Shenandoah National Park
Guide

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Introduction

The East Coast boasts its own array of beautiful mountains, bursting with life. The Appalachian Trail is a popular trek that spans the Appalachia, and 105 miles of it lies within Shenandoah National Park. The park is a wooded wonderland, full of breathtaking views. The vistas you’ll witness are nothing short of spectacular. With over 70 overlooks, you may have trouble picking a favorite spot. Visitors can come any time of year. Each season holds its own unique charm, keeping the park ever-changing.

Shenandoah National Park is a place where you will find cascading waterfalls (some over 90 feet high), awe-inspiring geologic features, and quiet wooded hollows. Shenandoah provides not only a beautiful setting, but a functional one. If you love recreation, this is a perfect park for you. Families and people of all ages will have no trouble finding something to do. Skyline Drive, the park’s main road, is just the start and many adventures lie beyond its path.

This part of Virginia sees lots of visitors, and when you’re used to travelling with a larger rig, you may also be used to trouble finding spacious spots… not here. The drive is as easy as the stay. This park is surely a favorite among quite a diverse group of campers.

Park Alerts (3)

[Information] Temporary Relocation of a Portion of the Appalachian Trail [+ Info]

About one mile of the A.T. has been temporarily relocated in the south district of the park due to construction in a power line right-of-way.

[Caution] Current Hiking Alerts & Closures [+ Info]

Information about trails and other closures.

[Caution] South River and Dundo Picnic Grounds Water Alert

Recent water testing at South River and Dundo Picnic Grounds shows water may contain microbial contamination. Water should NOT be consumed or used for washing dishes and hands without boiling it first

RV Rentals in Shenandoah National Park

Transportation in Shenandoah National Park

Driving

Getting around Shenandoah National Park’s main road, Skyline Drive, is a breeze. Visitors have come through in many sizes and styles of RVs, 5th-wheels, and tow-behinds. The entire length of Skyline Drive is 105 miles, with mile markers that run the entire span. All campgrounds, shops, restaurants, hiking trailheads, and other lodging options are typically right off of, or quite near to, Skyline Drive. Along the way, over 70 overlooks will keep you on a stop-and-go ride. Skyline Drive is served by four entrance stations: Front Royal (the North), Swift Run Gap, Thornton Gap, and Rockfish Gap (the South). All those travelling via RV, camping trailers, or with horse trailers are advised to shift into lower gears when coasting along scenic, downhill twists and turns. You’ll also want to be sure your vehicle will clear Marys Rock Tunnel, south of Thornton Gap, where clearance rests at 12’8”.

Parking

Parking can be tricky to come across during peak seasons in Summer and early Fall, as many visitors not only fill the campgrounds but also drive along Skyline Drive, viewing all the glorious overlooks. Multiple campgrounds at the park provide sites that allow for larger rigs and longer trailers to find a spot to rest. Pull through spaces and deeply set sites among the trees are an ideal setting. When travelling in Winter seasons, be prepared for country roads, parts of Skyline drive, and certain parking areas to be blocked off due to weather conditions. Before driving to the park, be sure to call the park’s automated line to see if Skyline Drive is open.

Public Transport

Finding public transportation into, or close to, the park is doable, though somewhat obscure. There are no advertised direct routes or shuttle buses that run through, or even directly to, the park. If arriving from outside the park, you’re likely doing so with your own vehicle or by foot. Once in the park, most visitors drive along the 105 miles of Skyline Drive themselves, or travel (mostly parallel) alongside on foot via the Appalachian Trail. Other popular ways to get around the park include bicycling and horseback riding.

Campgrounds and parking in Shenandoah National Park

Campsites in Shenandoah National Park

Reservations camping

Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA

Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA, deep in the forests of the Shenandoah Valley, is the perfect place to settle in for a visit to this mountainous region. While in the area, explore Natural Bridge, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, or hike and bike throughout one of the three nearby national forests. This historic area of Virginia is also home to a variety of cultural and historical landmarks and museums to explore. After an action-packed day, rest and regroup back at Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA. On-site amenities include Wi-Fi, cable TV, a swimming pool, and a dog park. Some sites can accommodate rigs up to 82 feet, and propane and firewood are available on-site for purchase.

