Norfolk & DC Bucket List: Shenandoah National Park

From the moment we received orders to Naval Station Norfolk, we knew a trip to Shenandoah National Park was in order. We decided to plan for an October trip to take advantage of the fall foliage and my husband’s leave time. Between sporadic underways and an uncertain government shutdown, we held our breath until finally the week came and the trip could be a reality. All of us military spouses can understand that.

Shenandoah National Park is only 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. and about three hours from Norfolk. The park encompasses more than 200,000 acres of protected lands with cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows. With a little help from our contributor (and native Virginian) Kamila, we planned our trip!

For us, our family includes my husband, an energetic three-year-old and myself, six months pregnant. We knew we had to scale back on shorter hikes and plan for cooler temperatures (high of 51 degrees, eek!). This itinerary is what worked for us:

Where We Stayed

I was overwhelmed by Airbnbs and not knowing what towns to stay in, so we decided to stay at Massanutten Resort. The four-season resort is massive at 6,000 acres with a variety of activities, restaurants and accomodation types. We booked a one-bedroom Eagle Trace Townhouse, with a full kitchen, living and dining room.

All-in-all the townhouse was perfect for us and what we needed for the long weekend. Our only complaint was the resort also includes time share properties, and the sales and marketing team was a bit aggressive. A week before our stay I had a marketing contact call me and try to entice me into a 90 minute tour for free passes, or a three hour time share seminar in exchange for a free stay. We also got asked several times over the weekend to sign up for a suspcious raffle in exchange for a free stay. It just felt like a lot.


Day 1:

The drive from Norfolk to Shenandoah is about three hours. We made sure to pack a cooler with snacks and lunch, so we were able to do the drive in one straight shoot. Thankfully our toddler has endured two cross-country PCS trips at this point, so he was a rockstar.

After looking at the weather forecast we knew we wanted to stretch our legs and take advantage of the sun. We immediately went for the Stony Man trail (1.5 miles). We unknowingly ended up doing the Stony Man via Appalachian Trail (3.3 miles) based on where we parked. But we were so glad we did! The combination gave us a nice loop with nice flat portions to break up the incline. Once we got onto Stony Man, this was definitely the busiest trail over the weeekend. But the views are well worth it!

Before heading to our townhouse we stopped at Food Lion in Elkton for food and snacks.

Day 2:

Massanutten has so many resort amentities and activities, you feel like you’re at summer camp.

Due to the rainy forecast, we decided to take our toddler to the indoor waterpark. The resort offers a military discount, admission ranges $30-52 (42″ tall and over) and $23-$39 (under 42″ tall) per person. Children two and under are free. You can purchase tickets online in advance and save a few bucks. It was pricey but the amount of joy it brought my son was well worth it. I’ve never been to a Great Wolf Lodge, but I imagine it was similar.

For dinner we ventured into Harrisonburg, about a 30 minute drive away. With a population of just over 51,000, Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University and offers several attractions and over 200 restaurants, craft breweries, and plenty of accomodations (if you’re looking for a more traditional hotel stay, I might consider staying here next time). We enjoyed watching some football, bar snacks and drinks at Pale Fire Brewing.

Day 3:

On a cloudy day, we decided to trade the views for some waterfalls.

We opted for Dark Hollow Falls (1.6 miles), which was a beautiful trail with vibrant fall folliage. Our three-year-old managed the entire trail on his own, just careful to hold hands on slippery rocks and downhill slopes. We continued onto the Rose River Trail (3.8 miles), which proved slightly more difficult but well worth it. The hike was so peaceful, we felt a million miles away from civilization.

As we recovered from the day we grabbed takeout from nearby Thirsty’s Burgers in Elkton. For other area restaurants, click here. If you want a brewery, check out Elkton Brewing Company and BrewHaha Brewing Company.

Have you been to Shenandoah National Park? Tell us about your favorite trails or what you did!

For more information on the park, click here. For more Norfolk-area resources and things to do, click here.

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