Shenandoah National Park is full of stunning beauty. This includes the spectacular route along Skyline Drive, incredible sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and of course the countless waterfalls that…
Shenandoah National Park is full of stunning beauty. This includes the spectacular route along Skyline Drive, incredible sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and of course the countless waterfalls that dot this landscape. Whether you’re visiting Shenandoah on a day trip, spending a few nights camping, or simply passing through, a visit to one of Shenandoah’s many waterfalls is a must.
Before any trip to Shenandoah National Park it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic park information. Below, we’ve included some important information that you’ll need for planning your next trip to Shenandoah National Park.
Permits, Entrance Fees, and Opening Times
Permits are not required for any hikes or to visit any waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park.
Entrance fees must be paid to access any part of the national park, including all of the hikes and waterfalls described in this post. There are a variety of passes available, depending on the length of your visit and your mode of entry. Details can be found on the NPS website.
There are a ton of variables that need to be taken into account when packing for a visit to one of Shenandoah National Park’s many waterfalls. You’ll need to consider the weather conditions (and forecast), length of the hike you plan to undertake, and availability of nearby services.
That being said, there are a few universal items that are essential for all Shenandoah visits:
Water: 1 quart per person per hour of hiking is recommended. We like carrying water in a hydration bladder for better weight distribution and easy access.
Sturdy Boots: You’ll encounter a variety of trail conditions in Shenandoah, so it’s important to have supportive footwear that is up to the task and protects your feet and ankles. The terrain can also get extremely muddy, so waterproof footwear is a good idea.
Layers & Sunscreen: It’s important to dress in layers so you can quickly adapt to the elements. Additionally, the summer sun is strong making it a good idea to pack sunscreen.
Backpack: Most hikers will need a comfortable backpack for their outing in Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah Guidebook – A good guidebook will provide insights and information to help you plan your perfect trip to Shenandoah. We like this hiking guide from Falcon Guides.
Tick repellent– Ticks are common throughout Shenandoah, and while it is always a good idea to wear long pants, this tick repellent from Ben’s is worth applying when out hiking or camping.
Shenandoah National Park Waterfalls
The map and list below show some of the most popular waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park. We’ve done our best to include all of the easy to visit waterfalls in the park, but be sure to let us know if we missed any!
Overall Run Falls are the tallest in Shenandoah National Park at 93′ tall. There is an excellent hike to the falls that leaves from the Mathews Arm Campground, located at mile marker 22 along Skyline Drive.
Rose River Falls
Rose River Falls are located at mile marker 49.4 on Skyline Drive. From here it is an approximate 2 mile hike to the 67′ tall waterfalls. The Rose River Falls are located a short distance from Big Meadows.
The South River Falls soar to an incredible 83′ high and are the third tallest in Shenandoah National Park. There is an excellent hike to the falls that takes 2-3 hours and is highly recommended. There is also an excellent picnic area just off Skyline Drive near the South River Falls.
The Jones Runs Falls are some of the most picture perfect in all of Shenandoah. These 42′ high falls are located near both the Doyles River Falls as well as the starting point for the Browns Gap Waterfall Loop. Well worth a visit.
The Whiteoak Canyon Falls are located on an excellent hiking loop that let’s ambitious walkers visit a series of stunning cascades. This includes both the Whiteoak Canyon Falls as well as the Cedar Run Falls, described below. Whiteoak Canyon is located in the central part of Shenandoah and just a short drive from the Big Meadows Visitor Center.
Cedar Run Falls are a popular spot to visit on the Whiteoak Canyon loop trail. If you’re not interested in hiking the entire loop, it is easy to visit the Cedar Run Falls from the Whiteoak Canyon lower parking lot.
The Lewis Falls are one of the most accessible waterfalls in Shenandoah, with an easy path leading to the falls from the Big Meadows amphitheater. You’ll be blown away by the impressive 81′ tall waterfall!
