16 May, 2021

Everything you need to know about camping in Shenandoah National Park

There's just something magical about gathering your crew around a glowing campfire, tucking into sleeping bags under the stars, and leaving your worries behind on a Virginia camping adventure. Shenandoah National Park is also just the place to go, thanks in large part to four well-spaced family campsites along Skyline Drive.

All four campgrounds are open from spring to fall. Some spots can be reserved up to six months in advance. However, most sites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. As they say, the early bird gets the worm and that's especially true in Shenandoah National Park.


Photo credit: Cameron Davidson

For large groups (up to 20 people), Dundo Group Campground can be booked up to a year in advance. There is also backcountry camping. To catch some zzz & # 39; s in the wild you'll need a free permit, but getting one on the park's website is a cinch.

Every campground in Shenandoah National Park has its own appeal. Lewis Mountain, for example, is small and intimate, while Big Meadows is large and packed with amenities such as a large picnic area and one of the park's two visitor centers.

Big Meadows Star gazing
Photo Credit: Gordon Lau IG Account: @gordonklau

All campgrounds allow visitors to experience wildlife, including black bears, which are known to roam each of the campgrounds from time to time. That said, keep your food (anything with a scent, even toothpaste) in an on-site storage canister or in your vehicle to keep the bears from patrolling the site.

For a closer look at each of the four family campsites in Shenandoah National Park, read on to choose the best one for you and your team as you plan your first or next camping adventure in the national park.

Mathews Arm is the most northerly campground in the park, located on the west side of Skyline Drive at Milestone 22.1. Open from May to October, this campground is easily accessible from Front Royal and Thornton Gap entrances.

There are 166 sites, including 47 sites that can be reserved online at Recreation.gov. The remaining sites are first-come, first-served. All individual sites are $ 15 per night and are open to both tents and RVs. There are three group campsites for up to 25 people for $ 50 a night. All campsites are non-electric and there are no connections.

Mathews Arm is clean and quiet, but also more primitive than the other park campsites. As in, there are no showers at Mathews Arm. However, you will find flush toilets and running water (cold only). The nearest coin-operated showers are located at Big Meadows Campground at Milestone 51.2.

For snacks, groceries, and camping supplies, including firewood, it's a short two-mile drive south along Skyline Drive to Elkwallow Wayside at Milestone 24.1 (open mid-June to mid-November). You will also find a gift shop for souvenirs from the park.

Several family-friendly hiking trails are accessible from Matthews Arm, including the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail, which leads to Overall Run Falls. With a height of 93 feet, this is the highest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It is a real must see.

The Traces Trail is also accessible from Mathews Arm. This relaxed nature trail runs casually around the wooded camping site. This quiet path makes for a pleasant walk after dinner with the children or your pup.

The nearest visitor center is the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at Milestone 4.7. This is one block from the Front Royal entrance. Here you can check in to ranger-led programs, grab a Junior Ranger activity booklet, or walk Skyline Drive for an easy one-mile loop hike on the Fox Hollow Trail (dogs are not allowed on this trail).

Photo credit: John Plashal

Big Meadows is located in the central district of Shenandoah National Park at milestone 51.2 and is open from late March to early November. This campground is located just north of the entrance to Swift Run Gap. It is also the largest campground in the park.

There are 221 sites, including 168 sites that can be reserved online at Recreation.gov. The remaining sites are first-come, first-served. Big Meadows has 51 tent-only sites. All individual RV and tent sites are $ 20 per night. Two group campsites can accommodate up to 15 people at a rate of $ 45 per night. All campsites are non-electric and there are no connections.

Big Meadows is super close to many of the park's most popular spots, such as Hawksbill Summit and Bearfence Mountain. The campground is also an easy walk to a large picnic area, as well as a full-service Big Meadows Lodge.

For groceries, sandwiches to go, camping supplies and park souvenirs, head to Big Meadows Wayside at Milestone 51 (open late March to mid-November). Here you will also find toilets, picnic tables and a gas station with two pumps. Stop at Byrd Visitor Center next door for ranger-led programs and Junior Ranger activity booklets.

This site is ideal for beginners and is rich in amenities including showers. Yes, there are hot showers at Big Meadows, but plan to bring coins or small bills. For a five-minute shower, it costs $ 1.75. There is a change machine near the showers. At Big Meadows you will also find coin laundry facilities, ice and firewood.

An amphitheater is located in the northwest corner of the site for seasonal programs led by a ranger. To the left of the amphitheater is the starting point for the leafy hike to the 81-meter-high Lewis Falls, the fourth largest waterfall in the park.

In addition to Lewis Falls, there are two other waterfall hikes near the campground, including Dark Hollow Falls (milestone 50.7) and Rose River Falls (milestone 49.5). The latter definitely impresses with a dreamy swimming hole.


