Skip to Content

George Washington National Forest Camping Guide

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and sprawling over 1.8 million acres across Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, the George Washington National Forest offers a picturesque and adventure-filled destination for camping enthusiasts.

The vast expanse of lush forests, cold mountain streams, and unique mountaintop balds provide a diverse landscape for a variety of outdoor activities, making it an ideal location for nature lovers and hikers alike.

Keep reading to learn more about what George Washington National Forest camping has to offer!

A mountain view inside George Washington National Forest.
View inside George Washington National Forest.

All About George Washington National Forest

The George Washington National Forest, spanning across Virginia and West Virginia, is a vast and beloved outdoor destination in the United States. Encompassing over 1.8 million acres of pristine forests and recreational opportunities, it provides an enchanting escape for nature enthusiasts and campers alike.

Established in 1918, this National Forest is named after the first American President, George Washington. It’s home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, thriving amidst the rolling Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can relish in the spectacular beauty of nature while indulging in various outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and hunting.

Boasting over 40 developed campgrounds, 23 of which are in Virginia and 17 in West Virginia, George Washington National Forest offers numerous camping options to suit individuals’ preferences and comfort levels. Ranging from primitive campsites to those with modern amenities, facilities are available for RVs as well as tents.

In addition to the traditional campgrounds, the forest also offers backcountry camping for those seeking a more secluded and immersive experience. Miles of hiking trails, such as the famous Appalachian Trail, crisscross the entire forest, providing ample opportunities for backpackers to set up camp and explore the wilderness in-depth.

Within the boundaries of the forest, visitors can discover several points of interest, such as the remarkably scenic Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, offering breathtaking vistas along their routes. The region is also rich in history, with sites like Crabtree Falls – the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River – and the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, which showcases remnants of 19th-century iron production.

Given its proximity to Kentucky, the George Washington National Forest serves as a gateway to explore neighboring outdoor attractions, including the Red River Gorge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Overall, the forest stands as a testament to America’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage and providing accessible outdoor recreation for all to enjoy.

Camping in the Forest

George Washington National Forest camping offers various opportunities for those seeking a getaway in nature. Whether you prefer campground camping, dispersed camping, or RV camping, the forest has something for everyone.

Campers can choose from more than 40 developed campgrounds, providing a range of outdoor settings and levels of development. These campgrounds cater to tent campers, car campers, and RV enthusiasts, offering amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and restroom facilities.

Some George Washington Nationa Forest campgrounds may also have hookups for RVs, making it a convenient option for those with larger vehicles.

For a more primitive and solitary experience, dispersed camping is an excellent choice. This form of camping allows visitors to camp away from developed areas and other campers, requiring extra responsibilities and skills, such as pack-in and pack-out camping.

It is crucial to be aware of local regulations and practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping to minimize the impact on the forest’s natural resources.

You can also go RV camping in George Washington National Forest, with some campgrounds offering specific sites and facilities for larger vehicles. It is essential to check the campground’s details beforehand, as not all campgrounds might have the necessary space or hookups for an RV. Dedicated parking areas for RVs ensure space availability and easy access to the campground facilities.

Group camping is another option for those traveling with a larger party. Designated group camping areas provide an excellent opportunity for families, friends, and organizations to enjoy the beauty of the forest together.

Cabins are available for those seeking a more comfortable camping experience. These cabins provide a cozy and private option for individuals and families alike. In addition to cabins, the forest offers well-maintained campgrounds with different amenities such as picnic tables, toilets, and drinking water. These features help to make the camping experience more convenient and enjoyable for visitors.

It is important to note that while most campgrounds and facilities are well-maintained, some areas within the George Washington National Forest may have reduced amenities or be temporarily closed due to seasonal or weather-related factors.

Campers are encouraged to check the current status and conditions of their chosen campground or facility before arriving to ensure an enjoyable and seamless experience.

To make a reservation for a campground at the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, visit the website or call their reservation hotline at 877-444-6777. Through these platforms, you can find specific campground information, including availability and any additional details needed for your camping trip. Make sure to book early, as popular campgrounds and dates fill up quickly.

No matter the camping style you prefer, it is vital to stay bear-aware and follow all National Forest regulations and guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.

So, pack your gear and head out to go camping in George Washington National Forest for your next outdoor adventure!

Area Recreation

Camping in George Washington National Forest offers a wide array of recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy activities such as fishing, hiking, biking, boating, paddling, and swimming in the picturesque forest setting.

Fishing is a popular activity in the forest, with many creeks and rivers teeming with fish, including bass. Bass fishing enthusiasts can spend a relaxing day casting their lines and enjoying the serene environment.

Hiking opportunities are plentiful in the national forest, with numerous trails available for hikers of all skill levels. One notable trail is the Pig Iron and Charcoal Trail, where visitors can learn about the historical mining and smelting of iron in the area.

Biking is another great way to explore the forest. Various trails and roads offer different levels of difficulty, allowing cyclists to choose the best route for their experience level.

Boating and paddling are popular water activities, be it on a lake or river. Boat launches are available throughout the forest, providing access for those who want to venture out on the water. The marina dock at Bolar Mountain Recreation Area offers year-round boat launch access, although the dock is closed for repairs due to storm damage.

Swimming is a refreshing way to spend a day in the forest, with designated swimming areas available in various locations. One such spot is the Todd Lake Recreation Area, which combines a pleasant beach experience with picnicking and other outdoor activities.

Trails and Hiking

With over 1,925 miles of trails to choose from, hikers can enjoy a unique experience on each visit to the George Washington National Forest. Hiking is allowed on open forest roads, many gated forest roads, and designated trails.