For those looking for an excellent loop hike to take in several stunning Shenandoah waterfalls, be sure to consider the Browns Gap Waterfall Loop. This 6.5 mile loop takes in multiple cascades in the park and makes for a wonderful day out.
Best Waterfall Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Given the sheer number of waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park it can be difficult to decide which to visit and which to skip. In reality, there is no bad answer to this question are each cascade in the park has its own unique character and allure.
However, for those short on time we’ve highlight five of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park below. These hikes range in difficulty, distance, and hiking time so be sure to select the best option for your particular circumstances.
The Whiteoak Canyon & Cedar Run Loop is a popular waterfall hike for those looking for a challenge. The 9 mile loop hikes takes hikers deep into the Shenandoah backcountry and visits a series of stunning waterfalls including Whiteoak Falls and Cedar Run Falls.
It is best to start the hike from the Whiteoak Canyon Boundary parking lot, accessed from the town of Syria, VA. Note that the trailhead is difficult to reach from Skyline Drive, so be sure to take that into account if you plan on visiting other sections of the park.
Find more details on the Whiteoak Canyon Loop below:
The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah. A short, 1.5 mile round trip hike takes visitors to the beautiful Dark Hollow Falls. Keep in mind that although the distance is quite short, the trail to the falls is very steep.
To reach Dark Hollow Falls you’ll park at the Dark Hollow Falls Parking area located at mile marker 50.7 on Skyline Drive. This is very close to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah. The NPS publishes a helpful map of Big Meadows, including the Dark Hollow Falls trail here.
Find more details on the Dark Hollow Falls trail below:
Rose River Falls are a stunningly beautiful 67′ waterfall in the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah. The falls are accessed via the Rose River Fire Road, located at mile marker 49.4. From here it is a 2 mile, moderately difficult hike to the falls. You can return the same way you came or create a longer loop to also visit Dark Hollow Falls.
If you opt for this option you’ll return to your car by walking back on the Rose River Fire Road. This adds significant time and distance so be sure you are properly prepared.
Find more details on the Rose River Trail in Shenandoah below:
The Lewis Falls Trail leaves from the centrally located Big Meadows Amphitheatre and takes hikers to a stunning viewpoint of the 81′ tall falls. The trail is a popular one in Shenandoah, so be sure to arrive early on busy summer weekends to avoid the crowds.
The route is approximately 3.5 miles round-trip to the overlook and back, so hikers should plan on spending 3-4 hours on the trail.
The double cascades of South River Falls are some of the most stunning in Shenandoah National Park. The falls overlook are accessed via a 2.6 mile out and back trail that departs from Skyline Drive at mile marker 62.7. For those who wish to continue on a bit further you can continue past the overlook to reach the falls themselves.
Find more details on the South River Falls Trail below:
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on Shenandoah National Park’s waterfalls. Please let us know in the comments below if we missed any of your favorite trails or if you found the information useful! Also, don’t forget to checkout our other Shenandoah National Park guides below:
Shenandoah National Park, located in western Virginia, is one of America’s most iconic National Parks. The Blue Ridge mountains create a stunning backdrop for the incredible Skyline Drive, a 105-mile…
Shenandoah National Park, located in western Virginia, is one of America’s most iconic National Parks. The Blue Ridge mountains create a stunning backdrop for the incredible Skyline Drive, a 105-mile roadway that runs through Shenandoah National Park. We think the best way to experience everything that Shenandoah has to offer is to spend a few nights in your tent or RV where you’ll experience this beautiful part of the country first hand.
The first step in planning your perfect camping trip in Shenandoah is to first understand a bit about the geography of the park. Shenandoah National Park is over 105 miles long, but quite narrow across. Skyline Drive runs the length or the park and is used to access the majority of campgrounds and trailheads within the park.
As such, most destinations within Shenandoah will have their location given by the mile marker they are located at along Skyline Drive. The mile markers begin at the northern entrance station at Front Royal (mile 0) and finish at mile 105 at the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station located at the southern end of the park.
Skyline Drive runs the length of Shenandoah National Park.
