Camping in Shenandoah National Park: What You Need to Know

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Are you thinking of taking a road trip and camping in Shenandoah National Park? Well, last month (Sept 2021) I did just that and stayed in three of the five campgrounds along Skyline Drive.

This was an absolutely incredible experience and my first camping solo trip! Waking up and being able to jump right onto the main drag in Shenandoah National Park was super convenient.

The facilities were also kept up well and park rangers were incredibly friendly. So let’s get into the details about camping in Shenandoah National Park.

Oh wait, are you looking for hikes? Here are the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Where Can You Camp on Skyline Drive?

Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs north and south in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. It’s the only public road that runs through the park, and it’s typically open 24/7.

Along the drive, there are nearly 70 scenic overlooks that offer picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley. However, camping along Skyline Drive is one of the best ways to soak up the natural scenery and explore the area. Here are all the places you can camp along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park!

Mathews Arm Campground

Subaru at tentsite camping in Shenandoah National Park

Address: 801 Mathews Arm Entrance Road, Luray, VA 22835

Mathews Arm Campground is the closest campground for those entering Shenandoah National Park from the north, near Front Royal. The entrance to Mathews Arm Campground is located at mile 22.1, and it is well-marked with mile markers along Skyline Drive.

Mathews Arm Campground has 165 campsites, and each site is equipped with a paved place to park your vehicle, a spot for a tent, a fire ring, and a picnic table.

The campsite offers seasonal trash collection, bear-proof food lockers, potable water, flushable toilets, on-site staff, an amphitheater, and a dump station.

Although there’s not a camp store on-site, visitors can find camping supplies and food service in Elkwallow Wayside, just two miles away.

While at Mathews Arm Campground, you can enjoy two of the most popular hikes near the campground.

  • Overall Run Falls Hike is a 5.1-mile moderate roundtrip hike that offers excellent views of one of the biggest waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Traces Trail is an easy 1.7-mile hike that circles the campground.

Mathews Arm Campground is closed in the winter from November 1st – May 4th. The cost of a standard, nonelectric campsite (up to six people) is $15 per night, and the cost of a group, nonelectric campsite (up to 25 people) is $50 per night. Prices as of Oct 2021.

This campground was back in the woods and very peaceful. The sites were close together but you could find a couple with a bit of privacy with small trees between sites.

There were multiple bathroom buildings (no showers) throughout the campsite and I got a site just across the road from one of them.

Big Meadows Campground

car at campsite in Big Meadows Campground

Address: 304 Big Meadows Access Road, Robertson, VA 22851

Big Meadows Campground is located at mile 52.1 along Skyline Drive, offering a centralized spot for Shenandoah National Park camping. It’s located near some of the most popular destinations in the park, including Big Meadows, Dark Hollow Falls, the Byrd Visitor’s Center, and more.

After you arrive, if you find you’ve forgotten something you can visit the camp store at the entrance to the campground. They also have one of the only spots to get gas in the park.

Beware it is about $0.10 more expensive per gallon. Great in an emergency, but you’re better off to fill up in a town outside the park.

Big Meadows Campground has 221 campsites, and all but 51 are equipped with a paved place to park your vehicle, a spot for a tent, a fire ring, and a picnic table. The other 51 sites are for tent camping only.

The grounds also offer seasonal amenities, including trash collection, food storage lockers, a camp store, ice and firewood for sale, on-site staff, an amphitheater, laundry, a dump station, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers.

During your time at Big Meadows Campground, you’ll be close to many of the best hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park.

  • Dark Hollows Falls Hike is a 1.4-mile moderate roundtrip trail to a waterfall that’s steep and rocky. There are no pets allowed on this trail.
  • Story of the Forest Hike is a 1.8-mile easy circuit trail that can be accessed near the Byrd Visitor’s Center. There are no pets allowed on this trail.
  • Rose River Loop Hike is a four-mile moderate hike that will lead you past beautiful cascades. You can even add Dark Hollow Falls to the end of your trek.
  • Lewis Falls Trail Hike is a 3.3-mile moderate hike with a steep, rocky descent that can be accessed by the Big Meadows Amphitheater. Note: if you want a great waterfall view, this is not the hike for you.

Big Meadows Campground is open in the late spring, summer, and fall. The cost of a standard, nonelectric campsite (up to six people) is $20 per day, and a group, nonelectric campsite (up to 15 people) costs $45 per day.

This campground is very popular for its location but that means it is lacking in privacy. While at Mathews Arm, my campsite was back in the woods giving at least a little privacy, at Big Meadows it felt I was out in the open.

If you don’t mind being right next to other campers then this is a great spot, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite.

Lewis Mountain Campground

picnic area near campground in Shenandoah

Address: 361 Lewis Mountain Entrance Road, Shenandoah, VA 22827

Lewis Mountain Campground is located just a few miles south of Big Meadows Campground at mile 57.5 along Skyline Drive. It’s the closest campground for visitors entering Shenandoah National Park from the Swift Run Entrance Station.

Lewis Mountain Campground only has 30 campsites, making it the smallest standard campground in Shenandoah National Park. It’s great for families who desire extra privacy while still being a short drive away from the attractions and amenities near Big Meadows.

You can also rent cabins at Lewis Mountain if that is more your style.

Campground seasonal amenities include trash collection, food storage lockers, a camp store, ice and firewood for sale, on-site staff, laundry, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers.

The Bearfence Area offers the nearest hiking to Lewis Mountain Campground via Slaughter Fire Road.

  • Bearfence Rock Scramble Hike is a moderate 1.4-mile roundtrip rock scramble that offers incredible 360-degree views.
  • Bearfence Viewpoint Hike is an easy, 1.1-mile roundtrip hike that takes you to a 360-degree viewpoint, but without the rock scramble.

Lewis Mountain Campground is open in late spring, summer, and fall. This Skyline Drive camping spot only offers standard, nonelectric campsites (up to six people) for $15 per night.

Other than the group campground, this is the only one that I wasn’t able to experience. A bad thunderstorm came through one night so I came down off the mountain.

Loft Mountain Campground

car at tent site camping in Shenandoah National park

Address: Loft Mountain Road, Crozet, VA 22932

Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in Shenandoah National Park, located at mile 79.5 on Skyline Drive.

Since it’s located at the top of Big Flat Mountain, it offers spectacular views of the surrounding area though you have to walk to the amphitheater or on a trail to see them. None of the campsites have a great view.

It’s located between the Rockfish Gap entrance station and the Swift Run Gap entrance station.

This Skyline Drive camping destination has 207 campsites, and 50 of the campsites are tent only. The other campsites can accommodate RVs and trailers.

Seasonal campground amenities include trash collection, food storage lockers, a camp store, ice and firewood for sale, on-site staff, an amphitheater, laundry, a dump station, potable water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. 

Loft Mountain Campground is near several hiking trails, including these popular hikes:

  • Frazier Discovery Trail Hike is an easy 1.2-mile circuit hike. There are no pets allowed on this trail.
  • Doyles River Falls Hike is a moderate 3.3-mile roundtrip hike with a stream crossing and 1,189-foot elevation gain.
  • Browns Gap Hike is a moderately strenuous 6.5-mile circuit hike with an impressive 1,400-foot elevation gain. 

Loft Mountain Campground is open in the late spring, summer, and fall. The cost of a standard, non-electric campsite (up to six people) is $15 per night.

This was my favorite campground as the sites were much more spread out. For sites on the outside loop of the campground, you had a half-moon space to park in instead of a pull-in spot.

This means more space and a bit more privacy. It was also close to one of my favorite hikes – Doyles River Falls.

Dundo Group Campground

Dundo Group Campground is a small campground in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park at mile 83.7 along Skyline Drive. The campground offers three group campsites that can accommodate 7-20 people, and the sites can be booked by reservation only.

Trailers and RVs are prohibited at Dundo Group Campground. Seasonal amenities include food storage lockers, and year-round amenities include vault toilets and trash collection.

Since Dundo Group Campground is located just a few miles south of the Loft Mountain Campground, campers can access many recreational opportunities, hikes, and amenities near this popular destination.

This campground is open during the late spring, summer, and fall. The cost of each campsite is $45 per night.

Backcountry

Instead of visiting a campground, you can always camp in Shenedoah’s backcountry. You must fill out this form to acquire a camping permit before backcountry camping in Shenandoah National Park.

Please do your research before deciding to backcountry camp as there is a lot more preparation that goes into the trip instead of just camping at a campground.

You need to know how to store your food in bear country, some navigation skills, and basic first-aid at the very least.

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Camping in Shenandoah National Park: Things to Know

Check-In

Mathews Arm campground office

Guests can check in to the campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park at any time. If you arrive when rangers aren’t staffing the office, then you can use a self-registration envelope.

If rangers are there then they can walk you through the process. Self-registration is easy, just confusing if you’ve never done it before.

First, stop at the entrance station for the campground and pick up a self-registration envelope. Then pick out a campsite that isn’t already taken by another camper.

You can tell if it’s been taken if there is a slip of paper with someone’s name and dates on the site post.

Next put the campsite number, your license plate number, and your payment information on the envelope and leave it in the check-in bin. You can also put cash or a check inside the envelope.

There is a detachable piece on the flap of the envelope that you need to take and write your information on. You’ll clip this piece of paper to your site post.

The next day rangers will come by and change this out – unless you leave early like I did. When you are ready to check out, you’ll drop the slip of paper that’s clipped to your site post into the checkout bin on your way out.

The checkout bin will be on the left-hand side of the road and is pretty obvious.

Correct Food Storage

Shenandoah National Park is home to bears, deer, raccoons, skunks, and other critters year-round. To keep animals away, make sure that you keep food, garbage, equipment used to cook food, and any scented items locked in your vehicle or in one of the provided food storage containers.

Most campsites have food storage lockers that are large enough to fit a full-size hard-sided cooler and some additional items like bags of food.

Reservations

At every campground, excluding Dundo Group and Lewis Mountain Campground, there is a combination of sites offered through reservations and on a first-come-first-served basis.

Reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends and holidays. You can make reservations for standard campsites up to six months in advance, and you can make group site reservations up to one year in advance.

At Dundo you must make reservations to stay there and Lewis Mountain only accepts first-come-first-serve.

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Camping Supplies

Big Meadows Campground, Lewis Mountain Campground, and Loft Mountain Campground all have camp stores on-site for close access to camping supplies.

If you’re camping at Mathews Arm Campground, you can travel to the nearby towns of Front Royal and Luray for access to camp supplies. Elkwallow Wayside is also an option for camping supplies.

If you’re camping at the Dundo Group Campground, you can travel to the nearby town of Elkton if you need anything.

Solo Camping in Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive camping is the perfect trip if it’s your first time solo camping. Park rangers are constantly patrolling the campgrounds during the day and at least one ranger lives at the camp full-time.

This was a solo trip for me – my first one! – and I would love to plan many more. There were plenty of people around to hear if something shady was happening but all the people I met were incredibly friendly.

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About Me

Anna Cook

Hey Guys! I’m Anna, a small town girl from North Carolina with a passion for exploring this beautiful world. I work a fulltime job, so I make the most of my weekends and 15 vacation days. I created this site to inspire people like you to make travel a bigger part of your life and help you figure out how to do that. If you like what you see be sure to follow along on social media.

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