Some popular trails in the Lee District of the national forest include:

  • Halfmoon Mountain Loop: A 10-mile trail with a 2,022-foot elevation gain, offering a decent view and camping opportunities.
  • Hanging Rock: A 7.25-mile trail with a 1,942-foot elevation gain, providing scenic views and an Appalachian Trail shelter.
  • Hidden Rocks: A shorter 2.5-mile trail with a 390-foot elevation gain, featuring rock walls and some obstructed views.
  • Hone Quarry Ridge: A 5-mile trail in the Dry River Ranger District with one nice view, close to a George Washington National Forest established campground.

For those interested in exploring the Appalachian Trail, a segment of the famous 2,190-mile trail runs through the national forest, offering hikers a challenging and rewarding experience.

Hiking in George Washington National Forest caters to all skill levels and preferences, whether it be a short day hike or a more extensive backpacking adventure.

Maps and Navigation

George Washington National Forest offers a variety of maps for visitors to navigate their outdoor adventures. These maps can help you find trails, campgrounds, and other recreational opportunities to make the most out of your visit.

It is essential to have an appropriate map before venturing out in the forest, as it provides necessary details and ensures your safety.

There are two primary types of maps available for campers and adventurers in George Washington National Forest: the forest visitor map and the interactive visitor map. The forest visitor map is a traditional paper map showcasing motorized and non-motorized routes, such as mechanized trails, hiking, and horse trails. It also indicates the location of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other points of interest within the forest. Paper copies of the forest visitor map can be obtained at local district offices.

The interactive visitor map is a digital map that can be accessed online and used on mobile devices. It provides more dynamic information, allowing you to filter and customize the map according to your preferences. The interactive map is particularly useful for downloading maps to your mobile device, which can help you navigate the forest even without an internet connection.

Whether you prefer paper maps or digital versions for mobile devices, having a map on hand can greatly enhance your camping experience and ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Notable Natural Features

George Washington National Forest boasts a vast and diverse landscape, offering visitors an array of natural features to explore. One of the most popular attractions is Sherando Lake, a picturesque recreational area surrounded by lush forests and scenic views, making it an ideal location for family outings or a tranquil retreat.

Along the shoreline, visitors can enjoy swimming, picnicking, or simply basking in the beauty of nature.

For those seeking a more rugged experience, the wilderness areas within the national forest provide unparalleled opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and solitude. Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia, stands at an elevation of 5,729 feet and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The Mount Rogers area, encompassing more than 5,000 acres, is home to an extensive network of trails, rare flora and fauna, and unique geological features.

Visitors to the George Washington National Forest will marvel at the numerous pristine streams that wind their way through the woodlands. These cold mountain streams nurture a diverse array of aquatic life and offer excellent fishing and paddling opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Additionally, the forests and meadows teeming with nature provide ample opportunities for bird-watching and photography.

A must-visit site within the region is Cascade Falls, a breathtaking 69-foot waterfall located near Pembroke, Virginia. This natural wonder is a popular destination for hikers and tourists alike, featuring well-maintained trails that lead to the base of the falls, as well as a series of wooden bridges and viewing platforms that provide stunning vistas of the cascades.

Undoubtedly, George Washington National Forest reveals the enriching beauty of nature with its diverse landscapes and array of recreational opportunities. From the crystal-clear lakes and cascading waterfalls to the soaring peaks and wilderness areas, this vast expanse of land truly has something for everyone, and best of all, much of it can be experienced for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules for camping in George Washington National Forest?

Campers must abide by specific rules and guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience during their George Washington National Forest camping trip. Overnight accommodations are provided at over 40 developed campgrounds and three cabins.

When dispersed camping, campfires are allowed, but be cautious of fire restrictions during high fire danger conditions. Utilize existing fire rings and follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize impact on the environment.

Where are the best camping spots in the forest?

While there are numerous spots to camp in George Washington National Forest, the best ones often depend on your personal preferences. The forest offers a wide range of outdoor settings and levels of development, so consider factors such as preferred activities, amenities, and desired level of seclusion when choosing the perfect spot for you.

Are there any entrance fees for the forest?

Currently, George Washington National Forest does not charge entrance fees. However, some activities within the forest, such as permits for recreation activities, including OHV/ATV permits for special trail systems and forest products like firewood, may require additional fees or permits.

What activities are available in the forest?

George Washington National Forest offers a diverse range of outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, camping, horseback riding, bicycling, and bird-watching. Moreover, visitors can participate in various interpretive programs or explore the scenic roads and trails, observing the flora and fauna of the forest.

Is there a risk of bear encounters while camping?

Yes, bear encounters are possible while camping in George Washington National Forest. It’s essential to be bear-aware during your stay and follow precautions such as storing food properly, disposing of waste responsibly, and making noise while hiking to avoid surprising a bear.

In some areas, bear activity may temporarily prohibit camping along certain trails or locations.

Is dispersed camping allowed in the forest?

Dispersed camping is permitted within George Washington National Forest. It offers a more primitive camping experience away from developed campgrounds and provides an opportunity to enjoy the natural surroundings.

When dispersed camping, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles, ensure campfires are allowed, and adhere to any fire restrictions in place.

Visit George Washington National Forest Today

Fall color in George Washington National Forest. George Washington National Forest camping.

With so much to explore, the George Washington National Forest stands as a true gem within the Appalachian region, beckoning campers to experience its enchanting beauty and diverse array of recreational opportunities. Plan your visit today!

And if you’re interested in other camping destinations, check out our national forest camping guides!