|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:
ARAMARK Virginia Sky-line Co., Inc., 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
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):
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.
Seven of them, all with picnic tables, fireplaces, drinking fountains, and
There are picnic tables on the lower level at Skyland, and at a number of
places beside the Drive.
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.
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
|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.
The "backcountry" takes in most of the Parkeverything 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.
Q: What's a "shelter"?
Q: Do rangers patrol the backcountry at night?
Q: What's a "frost-free faucet"?
Q: Who owns the lodges and waysides?
Q: Who sets the rates for food and lodging?
Q: When the campgrounds are full may I camp beside the Drive, or in a
picnic area, or at an overlook?
Q: Can I reserve a campsite?
Q: Will the campgrounds be expanded, or new ones built?
Q: May I park beside the Drive and eat a picnic lunch?