Exploring national parks with children can be an amazing experience. The first of Virginia’s national parks, Shenandoah National Park offers many activities for families to experience together. From camping amongst local wildlife to taking a stroll through the largest cavern in Eastern America, Shenandoah is a great place to visit when introducing children to the great wonders of the world. Today, we have Crystal Sanchez, a homeschooling mom of two, here to share everything you need to know about exploring Shenandoah National Park with kids. She’ll guide you through the best time to visit, where to stay, and the best kid-friendly hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park, sharing tips and insights to make your family’s outdoor experience safe, enjoyable, and memorable. 

Shenandoah national park

Exploring Shenandoah National Park

Nestled amidst the picturesque landscape of Virginia is Shenandoah Valley Park! This enchanting destination is a playground for both young and young-at-heart explorers. With its majestic mountains, tranquil rivers, and abundant wildlife, Shenandoah Valley Park offers a treasure trove of outdoor experiences that will ignite the imagination and create lasting memories for your entire family.

From exhilarating hikes along scenic trails to captivating wildlife encounters, this magnificent park is the perfect destination for families seeking to connect with nature and forge unforgettable bonds. As you step foot into Shenandoah Valley Park, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of natural wonders. Towering peaks and verdant valleys beckon explorers, offering a range of hiking trails suitable for all ages and skill levels. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or a more challenging trek, the park’s diverse trail network ensures there’s something for everyone. 

But the adventure doesn’t stop there! Shenandoah Valley Park is a sanctuary teeming with fascinating wildlife. As you traverse the trails, keep an eye out for deer gracefully grazing in meadows, squirrels scampering through the trees, and a rich variety of bird species soaring overhead. Encourage your kids to become budding naturalists as they observe and learn about the diverse ecosystems that call this park home. It’s an opportunity to foster a love for the environment and create a lasting appreciation for the world around us.

So, pack your hiking boots, grab your binoculars, and unleash your inner adventurers as we embark on an extraordinary journey through Shenandoah Valley Park.

camping with kids

Best times to visit Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is open year-round. However, indoor facilities are closed during the winter, and portions of Skyline Drive are periodically closed during inclement weather. Hikers are always welcome to hike in on foot year-round.

Late spring through early fall are the best times to visit for families. Not only is the weather more favorable, but all the facilities are open to the public during these months. If you are looking to avoid tourist crowds, it’s best to go in Spring or Fall. We have gone in April, May, and October and have found the wind chill to be a bit too much for the kids in April and October. May was perfect, so closer to summer might just be ideal for families traveling with small children.

Accommodations near Shenandoah National Park

There are a wide variety of lodging options in and around Shenandoah National Park. The lodges offer hotel-type rooms and cabins. If you want all the comforts of home, there are home rentals in nearby towns. And for families seeking a more immersive experience, Shenandoah Valley Park offers camping facilities that allow you to extend your stay and fully embrace the wilderness. 

1. Campsites

Campgrounds are open from March through November. With five campgrounds spread throughout the park, there are many camping options. Big Meadows Campground is a popular campground that is the most centrally located, providing easy access to many popular destinations such as Dark Hollow Falls, Byrd Visitor Center, and Big Meadows.  Just imagine gathering around a crackling campfire, sharing stories, roasting marshmallows, and falling asleep beneath a blanket of stars. Camping in the park provides the perfect backdrop for family bonding, away from the distractions of modern life. Unplug, reconnect, and embrace the simple pleasures of togetherness.

2. Lodges

Skyland offers accommodations ranging from premium rooms with balconies to cabins. Many buildings are located along the ridge providing beautiful views of the valleys and distant mountain ranges. The Pollock Dining Room, Mountain Taproom, and a Grab ‘N Go are all dining options at Skyland. 

In addition to campsites, Big Meadows also offers cabins as well as lodge rooms. The Spottswood Dining Room, New Market Taproom, and Craft Shop are dining options located at Big Meadows. 

3. Home rental in a nearby town

There are many nearby towns outside of Shenandoah National Park. Luray is located just off Skyline Drive between Shenandoah National Park and Massanutten Mountain. It is also home to Luray Caverns, Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, and many downtown restaurants and shops. 

Hiking with kids

Things to do with kids in Shenandoah National Park

From scenic hikes along the renowned Appalachian Trail to breathtaking drives along the iconic Skyline Drive, adventure awaits you at every turn in Shenandoah National Park. Engage in birdwatching, picnicking, fishing, or simply immersing yourself in the tranquility of nature. Shenandoah National Park provides an unforgettable playground where families can create cherished memories while fostering a deep appreciation for the wonders of the great outdoors.

Shenandoah valley park with kids

1. Go on a hike or visit one of the amazing overlooks

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in Shenandoah National Park. Many of these hikes will lead to dazzling waterfalls and viewpoints that overlook valleys and other distant mountains. Delight in the cascading waterfalls, explore hidden caves and witness the park’s abundant wildlife in their natural habitat. 

In addition to these hikes, Shenandoah has many overlooks that require no walking. One of our favorite overlooks is the Jewel Howell Overlook. My boys love climbing and scrambling over the large rocks while soaking in the amazing views.

Flying a Kite with kids

2. Fly a kite at Big Meadows

Big Meadows is a large grassy area perched on top of a mountain that provides essential habitat for many local plants and animals. Visitors have the opportunity to observe wildlife, stargaze or wander through many of the trails located in this area. In addition to the activities mentioned, my family enjoys kite flying here. With its sheer vastness and frequent windy weather, it’s the perfect spot to fly a kite.

Exploring Luray Caverns with Kids

3. Visit a cavern

While there aren’t any caverns located on Skyline Drive, there are many located throughout the towns neighboring Shenandoah Valley Park. One that I’ve visited many times is Luray Caverns. 

Luray Caverns, located in Luray, is the largest cavern in Eastern America. It is open daily and offers self-guided tour pamphlets, which are filled with information about many of the chambers and formations within the caverns. These enormous chambers are filled with towering stone columns, shimmering draperies, and crystal-clear pools. One of our favorite attractions is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, where music is played using the stalactites in the cave.

Junior Ranger Shenandoah National Park

4. Junior Ranger program

The Junior Ranger program is an activity-based program conducted in almost all national parks. Interested youth can earn a Junior Ranger patch while completing a series of activities in the Junior Ranger Activity Book during a park visit. 

After completing five activities and attending a Ranger program or exploring an exhibit, it’s time to find a Ranger. Rangers can be found at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, Byrd Visitor Center, or the Park’s Mobile Visitor Center. After reciting the Junior Ranger pledge, the Ranger will award you with a Junior Ranger Patch.

5. Visit a visitor center

Visiting an exhibit is a great way to learn more about Shenandoah National Park’s history and ecosystem. These exhibits tell the stories of how Shenandoah was established and developed through informative and interactive displays. There are also homes that have been historically refurbished that tell the stories of the lives of people who lived at and frequented the park.

Hiking with Children

Best family hikes at Shenandoah National Park  

Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of trails to hike. These hikes lead to scenic overlooks of nearby mountains and valleys, waterfalls, and basalt rock formations. There are many kid-friendly hikes, and these are our favorites:

1. Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls is one of the shortest waterfall hikes in the park, making it one of the more kid-friendly waterfall hikes. With a .75 mile descent downhill to a 70’ tall waterfall, it can be a bit steep but still doable with small children. I took my kids on this hike at two and five years old, and they each did relatively well. My 2-year-old did need a little carrying going up, but he did hike most of the way.

2. Stony Man

One of the easiest mountain hikes in Shenandoah, this hike offers stunning views of Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain. Being 1.6 miles round trip, there’s no wonder why it’s a very popular hike. The hike is easy enough for littles to take on and rewards you with a scenic overlook at the top.

3. Bearfence Rock Scramble/Viewpoint

There are two routes that you can take to the 180-degree Bearfence Viewpoint: the rock scramble route or the direct viewpoint route. 

While the rock scramble is very fun and leads you to stunning 360-degree views, I feel that it’s more meant for children over five or six years old. The first time I did this hike with my children, they did really well throughout most of the scrambling, but we did reach a point where they were terrified to proceed further. I watched adults struggle in that particular spot as well. So while scrambling is fun, going that route may be a bit scary for some. 

The viewpoint route is ideal for small children. You can still access the beautiful 180-degree viewpoint without scrambling by taking that first right onto the Appalachian Trail during the hike. At 1.1 mile round trip, that makes this hike another great mountain hike option in Shenandoah Valley Park.

Hiking with hikes on Mountains

4. Hawksbill Summit

Another popular mountain hike in the park, this hike takes you up to the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. While very steep, I did still find it to be doable with my three and six-year-olds. Offering stunning panoramic views of Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Virginia Piedmont, this 1.7-mile round-trip hike is worth a visit.

5. Limberlost 

This family-friendly and ADA-friendly trail is considered one of the easiest hikes in the park. At 1.3 miles round trip with a 130-foot elevation gain, just about anybody can participate in this hike.

waterfall hike with kids

6. Rose River Falls

At 4 miles long, this is my longest suggested hike. This trail takes you through a lush forest to two cascading waterfalls: Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls. There’s a small stream that runs along the trails where you may find small wildlife, such as frogs and salamanders.

Since 4 miles can be a bit long for smaller children, I’m also going to suggest a shorter option for this hike. Taking the Fire Road to Dark Hollow Falls and then taking that same Fire Road back, gives you a relatively flat easy, under two-mile scenic hike. Since this option would take you straight to the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls with minimal elevation, this hike would be a better option than the previously mentioned, Dark Hollow Falls hike, if planning to visit Dark Hollow Falls. 

Sunset with kids

Exploring Shenandoah National Park with kids

A visit to Shenandoah National Park can lead to many amazing experiences. With beautiful overlooks, dazzling waterfalls, sprawling landscape, diverse ecosystems, and underground caverns, there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy! Lace up your boots, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and embark on a journey of discovery with your little adventurers by your side. This is a park that is worth visiting over and over again.

Have you ever visited Shenandoah National Park?

About the author

Crystal is a photographer who homeschools her two young boys alongside running a newborn photography business. If she’s not photographing babies, she’s out with her family photographing their adventures together. Together they enjoy hiking, exploring nearby cities, biking, camping, going to the beach, amusement parks, and, of course, gathering with friends and family. Getting out and exploring with loved ones is their favorite way to spend their days.

You can find more from Crystal online in the following locations:
Instagram: @exploringadventureland
RWMC posts: Crystal Sanchez