Shenandoah National Park Access Guide in Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is located in the Great Appalachian Valley on the East Coast of the United States in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north-central Virginia about 1.5 hours from Washington D.C.. It is a narrow and elongated park stretching over 100 miles. Having your own vehicle is a must.

The park is an ideal getaway setting for visitors preferring a peaceful and relaxing experience. The highlight of Shenandoah National Park are the plethora of overlooks that face toward the west and east found on Skyline Drive, but there is still more to see.

General Information
  • Admission: A fee is required to enter the park at one of the four main entrances but is waived with a Senior or Golden Access Passport. The south entrance is the Rockfish Gap Station, the one in the middle is the Swift Run Gap Station and in the north is the Thornton Gap Station and Front Royal Station.
  • Accommodations: The accommodations with access are at the park at Big Meadows Lodge and Skyline Resort. A few campgrounds are also options with access. (Accommodation Review.)
  • Visiting Seasons: Weather/Climate can change real quickly no matter the season so dress in layers. Fall (September-October) is the most popular time for visitors with color peaking typically around mid-October, but spring brings brightly colored leaves and beautiful wildflowers. June is generally the best month for wildflowers but some will appear as early as May. Situated in the mountains, it is always cooler than the valley below it and in the winter (November-March) plan for snow. Late spring-summer (April-September) you will likely experience some rain; ranging from mist to lightning storms. Winter snow forces the park to close (dates vary).
  • Wildlife: First and foremost, it is good to know that you are in black bear country and you don’t need to go deep into the woods to see them; they are close by, so follow park safety rules. Something also to look out for is poison ivy, which grows all over in the park. The park is covered in various species of oak trees but also ash and poplar trees. Deer, squirrels, raccoons and other woodland animals are commonly spotted throughout the park. In the summer raspberries flourish followed by huckleberries. Different types of fish, birds, insects, reptiles and so forth are also found at the park, see a complete list of animal species at Shenandoah.
  • Gasoline: The only place to get gas within the park is at the Wayside Restaurant and Gas Station located in the Big Meadows area.
  • Food & Water: The places with food service are the Big Meadows Lodge, Skyline Resort and the Wayside at Loft Mountain, Big Meadows and Elkwallow. A Camp Store exists at Loft Mountain, Lewis Mountain, Big Meadows, and Elkwallow. It’s important to follow park guidelines when it comes to storing food as this is bear country.
  • Accessibility Information: The park website provides a little information about accessibility. No physical handouts were available at the Visitor Centers and very little details about access were known from staff at the information desk. No access details are listed on the park map. Furthermore, not every accessible sign means there is wheelchair access; a few signs were observed at trailheads that had no wheelchair access.
  • Gift Shops: Located at Loft Mountain, Big Meadows, Skyland Resort, Elkwallow, and Dickey Ridge.
  • Ranger Programs: At the various amphitheaters, visitor centers, picnic areas and campgrounds are where the most accessible ranger programs take place. These ranger programs are various park lectures. They occur a few different times of the day and change each season. More programs are available but are not considered accessible. See the schedule for all seasonal Ranger Programs.
  • Amphitheaters: Big Meadows Amphitheater is a short drive from the lodge to the edge of the picnic area. A couple of spaces in the back row have access; designated parking with the most access is several 100 feet away and all paved. The Skyland Amphitheater is across the street (short drive) from the Skyland Resort. Three paved, designated parking spots with access are closest to the amphitheater. A paved path wraps around the back and to the front. Two paved spaces near the front are designated for wheelchairs. A modified drinking fountain is in between parking and the amphitheater. Loft Mountain Amphitheater has space in the back for a wheelchair but no designated spots. One designated parking spot with access for this amphitheater is located about halfway between the campground and the camp store on the main Loft Mountain road.
  • Horse Stalls: 1 paved parking spot with van access is closest to the stalls with a paved pathway. No modifications have been made to the horse stalls. An accessible loading platform or mount is needed.
  • Nearby Attractions: For attractions nearby, please visit the park website.
 
Visitor Centers

#1 BYRD VISITOR CENTER
Description: Located about 30 minutes (15 miles) from the Swift Run Entrance near Big Meadows Lodge. Inside is a small gift shop and museum. Plus, a movie about Shenandoah runs frequently.
Doors: 32 inches wide but not automatic.
Parking and Pathways: The parking lot is paved with a couple of designated parking spots close to the entrance; more spots have access but are not designated. Pathway to the Visitor Center is smooth with very little grade change. 2 are large enough for a van with a ramp to access.
Water: Drinking fountains are available; 1 has modifications (outside to the left) and the other does not. Or water can be purchased at the gift shop.
Bathrooms: One stall in the men and woman’s bathroom has access with grab bars. In the women’s stall there is a lowered hook on the back of the door for personal belongings. The sink was a roll-up. A larger bathroom is available at the nearby Wayside Restaurant (outside on the right).

