When you're feeling blue about gas prices, head to the Blue Ridge Mountains. This summer, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is making it a little easier for visitors to cruise the Skyline Drive without running out of gas or paying a fortune. And you can have a complete getaway—hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and even stargazing up in the mountains—for under $500.
Staying in Shenandoah National Park
Through July 31, the Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge are offering a "Weekday Getaway" package, which includes lodging in a "traditional room," breakfast for two, and two tickets to nearby Luray Caverns for just $129. If you stay a second night, you'll receive a $30 gas voucher valid at any ARAMARK gas station within the park (use offer code "SMWE"). The only catch is that you have to stay Sunday through Thursday.
On VisitShenandoah.com, I checked rates at both resorts for a pair of nights in late June, and the offer holds true with a daily rate of $121.15 before taxes and fees. While I couldn't confirm the taxes 100 percent without handing over my credit card number, I did the math based on the posted $4 hotel charge and 9 percent tax, which comes to a total of $268.10 for two nights, or $134.05 per person if you share with someone else.
Getting to Shenandoah National Park
Before you arrive at your cozy lodge, you'll have to pay a $15 vehicle fee to enter the park, and of course, book airfare and car rental if you're not doing a road trip. If you fall into flyer category, you'll be pleased to know you have four airports to choose from, improving your odds of finding a decent fare.
The closest options to the park are the Shenandoah Valley Regional (90 minutes) and Charlottesville-Albemarle (80 minutes) airports. Flights into these airports are limited, so if you don't mind driving a bit, you can fly into Washington Dulles Airport (100 minutes), or Richmond (160 minutes), and save a good deal. However, considering you might only stay for a few days, convenience may win out over price, especially in the case of Richmond.
Here's a brief sampling of some of the best flight options I found for late-June departures. Note that cheaper flights were available into Shenandoah Valley Regional, but they required two extra connections, so I decided to pass on them.
- Atlanta to Richmond: $179 (AirTran)
- Boston to Charlottesville: $200 (Northwest)
- Chicago to Washington, D.C.: $224 (AirTran)
- Miami to Richmond: $249 (American)
- New York to Shenandoah: $257 (United)
- Kansas City to Washington, D.C.: $270 (Northwest)
If you don't see your city listed, don't give up. Chances are you'll find a decent fare to one of these airports, especially if you live in the East. Try to remain flexible with your travel dates and compare airfares across multiple providers.
Also, be sure to leave a little room in your budget for a car rental, which seemed expensive for the late-June dates I looked up, at about $50 to $60 per day.
Here's the cost breakdown with the most expensive airfare on my list:
$270 (airfare from Kansas City) + $134.05 (two nights' hotel) + $7.50 (share of park fee) = $411.55 per person
And don't forget that you'll get $30 back to spend on gas while inside the park.
If you'd like to stay longer (or go over a weekend) and still keep your trip within the $500 budget, look for other Shenandoah lodging options with National Park Reservations, or consider one of the packages posted on VisitShenandoah.com. Also, find other gas discounts and special offers for the state of Virginia (including Shenandoah) on the Virginia Tourism Corporation website.
Been to Shenandoah National Park? Comment below on your favorite money-saving tips, activities, or places to eat and stay. Or, post questions for fellow travelers to answer.