Know Before You Go: Top Tips For Visiting Shenandoah National Park In The Fall

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Shenandoah National Park. One of the best national parks to visit in the fall, for sure. It helps that Skyline Drive (the scenic road in Shenandoah) is connected to the incredible Blue Ridge Parkway but even without that, it would be one of the best places to see leaves change in the US.

I’m actually really surprised I haven’t written anything about Shenandoah in the fall yet seeing as we were there in October 2020. We didn’t quite catch peak foliage in Shenandoah but we only had I think one whole day there.

Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential. – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.

Shenandoah national park
Some cute flowers along the Appalachian Trail

The foliage definitely wasn’t bad but it wasn’t quite peak yet. I didn’t love Shenandoah that much but we didn’t have much of a chance to hike because it was so busy. There are so many hikes in Shenandoah that look amazing though!

Next time though, because I do want to go and do some hiking there, I’ll have to take some of my own advice from here to make it even more enjoyable. So hopefully these tips for visiting Shenandoah in fall will help you have a better trip than us.

Shenandoah national park
I loved these leaves with the rain!

National Park Goodies

Shenandoah national park
A little too early for peak leaf season in Shenandoah National Park

It. Is. Busy.

Like basically everywhere above North Carolina on the east coast in fall, Shenandoah is extremely busy. We didn’t get stuck in traffic, even on a weekend, but parking, especially at any trailhead, was almost impossible.

We didn’t hike any actual trails there because of this and I can only imagine how busy those trails were if we couldn’t even find anywhere to park near them.

Shenandoah national park
Skyline Drive fall colors

Avoid weekends if you can

A good way to avoid those crowds at Shenandoah National Park in October is to go on a weekday. It will be a lot less busy than weekends and if you have to go on a weekend, go as early as possible.

Even if you can only visit on a weekend and have a hard time finding parking at trailheads, you’ll still be able to enjoy the Skyline Drive fall foliage. There are plenty of pull offs where you can stop and enjoy the views in the park.

Shenandoah national park
One of the beautiful overlooks to enjoy Shenandoah foliage

Pick a trail and do it early

One of the best ways to avoid crowds while hiking in Shenandoah in fall is to pick a trail you really want to do and to get there as early as possible. This way you’ll be able to easily get a parking spot and hit the trails with a little less stress compared to later in the day.

Shenandoah national park
Probably the best peak at Shenandoah fall foliage we got

It can be very foggy

In the morning, it was nice and clear, if a little rainy. But by late afternoon it was so foggy it was almost hard to see the road. It may not be foggy every day but just be aware that it can happen and don’t be afraid to pull over to let it dissipate.

I would definitely try and avoid driving in fog at night because that sounds terrifying. It’s nerve racking enough in the fog during the day.

Shenandoah national park
More of the trailside plants I loved

Hike part of the Appalachian Trail

If you want to hike without worrying about the crowds on more popular trails, find a section of the Appalachian Trail and hike that! We did this in a couple of spots and I really enjoyed it.

We did see other people on both sections but not enough that I would consider it busy at all. Plus, then you’ll have hiked part of the Appalachian Trail which runs through the park. It’s an easy place to access it.

Shenandoah national park
A little color along the Appalachian Trail

It can be buggy

This might depend on where you are, weather, time of year, who knows but at visitor center at the north end of the park it was SO buggy. I don’t know if this is really a major concern, just something to keep in mind. They were mostly little gnat type bugs.

Shenandoah national park
There were a lot of flowers blooming, I wasn’t expecting that!

Peak leaf season in Shenandoah National Park varies

Shenandoah peak foliage can’t quite be predicted because it depends on factors like weather which can be all over the place, but you can kind of guess.

At higher elevations, peak foliage in Shenandoah will usually be the first week of October but at lower elevations it can be anytime in weeks 2-4 in October. This makes planning in advance and saving money more difficult but even catching it early is still beautiful.

Shenandoah national park
This looks like parsley and dill and I love it

Book hotels in advance

I know it’s almost impossible to know exactly when peak foliage in Shenandoah can be seen but I would still try and book your hotel or Airbnb in advance, at least a couple of months.

Waiting until the last minute, especially for weekends, can leave you with not so many great options. They may end up being either really not nice or really expensive. If you want to stay close to the park, which I would highly recommend, I would risk it and book in advance.

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The start of the fog along Skyline Drive

Parking can be tough

Parking can be very hard to find in Shenandoah in fall thanks to everyone else wanting to enjoy the Skyline Drive fall foliage with you.

Parking at trailheads can be packed and sometimes is out along the road and you have to walk way further just to get to the trailhead (which is fine but like, that’s so many people on the trail.) You may have to check back later for a spot or walk from further away.

There isn’t much you can do to fix the parking situation but having back up hikes in mind and hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail are good alternatives.

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Shenandoah National Park foliage or fairy tale?

Dress in layers

It can be sunny and warm then cold, rainy, and foggy within an hour or two. If you’re not dressed in layers, you’ll at least want to have them with you in the car or your backpack if you’re hiking so you’re prepared when the weather changes.

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A little more fog and Skyline Drive fall colors

Enjoy a picnic lunch

Instead of having to go in and out of the park to find lunch or to leave early because you’re hungry, bring a picnic lunch, or at least snacks, so you can enjoy them with a beautiful view of the Shenandoah fall foliage off Skyline Drive.

There are plenty of pull offs and overlooks to stop at and choose from, whether there is an official picnic area or not will just depend on where you are.

Shenandoah national park in fog
This was probably as dense as the fog got but it was worse on the road

Consider splitting the park over two days

If there is a lot you want to see and do on your visit to Shenandoah National Park in the fall, then two days might be better for your visit. You could pick one hike for each morning to start really early then try some alternative hikes throughout the day.

You could split Skyline Drive in two and do one half one day and the other half the next day. If you don’t have two days, you’ll be able to see a lot in one day, you’ll just have to be more flexible with the crowds.

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One last plant with flowers to send you off

Best things to do in Shenandoah National Park in October

  • Hike the 9.2 mile Old Rag Loop
  • Hike the 4.6 mile trail to Upper Whiteoak Falls
  • Hike the 1.1 mile Bearfence Mountain trail
  • Hike the 3.7 mile Mary’s Rock trail
  • Hike the 1.5-2.8 miles on the Hawksbill Mountain trail
  • Hike the 1.6 mile Stony Man trail

Have you been able to enjoy the Shenandoah National Park foliage? When did you go? What did you do there? Was it really busy?

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