#2 DICKEY RIDGE VISITOR CENTER
Description:
Located about 10 minutes (4 miles) from the Front Royal Entrance in the northern part of the park. This Visitor Center has a gift shop and a small museum with an informative video playing. The information booth had a lowered section for wheelchair access.
Doors: 32 inches wide but not automatic.
Parking and Pathways: 2 designated parking spots have van access closest to the visitor center. 2 more parking spots with van access are just blow the Visitor Center at the public bathrooms. The parking lot and pathway to the bathrooms and overlook are paved; slope from Visitor Center to bathrooms is (>8 degrees). The walkway surrounding the Visitor Center is made up of cobblestones. From the bathrooms, a paved trail leads out to paved area overlooking the valley.
Water: Drinking fountains are available at the Visitor Center but have no access modifications; or water can be purchased at the gift shop. At the bathrooms, just below the Visitor Center, you will find drinking fountains with access modifications.
Bathrooms: From this Visitor Center, a paved pathway leads down to the bathrooms. There is a set of stalls for both men and women as well as 2 large unisex-family bathrooms. All these bathrooms have roll-up sinks and grab-bars.

 
Skyline Drive

The famous Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is over 100+ miles long and takes an estimated 3.5 hours to drive north-south without stopping. Along Skyline Drive are 69 overlooks facing toward the east and west of the Application Mountain Range. The majority of the overlooks face west and all can be viewed right from your vehicle within seconds off Skyline Drive. Separating the paved parking lot and the edge is usually a small stone wall but sometimes there is nothing at all.

Of the 69 overlooks, Shenandoah is only able to legally call ¼ of them accessible. This is due to the fact that a parking space must be level, so the ones noted below are classified as the accessible overlooks. When an information panel is displayed at one of these there is also a direct accessible pathway of travel. When there is no designated parking spot, park to the side if you wish to get out; this way, you won’t get blocked by another vehicle. Most will have no problem viewing all the overlooks.

Amenities: No bathrooms or drinking fountains are found at any of the overlooks.
Overlooks with Access Modifications: Gooney Manor (milepost 7.3, W), Little Hogback (milepost 19.7 W), Jeremys Run (milepost 26.3 W), Beahms Gap (milepost 28.4 W), Pass Mountain (milepost 30 W), Pinnacles (milepost 35 W), Jewell Hollow (milepost 36.4 W), Stony Man (milepost 38.5 W), Thorofare Mountain (milepost 40.4 E), Timber Hollow (milepost 43.2 W), Crescent Rock (milepost 44.4   W), Franklin Cliffs (milepost 48.9 W), Hazwltop Ridge (milepost 54 W), Swift Run (milepost 66.8 W), Sandy Bottom (milepost 67.5 W), Eaton Hallow (milepost 70.3 W), Rocky Mount (milepost 70.8 W), Loft Mountain (milepost 74 E), Brown Mountain (milepost 76.6 W), Ivy Creek (milepost 77.2 E), Rip Rap (milepost 91.4 W), Moormans River (milepost 92 E), Turk Mountain (milepost 93.7 W), Sawmill Run (milepost 95.3 W), and Sawmill Ridge (milepost 96 W).


Picnic Areas

Description: Several areas exists within this elongated park to picnic. An access sign is placed near picnic tables with the most access. The Pinnacles Picnic Area is one of the favorites, located just north of Skyland Resort. Dundo Picnic Area is a group picnic area with 7 large sites with no modifications. However, 3 sites provide access to tables from the parking spots.
Drinking Fountains: Drinking fountains with no modifications were rarely seen at picnic areas.
Parking: Designated parking spots are at many picnic areas, though not necessarily directly in front of the picnic tables with the most access. Parking lots are paved and sometimes used as the pathway to the tables. Some parking spots have the crosshatch for van access but no designated spots or other modifications.
Paths of Travel: Direct pathways from designated parking to the most accessible picnic tables and bathroom are common, but sometimes you must travel through the parking lot (usually less than 150 feet). Most tables had fairly level pathways leading to them (2-5 degrees or less); some were 8 degrees or more. Pathway erosion from tree roots was occasionally seen. Paved pathways are common to other picnic tables but are narrow (less than 36 inches wide) and have sections that are more than 8 degrees in slope.
Bathrooms: Most bathrooms are a single unisex vaulted or pit toilet style. The Pinnacles, Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain Picnic Area has this toilet setup plus stalls with flush toilets. However, the stalls are not up to the modern codes, so they are smaller and many wheelchairs will not fit or be able to close the door.

