The Complete Guide to Camping near Shenandoah National Park (Including Dispersed Camping)

In this guide, we’ll go over the best camping areas in Shenandoah National Park. Given the immense size of this place, you will discover that there is more than enough room for RV camping, car camping, tenting, and dispersed camping.

Home to the scenic and top-rated Skyline drive, the oldest rocks in Virginia, and the elusive and mysterious Shenandoah salamander, Shenandoah National Park is the setting for every horror movie you’ve seen with the story where the noisiest teenagers from the friend group die first.

There are even some graveyards within the National Park to cement its reputation as a horror flick set.

Jokes aside, these graveyards are not of the curious teenagers but of the last residents of this area that didn’t evacuate when Shenandoah became a National Park. This piece of history gives this park a domestic and rustic touch, other than its otherwise breathtakingly beautiful nature that seems to reach its peak beauty during the fall.

Overview of Shenandoah National Park Camping

The only road in Shenandoah National Park - Skyline drive

You will find only one road in Shenandoah National Park – Skyline drive.

But the representatives of this National Park went out of their way to ensure it goes through some of the most beautiful parts of the continental US. Many tourists arrive at this National Park to witness the breathtakingly beautiful nature surrounding this road and possibly take some videos from their vehicles.

While Skyline Drive is the only public road running through Shenandoah, this national park has plenty of forest byways and other secondary roads. To be more precise, there are 500 miles of trail that you can tackle, allowing you to get to know this national park even better.

Even 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail partially run through the park. If you plan to brave this trail, consider the bear situation here.

Other than providing the only home to the endemic and highly-endangered Shenandoah salamander, Shenandoah National Park also boasts the most significant population of black bears in the US. 

Black bears represent the most significant peril along the Appalachian Trail, although they do not typically approach people.

Car Camping Sites in Shenandoah National Park

Even though Shenandoah famously has only one major road, the authorities notably keep it in perfect order at all times. Going camping in Shenandoah National Park onboard your vehicle is not only possible but a great idea.

There are five major car camping sites inside Shenandoah.

These sites disperse at different spots along the main road, so all five cover all the major interest points along the entirety of the road. Whether you’d like to visit the Overall Run Falls, which is some 20 miles into the park, or Blackrock Summit at the 83.7th mile from the main entrance, the main road will give you these mini camping stations you can visit to recuperate, spend the night, or enjoy the campsites and the surrounding nature for what it is.

Car camping also means easy access to food, water, the Internet, and everything you might want to pack in your car’s boot.

Given the vast distances of Shenandoah park, exploring this entire region is much easier and more convenient if you arrive in a car. Even if you prefer hiking or exploring nearby areas on foot, having a vehicle to return to at the end of the day will be a significant asset.

Mathew’s Arm Campground  

Fall in Mathew's Arm Campground
  • Number of Sites: 161 individual sites (up to 6 people) | 3 group sites (up to 25 people)
  • Charge: $15 per night for individual sites | $50 per night for group sites
  • Mile Marker: 22.1

Comprising 161 individual sites, the cheekily-named Mathews Arm Campground is 22.1 miles away from the Front Royal Entrance Station. This campground allows up to 6 people per site.

If you plan to explore these parts onboard your trusty four-wheeler, you’ll be glad to know that this place is RV-friendly. That said, there are no hookups available, nor electricity or water facilities for RVs.

If you plan on visiting the nearby Overall Run Falls, this place can also be the best place to pitch a tent or park your vehicle and prepare for the visit. The campground is only a short distance from the main trailhead leading to this waterfall. Consider this campground a great base from which you can delve deeper into the waterfall territory.

For the most part, the campsites here are first-come, first-served. Amenities include several easily-accessible potable water spigots. Utility sinks for washing, RV dump stations, and five public restrooms.

Big Meadows Campground 

Campsite at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Andrew Mace via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Number of Sites: 222 individual sites (up to 6 people) | 2 group sites (up to 15 people)
  • Charge: $20 per night for individual sites | $45 per night for group sites
  • Mile Marker: 51.2
  • RVs: Yes (No hookups available. A dump station is present, though.
  • Reservations: Booking recommended

With 222 sites, Big Meadows Campground certainly lives up to its name – at least regarding its reasonable size. Each of the sites can accommodate up to 6 people. There are two additional group sites, where the upper limit is 15 people at a site.

