Where Can I Stay?

This article is a summary of park facilities, including food and lodging. The Park Service itself doesn't provide lodging and doesn't sell food (or anything else, for that matter.) Lodging and sales items are private enterprise, provided under contract by concessioners. Facilities in the Park are operated by three companies:

Delaware North, which operates the Lodges, Restaurants, Waysides, gift shops, shower/laundry, and gas stations.

Shenandoah National Park Association, a non-profit organization that sells books, postcards, color slides, maps, and related items at the two Visitor Centers.

[ed. note: SNPA was formerly called the Shenandoah Natural History Association, SNHA. SNHA published this book until 2000; the Guide is now no longer in print.]

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. This is primarily an association of Walkers. It maintains six locked cabins in the Park, which are rented at reasonable rates. I'll tell you where they are and how to reserve them in the article on hiking.


Motel-type units and rustic cabins are available at the two lodges (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 one or both lodges 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. Vacancies are rare during the summer, especially on weekends, so make your reservations as far in advance as you can. Contact ARAMARK Virginia Sky-line Co., Inc., P.O. Box 727, Luray, Virginia 22835. Telephone 1-800-999-4714.


You can buy meals in the Park, as well as groceries to prepare your own meals if you're camping. Hours at each location vary during the season, check the Park newspaper for current hours.

Dining Rooms: Two of them: Skyland (Mile 41.7) and Big Meadows (51.2). For dinner during the summer season allow plenty of time; you can expect to wait a while for seating.

Restaurant: Panorama Restaurant (31.6).

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

Grill Room: at Big Meadows Wayside (51.2). Breakfast, lunch, snacks.

Groceries (plus other camper supplies and equipment, soft drinks, and beer): at Elkwallow Wayside (24.0). Big Meadows Wayside (51.2), Lewis Mountain Campstore (57.5) and Loft Mountain Campstore (near Loft Mountain Campground, a mile or so from the drive at Mile 79.5).


There are gas stations just outside the Park, at each end of the Drive. Also (mid-May to early November) at Elkwallow Wayside (Mile 24.0), Big Meadows Wayside (51.2), and Loft Mountain Wayside (79.5). Hours vary throughout the season. Check the Park newspaper for current hours. Note that gas stations within the Park have nothing but gasoline and oil, air and water. They don't make repairs, change tires, or lend tools.

You can find a gas station within 6 to 8 miles of the Drive, in either direction, at both of the main highway crossings: U.S. 211 (Mile 31.5), and U.S. 33 (Mile 65.5); but these are small-town stations, not likely to be open after dark.


Campgrounds are crowded in the summer. To give more people a chance at them. you're limited to a total of 14 consecutive days camping per year. A fee is charged for camping.

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

   Mile 22.2Mathews Arm186 sites
   Mile 51.2Big Meadows227 sites
   Mile 57.5Lewis Mountain32 sites
   Mile 79.5Loft Mountain221 sites

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 shower and laundry facilities at Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft Mountain which are accessible. Dundo Campground (Mile 83.7) is only for organized youth groups. (Boy Scouts, for example). Its facilities are rather primitive, and you need a reservation. Write to Shenandoah National Park, 3655 US Highway 211 East, Luray, VA 22835.

 Picnic Areas

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

   Mile 4.7Dickey RidgeMile 57.5Lewis Mountain
   Mile 24.1ElkwallowMile 62.8South River
   Mile 36.7PinnaclesMile 79.5Loft Mountain
   Mile 51.2Big Meadows

There are picnic tables on the lower level at Skyland, and at a number of places beside the Drive.

 Comfort Stations

Adequate facilities are located at concession dining facilities, waysides and in Park visitor centers during operating hours. Comfort stations in campgrounds and picnic 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 areas, has no electricity. Carry a flashlight if you go there after dark.

 Drinking Water

During the summer season, water is no problem. There are dozens of outdoor drinking fountains. They are in picnic areas, campgrounds, at Panorama Restaurant, 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, the fountains are turned off and drained.

Don't drink from streams or springs unless you boil the water. In the coldest part of winter you may find the springs and streams completely frozen.

 Facilities in Winter

During the last few years there has been very limited if any facilities open during the winter months (December through March.) Opening and closing dates are approved annually and may be subject to change. Your best choice is to call ahead and find out what is available.

For food and lodging information. call ARAMARK Virginia Sky-Line Company at 1-800-999-4714 or write to them at P.O. Box 727, Luray, VA 22835.

For information on camping, visitor center operations and locations to pick up a backcountry permit, please contact the Park at 540-999-3500 or write to: Shenandoah National Park, 3655 US Highway 211 East, Luray, VA 22835.

To purchase books, maps, etc., such as this one, you can call the Shenandoah Natural History Association at 540-999-3582 or write: SNHA, 3655 US Highway 211 East, Luray, VA 22835.

 Backcountry Camping

The "backcountry" takes in most of the Park—everything that's more than half a mile from any developed area. (Developed areas are Visitor Centers, Waysides, Lodges, Campgrounds, and Picnic Areas.) Winter or summer, camping in the backcountry can be a delightful 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.

In theory, that is. Sometimes things don't work out the way they ought to. Shenandoah has more backcountry campers per square mile than any other National Park. To preserve the woodlands, the Park must make rules for their use. No glass containers allowed. Hang your food high, between trees, where the bears can't reach it. No fires, except in the fireplaces at the huts and cabins. No camping within sight of a trail or road, or another camping party, Or a sign that says "No Camping." You must have a backcountry camping permit. You can get these free permits at Park headquarters, visitor centers, and 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).

All of which is reasonable. But there's a hitch. Most of the Park consists of steep, waterless, rocky slopes, entirely unsuitable for camping. (I remember walking mile after mile, looking for a flat place big enough to pitch a five- by seven-foot tent.) Many of our most scenic areas are off limits to camping because they're small, or because they're narrow, steep-sided gorges. Because of the rules (camp out of sight of shelters, trails, other camping parties), popular backcountry areas usually have only a handful of legal campsites. Naturally, these sites get constant use. The much-trampled soil becomes compacted, and in rainy weather it turns to mud. Nothing grows there, and erosion begins. These sites must be put off limits for overnight camping until they recover, which may take years.

When a camper walks for hours with a heavy pack, and reaches his destination at dusk but finds no legal campsite, he has two choices: carry that heavy pack back up the trail in the dark, or camp illegally. The second choice seems to be more popular. Because the Park Service is required by law to protect its wild areas, it must take countermeasures.

Rangers must enforce the rules, and they will have to restrict access to the backcountry. Some places, as I said, have been put off limits. Several of the backcountry shelters seemed to invite illegal camping, and it was necessary to remove them.

I'm truly sorry about that. The wilderness experience is something of great value. But it's clear that we can't all find solitude in the same place at the same time.

 Any Questions?

Q: What's a "shelter"?
A: An open-front structure, usually of stone and logs, provided with a table, fireplace, pit toilet, and spring. I'll say more about the shelters in the article on hiking.

Q: Do rangers patrol the backcountry at night?
A: You bet. They can't visit every possible campsite every night, but they check as many as possible.

Q: What's a "frost-free faucet"?
A: A vertical pipe with a handle on top; operating the handle opens a valve that's a couple of feet underground, below the frost level, and water flows. When you shut it off, the pipe drains itself automatically. (If you find a frost-free faucet with a curved handle that makes it look like a miniature pump, don't be fooled. You don't have to pump to get water.)

Q: Who owns the lodges and waysides?
A: The Government owns the land. The concessioner owns the buildings and fixtures.

Q: Who sets the rates for food and lodging?
A: The concessioner sets the rates, subject to approval by the Superintendent. Prices must be comparable to those charged for similar food and lodging outside the Park.

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, avoid weekends and holidays. Beware of good weather. And get here early in the day.

Q: Can I reserve a campsite?
A: Maybe. At present you can reserve a campsite at Big Meadows Campground only. At other times and other places it's still First Come, etc. There are two ways to make a reservation:

  1. Go to the Big Meadows Campground Ranger Station.
  2. Get a mail order form at a Visitor Center, an Entrance Station, or at Park Headquarters. Fill it out and mail it to Destinet, P.O. Box 85705, San Diego, CA 92138-5705 or call 1-800-365-CAMP, using SHEN as the four-letter designator when asked.

Q: Will the campgrounds be expanded, or new ones built?
A: Probably not. We can't have more camping space without giving up something else of value. The 14-day camping limit is, of course, a form of rationing. If necessary the annual camping ration may be cut to ten days, or seven. Actually, at present, the number of people turned away because the campgrounds are full is small compared to the number who find campsites.

Q: May I park beside the Drive and eat a picnic lunch?
A: It would be better to go to one of the seven picnic areas, where you'll find tables, water, toilets, and trash receptacles. (See page 17.)

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved