One Day in Shenandoah National Park

When planning our trip to Shenandoah National Park we knew we were only going to have one full day to explore the park, so we wanted to make the most of it.  We reached out to friends who live near the park and read many other blogs about the area.  Through this research, we are confident we have put together the best one-day Shenandoah National Park itinerary out there.  Although you could spend upwards of a week in the park with its over 500 miles of hiking trails, we felt one-day was enough to get a good feel for the park by hiking several highlight trails and driving through the park.  Here is our One Day in Shenandoah National Park guide. 

FYI: This post is written based on a hike taken in mid-October.  We took this trip with our 14 month old daughter.  For all our baby travels tips and tricks see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, Flying with a Baby, 5 Top Baby & Toddler Flying Tips and How to Hike with a Baby posts. 

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Fun Facts about Shenandoah National Park

Before we get into our One Day in Shenandoah National Park itinerary, here are some fun facts about Shenandoah National Park. 

  • 50 species of mammals live in Shenandoah National Park
  • Shenandoah National Park has one of densest populations of black bears in US
  • Over 199,100 acres are encompassed by Shenandoah National Park
  • Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of hiking trails including 101 miles of Appalachian Trail 
  • The park was established 1935 but had a controversial start. About 500 families (about 2500 people) were uprooted to establish this National Park leaving many abandoned settlements. 

Best Hikes to Do with One Day in Shenandoah National Park

During our one day in Shenandoah National Park, we hiked 3 different trails to get a taste of the waterfalls as well as experience the expansive Blue Ridge mountain views Shenandoah offers.  The first trail, the Lower White Oak Falls Trail, we hiked in the morning. Then, we headed back to our Airbnb before driving into the main drive of the park to hike the Stony Man and Upper Hawksbill Trails.  We picked each of these trails because of the views they offer as well as their location in proximity to our accommodations.  These trails give you a good overview of what the park has to offer and are also manageable to hike in one day.  Here are the 3 trails we recommend hiking with one day in Shenandoah National Park.   

#1 Lower White Oak Falls via White Oak Canyon Trail

Start your day hiking to the scenic Lower White Oak Falls. This out-and-back trail leads to a stunning and serene waterfall in Shenandoah National Park.  We hiked here on a crisp fall morning and did not see another soul on our hike out.  It was exactly the peaceful hike we were looking for that morning.  This was our favorite hike we did in Shenandoah National Park despite not offering classic Shenandoah Blue Ridge Mountain Views.  Soaking in the serenity of nature helps us rejuvenate.   

Park at the White Oak Boundary Parking Lot

To access this trail and waterfall, park at the White Oak Boundary Parking Lot.  Be sure to park at the White Oak Boundary parking and not the White Oak Canyon Parking. The hike will be significantly longer from the Canyon Parking, which is on the main drive of the park and MUCH busier than the Boundary Parking.  From the White Oak Boundary Parking lot, it is a 2.8 mile round trip hike with 400 feet of elevation gain.  It took us about 1.5 hours to complete, including stopping to take pictures and relaxing at the waterfall for a bit. 

2.8 miles round trip, 400 feet of elevation, out & back, see map below 

AllTrails Lower White Oak Falls via White Oak Canyon Trail

#2 Stony Man Trail Shenandoah National Park

Next, hike the Stony Man Trail. This hike can be accessed from the Stony Man Parking Lot right off the main drag of the parkway (Mile 41.7).  This 1.5 mile loop hike with 318 feet of elevation brings you to an overlook of Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.  From this spot, we could see part of the parkway we had driven on and some of the contrasting fall colors well.  This is a good bang-for-your-buck hike as you are able to see great views on a relatively short hike. 

1.5 miles, 318 feet of elevation gain, loop, dogs are not allowed on this trail, see map below

AllTrails Stony Man via AT

#3 Upper Hawksbill Trail Shenandoah National Park 

Next up is the Upper Hawksbill trail.  This trail can be accessed from the Upper Hawksbill Parking Lot off the main drive of the parkway (Mile 46.5).  The Upper Hawksbill trail leads you to the highest peak (4,050 feet) in the park and offers 360 degree views of Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Virginia Piedmont.   If you only have time for one trail, do this one as it is another great bang- for-your- buck hike, giving you expansive views at the Summit on another relatively short hike.

2.1 mi, 488 feet of elevation gain, out & back, see map below

AllTrails Upper Hawksbill

Tip: Stop at Lookout Points while driving on the Shenandoah National Park Parkway

There are so many pretty lookout points in the park that you can enjoy right from your car or a short walk from your car.  Stopping at these spots along the main drag of the park will help break up your drive as well.  There are SO many to stop at.  Our favorite lookouts were ones where we were facing east in the park.  

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 8+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots

Other Hikes to Consider with a Day in Shenandoah National Park

Below are some other hikes we considered doing with our one day in Shenandoah National Park. You may consider adding on or exchanging for one of the trails above depending on the time you have on your trip. 

Doyle River Falls (Mile 81.1)

This hike takes you through the woods to two unique waterfalls. This beautiful trek through Wilderness takes you along cool, clear mountain streams to two unique waterfalls. It is a 3.4 mile out & back hike with 1181 feet of elevation gain. See this AllTrails Doyles River Trail link for more information on this trail. 

Blackrock Summit (84.4)

This is a 1.1 Mile loop hike with 180 feet of elevation gain.  This is another hike, on part of the Appalachian Trail, that leads to expansive views over Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.  It offers similar views to the Upper Hawksbill Trail and the Stony Man Trail.  See this AllTrails Blackrock Summit via Trayfoot Mountain and AT link for more information on this trail.  

Old Rag Trail

This 9.4 miles loop hike with 2582 feet of elevation gain is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the park.  The Old Rag hike affords you sweeping mountain views after a tough rock scramble.  You need a permit to hike Old Rag since 2022.  Use this link, Old Rag Day Use Ticket,  to book a permit. These permits were in ample supply during our weekday early fall visit and less competitive to get than at other National Parks.   We had permits booked but opted not to hike this trail as you can get very similar and even higher views from some of the shorter trails we hiked.  If you want to avoid the rock scramble, you can hike to this same lookout from Berry Hallows. See this AllTrails Old Rag link for more information on this trail.  

For a breakdown of all the trails in Shenandoah National Park, see our friend Anna’s Blog Post– 15 Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park.  She helped us plan our trip and pick out the best trails.   We are so grateful to Anna for all her advice! 

Where to Stay Shenandoah National Park

We recommended staying outside of the park at this Charming Chalet Airbnb in Blue Ridge Wine Country.  This spacious chalet was the perfect retreat to the countryside from the city and had everything we needed for a very comfortable stay while exploring Shenandoah National Park.  The serene views from the screened in patio were stunning.  See our Where to Stay Near Shenandoah post for a full breakdown on why we loved this Airbnb

Did you fly into DCA to visit Shenandoah? If so, be sure to check out the charming and picturesque Old Town Alexandria when in the area too. See our What to do in Old Town Alexandria and Where to Stay in Old Town Alexandria posts for some inspiration.

We hope this guide helps you plan your one day in Shenandoah National Park. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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