Top Campground Hikes at Shenandoah National Park

Published on June 17th, 2022

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is home to four family campgrounds for RVs and tents that operate from spring to fall. All four are located along Skyline Drive, the park’s famed scenic byway that meanders north to south across the length of the park. 

Each campground has its own allure. For example, Big Meadows is large and chock full of amenities, like a large picnic area and one of the park’s two visitor centers, while Lewis Mountain is small and quieter. All offer easy access to the park’s forested hiking trails. 

Shenandoah National Park is home to more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including many trails that are mere steps from Skyline Drive. In fact, 101 miles of the iconic Appalachian Trail snake across the park, crossing over Skyline Drive and back every now and again. 

The two-lane Skyline Drive can get busy and trailhead parking lots can fill quickly, especially on fair-weather weekends. If you’re thinking about setting up camp at Shenandoah National Park, here are the must-do hikes that originate from each campground. 

Hiking trail at Shenandoah National Park

Mathews Arm Campground

Mathews Arm is in the park’s North District, situated on Skyline Drive at milepost 22.1. There are 165 sites for RVs and tents at this park campground, which is open from May through October.

Mathews Arm is quiet and tidy, but it’s also more primitive than the other park campgrounds. None of the campgrounds have hook-ups or electric, but you also won’t find showers at Mathews Arm. There are only flush toilets and cold running water. 

Several hiking trails are accessible from Matthews Arm, including the 1.7-mile Traces Trail. This family-friendly nature trail loops around the well-shaded campground. It’s a great trail to begin or close out the day with kids or dogs. 

From the south end of Mathews Arm, hop on the wooded Elkwallow Trail. This easy-going 3.8-mile out-and-back hike guides visitors across dirt trails and stretches of wooden boardwalk. The trail ends at Elkwallow Wayside. Stop in for snacks and souvenirs before the return to your site. 

One more popular hike leads to Overall Run Falls. At 93-feet-tall, this is the tallest waterfall at Shenandoah National Park. From the Traces Trail on the north end of the campground, continue north on Mathews Arm Road (a yellow-blazed horse trail). 

The horse trail dead-ends at the blue-blazed Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail. Turn left here and it’s 0.5 miles to two falls views, as well as a scenic viewpoint across the mountains. In all, it’s 1.7 miles one-way from the Traces Trail.  

The closest visitor center to Mathews Arm is the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at milepost 4.7. There’s a large parking lot, so check in for ranger-led programs and hikes. The visitor center is across Skyline Drive from a 1.0 mile hike on the Fox Hollow Trail (pets not allowed on this trail). 

Man overlooks Shenandoah National Park

Big Meadows Campground

Big Meadows is located in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District at milepost 51.2 on Skyline Drive. There are 221 sites, including 51 sites that are designated for tents-only. This campground is open from late-March to early-November. 

This campground is the largest in the park. It’s also replete with amenities, like showers. There are hot showers at Big Meadows, but bring coins or small bills. A five-minute shower rings up at $1.75. You’ll also find coin-operated laundry facilities, firewood and ice at Big Meadows. 

Given the popularity of the park’s Central District, it’s no surprise that there are many wonderful hikes within walking distance of Big Meadows. From here, it’s a cinch to hike to tumbling waterfalls and big views, even a refreshing swimming hole. 

The family-friendly Story of the Forest Trail sets off from the south end of Big Meadows. This flat leafy path is a must when you’re looking for a casual stroll before dinner, but note that pets are prohibited from this trail. This 1.8-mile hike loops around the park’s lodge and Byrd Visitor Center.

For waterfall watchers, pick up the southbound stretch of the Appalachian Trail on the north end of Big Meadows. Connect with the blue-blazed Lewis Spring Falls Trail, which leads to 81-foot-tall Lewis Falls, the fourth largest waterfall in the park. 