This campground sits at mile marker 51.2 and is centrally within the park. The place is RV-friendly, there is a dump station, but there are no electricity or water-related facilities for the vehicles.

An interesting thing about this campground is that it represents a fantastic gateway for such wonders of points of interest as Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Falls, and Fishers Gap Overlook. So, if you plan on visiting and learning more about these places, setting up camp here can be an excellent starting point.

The world-renowned Appalachian Trail passes just a couple of miles to the north, so you will also get to see quite a few hikers (Nothing’s stopping you from joining them, either). 

Most campsites here require reservations, with some functioning on a first-come, first-served basis. If you prefer a quieter, more private camping experience, the few walk-in tent sites can be an excellent option.

Dundo Group Campground 

Barbecuing at The Dundo Group Campground
  • Number of Sites: 3 group sites (up to 20 people)
  • Charge: $45 per night
  • Mile Marker: 83.7
  • RVs: No
  • Reservations: Booking recommended

The Dundo Group Campground is one of the rare group-only campgrounds in Shenandoah. The minimum number of people occupying a single site is 7, and the maximum is 20.

There are only three individual sites here. So, even though this place is technically a group campground, it doesn’t feel crowded and can be pleasant to spend the night, especially after a long drive.

Dundo campground is at mile 83.7 from the entrance to the national park, so driving all the way here and knowing there is a campground you can park at can be a great way to spend your off time. However, RVs are not permitted here, so this place is a no-go zone for those aboard their recreational vehicle, even if it’s smaller.

Besides its utility as a pullout from the main road, Dundo Campground can also be a great vantage point from which you can visit incredible places in southern Shenandoah, such as Blackrock Summit and Sawmill Run Overlook.

Due to the small size of the campground, booking the site well in advance is a must.

Also, the diminutive size of this campground means you will have a more private camping experience. A large family can have a fantastic time at Dundo, as you are never too far away from the national park exit to the south, and the campground itself is easy to approach, even in a large RV.

Since up to 20 people are allowed at a single site, you can organize quite an interesting backpacking event and assume the position at this campground as your starting point.

Once you’ve had enough exploring for the day, you can always come back to your RV and relax.

Loft Mountain Campground

Four campers at Loft Mountain Campground
  • Number of Sites: 207 individual sites
  • Charge: $15 per night
  • Mile Marker: 79.5
  • RVs: Yes (No hookups available. A dump station is present, though.)
  • Reservations: Booking recommended

Booking a reservation beforehand is not required for Loft Mountain Campground. However, given the immense popularity of the campsites, booking your favorite spot would be an absolute must during the peak summer months.

Featuring 207 individual sites, Loft Mountain is one of the largest car campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park.

Despite the significant number of sites, staying at these feels reasonably private, so parking here can be a great way to breathe after covering the 79.5 miles needed to get to this place from the main entrance. Alternatively, you can also approach this campground from the southern entrance station at Rockfish Gap.

For most of the year, all campsites function based on a first-come, first-served basis, so there is no need for reservations. During the summer, however, when the popularity of this place is at its peak, making a reservation is an absolute must.

There are plenty of water spigots at the campground, as well as shower stalls. Funnily enough, there are only five toilets. There’s also a camping store where you can buy camping essentials and supplies. 

Lewis Mountain Campground

Trees at Lewis Mountain Campground
  • Number of Sites: 30 individual sites
  • Charge: $15 per night
  • Mile Marker: 57.5
  • RVs: Yes (No hookups or dump stations available.)
  • Reservations: No booking is available 

The smallest car campground in the Shenandoah National Park, Lewis Mountain sites, disperses along the road roughly the 57th mile from the main entrance.

Despite its small size, this campground has some significant advantages (Particularly if you’re into hiking and sightseeing).

First, it’s adjacent to the world-renown Appalachian Trail, so if you’re keen on joining in for the Shenandoah’s leg of the 3,000-mile trek, the Lewis Mountain Campground can be a great place to start.

Besides the famous trail, this campground is also near some rather interesting cultural heritage locations. For example, the Ruins of the Upper Pocosin Mission are a must-visit if you’re an outdoorsman AND a history fan. The South River Falls represent yet another location you can easily access if you take the Lewis Mountain Campground as the vantage point.

