Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Harpers Ferry
We drove 5 hours from Cleveland, Ohio to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a very small, scenic town where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet and is a National Historical Park. There is little-to-no parking in the town so you should plan on parking at the lot at Visitor Center (171 Shoreline Drive) and take the free shuttle into town (5 minute ride). Since it’s a National Historical Park, it costs $20 per vehicle. An annual National Park pass will cover entry, too.
The shuttle drops you off very close to The Point, which is the area where you can see Maryland across the river on one side and Virginia on the other.
You can take the Appalachian Trail across the river, along a train bridge, and make a left to get to the Mary Heights Overlook Trail. This is how you get the birds-eye view of the town, both rivers, and mountains. It’s 4.5 miles RT with 1,100 feet of elevation gain from Harpers Ferry. There is no parking close to the trailhead so you’re best to start from where the shuttle drops you off. Absolutely worth it, favorite view of the whole trip.
There are restaurants, shops, historic stops, and much more in the very small Lower Town of Harpers Ferry so you could spend a full day there. We had 2 more hours to drive to our vacation rental right by Massanutten Resort so we grabbed a quick bite to eat, walked up a couple of the streets, and headed out. We picked up groceries from Food Lion in Elkton – has everything you need and good prices. There’s also every restaurant imaginable in nearby Harrisonburg, along with Walmart and Aldi.
Day 2: Hawksbill Mountain and Luray Caverns
We spent the entire previous day at the house, so nothing to report there. We entered Shenandoah National Park at the Swift Run Gap entrance and headed north along Skyline Drive. We stopped at the Upper Hawksbill parking to hike to the highest point in the park, Hawksbill Mountain. It’s an easy 2.2 miles RT with 500 feet of elevation gain through the woods – completely covered the whole way. There are other trails to get there, but this was the shortest and easiest. Nice views from the top, but it will be busy and crowded.
Had a picnic lunch at Meadow Spring and drove to the Luray Caverns. It’s expensive but turned out to be an awesome stop – much cooler than anticipated. If you’ve been to a lot of caverns before, it might not be worth the cost though. Both kids and adults liked it a lot. It takes about an hour to walk through, it’s a huge area.
Entrance includes access to an antique toy museum and an antique car museum – toy museum was neat, maybe 5 minutes, but the car museum was great. So many old cars with facts about each.
The city of Luray was having a free July 4 festival so we spent the rest of the evening there and watched fireworks.
Day 3: Stony Man and Dark Hollow Falls
Took the same entrance/way back into Shenandoah National Park and went to the Stony Man Trailhead, which is right by one of the entrances to the Skyland area. There are multiple ways to get to Stony Man, and 2 trails from the same parking lot. One of them, the closest to Skyline Drive, goes along the Appalachian Trail so we took that one. 1.5 miles RT with about 350 feet of elevation gain – doesn’t get easier than this for what I feel is the best view in the park. You can double the mileage for a loop trail to add in Little Stony Man, which I think would be worth it but we didn’t have time for.
Drove to the visitor center to get Junior Ranger badges and do a picnic lunch, then the Dark Hollow Falls trail. This is the most popular hike in the park and leads to a nice waterfall. Unless you’re the first or last one there for the day, expect lots of company. It’s only 1.4 miles RT with 550 feet of elevation gain (you go down first and climb back up on the return). Worth it though. Back to the house for dinner, a relaxed morning packing up, and then the 6.5 hour drive back.
There are so many “peaks,” overlooks, and rocks in Shenandoah National Park that it’s hard to pick which ones to do. Skyline Drive actually extends further south and further north than where we drove through, but most of the good stuff is in that area between Thornton Gap and Swift Run. You can see the overlooks from the car, so if you like the view you just pull over and grab a picture. I liked Stony Man better than Hawksbill and think Mary’s Rock had some nice views from pictures I saw, but the view from most of the peaks is similar. Bearfence Mountain sounds like a fun, short scramble and there are lots of longer waterfall hikes between 4-8 miles (Rose River – can combine with Dark Hollow; Doyles River; White Oak Canyon) that would be nice but we didn’t want to do (5 kids under 10). Old Rag is the toughest hike in the park at more than 9 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain.
Staying in Massanutten worked out fine and the main reason we did so was because our rental had a private indoor pool. I think closer to Luray would have been best, however, to cut out some of the driving.
Traveled in July 2021
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