Shenandoah National Park is one of the gems of the eastern United States. Just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the park feels much more remote. Its vast natural beauty offers so much to explore, and what better way to do so than to fully immerse yourself and camp in Shenandoah National Park?
Keep reading for a complete guide to Shenandoah National Park camping!
What to Expect When Camping at Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is located in Virginia’s Blueridge Mountains. Spanning over 200,000 acres of land, the park is known for its beautiful views, natural landscape, and diverse wildlife.
Shenandoah features waterfalls, quiet woods, wildflower fields, rocky hiking trails, and so much more. This landscape and the park’s many different levels of elevation are what allow so many species like black bears, deer, and wild turkeys to thrive.
Things to Do at Shenandoah National Park
With so much to see and explore while camping at Shenandoah National Park, it’s a great idea to plan ahead and make sure you get to do everything you want.
Read on for recommendations and tips about things to do during your trip to this park!
With over 500 miles of trails, including more than 100 miles of the iconic Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park offers a plethora of hiking options. Hikes range from easy to difficult, cover different distances, and include features like mountains, waterfalls, and more.
Depending on your skill level and interests, here are a few Shenandoah hikes I recommend:
- Dark Hollow Falls – Dark Hollow Falls is a stunning waterfall to visit on a hike, and it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park. The hike itself is short, taking around an hour and 15 minutes to complete the 1.4-mile trail. However, the path is steep and rocky, and it can be slippery when wet, so it’s moderately difficult.
- Old Rag Mountain Hike – Old Rag Mountain Hike is another very popular option. This 9.4-mile hike is challenging, generally taking seven and a half hours to complete. During the hike, you’ll cover rock scrambles and ultimately reach dazzling, 360-degree views of the park.
- Big Devils Stairs – If you’re looking for a less crowded hike, Big Devils Stairs is for you. This moderate, 5.5-mile trail leads hikers to a steep cliff that offers a scenic overlook of the gorge and valley. It’s a great place to rest, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the view before going back the way you came.
- Bearfence Mountain – For a beautiful 180-degree view of Shenandoah Valley, visit Bearfence Mountain. There are actually two different hikes that lead to this view. Hikers who enjoy a bit of a thrill may opt for the moderate, 1.4-mile Bearfence Rock Scramble. Or for something lighter, the Bearfence Viewpoint is an easy, 1.1-mile trail that takes hikers straight to the viewpoint.
- Hawksbill Loop – Hawksbill Summit is a moderate 2.9-mile hike. It’s a well-loved trail that takes hikers to the national park’s highest peak. At the top, enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below.
- Mary’s Rock – Mary’s Rock is a moderate, 3.7-mile hike that takes around three and a half hours to complete. The trail culminates at the rock’s summit, where hikers can enjoy a stunning overlook of the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains.
Driving Skyline Drive
If driving wasn’t initially on your list of things to do when visiting a national park, you may want to think again.
Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs north and south along the Blueridge Mountains. The slow drive, which has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour, is a great way to relax, enjoy the park’s surrounding beauty, and maybe see some wildlife.
Skyline Drive is the main road throughout the park, and it can be accessed by one of the park’s four entrance stations. The road also offers access to Shenandoah’s campgrounds, dining, and most hiking trails.
Visiting Big Meadows
Big Meadows is one of the more surprising features at Shenandoah National Park. The grassy meadow is located on top of a mountain, and visitors can enjoy the view, see wildflowers and wildlife, and walk through the meadow’s grassy trails.
Perhaps the best thing to do at Big Meadows is to go stargazing at night. Big Meadows’ elevation and the park’s distance from major urban areas make it a great spot to see the night sky without the light pollution you likely encounter in daily life. Bring your binoculars and enjoy!
Visiting the Park’s Waterfalls
Shenandoah is home to many waterfalls, which are always a lovely sight to see! They are all located just off of Skyline Drive, accessible by hikes from the road’s parking lots.
The tallest waterfall in the park is Overall Run Falls, reaching a height of 93 feet. Other exquisite waterfalls include Rose River Falls, Jones Run Falls, and Doyles River Falls.
The length and difficulty level of the hikes to these waterfalls can vary, so make sure to plan ahead.