You can complete this hike as an out-and-back to the overlook for the falls, or you can loop back on the northbound stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Both options are 3 to 4 miles. The Lewis Spring Falls Trail starts near the amphitheater, which hosts seasonal ranger-led programs. 

One more popular hike starts from the north end of Big Meadows, then hooks up with a northbound section of the Appalachian Trail, which leads to big views from Fishers Gap Overlook. Cross over Skyline Drive and hop on the Rose River Loop Trail

Bring your swim suit, or at the very least, a beach towel. The Rose River Loop Trail leads to Rose River Falls. This tumbling waterfall wows with a dreamy swimming hole. It’s a bit steep on the way to the base of the falls, so watch your footing to avoid a tumble on the way down. 

Sunset over Shenandoah National Park

Lewis Mountain Campground

Lewis Mountain is located in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park, at milepost 57.5 on Skyline Drive. With just 30 first-come, first-served sites for tents and RVs, it’s the smallest campground in the national park. The campground is open from late-March to October. 

This campground is a favorite among those who prefer a quiet camping experience, but also on-site amenities, like coin-operated laundry, hot showers and an ice machine. A camp store sells essentials like snacks, supplies and firewood. 

Set back from Skyline Drive, the campground feels more secluded and remote. Yet, this small campground is just steps from the iconic Appalachian Trail, which meanders south-to-north along the west side of the Lewis Mountain Campground. 

A hike north on the Appalachian Trail leads to a rock scramble to the top of Bearfence Mountain for 360-degree panoramas. The scramble is a challenge, but there is also a 270-degree viewpoint that does not require hikers to use hands, feet and knees. Both options clock in at 3 miles.

Another option is to hike south on the Appalachian Trail, then turn left onto a yellow-blazed fire road (Pocosin Road) to Pocosin Cabin. This primitive stone cabin was built by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in 1937. You’ll see a wooden picnic table and an outdoor fireplace. 

Walk past Pocosin Cabin to reach the ruins of Upper Pocosin Mission. At one time, there were at least three buildings, including a school and a chapel. Across from the ruins, you’ll see a small overgrown cemetery. This out-and-back hike clocks in at around 5 miles. 

One final option is short and sweet. It’s a 1.0 mile out-and-back hike to a small overlook by way of the Lewis Mountain Trail. You can pick up this trail by hiking south on the Appalachian Trail, then turning left onto the blue-blazed path to the overlook. 

Empty road leading into tunnel at Shenandoah National Park

Loft Mountain Campground

Loft Mountain Campground sits on Big Flat Mountain in Shenandoah National Park’s South District, at milepost 79.5 on Skyline Drive. Here you’ll find 207 sites, including 50 sites that are designated for tents-only. This campground is open from May through November.

This campground has a lot to offer amenity-wise, including hot showers and laundry facilities. Loft Mountain is across Skyline Drive from Loft Mountain Wayside, which sells souvenirs and camping supplies. There is also a grill for sandwiches and burgers.  

The Appalachian Trail encircles this campground, so you’re never more than a few steps from a forested hike. From the camp store on the north end of the campground, take the Appalachian Trail north for two big views from Loft Mountain (the mountain, not the campground).

You can either retrace your steps to the campground or circle back by way of the blue-blazed Blue Spring Trail, which passes the Ivy Creek Shelter for trail maintenance crews and volunteers. Whether you opt for an out-and-back hike or a loop, it’s around 3 miles. 

A second must-do hike sets off north along the Appalachian Trail and connects with the blue-blazed Doyles River Trail to reach Doyles River Falls. There are several small swimming holes that may lure you in. You can also continue on to Jones Run Falls. This hike is 7 to 8 miles.

Finally, you can keep it simple with a loop around the campground on the Appalachian Trail. It’s less than 2 miles and is just right as a casual stroll to start or end a fun day at the park. This hike passes both the amphitheater and the camp store as it snakes along the edges of the mountain.

Find RVs to rent near Shenandoah National Park here. Happy hiking!

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