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Lodging and Other Services

  

The following is a summary of park facilities, including food, lodging and related services. The National Park Service doesn't provide lodging (it does provide and manage the campgrounds) and doesn't sell food (or anything else, for that matter). Lodging and convenience facilities are private enterprises, provided under contract. Facilities in the park are operated by three groups:


Big Meadows Lodge
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

1) Delaware North, a concessioner, operates the lodging units, restaurants, waysides, gift shops, campstores, shower/laundry facilities, and gas stations.

Lodging: Motel-type units and rustic cabins are available at Skyland (mile 41.7) and Big Meadows (mile 51.2). Accessible units are available. There are a few housekeeping cabins for rent at Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5). You'll find both areas open from early April through November. Lewis Mountain facilities are usually open from early May to late October. Limited facilities are sometimes available before or after the main season, but this tends to vary from year to year. These facilities fill up, especially on weekends, so make your reservations as far in advance as you can. Contact GoShenandoah, Telephone 1-877-847-1919.

You can buy meals in the park at Delaware North restaurants and waysides, as well as groceries at waysides and campstores to prepare your own meals if you're camping. Hours at each location vary during the season; check the park visitor guide, "Shenandoah Overlook" for current hours.

Dining Rooms: Two of them: Skyland (mile 41.7), and Big Meadows (mile 51.2). For dinner during peak weekends allow plenty of time; you can expect to wait awhile for seating.

Snack Bar: at Elkwallow Wayside (mile 24.0), and Loft Mountain Wayside (mile 79.5).

Grill Room: at Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51.2). Breakfast, lunch, light dinner, and snacks.

Groceries plus other camper supplies and equipment, soft drinks, beer and wine: at Elkwallow Wayside (Milepost 24.0); Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51.2); Lewis Mountain Campstore (mile 57.5); and Loft Mountain Campstore at Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5).

Box Lunches: offered as a special service to picnickers, hikers and anglers. They may be ordered at the dining rooms.


An Old Spy-Glass Viewer At Skyland Lodge
Photo taken by Michael Besant

2) Shenandoah National Park Association, a non-profit, federally chartered organization, publishes and sells Shenandoah Park related interpretive publications and also sells other books, postcards, AV media, maps, and related items of interest at the two visitor centers. All profits are used to support park interpretation and education programs.

3) Potomac Apalachian Trail Club, a non-profit association of hikers, contributes in many ways to support the park. It also maintains six locked cabins in the park, which are rented at reasonable rates. They are described along with information about how to reserve them the Web, as well as in the hiking section.

 

  Gasoline

There are gas stations outside the park accessible from the four crossroads of the Drive and also (mid-May to early November) at Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51.2). Hours vary throughout the season. Check the park visitor guide, "Shenandoah Overlook", for current hours. The Big Meadows Wayside facility has only gasoline, oil, air and water. It does't make repairs, change tires, or lend tools.

 

  Campgrounds

Campgrounds can fill up in the summer and on fall weekends. To give more people a chance at them you're limited to a total of 30 consecutive days camping per year. A fee is charged for camping; all campgrounds accept credit cards. All campgrounds allow pets. No RV hookups are available.

There are four public campgrounds, all with sites for both tents and trailers (but no trailer hookups):

   Mile 22.2 Mathews Arm 179 sites
   Mile 51.2 Big Meadows 230 sites
   Mile 57.5 Lewis Mountain 32 sites
   Mile 79.5 Loft Mountain 219 sites

Shenandoah's campgrounds are available on a first come first served basis except for Big Meadows and some sites at Loft Mountain and Mathews Arm that require reservations. Reservations may be made up to five months in advance by calling the National Park Reservation Service at 1-800-365-CAMP (2267). You can also make reservations online at www.recreation.gov.

Most of the campgrounds are open during the summer season, May through October. All but Lewis Mountain have a trailer sewage disposal site. There are flush toilets, shower and laundry facilities at Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain that are accessible.

Group campsites are available by reservation at Big Meadows and Mathews Arm.

 

  Picnic Grounds

Six of them, all with picnic tables, fireplaces, drinking fountains, and comfort stations:

   Mile 4.7 Dickey Ridge
   Mile 24.1 Elkwallow
   Mile 36.7 Pinnacles
   Mile 51.2 Big Meadows
   Mile 57.5 Lewis Mountain
   Mile 62.8 South River

 

  Comfort Stations

Adequate facilities are located in season at concessioner dining facilities, waysides and in park visitor centers, during operating hours. Comfort stations in campgrounds and picnic grounds areas are open day and night. There's a comfort station in the woods at the south end of Stony Man Mountain Overlook (mile 38.6). That one, like those in some of the picnic grounds, has no electricity. Carry a flashlight if you go there after dark. Check the park website for restroom availability in winter.

 

  Drinking Water

During the summer season, water is no problem. There are outdoor drinking fountains in picnic grounds, campgrounds, at both visitor centers, and at several of the overlooks. During the rest of the year, usually mid-October to mid-May, when the pipes are in danger of freezing, many fountains are turned off. Year round fountains may be found at Dickey Ridge, Elkwallow Picnic Ground, Thornton Gap Entrance Station, Pinnacles Picnic Area, Skyland, Big Meadows (both picnic grounds and the campground), and the Swift Run Entrance Station. Don't drink from any streams or springs unless you treat or boil the water. In the coldest part of winter you may find springs and streams completely frozen.

