Shenandoah might be your heaven on earth… just take it from John Denver. Although this world admired National Park lies on the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, it’s certainly not out of reach from Washington, DC residents and travelers alike.
In fact, a weekend spent wandering down the park’s stunning trails could be just what urban Washingtonians need to unwind from the stress of busy capital life. Here’s how to take those country roads home, to Shenandoah National Park.
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Driving to Shenandoah
By car, Shenandoah’s entrance is an easy hour and a half drive away – grab your trail mix and hit the road!
From Central DC or wherever you are in the city, head Southwest towards the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial, then get on I-66 heading west to cross the Potomac on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.
Finding the right exit around the convoluted intersection near the bridge can be tricky.
- If you’re coming from the North alongside Rock Creek Park, you’ll want to make a left on I Street to merge with I-66, and then stay to the right to exit onto the bridge.
- If you’re coming from the South or East on Constitution Avenue, stay right at the fork at 23rd Street to merge.
- And from the E Street Expressway, keep left at the fork at 23rd, and then hang right.
Front Royal Entrance
Once you’re on the road, you can follow the highway all the way to Shenandoah’s Front Royal Entrance. Your exit is number 13, several miles after Highway 17 splits off.
After you exit, take a left on Apple Mountain Road, then a right on John Marshall Highway just across the overpass. Follow that highway into the town of Front Royal, make a left on Royal Avenue, and then a left on Skyline Drive, following signs for the park.
From there, you’ll reach the Front Royal entrance of the park in less than a mile.
Thorton Gap Entrance
If you would rather begin your hike further down the park, I would consider planning your hike from the Thornton Gap entrance instead. Driving to Thornton Gap takes an extra 20 or so minutes, but its location is more remote and not situated right next to a town, meaning you may avoid a tourist rush, depending on the season.
If you choose this route, begin on I-66, as if you were heading to Front Royal. When you reach Gainesville, around 30 miles outside the DC city limits, you’ll take Exit 43A to merge onto Highway 29, heading south.
Twelve miles later, as you approach Warrenton, hang left to merge onto US-15/29. At the other side of Warrenton, you’ll make a slight right on Frost Avenue.
From there it’s straight shooting: signs for Shenandoah will start to pop up, and you’ll reach Thornton Gap in about 35 miles.
Bus to Shenandoah
The Virginia Breeze (Megabus) is a great option for explorers looking to hop conveniently between DC and Virginia travel destinations. The Valley Flyer line will take you directly to Front Royal.
In terms of departure locations, you have the choice between Union Station, the most central location just a few blocks above the Capitol building, West Falls Church, the next town over from Arlington, Virginia, and Dulles International Airport.
The Valley Flyer departs from each destination daily at 9:35 am, 10:10 am, and 10:40 am, respectively, and will stop at Front Royal at 11:40 am. Tickets are around $25 each way, but could be more if you are traveling on a popular day of the year.
Notably, the destination bus stop in Front Royal is unfortunately on the other side of town from the park entrance, in the Walmart parking lot of the Riverton Commons Shopping Center at 10 Riverton Commons Drive.
An Uber or Lyft is a straightforward option and should typically cost around $20 to take you close to the entrance.
Another option is to catch the Corridor Connector, a route run by Virginia Regional Transit. The bus stops right across the street in front of the Target and will take you to Royal Plaza at the City’s Center, around a half hour walk from the park’s entrance. The best part: the bus costs only a dollar!
Riding The Train to Shenandoah National Park
If you’re considering taking a taxi all the way to avoid the car, I would recommend first looking into an Amtrak to get you most of the way there. Getting to Shenandoah via train may require an extra Uber ride to reach the entrance, but it’s still efficient.
Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Line, which runs the length of the east coast, connects Washington, DC to several stops in Virginia. Those heading to Shenandoah can catch the Amtrak Northeast Regional running Southwest from DC to Culpeper.
Trains depart from Union Station, on Columbus Circle Northeast, a few blocks North of the Capitol building. Typically, three trains a day leave from the station, at around 11 am, 4:45 pm, and 6:30 pm, but make sure you check exact schedules when planning your trip.
A one-way coach ticket will cost you $13, while a Business class seat costs $29.
Amtrak, as its frequent riders will tell you, is a pleasant and comfortable way to pass the one and a half hours between DC and Culpeper. Seats are comfortable, and every train has a dining car that serves meals, drinks, and snacks.
From Culpeper, I would recommend catching a taxi or ride sharing service to the Thornton Gap entrance, located several miles south of the Northmost Front Royal entrance. You’re looking at around a $45 cost for an Uber from Culpeper, so the trip all around should cost less than $60 one way, and just over 2 hours.
Flights to Shenandoah
Shenandoah goes on for hundreds of miles and is accessible from multiple entrances. If you’d rather start further down, taking a plane to the Shenandoah Valley Airport is another available option.
Although still a small airport, Shenandoah Valley Airport is operated by United Airlines, which runs flights between Harrisonburg and Dulles a couple times a day.
This is probably the most expensive option, with flights running around $200 for a round trip, but those coming from Virginia already will be glad it takes only 45 minutes.
Once there, a car ride via Taxi or a ride sharing app will take around half an hour and should cost about $40.
Tip: when booking a ride sharing app to take you to a trail entrance, select your destination as just outside the park and then walk to your trailhead. You’ll find the prices skyrocket as soon as you select a destination inside the park, so you’ll save a good deal of money if you are willing to walk a few more minutes.