National Park Lodges are one of the few reliable places that offer a glimpse of vacations like they used to be, in simpler times. Since Lake Yellowstone Lodge, the first to be built in a National Park, opened in 1891 the philosophy of such a place was cemented: A wilderness lodge is for taking a break from the elements, sitting by a warm fire, eating hearty food, sipping strong drinks, and basking in the spectacular views beyond large unadorned windows. No distractions, no flash, nothing else to pry you away. In the wired world of 2022 it may as well be a trip to Mars.
Skyland Lodge, a 127-year-old resort in the Appalachian Mountains, is one such place that resists change, remaining gloriously free of modernity — cell service and Wi-Fi included.
Skyland sits in the heart of Shenandoah National Park, less than 100 miles from the nation’s capital. The resort’s history precedes the National Park, enjoying visitors for 40 years before the now famous Skyline Drive was constructed and the National Park was made official in 1935. Little has changed since. The views remain spectacular, the hiking accessible, and the biggest frills are the porches attached to the rooms — simple lounge chairs with a view that will forever embed itself in your memories.
So what do you do with the kids? The question is somewhat beside the point. The kids should learn quickly this is not Disney World but the lack of amenities and abundance of nature — in every direction there are mountains and trees as far as the eye can see — give it an otherworldly quality that magically keeps their boredom at bay. Whether exploring the grounds, going on hikes, or becoming a Junior Ranger at the National Park office a few miles away, the kids have just enough to occupy them. For the parents, simple, hearty fare under the wooden rafters of the large open dining room will suffice. The Taproom has decent wine, good beer, and simple cocktails. The kids will be happy to know the dessert menu is sizable, as are the portions.
Yes, you can make your way to Wilderness Lodges with fussier cocktails, bigger fireplaces, spas and chauffeurs, and better food — National Parks are not known for food services — but that’s all a bit beside the point. Skyland Lodge is a place to unplug. When you go somewhere to get away, what do you really need but your family and a view to remember?
While You’re There
- Check out the Stony Man trail. Epic views for a 1.6-mile hike that’s perfect for even the youngest kids.
- Big Meadows Ranger Station has a small gallery that offers an abbreviated history of the park. Be sure to pick up a junior ranger packet on day one and come back to be sworn in once your activities are completed.
- Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful roads in the country. Drive it, but make sure to stop off on the overlooks and find the hidden trails and short hikes that the CCC prepared (you can find them with a gap in the wall).
- Luray Caverns, the largest of its type in North America, is an easy 30 minutes outside of the park and a worthy visit.