The individual campsites sit relatively close to each other, making an already small campground look even smaller and sometimes even cramped.

That said, if you are okay with the tightly-knit structure of Lewis Mountain Campground, several valuable amenities are present, including water spigots, restrooms, showers, firewood for sale, and an ice machine, which can make your stay at this place reasonably pleasurable.

Shenandoah Backcountry

Backcountry in Shenandoah National Park
Photo by S via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Having only one asphalt road with traffic lines and signs, Shenandoah may seem like a national park inhospitable to vehicles and traveling.

While this single vein will keep the flow of RVs, campervans, 4×4 Subaru’s, and smaller cars alike, the world-renowned Skyline drive is far from being the only road in Shenandoah. Unofficially, this curious national park is home to over 500 miles of interconnected hiking trails.

For a vigorous hiker, Shenandoah backcountry is heaven on Earth.

Backpacking, in particular, can be a great way to get to know this immense expanse of Virginian territory, as it will get you up close and personal with the various woodland trees, birds, and insects, as well as gorgeous landscapes and creeks that you will discover along the trail. Hopefully, you won’t see the also beautiful but dangerous black bear, an animal that typically avoids humans but can be aggressive if you tamper with it or accidentally cross its path.

You will need a special permit to go backcountry camping in Shenandoah.

The permit itself is entirely free, but you must obtain it anyway, not so much for the paper itself but because the local authorities need to know where you’re going and that you’ve entered a specific part of the park in the first place.

To get the permit, you can do so yourself at any of the eight self-registration outposts you can find at various spots throughout the park. Alternatively, you can obtain a permit online by filling out the digital Backcountry Camping Permit for Shenandoah.

Backcountry permit in your hands, you can set out to explore the vast network of over 500 miles of forest paths and trails.

As far as particular campsites are concerned, Shenandoah backcountry notably lacks campgrounds. You have to try to find small encampments left by hikers and explorers who were there previously.

Having ample water supplies is imperative. Moreover, having a camping water filter is an excellent idea since there are many creeks and streams in the forests of backcountry Shenandoah. Filtering out this water and using it for drinking and cooking can help you extend your water supply considerably.

Shenandoah National Park Must-Knows

A single road in Shenandoah National Park

A singular road that leads through some of the most enchanting forests in the US and miles upon miles of mysterious and, at times, challenging hiking trails – Shenandoah is a national park that never ceases to amaze. 

You might like packing your bags, loading them onto your RV, planting as many items as possible in your hiker’s backpack, and simply showing up at one of the entrance stations. But camping in Shenandoah National Park requires some planning and preparation. Here are some things you need to take into account before heading out:

Campfires

You can make campfires all you want at the developed campgrounds within Shenandoah National Park.

But you must not source the wood locally, as that can damage the living habitat of local wildlife. Other than that, it would help if you contained the campfire within a fire ring and only left the campground after completely extinguishing it.

As far as the Shenandoah backcountry is concerned, starting fires is not permitted.

Wildlife 

Black bear in Loft Mountain in Shenandoah National Park
Photo by A. Drauglis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A colossal territory interrupted by only a significant road makes a great home to many unique and beautiful animals.

Some of these animals are harmless everywhere, but some are endangered, and some can potentially be aggressive and even deadly if you tamper with them.

Here is a list of the most important animals to pay attention to in Shenandoah:

Black bears – Virginia boasts the most prominent black bears in the United States. Found throughout the national park, these animals feel right at home around the Appalachian trail and many of the backcountry trails, of which there are some 500+ miles.

For this reason, consulting the local park ranger station about the current movements of bears is of great importance. Also, keeping your food in bear-proof canisters will keep these omnivores away from your lunch and yourself.

Snakes – For the most part, Shenandoah snakes are non-venomous, with only a few exceptions, including the timber rattlesnake. Snakes will try to slither away from approaching campers and hikers, but you should keep an eye out for these reptiles, especially when trekking along a backcountry trail.

Birds – Shenandoah is home to the fastest creature on Earth, the majestic Peregrine falcon. These birds of prey can reach a whopping 200 miles per hour during a dive. Other than this predatory ace, the forests and backcountry of Shenandoah are full of colorful and beautiful birds, such as the scarlet tanager or the diminutive Cerulean warbler.

