Shenandoah National Park is my favorite place on the East Coast. No matter the season, the views along Skyline Drive and within the park are gorgeous.
One tradition that my best girlfriend, Amber, and I have established over the last year is to wake up at an absurdly early hour (between 4:30 and 5:30 AM), grab coffee and drive the two hours from where we live to Shenandoah National Park (or a part of the Appalachian Trail) to embark upon sunrise or shortly-after-sunrise hikes. I love our time together in the car, which is usually spent discussing deep things or listening to worship music, and the trails we conquer together afterward before anyone else is awake are fantastic.
Most recently, we hiked the Dickey Ridge loop, which starts at mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive. The hike is about 5.3 miles long and can easily be completed in 3 hours (or less if you're speedy). It's a pretty easy hike with only a few inclines along the way. I would highly suggest taking a photo of the Hiking Upward directions and the map at the beginning of the trail. Cell service is excellent along the entire route, but it's best to cover all your bases anyway.
Most of the trail is covered by trees, and in the summer you'll find it to be pretty lush with greenery everywhere and wildflowers growing along the sunnier parts of the trail.
There is one tricky part of the trail at mile 2.63, where you will find the Snead Farm ruins (a big white building in the woods). The trail is pretty hidden at this split and you'll only notice it by a concrete trail marker in a field with a very narrow footpath leading up to it.
Around mile 3.7, you will reach the best view of the entire hike.
In the summer (and fall and spring), please take bear spray with you! While we were taking these photos, I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and discovered there was a very large black bear standing behind us, just 50 feet away. Needless to say, we were startled and cut our vista-viewing short to get the heck out of there (though I fully regret not snapping a photo of the bear). We didn't use our bear spray, but I was glad we had it. Check out this video on Twitter of the moment Amber and I realized we had company!
Overall, I would definitely recommend the Dickey Ridge Trail. It's a very manageable day hike with great views. It's right by a visitor center for quick bathroom and food access too. If you're an avid hiker like I am, I would also recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass because it pays for itself after only 4 visits.
On the way home to Northern Virginia, we always stop at Happy Creek Coffee and Tea. The coffee is excellent, as is the service. After our hike, we stopped in and the barista recognized us, stating, "I remember you! You're the really really early hikers." TRUE.