Lynchburg / Blue Ridge Parkway KOA

You can’t find a better campground along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway than Lynchburg/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA. An easy drive down this awe-inspiring road and you can enjoy hikes, caverns, waterfalls, and historic sites. Winding along the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, sites along the way include the Natural Bridge, the James River, and much more. Nearby is historic Lynchburg, and Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. At Lynchburg/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA, kids love the jump pad, train rides, and the fishing pond. There’s even a dog park for your pups! The seasonal pool is open all summer, too. Pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet. Other on-site amenities include Wi-Fi, and full hookups with 50-amp service. Firewood and propane are available on-site for purchase.

Luray KOA

The gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains are the backdrop at the rural, yet convenient, Luray KOA perched above the Shenandoah Valley. Just a few miles away is the famed Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, along with plenty of hiking trails. You can rent a canoe, kayak or tube to float down the lovely Shenandoah River, or visit Luray Caverns and several Civil War sites including Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Luray KOA features Wi-Fi access, spacious grounds, shaded sites, a seasonal pool, ball field and even a dog park. Pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 85 feet.

Harrisonburg / Shenandoah Valley KOA

All families are welcome to join in on the camping spirit right here in the heart of Shenandoah Valley, four miles from the interstate. At the Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley KOA, pull-through RV sites are big rig friendly and the patio RV sites come equipped with a charcoal grill and an amazing deck furnished with patio furniture. Glamp in a deluxe cabin or camp in either a primitive or family campsite, depending on the group size. Order a fresh pizza and have it delivered right to your door or browse the camp store for a yummy snack. Events are always on the agenda here, so keep your calendar clear.

Charlottesville KOA

The award-winning Charlottesville KOA, planted in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is also near historic Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), Highland (home of James Monroe), and Michie Tavern, where an 18th-century lunch is served by costumed staff. The nearby James River offers tubing and rafting, local vineyards offer wine tasting, and downtown Charlottesville offers fine dining. After a day of exploring, head back to Charlottesville KOA to take advantage of the cable TV and Wi-Fi. Other on-site amenities include a swimming pool, sports field, game room, and pedal carts. pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 65 feet.

Mathews Arm Campground

Reservations are not required in order to stay at Mathews Arm Campground, however, they are highly recommended. Mathews Arm usually opens in May and provides a place to park until the end of October. The grounds fill up quickly, especially on holidays and weekends, so it’s good to make sure you reserve a spot that will fit your rig. With so many accommodating sites, it isn’t hard to pick out the perfect one.

Loft Mountain Campground

While reservations are not required in order to stay at the campgrounds, they are highly recommended throughout the season. This is a rather popular campground, so sites fill up quickly. If you’re planning your trip around a holiday or over a weekend, it’s even more of a reason to pick out a site beforehand. Loft provides spacious sites to park RVs, 5th-wheels, and pop-up trailers, as well as traditional camping. Spend less time finding a place to park and more time enjoying your surroundings.

Big Meadows Campground

Reservations are not required in order to stay at Big Meadows, however, they are highly recommended if you are staying during the summer months and into the fall season. This is a really popular place to camp due to nearby facilities and well-travelled trails. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance of your stay, however, sites do not open for reservation until May. The grounds fill up quickly on weekends and holidays, so reservations make it easy to target the perfect place to park your rig.

First-come first-served

Loft Mountain Campground

This is the largest of Shenandoah’s campgrounds. You’ll find Loft at mile number 79.5 of Skyline Drive, and right atop Big Flat Mountain. The views here are nothing short of spectacular, but if the scenic vistas aren’t enough, the campground also boasts a close location to two of the area’s waterfalls. Trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are also accessed at the grounds. Loft usually opens in May and remains available for stays throughout October. The campsites are quaint, with picnic tables and fire pits. Many areas are spacious enough to park large vehicles and tow-behinds. Larger rigs are certain to find a temporary home here, with both pull-through sites and deep sites available to park your camper of choice. While there are no hookups, the grounds provide potable water, showers, full-service bathrooms, and a store. It’s easy to stock up and stay comfortable when you choose to park at Loft.

