October 22, 2017

Shenandoah Hikes: Best Hiking Trails in Virginia for Kids

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My kids and I recently had the opportunity to go on some of the best hikes in Virginia at Shenandoah National Park. It’s less than two hours from my home in Northern Virginia, yet it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve visited this national park to get in a few Shenandoah hikes on my own or with my kids.

We had just a weekend (barely) to explore Shenandoah National Park, but we made the most of our time there, completing three Skyline Drive hikes and the Junior Ranger program. We even made time for s’mores, scoops of blackberry ice cream and a fantastic mountain sunset.

We spent one night inside the park at Skyland Resort, located at mile post (MP) 41. This is maybe one hour inside the park, just south of the north entrance. It’s an ideal Skyline Drive lodging pick if you’re visiting the park from the Washington, DC area. Skyland Resort is near many of the most kid-friendly hiking trails in the park, so it’s a great base for exploring Shenandoah National Park.

Best Shenandoah Hikes for Kids

While I wish we had more time to explore Shenandoah National Park, I was pleased that we were still able to rock three Skyline Drive hikes that I thought were perfect for kids. Not too easy (i.e., not a paved path) and not too challenging (i.e., not straight up), they were just right.

All three of these Shenandoah hiking trails are also very different from each other, helping to keep boredom at bay by not hiking the same type of out-and-back waterfall hike back-to-back. The first hike took us to the second highest point in the park, the second hike had us scrambling rocks up to the overlook and the third hike led us down to a beautiful waterfall.

Related: Family-Friendly Hiking Trails In & Near Washington, DC

These three Shenandoah hikes are also very convenient to the Washington, DC area since they are on the north side of Skyline Drive. It was a snap to do all three Skyline Drive hikes in a day or two. We could even get home in time for my daughter’s Sunday evening piano lesson. As you can imagine, she was thrilled. 🙂

Take a look. If you’re planning a visit to Shenandoah National Park, here are three of the best hiking trails in Virginia for kids.

Stony Man Trail (MP 41.7)

The Stony Man Trail was the first of the Shenandoah hiking trails we’d tackle at this national park. We checked in to Skyland Resort for the night and drove the half-mile back to the dedicated trail parking lot. You can walk down to the lot, but since this was our first of several Shenandoah hikes, I didn’t want to take chances with potentially over-tired kids at the end of the hike.

Not three minutes into the hike, my 7 y.o. son tripped and scraped his arm, and naturally I had no bandages or first aid kit. Things were not going well. Fortunately, tears subsided after what felt like a very long time (though I’m sure it was just five minutes), and we were back to the hike.

Related article: Hiking with Kids: 7 Tips for a Perfect Morning Hike

This 1.6 mile Stony Man Trail is quite popular and well-marked, so it’s not too easy to go off the trail. It took us about an hour to complete (including time to stop to manage the scraped elbow), so you could easily hike this trail in much less time.

This hike is an easy climb to the second highest point in the national park, so get ready for fantastic views. You’ll need to do a bit of a rock scramble at the very end to the lookout point, but it’s totally manageable and well worth it. We hiked Stony Man Trail in late-afternoon and had the view all to ourselves. This was easily one of my favorite Shenandoah hikes.

Bearfence Mountain Trail (MP 56.4)

The Bearfence Mountain Trail is maybe 20 minutes south of Skyland Resort along Skyline Drive. We took on this Shenandoah National Park hike after breakfast on our second day at the park. Many hiking trails in Virginia are fantastic and this Skyline Drive hike did not disappoint.

This hike up to the Bearfence viewpoint would more accurately be described as a Bearfence rock scramble. After a short walk uphill, up a dozen or so steps, it’s almost entirely a rock scramble. Fortunately, my 7 y.o. son absolutely loved scrambling the rocks. The Bearfence hiking trail was easily his favorite of our hikes along the Shenandoah trails.

The entire hike up to the Bearfence viewpoint is just .8 miles, so it’s not a long or especially difficult hike up to enjoy panoramic views. And there’s plenty of space to take a seat on a rock to enjoy the countryside. The day we went, there was even a class in session on the rocks.