 
Trails

LIMBERLOST TRAIL (1.3 miles)
Description: The Limberlost Trail is an accessible loop that takes you into the forest. At the trailhead is an information board that goes into great detail about the grade/slope of this trail as well as where the 17 benches are.
Location: Just south of the Skyland Resort.
Makeup:  The majority is crushed greenstone with one small boardwalk section and another with rubberized mats. Some sections the granite were thicker than others, which can be challenging for some manual wheelchairs especially when going slightly uphill.
Width: At least 5 feet with 60X60 inch turn around spaces. From the parking lot, follow the access sign for the most accessible route.
Slope:  Ranged between 5 to 10 degrees. Before the section where the grade is more than 8 degrees (does not pass ABA standards) is a sign warning of the upcoming steepness; the hill short but the steepest point of the trail. Throughout the ABA accessible section of the trail are landing pads 60×60 inches.
Parking: A couple of designated spots with van access are closet to the trailhead.
Bathrooms: No.
Drinking Fountain: No.
Picnic Tables: None but recommended.

ROSE RIVER TRAIL (2 miles-roundtrip)
Description: This one-way service/fire trail meanders a bit down to the Dark Hallow Falls. This trail is not a designated accessible trail but is an option for many power-assisted wheelchairs
Location: A short drive from the Byrd Visitor Center across from the Fisher Gap Overlook.
Makeup: Dirt road with gravel laid rocks on top.
Width:  5+ feet; big enough for service trucks.
Slope:
Between 2-8 degrees most of the way with one section closest to falls at 10-15 degrees.
Parking: Across from the trailhead is the parking lot for the Fishers Gap Overlook and although no spots are designated for access, one can park at the end at an angle. Just be sure you have “DP” license plates

STORY OF THE FOREST TRAIL (1.8 miles)
Description: A scenic trail that leads into the forest with a moderate amount of shade. This trail is not designated to be ABA accessible, but will have enough access for many. The biggest barrier are the washout areas in which a log is used to dam the flooding area when the many creeks rise. In many areas a power wheelchair will be able to maneuver around the barrier; manual wheelchairs can do this as well or be lifted directly over it.
Location:  The Story of the Forest Trail is located just a minute or two up the road from the Byrd Visitor Center. It can also be accessed from the Big Meadows Campgrounds.
Makeup: The trail is mostly dirt but does have some crushed greenstone on top with the occasional tree root or branch. The ground can be saturated which makes wheeling in a manual chair more challenging. Of course, there is the issue of the water barges as noted in the description.
Width: More than 36 inches. 
Slope:
Ranged about 0-8 degrees with an average of 4 degrees.
Parking:  A small paved parking lot exist just north of the Byrd Visitor Center and at the campgrounds.
Bathrooms: No.
Drinking Fountain: No.
Picnic Tables: No.

 
Rapidan Camp Tour: President and Mrs. Hoover’s Historical Summer Retreat

Description: Considered by some as the original Camp David, Rapidan was the retreat for President Hoover and his wife along with a few selected others. Hoover himself selected the grounds because he favored a particular fishing spot; he was quite the fisherman. The tour is led by a park expert who explains any and everything you wish to know and then some. No access modifications have been made in order to preserve the original foundation, but some visitors with wheelchairs will still be able to get inside the original cabin where President Hoover and his wife slept. The majority of the tour is outside, highlighting the lifestyle of the times. One main focal piece is an enormous outdoor fireplace and Mrs. Hoover’s beloved garden.
Location: Down a 7-mile service road from Skyline Drive.  The park provides a daily shuttle at 2pm that can safely transport two wheelchairs at once; pickup is at the Byrd Visitor Center.
Reservations: Advanced reservations required due to limited space. Call 540-999-3500 ext. 3283.
Pathways: A firm underlay with finely crushed gravel on top; some natural debris expected. 
Length: Less than 1 mile around the main camp area.
Slope: Most areas are less than 5 degrees around the camp.
Bathroom: Yes, over the small bridge from the main camp area is accessible with a paved pathway to the door.
Drinking Fountain: No.
Picnic Tables: No.

Areas to receive access compliance updates as of 2015:
Byrd Visitor Center, Byrd Visitor Center Comfort Station, Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, Big Meadows Campground, Big Meadows Campground Comfort Stations, Big Meadows Amphitheater, Big Meadows Registration Station, Massanutten Lodge, Big Meadows Picnic Ground, Big Meadows Picnic Ground Comfort Station, Big Meadows Picnic Ground Vault Toilet, Pinnacles Picnic Ground, Pinnacles Picnic Ground Comfort Station, Pinnacles, Picnic Ground Vault Toilet, Pinnacles Picnic Ground Shelter, Thornton Gap Comfort Station, Camp Hoover, Presidents Cabin, Camp Hoover Prime Ministers Cabin, Camp Hoover Creel Cabin, and Camp Hoover Vault Toilet.
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