Biking is a great way to explore Shenandoah National Park. Visitors can ride their bikes along Skyline Drive, other paved areas, and Rapidan Fire Road, a one-mile gravel road near Big Meadows.
For something more organized, several companies offer guided bike tours throughout the park.
With more than 70 mountain streams that contain native trout, Shenandoah National Park offers many great fishing spots. In fact, all of the fish in the park are wild, and none are stocked.
Most of the park’s fishing spots only allow catch-and-release fishing, but there are 17 rivers and creeks that allow you to harvest the trout you catch.
If you’re planning to fish, make sure you know the rules, like where harvesting is permitted and under what conditions.
Blackberries are a unique part of Shenandoah National Park. In the summer, the park fills with these small fruits, and visitors are free to collect and eat them fresh (up to one gallon per person per day).
Moreover, each summer, the park hosts the annual Blackberry Delight Festival, featuring blackberry-infused dishes and other celebrations!
Where to Stay at Shenandoah National Park
When you’re camping at Shenandoah National Park, it’s important to consider where you will spend the night.
Choosing a Campground
Shenandoah National Park offers five different campgrounds to choose from. Here is a brief overview of each:
- Big Meadows Campground – Big Meadows Campground is a great choice for camping in Shenandoah National Park because of its central location and close proximity to many popular park destinations, including, of course, Big Meadows. It has 221 campgrounds for both tents and RVs.
- Dundo Group Campground – Dundo Group Campground is smaller than most of the others, offering just three campsites. As the campground’s name suggests, these campsites are designated for larger groups (between seven and 20 people).
- Lewis Mountain Campground – This is the smallest campground in Shenandoah National Park, with just 30 campsites. It’s a great option for those who want a quieter option with more privacy. Plus, it’s still relatively central, just seven miles away from Big Meadows.
- Loft Mountain Campground – Located in the southern part of the park on top of Big Flat Mountain, Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in Shenandoah National Park. Its 207 campsites offer access to stunning views, nearby waterfalls, and hiking trails.
- Matthews Arm Campground – Matthews Arm Campground is the closest campground to the park’s northern entrance. It offers access to several hiking trails and waterfalls, and it features 165 campsites available to both tents and RVs.
Although some campgrounds offer first-come-first-served campgrounds, they also all offer reservations, with the exception of Lewis Mountain Campground. I recommend making a reservation to ensure your spot, especially if you’re planning your Shenandoah National Park camping trip on a weekend or holiday.
With a little bit of planning ahead to find the perfect campground for your park stay, you’re sure to have a great trip, no matter which you choose!
Shenandoah National Park does allow backcountry camping for a more remote option that truly immerses visitors in the park’s wilderness. It’s a great way to explore the park’s natural features, hiking trails, and beauty.
If you’re thinking of backcountry camping in Shenandoah National Park, make sure to plan ahead. You’ll need a permit, and it’s important to know the park’s rules and regulations. For example, backcountry camping is prohibited in certain spots, and campfires are not allowed.
You should also plan your camping itinerary carefully based on the kind of trip you want to have. The National Park Service has created a handful of suggested itineraries based on hiking levels and the ideal length of your trip to help guide you.
If tent or RV camping isn’t for you, or you’re planning to visit Shenandoah National Park in the winter months, there are a few other options for your stay.
Skyland, Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins offer a range of accommodations including elegant rooms, traditional rooms, and cabins of various sizes. There are also six primitive public-use cabins located throughout the park.
What to Pack for Shenandoah National Park Camping
Packing for Shenandoah National Park camping is much like packing for other camping trips. Bring all the necessities that you would normally bring, including camping supplies, activewear, and hiking boots.
Because of the elevation changes at the park, ranging from just 550 feet to over 4,000 feet above sea level, temperatures can vary. I recommend packing layers like jackets and sweatpants that can easily be put on and taken off during a hike.
For more information about what you should and shouldn’t pack for a camping trip, visit our guide about What to Bring Camping.
How to Get to Shenandoah National Park Park
If you’re planning to fly to Shenandoah National Park, there are several airports you can choose from. The closest is Shenandoah Valley Regional (SHD), which is 27 miles from the park. Charlottesville-Albemarle (CHO) is just a few miles farther, 31 miles away.
