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11 Free Shenandoah National Park Boondocking Locations

Last updated on May 7th, 2022 at 11:56 pm

Shenandoah National Park Free Boondocking

At the Shenandoah National Park you don’t have to pay for a campsite if you are willing to brave the elements. We spent three nights camping in Shenandoah National Park at one of the designated backcountry campsites without having to pay a cent.

Our reasoning was simple – it’s free, what’s the worst that could happen?

Before camping in the backcountry, you must attend a mandatory safety briefing. Rangers go over things like building a fire properly and what kind of wildlife you may encounter. The briefing is also a superb opportunity to ask any questions you may have about camping in the park.

Once we had our briefing, we were set free (in a manner of speaking) to find our own campsite. Call or email the park ahead of time and request an outfitter permit, which will cost you $10 per trip. Then just choose your campsite once you arrive at the park. We picked one that was approximately 4 miles from the road. All we had to do now was choose our favorite Shenandoah National Park camping spots.

We were definitely not the only ones camping in the park – there were people all around us. I think one of the best things about camping in Shenandoah National Park is that you are never really too far from civilization. If you need something, all you have to do is walk a few miles, and you will find a road, trail, or visitor center.

If you are looking for a more primeval camping experience, I recommend camping in the backcountry. Just be prepared for the possibility of bears (or any other wildlife) wandering through your campsite.

I would also recommend bringing a bear canister if you are camping in the backcountry.

Other North East U.S. States – Boondocking, Free RV Parking & Camping Spots

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History of the Shenandoah National Park

It was fashioned in 1935 to enact the legislation that established the national park program near the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. The creation of this national park was a decade-long effort coordinated by state politicians and conservationists. During this time, the proposal to establish a federal commission within the Department of the Interior to oversee the national parks gained widespread support.

This proposal was approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and on August 10th, 1937, just two months before the Shenandoah National Park would open its gates to visitors for the first time, it became part of the newly created National Park Service.
Before being established as a national park, the Shenandoah National Park’s land was primarily logged and farmed. The park’s establishment has helped restore the area to a more natural state.

Today, over 500,000 people visit the Shenandoah National Park each year to enjoy its scenic beauty and outdoor activities. There are over 500 miles of One of the great things about the Shenandoah National Park is that it has free campsites. There are roughly 100 different campsites in the park, each with its own fire pit, picnic table and access to bathrooms.

What’s even better about these free campsites is you do not need a reservation; simply arrive at your desired camp around dusk and pitch your tent. You also do not need to be disquiet about paying the campsite fee; it’s free!

11 Free Shenandoah National Park Boondocking Locations

1. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking – Blue Ridge Pkwy North Entrance

Address
Lyndhurst, