Last updated on September 22nd, 2023 at 09:07 pm
If you’re planning a camping trip to Shenandoah National Park, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll give you a complete guide to all of the campgrounds at Shenandoah National Park. We’ll cover everything from location and amenities to tips for choosing a campsite to reservation information. So, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned pro, we’ll help you find the perfect campground for your needs.
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park stretches along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and offers visitors the chance to explore over 500 miles of hiking trails, fish in rushing mountain streams, or just relax and take in the stunning views. Trust me, you will not want to spend just a day or two here. So book a stay at one (or more) of the fabulous campgrounds today and enjoy all that SNP has to offer!
Accessing Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park covers roughly 311 square miles (805 square km) in northern Virginia. To help narrow down your search for the perfect campsite, it’s important to first understand the layout of the park as a whole; that way, you can get an idea of where you’ll find each campground and determine which one will suit your family best.
Skyline Drive is the 105-mile scenic two-lane road that stretches from north to south through the park. Along the way, there are numerous scenic overlooks to stop and enjoy the view. The speed limit on the drive is 35 miles per hour and it can take about three hours to drive the full length. For that reason, most visitors choose one section of the park the visit.
There are four entrances to the park and Skyline Drive, each providing access to different sections of the park.
- Front Royal Entrance Station (mile 0) by Rt. 66 and 340 in Front Royal, Virginia. Highlights in the northern section of Shenandoah National Park include the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at mile 4.6 with a picnic area, large parking lot, and scenic overlook. The Mathews Arm Campground is at mile 22 and the Elkwallow Wayside is at mile 26. You can hike to Overall Run Falls, the tallest falls in the park, from the campground. The entrance station is covered and the sign indicates the clearance is only 12’10”. I’m not sure why it has these limitations as there is no tunnel through this section. The only tunnel in the park is found south of the Thornton Gap Entrance Station below.
- Thornton Gap Entrance Station (mile 31.5) by Rt. 211 near Luray, Virginia. You can use this entrance to drive north to Mathews Arm or south to Big Meadows, but please note that less than a mile south of this entrance station is the park’s one and only tunnel with a maximum clearance of 12’8″. If your RV is higher than that, you can access it via the entrance stations below. The Big Meadows recreation area with a visitor’s center, wayside, lodge, and campground are located in the central district.
- Swift Run Gap Entrance Station (mile 65.5) by Rt. 33 near Elkton, Virginia. I prefer to use this entrance station to access both the central district for Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain campgrounds, as well as the Loft Mountain campground in the southern district when I’m towing my fifth wheel. This entrance is closer to all three than any others, it has high clearance (13’6”), and nice wide lanes for turning onto Skyline Drive in either direction.
- Rockfish Gap Entrance Station (mile 104.6) by Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 near Waynesboro, Virginia. This is the southernmost entrance to the park. It isn’t covered so there is no height restriction, however, it is the longest drive to any of the campgrounds and my tall fifth wheel has hit many a low-hanging branch on my way to the Loft Mountain Campground, which is why I prefer the Swift Run Gap entrance.
Note: If your GPS directs you anywhere other than these entrance stations, don’t trust it. Some have been known to show access via boundary points, but those are only for foot traffic.
Shenandoah National Park Campgrounds
Shenandoah National Park boasts five campgrounds open seasonally, from early spring until late fall.
- Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1) is the nearest campground for those entering Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal, in the northern section of the park. It has 165 sites that include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and a picnic table. There are bathrooms at Mathews Arms, but no shower facilities. There is no camp store either. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away.
- Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2) is in the central portion of Shenandoah National Park and close to some of the most popular destinations including the Byrd Visitor Center and some of the most-loved day hikes like Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Hawksbill Summit. It is adjacent to the Big Meadows Lodge which has a bar, restaurant, hotel, and cabins. In addition, the Big Meadows Wayside at Skyline Drive sells gas, souvenirs, and a quick-service food counter. The campground has 221 (51 are tent-only) with a fire ring and a picnic table. All sites are reservation-only from May 5 – Oct 29. Also, note that you can’t access it from Thorton Gap if you are over 12’8” due to the tunnel, but you can use the Swift Run Gap entrance station.
- Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) with only 30 first come, first served campsites is the smallest campground in Shenandoah National Park. It also has several cabins that can be reserved through the park’s concessionaire. It does not have a dump station, but Big Meadows is easily accessible only 7 miles away.
- Loft Mountain (mile 79.5), in the southern part of the park, is the largest campground with 207 sites, 50 of which are tent-only. Hiking trails to the popular Jones and Doyles Run waterfalls are accessible from the campground. Loft Mountain is my favorite campground out of the five for a few reasons. First, it has mostly pull-through sites, which is easiest for me. More importantly, there are several sites without tree cover for good solar power generation. Finally, I love the private picnic/tent area behind each site’s parking area. Loft Mountain Campground also has a huge camp store, better shower facilities than the others, and a wayside right across the road.