Lewis Mountain Campground

These grounds are the smallest in the park, but still supply a store, showers, and full-service restrooms. Lewis Mountain usually opens in March and keeps visitors until October. It’s another idyllic setting among the trees. Expect this area to be yet another with no hookups, however, there is potable water. All RVs and campers should use the dump station located at Big Meadows Campgrounds (travel 7 miles north). Most campers and RVs will find no trouble parking. Those with larger rigs or longer trailers may end up finding an easier time of picking out a spot at some of the larger campgrounds, such as Big Meadows, Mathews Arm, or Loft Campground. When you’re looking for comfortable seclusion among the trees though, this is a sure pick!

Mathews Arm Campground

This is a perfect spot to park an RV, camper, or 5th-wheel. While there are no campgrounds in the park that offer hookups, sites here are spacious, cozy, and leave you immersed in the woods. Sites include picnic tables and fire grates, with full-service restrooms also available for use. Trailers and RVs must dispose of all sewage and wastewater at a dump station that is about ¼ mile from the campground. All roads in the campground retain a steady 10-mph speed and are extremely easy to navigate. It’s definitely very vehicle-friendly, with sites that allow for pull-through accommodations as well as deep-seated sites (perfect for tow-along campers). Besides being an ideal, comfortable setting, Mathews Arm is also the nearest campground for visitors entering the park from the North, making this a popular stop for many. It sits right next to a nature trail and another trail that leads to Overall Run Falls. Further amenities lie only two miles away at Elkwallow Wayside, where you can stock up on camping supplies and sit down for a meal. Typically, the grounds open in May and close up again toward the end of October. The convenience of this beautiful campground setting makes for a sure choice for your Shenandoah stay.

Big Meadows Campground

The sites of Big Meadows are located at mile number 51.2 of Skyline Drive and near many of the park’s major facilities, as well as popular hiking trails. In fact, three of the area’s famed waterfalls are situated within walking distance of the grounds. The Meadow, of which the grounds are named, are also a nearby feature that is often abundant with plant growth in the late Spring and Summer seasons. Those who love wildlife will find this to be a sublime setting. Generators can be used here, however, only in certain areas. They may come in handy for some of those chilly nights. The grounds typically open in early Spring and close up again in the Fall, before winter gets to set in. It’s good to come prepared as there are no hookups, though, there is potable water. RVs and trailers will find a dump station ¼ mile from the campgrounds. The easily-traveled roadways of the campgrounds are a no-brainer to navigate and can be done by just about any size camper or tow-behind. Big Meadows has the space available for big rigs, with deep sites as well as pull-throughs. It’s a perfect setting to park your rig. A camp store close by, as well as laundry and showers, help make your stay quite comfortable. There’s not much that could make these grounds more perfect.

Alternate camping

Backcountry Camping

The park offers almost 200,000 acres of backcountry and wilderness to explore. Over 500 miles of trails await, with winding pathways that lead to true Virginia wilderness. Backcountry camping allows visitors to really immerse themselves in the beauty of Shenandoah. All those looking to engage in backcountry camping require a permit and should be well prepared for the challenges ahead. The park is open all year long, so campers are welcome to brave the elements, even when surrounding campgrounds have long closed.

Dundo Campground

Dundo provides group camping within Shenandoah. The grounds provide sites for a minimum of seven guests, and up to 20. Full-service bathrooms are provided. Unfortunately, both generators and RVs are prohibited from use. All check-ins are made at the Loft Mountain Campground. Loft lies a little less than four miles north of Dundo and is the go-to location for getting a shower and using laundry facilities. A camp store is also found at Loft Mountain campground, so you can easily stock up before returning to Dundo.