 

  Facilities in Winter

Skyline Drive is open all year except for hunting season closures, dusk to dawn, and in winter when snow and or ice make the Drive unsafe. There are no facilities or services available during the winter months (December through March.) Opening and closing dates are approved annually and are be subject to change. Your best choice is to check the park website or call ahead to find out what is available.

 

  Winter Conditions and Safety

Big Meadows Campground Entrance
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

Winter storms may leave several inches of snow or ice on the ground. To find out current weather and road conditions, call the park at 540-999-3500. Enter the park with a full tank of gas and drive with snow tires. If you plan to hike, dress for temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than at lower elevations outside the park. Avoid any trails that include stream crossings and be particularly aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Wet clothing and low temperatures should always be avoided. Carry a first-aid kit, snacks, water, maps, and extra clothing.

Plan your trip ahead so you don't have to rely on routine ranger patrols (NPS staff is significantly reduced in winter).

Taking into account all these serious admonitions, winter snow fall sometimes makes cross-country skiing possible on certain fire roads. Skiers must bring their own gear. Photographers and those interested in reading animal tracks often find a post snowfall visit when the Drive is open a true and rewarding delight.

 

  Backcountry Camping

Basically you can camp almost anywhere in Shenandoah's backcountry. The "backcountry" includes most of the park - everything that's more than half a mile from any developed area. (Developed areas are visitor centers, Waysides, lodge areas, campgrounds, and picnic grounds, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag summit, and some major trails). Winter or summer, camping in the backcountry can be a wonderful experience. You carry your food and lodging, and everything else you need, on your back. You're self- sufficient, on your own. No pavement, no neighbors, no noise. You'll spend your days walking and seeing, and your nights under the stars, listening to the sound of running water, and sometimes the call of a whip-poor-will or the hoot of an owl. This is the authentic flavor of wilderness. Despite the crowds you may occasionally find on the Drive and at the more popular destinations close to it, it is still possible to take an afternoon hike into an out of the way place almost anywhere in the park or spend several days there without encountering another person.


Morning Fog Laying In The Shenandoah Valley
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

For backcountry camping, you will need a permit, which is free. You can get a permit by mail, at park headquarters, visitor centers, entrance stations, and from the self-registration stations at Rockfish Gap, Swift Run Gap, Weakley Hollow, Berry Hollow, and the Tom Floyd Wayside (on the AT just outside the park's North District).

As with just about anything else, your chances of having a good backcountry experience tend to go up if you know the rules and plan ahead. To help you learn the rules the park publishes a guide to backcountry camping, "Exploring Shenandoah's Backcountry." It is available at Visitor Centers or by mail. The park's web site www.nps.gov/shen, also contains information on backcountry use and visitor regulations. Before you get discouraged about the incompatibility of seeking "the authentic flavor of wilderness," and rules, keep in mind that the park is not big by national park standards. A lot of people live close to it, and a good percentage of them might like to give backcountry camping a try. The park's rules on backcountry use are designed to reduce the impact of those folks on each other, other visitors, and the animals and plants that live in the park.

Leave No Trace

No fires are allowed, so you will need a backpacking stove. Hang your food out of reach so bears don't learn to think of campers as a food source. Follow "Leave No Trace" practices to minimize the impact of your stay. There are a few other simple regulations/practices you are asked to follow. The NPS web site spells it all out. As for planning, there are hundreds of miles of trails in the park, and with your house on your back, you can go anywhere you choose. Later in this guide hikes on many of the trails are described. Often shorter hikes can be combined into trips of two to several days. Keep in mind that ridges are usually without water, hollows usually have water and flat places to camp, but you are more likely to see other campers there. The spaces in between are almost always steep, with precious few flat spots big enough to camp on.

Going off trail is not forbidden, although the National Park Service strongly discourages it. People walking off trails impact areas previously undisturbed. If you get lost or incapacitated you are much harder to find. Pragmatically, the trails are usually the easiest way to get from A to B, and they go to the most interesting things to see. "Bushwhacking," traveling off the trails, can lead you into some very steep and difficult terrain. In addition, over the past few decades there has been a great deal of tree mortality in the park, and areas away from the trails can be choked with fallen trees and new undergrowth that make hiking an ordeal, especially with a backpack. If you want to be by yourself, go during the week. To really be alone, do it in the winter. No matter when or where you go, you are encouraged to experience camping in the park's backcountry. It will give you an appreciation of what Shenandoah is about that you will never get from your car or from a room at one of the lodges, or a tent in a campground.

 

  Any Questions?

Q: Do rangers patrol the backcountry at night?
A: They do.

Q: Who owns the lodges and waysides?
A: The government owns the lodges and waysides. The concessioner owns the equipment.

Q: Who sets the rates for food and lodging?
A: The National Park Service must approve all rates charged to visitors by concessioners. The reasonableness of a concessioner's rates will, unless otherwise provided in the contract, be judged primarily on the basis of comparison with current rates and charges for facilities and services of comparable character under similar conditions.

Q: When the campgrounds are full may I camp beside the Drive, or in a picnic area, or at an overlook?
A: No. There are a number of private campgrounds nearby, outside the park. To be sure of a campsite in the park in summer make a reservation. Except for holiday weekends Loft Mountain and Mathews Arm are rarely full.

Q: Can I reserve a campsite?
A: You can reserve a campsite at Big Meadows Campground, Mathews Arm, and Loft Mountain only. At other times and other places it's still first come, etc. For reservation information check the park website.

 

   
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