Photo credit: Larry W. Brown

The kid-friendly Story of the Forest Trail also departs from Big Meadows. This flat trail is the top for an informal walk, but please note that pets are not allowed on this trail. Your furry friends are also banned from the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.

Besides walking, Skyland Stables is just off Skyline Drive at milestone 42.5. Book a 2.5-hour guided horseback ride to see the Shenandoah Valley from a new perspective. As in, from on top of a horse as you trot across an old apple orchard along leafy paths. Hand-guided pony rides are available for small children.

For a sit-down meal, the Spottswood Dining Room is located in the Big Meadows Lodge. Enjoy delicious menu items such as the New Deal Roast Turkey Plate. Save room for a generous slice of Blackberry Ice Cream Pie. At the New Market Taproom, order a craft cocktail or a glass of local wine to celebrate your day in the park.

An easy six mile drive south of Big Meadows is Lewis Mountain Campground at milestone 57.5. With only 30 first-come, first-served, this is the smallest campground in Shenandoah National Park. Lewis Mountain is closest to the entrance to Swift Run Gap and is open from late March to October.

All individual RV and tent sites are $ 15 per night. There are no group campsites. All campsites are non-electric and there are no connections. Lewis Mountain also has 15 mountain cabins available for rent from mid-June to the end of November.

You'll find one- and two-bedroom cabins with climate control and bathrooms, but no Wi-Fi, and more rustic cabins without a bathroom or running water. Pet-friendly cabins are also available. There is a nightly rate for any well-mannered furry friend.

Lewis Mountain is an excellent choice for those who would like a quiet, more intimate camping experience, as well as on-site amenities such as an ice machine, coin-operated laundrette, and showers. An on-site camping shop sells basic supplies such as firewood, snacks and supplies.

Photo courtesy of Shenandoah National Park

A picnic area is on the north side of the site, adjacent to Skyline Drive. Away from the park's main road, the site feels refreshingly secluded. Still, Lewis Mountain is just a stone's throw from the white-blue Appalachian Trail, which runs south to north along the east side of this small campground.

Take the Appalachian Trail north for the short climb to the top of Bearfence Mountain at milestone 56.4. You can also hike south to reach Pocosin Cabin, a scenic cabin along the trail built by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in 1937. It's also a short hike south from the AT on the Lewis Mountain Trail to the top with view.

Photo credit: Tony Hall

Loft Mountain Campground sits squarely atop Big Flat Mountain in Shenandoah National Park's South District. Open from early May to November, this campground is closest to the entrance to Rockfish Gap.

There are 207 sites, including 55 sites that can be reserved online at Recreation.gov. All other sites are first come, first served. Loft Mountain has 50 tent places. All individual RV and tent sites are $ 15 per night. Campsites are non-electric and there are no connections.

You will find plenty of amenities here, including coin-operated showers, laundry facilities and easy access to hiking trails. Loft Mountain Wayside (open late June to early November) is located directly across from Skyline Drive from the site. Here you will find sundries and souvenirs for your camping stay.

You may even find cell service. Another plus for novice campers. It's not a guarantee, but you're more likely to be able to call or text from the park's South District, including at the campground and adjacent hiking trails.

Given the site's location, there are many points to enjoy a colorful sunrise or sunset, including along the Appalachian Trail, which circles the site. It's worth noting, however, that the most sought-after sites, with the most spectacular views, are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Plan to arrive early for your stay.

There are several notable hikes nearby, including the Loft Mountain Loop via the Frazier Discovery Trail and Appalachian Trail. This easy two-mile hike starts on Skyline Drive from Loft Mountain Wayside and impresses with far-reaching vistas. On the north side of the loop, a vantage point overlooking the sunrise is overwhelming to the east.


Photo credit: Larry W. Brown

Another must-do hike departs along the Appalachian Trail and joins the Doyles River Trail to reach Doyles River Falls, which has several tantalizing swimming holes. The easy Blackrock Summit is also quite popular, starting just south along Skyline Drive at milestone 84.4. This one is an absolute must-do in the park.

Just steps from Loft Mountain in the South District of Shenandoah National Park is Dundo Group Campground. Open from May to November, this campground is closest to the entrance to Rockfish Gap.

There are three group campsites. Each non-electric site can accommodate up to 20 people. Sites can be booked online up to a year in advance at Recreation.gov at a rate of $ 45 per night. All check-ins are on the road at Loft Mountain.


This is a more primitive campground. There are picnic tables, water points and toilets, but now showers or camp shop. For sundries, the nearest camp store is Loft Mountain Wayside at Milestone 79.5.

The Appalachian Trail rubs against the south side of this campground. From here it is an easy walk to Blackrock Summit and on to Trayfoot Mountain via the Trayfoot Mountain Trail.

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Backcountry camping is also an option within the park with a free backcountry permit. Apply for a permit online to print it, or pre-book one for pick-up in the park from a self-service kiosk at several locations in Shenandoah National Park, including all four entry stations and Loft Mountain Wayside.

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