Seasonal activities in Shenandoah National Park

Spring

Picnicking

The seven picnic areas in Shenandoah National Park are quite scenic and spacious. They are certainly an ideal setting for spending a relaxing lunch. What more could you ask for than such pristine surroundings? Picnic tables and grills are provided. Shenandoah, along with other National Parks, has worked hard to make as many of the parts of the park as accessible-friendly as possible so that everyone, of every ability, can take in the parks and their splendor. If needed, fully accessible settings are provided.

Scenic Skyline Drive

Many of the park’s visitors come for this drive alone. It provides so many phenomenal overlooks and breathtaking views. In spring, the park is still quite quiet, as most campgrounds open again in May. This is a great time to get out and enjoy Skyline Drive without all the hustle and bustle of other eager visitors. Roadways may still be slick, but any road closings should have passed with Winter. Be prepared to shift into a lower gear if travelling with a larger haul and make sure you’ll pass clearance at Marys Rock Tunnel at 12’8”. Wildlife will regularly cross Skyline Drive as well, so always remain vigilant.

Ranger Programs

Ranger-guided programs are a fantastic way to provide all visitors with an opportunity to dive into the wonders of the park. Just about anything you could want to know about the park is provided in detailed talks and interpretive programs that are held throughout the season. Learn about the park’s thriving plants and animals, hike through mountain meadows, take in Shenandoah’s past, and so much more.

Trail Rides

Guided rides can be arranged through Skyland Stables, the park’s concessioner. Those travelling on horseback are able to enjoy over 180 miles of trails that range from smooth, wide paths to steep, narrow trailways. Guided rides depart from the stables, cross Skyline Drive, travel past the Limberlost area, and through an old apple orchard. It’s a truly genuine experience to appreciate the park atop such a strong companion.

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180 mile (and then some) trek that transverses all sorts of lands, spanning along the mountain range. One hundred five miles of the trail is located in Shenandoah National Park and makes for another welcome footpath for visitors. You’ll often find it following the same path as famed Skyline Drive. There are all sorts of stops and shelters along the Appalachian Trail and it’s not uncommon to come across a number of backcountry campers.

Summer

Rock Climbing

A good majority of Shenandoah’s visitors come to take in the park from a more unique perspective - along the rocks. Enjoying nature and the feelings it evokes in the human spirit have a whole new meaning when clinging against a rock face. Rock climbing is an experience that creates a bond to nature in a whole other way. To ensure you have not only a good time, but a safe one, it’s best that you follow all guidelines and park recommendations.

Fort Windham Rocks

This is an easy hike that stretches just shy of a mile. The entrance to the trail is found at Compton Gap parking area (mile 10.4 of Skyline Drive). From here, follow the trail north to the intersection with Dickey Ridge Trail, go to the left, and soon you’ll come across the Fort Windham Rocks. They aren’t hard to miss. The boulders are deeply split and rise above the ground about 50 feet. A lot of the park’s visitors make a stop here. It’s a perfect spot to snap a few photos.

Overall Run Falls

The hike to get to these falls is a bit more on the moderately strenuous side, with a round trip totalling almost 6.5 miles. The trail climbs a good 1,850 feet, so it’s advised for only hikers who are conditioned to gradual inclines. The trek is so worth it. Just when climbing seems like it may be too much, you’ve reached your destination - a towering, 93-foot waterfall. The cascading waters are breathtaking (or maybe it’s all that hiking…). From here, you’ll also have an impressive view of the Valley and Massanutten Mountain.

Fishing

There are over 70 mountainous streams that flow through Shenandoah. They support a very diverse world of aquatic flora and fauna, and opportunities for fishing are abundant. There are certain regulations in place to protect eastern brook trout populations, so brush up on area fishing regulations before setting out. For fishing enthusiasts looking for a little more of a challenge, these waters are also perfect for working on your fly fishing technique.