RV Campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park

RV Campground in National Park

Thanks to the long distances involved in this national park and relatively good roads, RV camping in and around Shenandoah National Park is a great way to spend time in this part of northern Virginia.

There are several campgrounds here, but classifying them in a way that can help you reach other local points of interest may give you the best idea of which one to visit and use as the starting point for your exploratory expedition.

There are three main entry points into the national park, as seen from the RV-friendly campgrounds just outside.

The northern, middle, and southern sections allow you to easily access the park, enjoy some of its many excellent sites, and visit and explore the local attractions at your own leisurely pace.

All three campgrounds that spread along the Shenandoah National Park border have plenty of room for several RVs. More often than not, you won’t even need to book a spot.

Northern Section – Twin Rivers Campground

RVs at Twin Rivers Campground
  • Number of Sites: A lot
  • Charge: $40- 45 per night (depending on electricity hookup size)
  • RVs: Yes 
  • Reservations: Booking required
  • Pets: Allowed

A short drive from the Front Royal Entrance Station, Twin Rivers Campground is an RV haven perfect for anyone interested in exploring the northern parts of the national park. 

Electricity hookups are available at every site, so you can rest assured that the appliances and high-tech equipment you bring along won’t be sitting idle or running out of battery if you dock your RV somewhere on this campground.

One of the most exciting things you can do while you’re here is to visit the beautiful Shenandoah river that flows nearby. Other than endless photo ops and the fantastic atmosphere beside this river, there are many other activities you can engage in related to this river.

You can count on rafting, kayaking, swimming, fishing, you name it, and the Shenandoah river has it.

The northern section just outside the national park also allows pets, but you must always clean up after them. 

Middle Section – Luray KOA Campground

Thornton Gap Entrance Station near Luray KOA Campground
  • Number of Sites: A lot
  • Charge: Varies, depending on the size of your RV (and if you want hookups and additional features
  • RVs: Yes (up to 70 feet in length)
  • Reservations: Booking recommended
  • Pets: Allowed

You will find a specialized KOA campground going by the same name just north of Luray. It is only a 20-minute drive to the Thornton Gap Entrance Station, in case you want to enter the park and start exploring it from this side east of Luray.

Carrying the coveted ‘KOA‘ badge, this campground is unlike any other campground in the broader area.

Parking your RV at the parking lot of this campground may feel like you’ve embarked on a glamping expedition, thanks to the sheer number of amenities and how good everything looks around these parts.

KOA campgrounds are well-known for offering their campers excellent facilities and valuable amenities, including Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, specialized KOA stores for supplies, clean bathrooms with plenty of hot water ready, and more.

One of the significant advantages of KOA campgrounds over regular campgrounds is their family-friendly atmosphere. Almost every KOA campground offers safe sites, and virtually all sites feature some playground where your kids can spend time.

Add to that the various other forms of entertainment, including movie nights, swimming pools, basketball and mini golf courts. You can see why so many campers and glampers flock to these campgrounds yearly.

The campground authorities remembered the man’s best friend, too, so you can spend some time in the dog park if you get bored.

Southern Section – Misty Mountain Camp Resort

RVs parked at Misty Mountain RV camp resort in Shenandoah National Park
  • Number of Sites: A lot
  • Charge: $70 – $85 per night
  • RVs: Yes 
  • Reservations: Booking recommended
  • Pets: Allowed

Misty Mountain Camp Resort is only about 10 minutes from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station. This place represents an excellent gateway to the entire southern part of Shenandoah.

All types of RVs, no matter how long or what kind of trailer they have, are welcome at Shenandoah, and the place is well-equipped with a range of other facilities that can make your life easier.

Although RVs are the most common way campers and tourists arrive at this location, Misty Mountain also allows you to rent cabins and use tent sites if you want.

Once you’ve parked your RV or pitched your tent, you can experience the full range of options that you get out of camping at this place. Niceties such as Wi-Fi, a fishing pond, and a swimming pool can make you forget that you’ve come to see the wonders of Shenandoah and concentrate more on streaming your favorite TV show from the comfort of the pool.