The map below gives you a general sense of where each of the campgrounds are located in Shenandoah National Park as well as their relation to the surrounding area.
Campground options in Shenandoah National Park. Map courtesy of NPS. (Click to enlarge)
All of the campgrounds within Shenandoah National Park are open seasonally beginning in the late-Spring through the late-Fall. This typically means that you can expect campgrounds to open in late-April or early-May and stay open through the end of October or early-November.
Reservations for campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park are only required for the Dundo Group Campground. However, we highly recommend making reservations for any of the campgrounds you hope to stay at during the peak summer season, and especially on weekends. The exception to this is the Lewis Mountain Campground, which does not accept reservations.
To make a reservation for the Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Loft Mountain, or Dundo Group Campgrounds you’ll need to visit the Recreation.gov website, which manages campground reservations for the National Park Service.
It is important to know that even if you don’t have a reservation in peak season you can still find a campground in Shenandoah. All of the campgrounds within the national park (with the exception of the Dundo Group Campground) have a small number of first come, first served campsites available. These can be a lifesaver when you plan a last minute camping trip to Shenandoah!
You’ll be glad to made a reservation if you’re hoping to camp in peak season in Shenandoah.
For those who are exploring the vast trail network and plan to spend a night (or two) at a backcountry campsite in Shenandoah National Park you’ll need to get obtain a backcountry permit. The permit is free and can be obtained at one of the self-registration stations located throughout the park or through the Shenandoah’s online permit system.
What to bring on your Shenandoah National Park Camping trip
Preparing for your Shenandoah National Park camping trip involves more than deciding which campground best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.
We’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for camping in Shenandoah:
Shenandoah Guidebook – A good guidebook will provide insights and information to help you plan your perfect trip to Shenandoah. We like this hiking guide from Falcon Guides.
Car camping sites in Shenandoah National Park
There are five options for those looking to car camp in Shenandoah National Park. These campgrounds are spread throughout the park and give plenty of options for those looking to explore different areas of Shenandoah. Details for all five campgrounds are below.
Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1)
Number of Sites: 161 individual (up to 6 people) and 3 group sites (up to 25 people) Mile marker: 22.1 Fee: $15/night for individual sites, $50/night for group sites RVs: Yes. No electric or water hookups available. More Information Click Here to Reserve
The Mathews Arm Campground is the most northern campground in Shenandoah National Park, just 22.1 miles from the Front Royal Entrance Station. This is a great place to spend the night before visiting Overall Run Falls, as the campground is short distance from the main trail leading to this spectacular waterfall.
Matthews Arms has 161 individual campsites which can accommodate up to 6 people and two cars in addition to three group sites, which can accommodate up to 25 people each. The campground has a significant number of campsites that are first-come, first-first served, making this a great option for those without reservations.
The campground has five public restrooms, plenty of potable water spigots, utility sinks for cleaning up, and an RV dump station. The Traces Trail can be accessed directly from the campground, making for a lovely walk directly from your campsite.
Mathews Arm Campground makes a perfect jumping off point for exploring Shenandoah. Photo credit NPS/N. Lewis
Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2)
Number of Sites: 222 individual (up to 6 people) and 2 group sites (up to 15 people) Mile marker: 51.2 Fee: $20/night for individual sites, $45/night for group sites RVs: Yes. There is a dump station, but no electric or water hookups available. More Information Click Here to Reserve
The Big Meadows Campground is centrally located in Shenandoah National Park, and is located at mile marker 51.2. The campground is well situated and makes for a perfect place to camp before visiting Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Falls, or the Fisher’s Gap overlook. The Appalachian Trail pass just north of the campground, so you can expect to see a few through hikers!
Big Meadows has 222 individual campsites and 2 group sites, which can accommodate up to 15 people. Most of the campgrounds at Big Meadows require a reservation, although there are still several that are always available on a first-come, first served basis. Big Meadows Campground also has a number of ‘walk-in’ campsites where you’ll park your car and then carry your camping gear to your site. These offer a bit more privacy and are a great option for those looking for more solitude and a true wilderness experience.
Lewis Mountain Campground only has 30 campsites, and they are spaced relatively close together. This can cause the campground to feel a bit noisy and crowded despite its small size. Facilities include restrooms, water spigots, showers, firewood for sale, and an ice machine. There is no dump station available for RVs.
Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5)
Number of Sites: 207 individual sites Mile marker: 79.5 Fee: $15/night RVs: Yes. There is a dump station, but no electric or water hookups available. More Information Click Here to Reserve
The Loft Mountain Campground is perennially a favorite among campers in Shenandoah National Park. Although one of the largest in the park many of the campsites feel very private and the views looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains are truly spectacular! The site is located at mile marker 79.5, making it a great option for those coming from the southern entrance station at Rockfish Gap.
Loft Mountain features 207 campsites, most of which are available on a first-come, first served basis. The campground has five restrooms, which can feel a bit crowded given the size of the campground, plenty of water spigots, showers, and a camp store selling essentials. The edges of the campground feature several tent only campsites which are a good option to get a bit more privacy. Nearby hikes include the Blackrock Summit hike and Doyles River Falls.
Loft Mountain makes the perfect campground if you plan on visiting Doyles River Falls. Photo credit NPS.
Given the popularity of the Loft Mountain Campground, reservations are recommended during peak summer weekends. If you don’t have a reservation be sure to arrive as early as possible to give yourself the best change to secure a campsite.
The Dundo Group Campground in Shenandoah National Park is exclusively for groups, with each of the three campsites accommodating between 7-20 people. Although a group campground, the fact that there are only three campsites makes this a pleasant place to spend the night. The campground is located at mile 83.7 and is close to many of the highlights of the southern section of Shenandoah such as Blackrock Summit and Sawmill Run Overlook.
Given that there are only three campsites and the Dundo Group Campground, all sites must be reserved in advance.
It is also important to note that there are no RVs allowed at Dundo, so if you’re traveling in your RV you’ll need to camp at one of the other campgrounds in Shenandoah.
Backcountry campsites in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a backcountry campers dream. The park features over 500 miles of trails that wind their way throughout this stunning landscape and provide countless options for your perfect backpacking trip. However, there are some rules and regulations you’ll need to keep in mind as you plan your backcountry camping trip in Shenandoah National Park, outlined below.
Backcountry camping is an incredible way to experience Shenandoah National Park.
Backcountry Camping Permits
All backcountry campers in Shenandoah National Park are required to obtain a free permit before starting their trip. This can be done at one of the eight self-registration stations conveniently located throughout the park. You can also obtain a permit through the National Park Service’s online permit system for Shenandoah, accessible here.
Regardless of where you obtain your permit you’ll need to have the following details:
Trip leader name and contact information
Itinerary including planned stopping points for each day
Number of people in your group
Number of nights at each campsite
Planned start and finish date
Where to camp in the Shenandoah backcountry
Unlike many National Parks, Shenandoah does not have designated backcountry campsites. Rather, the NPS recommends that backcountry hikers camp at obvious campsites which have been developed by previous users. These should be fairly obvious on the trail as you’ll generally be able to see where tents have been placed, logs arranged for seating, etc.
Regardless of where you decide to pitch your tent you’ll need to be at least 1/4 mile from the nearest road, and avoid close proximity to water sources, other campers, structures, and trails.
Additionally, trekkers need to be prepared to treat their own water. We recommend bringing a small, packable filter like the Sawyer Squeeze.
Be sure to treat the water in Shenandoah National Park.
Planning your Itinerary
The expansive trail network in Shenandoah can make planning a backcountry camping trip seem a bit overwhelming. If you’re not familiar with the National Park it can be difficult to know how to start even thinking about what a good itinerary might be. Luckily, the National Park Service has put together comprehensive list of backcountry camping itineraries in Shenandoah. Check it out below.
Given the sensitive ecosystem of Shenandoah National Park it is essential that you practice Leave No Trace principleswhen backpacking in the National Park. This includes packing out all of your own trash and property disposing of your waste. Fires are not permitted in the backcountry.
Properly storing your food is also essential as bears and other wildlife are common throughout the National Park. We recommend bringing a bear canister for any trip into the backcountry.
Be sure to properly store your food when backpacking in Shenandoah!
Shenandoah National Park Camping Must Know
The following sections contain all the basic information you need to ensure you have a great time camping in Shenandoah National Park.
Campfires in Shenandoah
Fires are generally allowed at each of the five campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park. The fire must be contained within the provided fire pit/grate and should not be left unattended. It is also important to ensure that any wood you bring into the park is properly sourced, as firewood can introduce invasive pests that can cause irreparable damage.
Campfires are not allowed in the backcountry of Shenandoah, so if you’re planning a backpacking trip be sure to bring a camp stove.
A wide variety of wildlife calls Shenandoah National Park home. For campers in the park there are a few you’ll want to be especially aware of. These include:
Black bears: Be sure to properly store your food in either the park provided bear bins or in a bear canister. This is especially important for backcountry campers in Shenandoah.
Snakes: Shenandoah is home to a diversity of snake species. Most of these are non-venomous and all of them are likely to try and avoid contact with visitors. However, there are several venomous snakes including timber rattlesnakes in the park. Be aware of your surroundings and always keep an eye out!
Birds: The stunning landscapes of Shenandoah make a perfect habitat for several species of birds to thrive. Keep an eye out for the stunning peregrine falcon and the elusive scarlet tanager.
For those camping, you’ll primarily want to be vigilant about keeping food properly stored and keeping a close eye out for snakes.
A black bear in Shenandoah. Photo courtesy of NPS.
If you’ve spent much time in National Parks you’ll know that pets are typically not permitted on any of the trails. Shenandoah is one of the few exceptions, and you are welcome to bring your pets along on your Shenandoah National Park camping trip.
Pets are permitted in all of the campgrounds within the park, as well as on backcountry camping trips. However, there are several trails where pets are not allowed, and the National Park Services lists those here.
If you do plan to bring your pet on a camping trip in Shenandoah, keep these regulations in mind:
Pets must be on a leash at all time. This includes at the campgrounds.
Please pick up your pet waste. Do not bag it and leave it on the side of the trail.
Given the length of Shenandoah National Park the best place to get camping supplies is highly dependent on where in the park you are camping. Our recommendations for each section are listed below:
Northern section (Matthews Arm Campground)
Front Royal, Virginia: The northern gateway town to Shenandoah, Front Royal has all the essentials you’ll need to stock up for your camping trip including a grocery store, outdoor store, liquor store, and gas stations.
Elkwallow Wayside: This small eatery is located at mile 24.1 on Skyline Drive. You’ll be able to pick up some basic groceries, camping supplies, and even takeout food here.
Middle section (Big Meadows Campground, Lewis Mountain Campground)
Luray, Virginia: Luray is smaller than some of the other towns near Shenandoah, but you’ll still find a grocery store, gas station, and outdoor store.
Big Meadows Wayside: Larger than Elkwallow Wayside, Big Meadows (mile 51.2) stocks basic groceries, camping and hiking supplies, has a small restaurant, and also sells gas and diesel.
Southern section (Loft Mountain Campground, Dundo Group Campground)
Loft Mountain Wayside: Similar to the other options in the park, you’ll be able to get simple groceries, some camping essentials, in addition to the small restaurant on site.
Big Meadows Wayside is a perfect place to pick up a few essentials for your Shenandoah camping trip. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Camping near Shenandoah National Park
Given the popularity and scarcity of options, it is always possible that you won’t be able to find a campground within Shenandoah National Park. However, don’t give up as there are plentiful camping options just outside the National Park boundary! Check out your best options below:
RV campgrounds near Shenandoah National Park
Those camping in an RV will have plenty of options just outside Shenandoah National Park. The best option for you will depend on which section of the park you’re planning to explore, and we’ve provided RV campgrounds near the northern, central, and southern sections of Shenandoah below.
Number of sites: Plenty! Fee: $40 – $45/night depending on electricity hookup size. Capacity: Prices are for two people. Extra guests are $5/night. Kids 16 and under free RVs: Yes Reservations: Required. Visit website here or call (540) 636-6192 Pets: Allowed More Information
Twin Rivers Campground is located north of Shenandoah in Front Royal, VA. A short drive from the Front Royal Entrance Station, this is the perfect place to camp if you’re looking to explore the northern section of the park. The campground features electricity hookups at every site, and river front access to the Shenandoah River.
Number of sites: Plenty! Fee: Varies depending on size of RV and hookups required. Capacity: No stated limit. RVs: Yes, up to 70′. Reservations: Recommended. Pets: Allowed More Information
The KOA Luray Campground is located just north of the town of Luray, VA. From here, it is an approximate 20 minute drive to the Thornton Gap Entrance Station. The Luray KOA can accommodate RVs up to 70′ in length and provides guests with access to WiFi, a dog park, snack bar, and pool.
Misty Mountain Camp Report is located south of Shenandoah National Park in Greenwood, VA. The campground is located just 10 minutes from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station, providing excellent access to the southern section of Shenandoah. Misty Mountain can accommodate all types of RVs and also has tent sites and cabin rentals. Guests staying at the RV campground get access to tons of amenities including WiFi, a swimming pool, fishing pond, and multiple playgrounds. See their full list of amenities here.
There are plenty of RV campgrounds near Shenandoah National Park.
Car camping sites near Shenandoah National Park
If you’re looking for car camping sites near Shenandoah National Park you’ll have a few good options to choose from. In addition to the campgrounds listed below, car camping is permitted and recommend at all of the campgrounds listed in the RV camping section above. Keep reading below to see what your best bets are for car camping near Shenandoah.
Number of Sites: 71 sites Fee: $25 – $46/night depending on hookups and residency. More info here. Capacity: 6 people per campsite RVs: Yes, up to 60′. Reservations: Recommended. Half of the site are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Pets: Allowed. More Information
Shenandoah River State Park is a true gem that offers abundant camping options just outside of the National Park. This campground is perfect for those looking to avoid the feel of an RV park and also gives access to the beautiful Shenandoah River. The campground is open year round and offers sites with electric and water hookups, tent-only sites, restrooms with showers, and each site also features a fire ring.
This is a great campground for those traveling with their family.
Number of Sites: 35 sites Fee: $16/night Capacity: None stated. RVs: Yes. Reservations: All sites are first-come, first served. Pets: Allowed. More Information
The Elizabeth Furnace Family Campground is located near the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park in the adjacent George Washington National Forest. The campground features 35 sites that can accommodate tents and smaller RVs. All of the campsites are first-come, first-served, so be sure to get there early in the day if you’re hoping to snag a spot.
The campground features vault-toilets (flush toilets and showers available during warmer months) and a water source. Alcoholic drinks are prohibited at this family campground.
There are some fantastic dispersed campsites just outside of Shenandoah National Park.
Crisman Hollow Dispersed Camping
Located to the west of Luray, Crisman Hollow Road (also known as Forest Service Road 724) offers some excellent dispersed camping in George Washington National Forest. Many of the campsites are located along Passage Creek and have fire rings.
Located north-west of Harrisonburg, VA the Slate Lick Fields offer great dispersed camping near Shenandoah National Park. The campsites are located along Hog Pen Road and directions can be found here. Keep in mind there is not a good water source here, so you’ll need to bring plenty of drinking water with you.
BLM regulations on dispersed camping allow you to camp for up to 14 days in a 28 day period, so be sure to observe that limit at both of the sites above.
That’s it! We hope you’ve found all of the information on camping in Shenandoah National Park in this post helpful and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!