- Dundo Group Campground (mile 83.7) is a small, tent-only group campground located in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park. It consists of three large group campsites that can hold up to 20 people. The sites have fire rings and picnic tables. The campground only offers vault toilets and no other facilities. In addition, generators are not authorized at group campsites.
101 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs directly through Shenandoah National Park and these campgrounds make great stopping points if you’re planning a through or section hike.
There are no utilities (water, power, or sewer) at any of the campsites in these campgrounds, but there are bathhouses and utility (dishwashing) sinks, dump stations, and potable water available as noted below. If you are interested in local area campgrounds with utilities, please scroll down to the “Local Campground Options” section below.
One important note about the bathhouses is that they don’t have showers. Instead, Big Meadows, Lewis Moutain, and Loft Moutain all have coin-operated shower facilities at the front of the campground by their camp store. It is currently $2.50 per 5-minute shower.
You can use a generator (with a few exceptions), but the park restricts generator hours from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. They extend generator hours to 9 p.m. from October 15 through the end of the season. Please be aware when booking your site, that there are “generator-free” loops.
Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain all have camp stores. Big Meadows and Loft Moutain also are in very close proximity to a wayside with hot food made to order and additional sundries. The Elkwallow Wayside is 2 miles south of the Mathews Arm campground.
Campground Seasonal Opening and Closing Dates
|Campground||2023 Opening||2023 Closing|
|Mathews Arm||May 3||October 29|
|Big Meadows||March 24||November 26|
|Lewis Mountain||March 24||TBD|
|Loft Mountain||May 3||October 29|
|Dundo (Group)||May 3||October 29|
Campground Reservation Information
Reservations can be made through Recreation.gov. There have been some exciting changes to reservations in 2023 to make it easier to snag a site. Instead of all reservations being released at once, reservable sites for Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain campgrounds will be released in sections. Click on each hyperlink to see which sites fall into each category.
- 6 months prior to the date of your arrival – 50% of reservable sites will be released
2 weeks prior to the date of your arrival – 25% of reservable sites will be released
4 days prior to the date of your arrival – the remaining 25% of reservable sites will be released
Choosing a campsite: When making your reservation, is really important to look at the campground maps and read the description. Each of the campgrounds has sites that are walk-in and intended for tents only. At Loft Mountain Campground, there are loops that are designated as “no-generator.” In addition, if you have an RV or camper, you’ll also want to look closely at the length of the driveway to be sure you can fit. The great thing about using Recreation.gov is that they also have photos of the sites. You can see that most of the pull-through sites are u-shaped which impacts how your RV sits in the site.
Other Important Campground Rules
Quiet hours at all campgrounds are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. As previously mentioned, there is no power at the campsites, but generators can be used between the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Generator hours are extended to 9 p.m. from October 15 through the end of the season. Generator use is prohibited in sites designated as “generator-free” and in group sites.
As you might imagine, wild animals like bears, deer, and raccoons live in the national park. Food and garbage must be kept in a locked vehicle or storage locker when not being actively used. Many campsites come with a bear-proof food locker. The site description on recreation.gov will indicate if the site you are interested in has one. In some cases, food storage lockers are shared between two sites.
Finally, as with many places these days, you will need to purchase firewood inside the park to use at your campsite. If you bring firewood from outside the park, it must be USDA-certified and labeled.
Local Area Campground Options
If you are unable to book a stay at one of the fabulous campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park or you need (or want) water & power hook-ups at your site, here are a couple of great local options.
Shenandoah River State Park is located close to the northern end of the Shenandoah National Park. Only 8 miles from the Front Royal Entrance Station, it has water and power hookups, as well as a dump station. As the name implies, it is located along the Shenandoah River, which you can easily access from the campground. One of my favorite hikes in the national park, Overall Run Falls, can be accessed from the boundary only 3.5 miles away.
Spacious Skies Shenandoah Views Campground (formerly the Luray KOA) is located closest to the central district of the park and the Thorton Gap entrance. From your campsite, you’ll be treated to phenomenal views of SNP to the east and the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest to the west. Only 9 miles away is one of my favorite short hikes (under 4 miles total) with a big payoff is Mary’s Rock, where you’ll see amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Now that you know a little more about the campgrounds at Shenandoah National Park, it’s time to start planning your perfect camping trip! With so many great options to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect spot for you and your family. So what are you waiting for? Grab your camping gear and head out on an adventure!
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