After the Bearfence hiking trail, my son was eager to go on more Shenandoah hikes that involve rock scrambles. He was almost disappointed that our next hike was to a waterfall, though he did find some rocks to climb and sit on during that hike too.

Dark Hollow Falls Trail (MP 50.7)

While I wasn’t planning to do back-to-back hikes, we ended up going straight from the Bearfence Mountain Trail to the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. These Shenandoah hiking trails were a few miles away from each other, so it seemed to make sense to go from one to the other, then grab lunch.

The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is just 1.4 miles. It’s a great hike for kids (all kids love waterfalls), but keep in mind that it’s almost entirely downhill to the base of the waterfall, which means that it’s almost entirely uphill to get back to the parking lot.

Since we had just hiked the Bearfence Mountain Trail, we ended up taking more breaks that I might usually take on a hike. Still, it took us about an hour to complete. I think all three Shenandoah trails were an hour to finish, which is definitely a good amount of time for kids.

Related: 20 Really Cool Things Your Kids Can Do in National Parks

The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is the shortest waterfall hike in the park, but it was well worth the hike to splash in the water and scramble some of the rocks at the end. I can only imagine how refreshing it must be on a warm summer day.

If you’re looking for even more great hiking trails in Virginia, pick up a copy of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley. This guide features 50 of the best trails in the Shenandoah Valley, including Shenandoah National Park and Jefferson National Forest.

Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park

While hiking the Shenandoah trails is certainly fantastic, you might be wondering about other things to do in Shenandoah National Park. There are definitely some great options.

Shenandoah Horseback Riding

My 7 y.o. son was not quite tall enough to go horseback riding (you need to be at least 4’ 10” tall), but we did see other park-goers on guided horseback trail rides through Shenandoah National Park. You can book a one hour or 2.5 hour ride with Skyland Stables at MP 42.5 (very near Skyland Resort). Smaller children can also enjoy pony rides at the stables.

Junior Ranger Program

There are two visitors centers at Shenandoah National Park. These include Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at MP 4.6 and Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center at MP 51. You can pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book at either visitor center. Kids complete six activities and attend one ranger program in order to earn a Junior Ranger badge or patch. We love Junior Ranger programs. 🙂

Drive Skyline Drive

One of the most popular activities at Shenandoah National Park, especially in the fall, is to drive the length of Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. It takes about three hours to drive the length of the park, longer if you make stops at many of the scenic overlooks along the way (and even longer if you go on a fall weekend!).

Ranger Programs

Shenandoah National Park offers a variety of free ranger programs each day, including guided hikes, ranger talks, evening programs and animal-specific talks, like “Wild About Bears,” which educates park-goers about bears inside this national park. Most programs meet at one of the visitors centers, a trailhead or an overlook point along Skyline Drive.

Save Room for a Meal

I’ve been to many national parks, including Crater Lake National Park and Grand Teton National Park, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dining options at Shenandoah National Park. Skyland Resort, for one, boasts both the Pollock Dining Room and the Mountain Taproom. There’s also a Grab ‘N Go area. Even better, look for a fantastic sunset at Skyland Resort every evening.

Our second day in the park, we ate breakfast in the Pollock Dining Room, which featured a breakfast buffet. Even better, both of my kids got to eat free when I paid for an adult breakfast buffet. There’s no better deal in town. 🙂

In addition, there are three stops along Skyline Drive within the park for gas, groceries and a quick bite. We stopped for lunch at Big Meadows Wayside (MP 51), the only stop with full-service dining. They had all the usual eats my kids like, including burgers and chicken tenders, as well as scoops of blackberry ice cream. Yumm-o.

If you’re looking for even more to do, the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association has a lot of great suggestions, like Dinosaur Land in nearby White Post, Virginia. We made a stop here and had a lot of fun snapping selfies with all the different dinosaurs.

Related article: 10 Stops to Make Along the Shenandoah Valley Kids Trail

If you’ve ever been to Shenandoah National Park, I’d love to hear some of your picks for the best Shenandoah hikes for kids. I’m always on the hunt for fantastic hiking trails in Virginia, as well as other fun things to do in Shenandoah National Park. Closer to Northern Virginia, you may also want to see my kid-friendly trail picks for hiking near DC.

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