Shenandoah National Park

This year, I snagged a weekend in early November to stay at Skyland Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. The weather stayed warm so far into fall that our timing was pretty good after all. This is a good weekend getaway from DC – it took about 2 & ½ hours to get here.

Shenandoah National Park is home to Skyline Drive where you’ll get some amazing views of the region, as well as a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The park is home to more than 190 species of birds and there are 21 wineries throughout the valley. The Blue Ridge Mountains are also home to Virginia’s oldest rocks – they are more than a billion years old! You can camp here, but no campfires allowed and as expected, leave no trace. There are 500 miles of hiking and trails in the park, to include 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail which runs from Maine to Georgia.

We entered at the Thornton Gap Entrance and drove a lot of crazy winding roads to get to Skyland. The season for Skyland is from late March to late November. They close for the winter.

When you enter the park, you get a vehicle pass for 7 days, but on Federal Holidays it’s free to enter. As soon as we were inside the gates, we took advantage of some gorgeous photo opportunities. We stopped at several of the overlooks, which, in hindsight was for the best. More on that in a moment. When we finally made it to Skyland, the sun had mostly gone down and we were pretty cold.

There’s only internet at the main desk and restaurant area, so we had to bring some good old fashioned “old-time” entertainment. Books! It was great to unplug to be honest. Internet is spotty and streaming is not available so don’t even try it.

What wasn’t great was this food situation. There’s only one place to eat in Skyland. After waiting an hour for mediocre food on our first night, we ate elsewhere for the next meals. We went back to the cabin the first night and spent half the night awake as an amazing wind and rain storm came plowing through the area. It felt like our cabin was going to pick up and we were going to land in Oz.

The cabins have varying degrees of “comfort” but I had to go with the pet friendly version because, well, dogs. The next morning, we decided to head into Luray. And by the way, the locals call it LOO-RAY. LOORAY is about a 40 minute drive out of the mountains, but we did some shopping at some super cute stores and antique shops. Then we meandered around the town and played a little and then found the lot #1 of the 18 lots that originally made up the town.

We went back to the cabin and decided to do a hike to see the sunset. We took the Miller’s Head trail right from our cabin parking lot! Because so many leaves fell in the storm the night before, the trails were pretty covered.  The views though were incredible. We finally made it to the lookout point and while we wanted to stay for sunset, we knew hiking back in the dark would have been not fun as we were pretty unprepared. Next time, we bring headlamps!

To make up for it, the next morning, Real Estate Dad got up way early and caught the sunrise while we slept. Thanks Real Estate Dad!

The following morning, we had breakfast in the dining room. It only took a couple days in the mountains for that feral animal instinct to come out in the girls.

Outside the dining area there’s grab and go type food. Here’s a fatal error we made regarding the food. We were scrounging for food all weekend. We’re not campers or outdoor people. So we didn’t think to bring our own food, and we didn’t know we would be either waiting an hour for the onsite dining room or driving 45 minutes down to Luray. Looray. Lesson learned, next time bring food. Also, next time, we may leave Leia and Annie the dog home, because both travel about as well as a banana.

There’s also a bar on site, the Mountain tap room. Unfortunately, no kids are allowed at all inside.

They also have a gift shop on site where you can buy wholesome games to play in your cabin like Grumpy Old Bear, which is really just Old Maid.

On our last day, we sat in the nice warm room off the front desk check-in area and stared at the mountains and looked at old photos of what Skyland Lodge used to look like in the 1930’s. We went back to Luray that night and ate at Il Vesuvio for the 2nd night in a row. Mostly because of the garlic rolls.

On the way home we froze, heading back up the mountain, and we lamented why we only saw one Opossum on our entire trip. No wildlife at all – not even a deer. We climbed all those miles back to our cabin and bam. Right in the parking lot were two deer. We decided to share our lone garlic roll with them but they took off running.

Check out the deer I caught in my trap though. He’s the best-looking buck of the bunch.