Pony RIdes

kyland Stables not only provides guided horse tours, but they also house several sweet ponies that are a perfect companion for smaller children. While kids can’t travel out on the trails with these ponies, they can enjoy their own smaller-scale excursion. Pony rides are a perfect way to get out and spend the day with the kids, and this activity will cost you less than $10. The only requirements are that children can reach the stirrups and wear helmets whenever atop a pony.

Fall

Rapidan Tour

Intermittently throughout fall, Ranger-led tours of Rapidan Camp are provided. Reservations must be made for this tour and a $10 fee is charged. Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance, so you can be sure you secure a spot. This exhibit once was the Summer retreat for President Herbert and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Earthcaching

To join in, all you need is a GPS, a geocaching online account, and an enthusiasm to explore the park. Visitors have widespread access to the park but will find all geocaches along marked trails. It is unadvised to ever roam off trails. Earthcaching means there are no physical trinkets to uncover, but Shenandoah’s natural features provide the reward worth discovering.

Riprap-Wildcat Ridge Loop

This is a strenuous, 9.8 mile hike that features spectacular views. This trail is action-packed, with several stream crossings and a small waterfall. Huge rock formations make up some of the scenic geologic wonders along the trail. A shorter hiking option is available via access through Chimney Rock, however, you won’t get to reap the reward of Riprap and Wildcat Ridge’s swimming hole and beautiful cascades.

Bicycling

While not permitted on trails, unpaved roads, or in grassy areas, bicycling is a recreation you can enjoy along the length of Skyline Drive. For those who enjoy getting out on two wheels instead of four, you can travel this well-trekked road and peer out over the overlooks with ease. Cyclists are advised to always travel with extreme caution, as Skyline Drive is a two-lane road with rather steep hills and winding, blind curves. Elevation changes can also mean dramatically different weather. Always come prepared for all sorts of conditions.

Big Meadows Lodge

The Lodge is a lovely dining room setting with a rustic feel. Here, you’ll be served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The New Market Taproom features a lighter fare with family-friendly entertainment in the evenings. Need to grab-and-go? The Lodge has you covered there, too.

Winter

Winter Hiking

While the campgrounds and most facilities are closed, the park is open all year round. That means visitors are free to enjoy all open road ways and trails as they would during other seasonal operating times. Winter brings on a whole other set of challenges to trails. You want to be sure you come extra prepared for any change in weather; that means bring plenty of extra food and water, and lots of layers of clothing and blankets. These aren’t hikes that are recommended for beginners, but those that are up for the challenge will enjoy an experience few others do.

Byrd Visitor Center

The exhibits at Byrd Visitor Center tell stories of the park’s establishment and early developments, including tales that aren’t often discussed. Shenandoah’s landscape has changed greatly as a reflection of the values around it. The exhibit showcases those changes and compels visitors to get involved in the park’s future. While most facilities of the park are closed during Winter seasons, Byrd Visitor Center remains open with limited hours. It’s a nice setting to get out of that crisp winter air.

Photography

While the beautiful colors of Fall fade, Winter brings about its own beauty. The crisp, clear surroundings of Shenandoah National Park make for a pristine winter wonderland worth capturing. Geologic features and supreme viewpoints make for spectacular photo subjects. The panoramas you can capture here are postcard-worthy. When you’re more into photographing wildlife, be sure to always maintain a safe distance and use that zoom (instead of your feet) to get a closer view.

Bird Watching

Avian enthusiasts will love Shenandoah’s winter bird life. Several species are actively searching for seeds and berries, or foraging through bark for insects. Look out for favorites, such as chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and more. Even when you can’t see them, you’ll be sure to hear them. That’s the beauty of the serene solitude Shenandoah supports in Winter.

Wildlife Viewing

With campgrounds closed and few hikers roaming the trails and backcountry wilderness, a new foot traffic is witnessed. The quietude the park experiences in winter is a perfect setting for getting to see all sorts of woodland animals. Snowy days, when white blankets the ground, be sure to look out for any array of tracks. Rabbits, deer, squirrels, turkey, and other benign critters are busy foraging for food, as are the fox and bobcats. It’s such a wonderful experience to catch a glimpse of nature doing what it does best.

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