by Micaela and Jay Williamson
Luray, VA 22835
I want a show. Can I have the iPad, please? I want to see another video clip. You’re unlikely to hear this at the Skyland Resort at mile 42.5 in Shenandoah National Park. Okay, so wireless service is delightfully spotty, but we recently stayed in one of their newly renovated rooms featuring large screen TVs, new bedding, and updated bathrooms and are happy to report our kids were too tired from adventuring to even try to wear us down with their badgering.
Skyland Resort started out as a summer retreat in 1888 and continues to offer visitors respite from the heat, congestion, and noise. The resort is situated within Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive and offers amazing views toward the West. The Resort opens in March and has a variety of accommodations ranging from small, rustic cabins to more traditional rooms. We stayed in a traditional room and enjoyed our mountain views and quick walk to the Pollock Dining Room.
Skyland has three dining options, the Pollack Dining Room, the Mountain Taproom, and a Grab and Go option. The menus are available on-line but the biggest highlights are the incredible view from the Pollack Dining Room and the mountain-sized “Mile High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie.” Finishing it may have been the hardest climb of the day! During the summer there is also live entertainment in the Taproom, usually starting at 9:00 PM.
Things to Do
There are plenty of ways to keep busy relaxing at Skyland and in the surrounding Park. In addition to nightly entertainment, Skyland has horseback riding, guided twilight hikes and more. Plus, it is a great place to view July 4th fireworks, and the resort also features a variety of seasonal festivities such as “Blackberry Delight” in July and the “Apple Butter Celebration” in September. Both events feature good food and live entertainment.
The National Park Service also provides a variety of events in the Park that are worth mentioning. In particular, there is a Junior Ranger Program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays that is specifically geared toward 7-12 year olds that offers hands on experiences. There are additional Ranger Programs at Big Meadows and Lewis Mountains – both of which are short drives – that are provided through the week.
See Shenandoah National Park website:http://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
The Park itself offers a wide variety of hiking trails to suit all ability levels. The Park website contains maps for the main park trails with useful descriptions about what you can expect to see and how difficult the hike is. Having said that, words like “fairly easy” and “moderately steep” are somewhat subjective, so consider asking a Ranger before heading out.
While you’re talking, ask for the free “Story of the Forest” book too. The highly informative and beautifully illustrated book is structured as a scavenger hunt that guides readers through the “Story of the Forest Trail” an easy 1.8 mile circuit that is close to the Byrd Visitor Center. The book is filled with cool facts and is a great way to teach kids to be observant in the woods. At dinnertime the book easily transitions into a coloring book, an added bonus and wonderful memento of time spent outside together.
We hiked two trails in the Park with our 7 and 5 year olds and found both to be well marked and lots of fun. Our first hike was down the Dark Hollow Falls Trail, a 1.4 mile trail that leads to a 70’ waterfall. Like most waterfall trails at the Park, you climb down to the falls and up to return. The walk was shaded and followed a brook down to an impressive set of waterfalls. The path was wide enough that poison ivy could be easily avoided. While portions of the hike were steep it was not dangerously so, and we completed the hike with more energy than when we started.
Having seen the falls on our first hike, we decided to see the mountains with our second. We hiked the Millers Head Trail, a 1.6 mile hike that takes you deep into quiet woods where you can hear animals rustling in the leaves and see some wonderful mountain views. The hike leads you to the Millers Head Lookout, a small stone platform with a panoramic view of the mountains and valley.
Both hikes were enjoyable. However, one caveat worth mentioning is to be aware of the rocks and boulders. They are incredibly fun to climb on but deceptive. Sometimes the other side is a 3 foot drop, other times it is 30, and you cannot tell until you’re close to the edge. It is sensible to make sure everyone in your party understands that before they run off the trail.
Byrd Visitor Center Museum:
Aside from the great hikes, visitors enjoy the museum displays and films at the Byrd Visitor Center, at Big Meadows, discussing how the Park was formed, including the work of the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, and the people who were evicted to create the Park.
Across the street from the Visitor Center is Big Meadows, a giant grass meadow frequented by birds, deer and other wildlife. Big Meadows provides an excellent wildlife viewing area. And yes, I know what you’re thinking:
“They are called Lyme-disease carrying deer ticks for a reason, why would I go into a grassy field filled with deer?”
Two reasons, first, the deer are super friendly and cute.
The second reason is that you do not necessarily have to walk through the meadow. Across the street from the Big Meadows gas station is a small parking lot with a Ranger-Access-Only gravel road. The road meanders through the meadow and you can use it to safely traverse the meadow tick and car free.
Every day ends with a sunset, even in the Park. Skyland Resort and many of the west-facing viewing areas offer stunning sunset views that shouldn’t be missed. We watched one from the Timber Hollow Overlook, a short ride South of Skyland Resort and were treated to a fantastic sunset view. There was plenty of room to sit or walk around while we waited and were all glad nature rewarded our patience.
Luray Caverns (worth noting):
Sometimes though, nature or the kids don’t cooperate and you need a backup plan. If so, the town of Luray has more than enough fun to fill a day in its own right. We’ve previously written about the incomparable Luray Cavern, which is a surprisingly enjoyable mountainous drive away from Skyland Resort. The great thing about caverns is that it doesn’t rain inside them making the Caverns a great backup plan. Frankly, even if the weather does cooperate, you should pay the Caverns a visit while you’re out here.
The town of Luray is equally worth a stop-by. Downtown Luray has a shop- and restaurant-lined Main Street of historic and renovated buildings, including Gathering Grounds Patisserie & Cafe, our “go-to” restaurant when we’re there. Gathering Grounds has fresh food, good coffee and a fun interior.
Skyland Resort and Shenandoah National Park are about 75 miles west of Washington DC, but you’ll feel a world away. So, turn the phone off, pack your bags, and relax awhile.
Photos are property of Kid Trips LLC and Jay Williamson. Do not even think about using them on another site or publication without permission. I was compensated with a free overnight stay with breakfast at Skyland Resort. All opinions are my own.
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