For larger airports, which are often less expensive and easier to get to, the best options are Washington Dulles International (IAD) and Reagan National (DCA).
From there, I recommend renting a car to take you to the park and travel throughout.
If you’re driving to Shenandoah National Park, I recommend choosing the closest entrance station and following GPS instructions. Note that if you just enter the park’s name into the GPS, it may direct you to a service road that is not available for public entry.
The four entrance stations are:
- Front Royal (Northern Entrance) – 21073 Skyline Drive, Front Royal, Virginia 22630
- Thornton Gap – 31339 Skyline Drive, Luray, Virginia 22835
- Swift Run Gap – 22591 Spotswood Trail, Elkton, Virginia 22827
- Rockfish Gap (South Entrance) – 282 Skyline Drive, Waynesboro, Virginia 22980
Now you know the basics of what there is to do, where to stay, and how to get to the park. However, there are just a few more things to keep in mind to ensure you’re fully prepared for your Shenandoah National Park Camping Trip.
Keep reading for some important considerations.
Visiting Shenandoah National Park in the Winter
Visiting Shenandoah National Park in the winter offers a bit of a different experience, and unfortunately, campgrounds are closed in the colder months. But if you just want to visit for the day or stay overnight in the park’s other lodging options, there is still plenty to see and do.
The wintertime at the park is quieter, with fewer visitors. This means that if you want to avoid crowds, winter is a great time to visit Shenandoah National Park! Plus, fewer people often means you’re more likely to see wildlife.
As far as activities go, it’s important to know what may or may not be open.
Skyline Drive is usually open in the winter, but it can close due to inclement weather like snow and ice. Even if the road is closed, hiking trails remain open. Just keep in mind that trails may be icy, especially as elevation increases. It’s a good idea to wear layers and bring traction devices for your hiking boots!
Entrance and Camping Fees
Everyone that enters Shenandoah National Park will be required to pay an entry fee. There are a few different options:
- Entrance pass – An entrance pass ranges from $15 for an individual person to $30 for a single vehicle and all of its passengers. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days.
- Annual pass – A Shenandoah annual pass costs $55 and provides unlimited park access for a year. The pass covers entrance for the pass-holder as well as up to four adults traveling in the same vehicle (children under 16 years of age are included for free).
- Lifetime pass – Various lifetime passes are available for seniors, people with medical disabilities, and military veterans. These passes cover all national parks and range from free to $80 depending on the type of pass. There are additional discounts available for certain groups, including seniors 62 years of age and older. Fourth graders, current members of the military, and military veterans can obtain free passes. In addition to entrance fees, there are separate fees for camping in Shenandoah National Park. Camping fees range from $30 for a basic campsite (up to six people) to $75 for a group campsite.
Shenandoah National Park is unique in that it’s one of just a few national parks that allow pets on most of its hiking trails. They’re also allowed in campgrounds and certain other lodging options that are pet-friendly.
If you’re thinking of bringing your pet on your Shenandoah National Park camping trip, just make sure you know the rules and regulations. For example, pets must be on a leash on hiking trails, and there are a few trails where they are prohibited.
Park Shops and Services
Throughout the park, there are several gift shops, camping supply stores, and bike repair stations. The Visitor Centers also feature park stores that sell maps, clothing, and souvenirs.
For gasoline, I recommend filling up your tank before you enter the park. There is one gas station near Big Meadows if you need it, but it can go out of service occasionally. Skyland offers an electric vehicle charging station.
Cell phone service is spotty and not reliable in most parts of the park. However, there does tend to be coverage at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Additionally, Byrd Visitor Center, Big Meadows Lodge, and the Skyland Dining Room offer free Wi-Fi.
Wrapping up Your Shenandoah National Park Camping Trip
With so much to see and do during your Shenandoah National Park camping trip, you really can’t go wrong. Just plan ahead, follow the tips listed above, and you’ll have a wonderful time!
Ready to plan another amazing camping trip? Visit our National Park Camping page for guides to even more camping in these incredible parks.