Optimally, of course, you can have the best of both worlds – the enriching exploration of the surrounding nature by daytime and excellent swimming pool treatment complete with higher-than-average Wi-Fi speeds and perhaps a cocktail with that little umbrella in it when the night sets over the Misty Mountains.

Dispersed Campsites Near Shenandoah National Park

Overall Run Falls in Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Tim Lumley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

While Shenandoah National Park is well-known for its beauty and the only road leading through its charming forests, cascading waterfalls, and cliffy hillocks, it is also notable that campgrounds are few and far apart.

Now add to that that tourists flock to this place in droves every year, and you can see why the campground capacities of Shenandoah National Park are almost always full.

Luckily for anyone desiring to visit this enchanting place, there’s a way to circumnavigate the often crowded campgrounds within the park.

The plan is simple – go outside the park but not so far away that the surroundings cease to resemble the park itself.

Several excellent free campgrounds disperse just outside the national park borders, including RV-friendly sites, tenting sites, and plenty of campgrounds that you can easily access with your car.

Free, dispersed camping represents the best way to get in touch with your primal self and explore the surrounding nature. It is possible in certain areas just outside of Shenandoah.

The neighboring George Washington National Forest offers several dispersed camping options. Before you head to this place, however, please acquaint yourself with some of the local rules and regulations issued by the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests.

Other than the USFS (United States Forest Service), one other major provider of rules and regulations would be the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

George Washington & Jefferson National Forests are also home to significant black bear populations. Taking precautions about your camping location and how you store food is very important.

Crisman Hollow Dispersed Camping 

George Washington National Forest sign near Crisman Hollow campground
Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

West of Luray, within the boundaries of the George Washington National Forest, you will find Crisman Hollow campground. (Or, Forest Service Road 724, as it’s also known.)

Most of the campsites disperse along Passage creek and feature fire rings, so you can rest assured that you can have a good camper’s fire within the boundaries of this forest.

A point of interest close to this campground is the Scothorn Gap Trail, which winds up several old woodland roads and ascends to a few wildlife clearings within the forest. 

The road to Crisman Hollow campground is all gravel, so the approach should be relatively easy, even if you don’t have a high-clearance 4×4.

There is plenty of space at this campground, so setting up a tent is a piece of cake, and once you do, you will get a hefty area around the tent all for yourself, too.

In addition to the tremendous tenting opportunities, Crisman Hollow also boasts a couple of exciting forest hiking trails. So, if you’d like to combine your camping trip just off Shenandoah and you’d like to include some hiking, too – parking your RV or pitching a tent at Crisman Hollow can be a great solution.

Slate Lick Fields Dispersed Camping 

One of the great camping options outside of Shenandoah, which is relatively close to civilization and just northwest of Harrisonburg, is the Slate Lick Fields campground. 

Named after Slate Lick Fields, a place of great importance for local insect and bird populations, Slate Lick Fields campground is a fantastic place to spend a night – especially if you prefer camping in a broad clearing than in a forest.

This campground stands quite in contrast to many other local campgrounds as it is more of a clearing than a forested area. Even a hiking trail leads you out of the forest, through the grassy clearings, and then into another grove after grove of deciduous trees.

Along the hiking trail and at the campground, you may encounter many of the curious animal species in this region.

Suppose you arrive here during the summer, for example, and you like butterflies. In that case, you can see specimens such as the hackberry emperor, silver-spotted skipper, American lady, and red-spotted swallowtail. You can see them before they get eaten by some locally rare and majestic bird species, including the Carolina chickadee, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, pileated woodpecker, or red-bellied woodpecker.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that there is no good water source around these parts, so bringing your water source is a must. 

Where to Next?

Campers holding a map

Shenandoah National Park offers a unique camping experience you would need help finding elsewhere in the US.

Tranquil forest streams interrupted by small cascading waterfalls and open meadows with a couple of hillocks that together create miles upon miles of exciting hiking trails – if you’re a hiker or a camper, Shenandoah is the place you’ll want to be in and possibly buy a cabin in the woods and then stay there for good.

And when you are done exploring Shenandoah, consider exploring some of the other magnificent national parks in the US. Be sure to check out our guides to camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, dispersed camping near Yellowstone National Park, and dispersed camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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