shenandoah Valley’s mountains, particularly in autumn. There are also more than 500 miles of hiking trails here, from easy trots to challenging but rewarding treks. The park has 70 overlooks; don’t miss Hazel Mountain Overlook at mile 33, from which you can see the summit of 3,815-foot-high Hazel Mountain and Big Run Overlook (mile 81), with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains rolling peaks. Break for lunch at one of seven picnic areas (bathrooms here except in cold months).

Hazel Mountain Overlook at sunrise, Shenandoah National Park. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Second Stop: Waynesboro, Virginia

Exit Shenandoah Park at Rockfish Gap, the southernmost gate, and drive eight minutes to the town of Waynesboro. Visit Shenandoah Valley Art Centers, a community gallery that puts on 10 shows annually of all manner of art, including sculpture, painting, and drawing (open Tues-Sat 10am-4pm). From here, hop on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail , a group of 18 craft breweries in the Shenandoah Valley. There are three in Waynesboro: Seven Arrows Brewing (7 min northeast), Stable Craft Brewing (15 min north), and Basic City Beer (just outside downtown).

Seven Arrows Brewing. Photo by Sarah Hauser, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Third Stop: Staunton, Virginia

Drive 15 minutes and check in to your hotel in Staunton, VA. Go for dinner downtown at Zynodoa (3 min), a southern food restaurant that works mostly with produce and livestock farmers in the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions and seafood suppliers in the Chesapeake Bay. The menu changes daily based on what’s available, but expect dishes in the vein of heirloom yellow corn grits from Wade’s Mill in Raphine, VA and grilled jumbo North Carolina shrimp with a spring onion risotto and charred yellow peach and frisée salad.

Zynodoa. Photo by Sera Petras, Courtesy of Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau

DAY TWO

First Stop: Staunton, Virginia

Camera Heritage Museum. Photo courtesy of Camera Heritage Museum

Leave your car and walk around downtown Staunton, visiting places like the Camera Heritage Museum—which has an extensive collection of antique cameras from the 19th century to the present (closed Sun)—and Sunspots Studios, where you can see a glass blowing demonstration. Stop in at town favorite Book Dragon Shop for something to read and Made; By the People, For the People for made in Virginia goods like natural bug spray, hot honey, and soap.

The Book Dragon Shop. Photo courtesy of The Book Dragon Shop

You’ll be driving back to DC through beautiful Shenandoah National Park, so pick up picnic fare at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery.

Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery. Photo by Sera Petras, Courtesy of Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau

Second Stop: Harrisonburg, Virginia or Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

If you have time, you can drive 30 minutes from Staunton to Harrisonburg, home to James Madison University. Stroll through Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, get coffee from Chestnut Ridge or Merge Coffee Co, and eat lunch at Magnolia’s Taco & Tequila Bar or Korean-leaning Mashita.

Mashita. Photo by Andrew Cothern, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

If you prefer to head back towards DC, drive 30 minutes from Staunton to the Rockfish Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park. For a little more caffeine or a bite, stop in at The French Press in Waynesboro.

The French Press. Photo by Courtney Cranor, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Once in the park, you’ll drive toward DC on Skyline Drive, soaking in more of the park’s expansive views. Pull off at a few overlooks for photos with stunning backdrops and for a picnic (and bathroom break) in one of seven designated picnic areas.

Without any stops, the drive from Rockfish Gap back to DC is 2h45m.

Skyline drive in fall. Photo by Neal Lewis, courtesy of National Park Service

Where to stay

The Blackburn Inn: Just outside of downtown Staunton is this 1828 Jeffersonian stunner with 49 homey rooms (queen-size beds with light wood headboards, grey armchairs with blue-green plaid pillows). On the third floor is a gallery done in partnership with CoArt in downtown Staunton; work by local and regional artists is rotated every two to three months. Through September 26, 2020, the hotel has teamed with the American Shakespeare Center to put on Shakespeare Under the Stars: Twelfth Night and Othello performed on the Blackburn Inn’s lawn (book a theater package here or tickets here).

Photo by The Blackburn Inn, courtesy of Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hero image: Blackrock Summit, Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Sarah Hauser, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

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