So, we all know about Shenandoah National Park ... But did you know about another beautiful park right down the street?
Right down the road from the famous Shenandoah National Park, you are likely to have one of the most peaceful hikes of your life. Plus, there's a bonus: The parking fee here is significantly lower than at the national park! If you are a hiker, canoer, or picnicker, Shenandoah River State Park, which is approximately an hour and a half drive from D.C. proper, is definitely worth a look. Located near Front Royal, Virginia, you'll spot other attractions such as the Luray and Skyline caverns along your drive.
Fields along the River Trail
The park itself has a spacious, sprawling feel, with long, flat wooded tracks along the river. At one point in the park's history, it incorporated a sizable amount of farmland from the Cullers family, providing strolls along wide-open grasslands where diverse bird species flit about.
When we visit, my husband and I prioritize some key features. We always park at Cullers Overlook, which boasts a beautiful view of the winding river set against the wooded mountains. Being near water comes with some of the predictable issues: lowlands, dampness, mosquitoes. However, if you are armed with a good insect repellant, you shouldn't have much difficulty.
Courtesy of virginia.gov
The Bluebell Trail and the River Trail are ideal for those who want to enjoy the river scenery without necessarily taxing themselves too much, and we enjoy them for their soothing soundtrack of rushing water. In the hotter summer months, you are likely to encounter families taking advantage of the multiple river access points along these paths for swimming and boating. Shale Barrens and the Wildcat Ledge Trail, which are some of the steepest and most difficult trails in the park, will take you up to a series of lookouts over the river. Though not as startlingly clear as Cullers Overlook, the view from these points is still spectacular.
River view from the Bluebell Trail
The majority of the trails in the park are rated at a difficulty level of easy. If you are looking for more of a workout, you should check out the aforementioned Shale Barrens and Wildcat Ledge Trail, as well as Bear Bottom Loop, Allen's Mountain Trail, or the Point Trail. These last three trails are longer and more challenging, but also lead farther away from the river into the woods, which means they lead away from the stunning views. However, if you don't mind simply communing with trees, Bear Bottom Loop is a nice shaded, wooded walk featuring continual switchbacks and creek crossings. The Point Trail and Allen's Mountain, likewise, provide a solid wander in the woods amidst plenty of greenery. The trails are the least-crowded we've seen so far in any state park.
View from Wildcat Ledge
My husband and I always come to Shenandoah River State Park specifically to hike, but the park offers a wide variety of other attractions. Visitors can reserve primitive campgrounds, cabins, and RV campgrounds, which are located near showers and restrooms. During our most recent visit on a hot July day, the most popular spot was easily the large picnic area. Located alongside a canoe launch, all the shelters were in full swing with multiple family barbecues and a steady flow of folks in bathing suits carrying their various flotation devices to the water. Front Royal is advertised as the canoe capital of Virginia, and in keeping with the theme, Front Royal Outdoors, a nearby canoe rental business, periodically shuttled canoers back and forth from the parking lot. The park is also equipped to host mountain bikers and equestrians.
The Shenandoah River from Cullers Overlook
Shenandoah River State Park is nearly pristine, just like the other state parks we've seen. We are continually grateful for the parks' trash-free policy, which specifies that visitors take their trash out with them. There is a parking fee ($7 on weekdays, $10 on weekends), but it is evident that the money is put to good use maintaining the visitor-friendly and clearly-marked trails. Considering that we are now visiting our state parks every single weekend, my husband and I decided to invest in the Naturally Yours Passport, which grants you access to all state parks for a whole year for $75. We can't wait to check out more!
Have you visited Shenandoah River State Park? What advice would you give visitors? Tell us in the comments below!