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Be Prepared for Shenandoah National Park

It was a stifling 93°F (34°C) as I drove through Luray one recent summer afternoon. An hour later I arrived at Big Meadows Lodge atop the Blue Ridge -- where the temperature was 58°F (14°C). It's always much cooler on the mountaintops than down in the valley, especially at night, so bring suitable clothing, including comfortable walking shoes.

In addition to the magnificent map brochure the ranger will hand you, be sure to get a copy of Shenandoah Overlook when you enter the park or stop by a visitor center. This tabloid newspaper will be your bible during your visit as it tells you about ranger programs and everything else that's going on during your visit.

With its proximity to the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, the park is at its busiest on summer and fall weekends and holidays. The fall-foliage season in October is the busiest time, and reservations for October accommodations in or near the park should be made as much as a year in advance. The best time to visit is during the spring and on weekdays from June through October.

Unless you're caught in heavy traffic on fall foliage weekends, you can drive the entire length of the Skyline Drive in about 3 hours without stopping. But why rush? Give yourself at least a day, so lovely are the views from its scenic overlooks. Stop for lunch at a wayside snack bar, lodge, or one of seven official picnic grounds (or any of the overlooks will do for an impromptu picnic). Better yet, get out of your car and take at least a short hike down one of the hollows to a waterfall.

Rather than directing you to one of the park's four entry points, some GPS and Internet mapping systems may inaccurately send you via roads that are closed to the public. If so, you will have to turn around and go back.

Also note that vehicles and trailers more than 12 feet, 8 inches high cannot get through the tunnels south of Thornton Gap.

Emergencies

In case of emergencies, call the park headquarters (tel. 540/999-3500).

Fees, Regulations & Backcountry Permits

Entrance permits good for 7 consecutive days are $15 per car, $10 per motorcycle, $8 for each pedestrian or bicyclist from March through November. These fees are $10, $10, and $5, respectively, from December through February. An annual pass ($30) is good for 1 year. Park entrance is free to holders of America the Beautiful -- National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes and the National Park Service's Golden Eagle, Golden Access, and Golden Age passports.

The speed limit on the Skyline Drive is 35 mph, although given the number of camper vans and rubberneckers creeping along this winding, two-lane road, you'll be lucky to go that fast. This is no place to have a fit of road rage.

Plants and animals are protected; so all hunting is prohibited. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times and are not allowed on some trails. Wood fires are permitted only in fireplaces in developed areas. The Skyline Drive is a great bike route, but neither bicycles nor motor vehicles of any sort are allowed on the hiking trails.

Most of the park is open to backcountry camping. Permits, which are free, are required; get them at the entrance gates, visitor centers, or by mail from park headquarters. Campers are required to leave no trace of their presence. No permits are necessary for backcountry hiking, but the same "no-trace" rule applies.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.