With so much beauty and only 2 hrs drive from DC, no wonder Shenandoah is so popular! A lot has been written about it (I relied on this blog for planning our trip).
We’ve been to Shenandoah twice: in April and in August, and stayed in two types of accommodation: a lodge and a campground. As I can compare these two different experiences, I feel like I’m in a position to share my 2 cents. Be warned: this is going to be a long(ish) post!
First, a bit of general information…
Entrance costs $30, but I highly recommend getting America the Beautiful annual pass which allows unlimited entrance to all national parks for a year. It’s $80, so it will pay for itself if you visit Shenandoah 3 times in a year (and trust me, you’ll want to).
It takes 2 hours drive to the North entrance, but don’t be fooled: there’s still a long (and very beautiful) drive ahead of you to get to your lodge/campsite.
The park is narrow and long, and the main road – the Skyline Drive – goes along the park, from the north to the south.
There are a few lodges and campgrounds scattered along the Skyline drive, with Skyland (mile 41) being the biggest and Big Meadows (mile 52) the highest. We stayed at Big Meadows twice: at the Lodge (that was the trip that got me interested in camping) and at the campgrounds.
April 2022 trip: Lodge
I’ll tell you a secret: I used to be a designer hotel kind of travelling person. I was very sceptical about trying camping, so my bf suggested we “glamp” and booked us a two night stay at the Lodge.
You stay in the nature, you go hiking, you get your amazing views, but you sleep in a comfortable bed and enjoy hot spacious showers.
Later I learned that sleeping under the stars is so much more fun, a hammock is more comfortable than a bed, and the campgrounds also have showers… but this was how we started.
The Lodge has a restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s 2 mins walk from the rooms and 5 mins walk from the campground (they call it a “hike” but it’s like 200 meters/yards).
Breakfasts there are my favourite in the world. You get good food, decent coffee and an amazing view.
Don’t take the fruits, but the rest of the food I really enjoyed.
For lunch, we had sandwiches on the hike, and the dinner I honestly thought wasn’t worth it. It’s restaurant prices and very average quality. When we later stayed at the campground, we had breakfast at the lodge and roasted hot dogs for dinner, and I liked it better that way.
They also have a taproom where they serve local beer and snacks. That feels so good after a long hike.
Oh, Big Meadows is popular for its signature ice cream pie! It’s a lot of blackberry ice cream, served on a graham cracker base, topped with marshmallows and some jam.
In the evening, you can relax and play games in their cozy common room. They have a few games like Monopoly and jigsaw puzzles, but we brought our own (and were so happy we did).
The Lodge is great, but I would suggest bringing some food to eat dinner at the picnic grounds. The restaurant is just not worth the money.
Most importantly, our stay at the Lodge left me wanting more. I loved Shenandoah and I wanted to feel closer to nature. Campgrounds were our obvious next choice.
💵 A night at the Lodge starts at $141. Booking is easy, there are almost always rooms available.
August 2022: The campground
The campgrounds are located literally 5 mins walk from the Lodge. You can still enjoy the taproom and the common room – or grab some beers at the lodge shop and drink by your campsite (it’s allowed).
It’s big. Some sites are reservable, and some are first come-first serve. We stayed at C124, which was close to the entrance, which meant some noise and lights from the cars, but which also meant we were close to the showers ($2.50/5 min) and the place where they sell wood ($8/bunch).
I particularly liked our site because it had 2 great trees to hang my hammock. Not all sites had that.
Nature is as close at it gets.
Next time (and there definitely will be a next time!!) I want to stay in one of the walk-to sites. They have 53 of those, some reservable, some not. It basically means you park your car on a road, take your stuff and walk for a few meters/yards to your tent. Those spots seemed to be so much cuter, and they all seemed to have trees for hammocks.
Big Meadows is in the bear country! All food needs to be stored either in the car or in big bear proof cages they provide.
Cell connection is not reliable. On the campground, I had perfect connection (T-mobile) and my boyfriend had none (Verizon). At the lodge, neither of us had any service except for in the restaurant/the common room.
💵 $30/night. If you’re staying on the weekend, you have to book months in advance. All Saturdays are taken until the end of the year.
BUT. They have first come- first served sites. We booked a night for Friday, thinking that worst case we’ll crash at the lodge for the second night, arrived to the campground around 4:30 pm on Friday and got a spot for both nights no problem.
- Right starting from the Lodge, there is a Lewis Falls Trail. 3.3 miles, difficulty moderate. It was my first “real” hike and I almost died, but I want to try it again now that I’m fitter.
- 10 mins drive away starts the White Oak Canyon trail. There are two options, we did the shorter one with 4.6 miles. Difficulty moderate. My perception was that I could have done more. At the end there’s a rewarding view of the waterfall, and there’s also a small waterfall halfway through the hike. Read a review by Hikes and Hops here.
- There’s also a 4 mile Rose River Falls loop nearby. This is our plan for the next Shenandoah trip.
I suggest buying a set of 4 brochures with hiking maps at any of the gift shops (short hikes, hikes to waterfalls, hikes to peaks and vistas, easy hikes on the Appalachian trail).. There are $3 each or $10 as a bunch, and they are very helpful with planning and also for taking with you on the hike. Shenandoah doesn’t have reliable cell service, so having a little map is good.
We loved both of our trips to Shenandoah, and we can’t wait to come back for more!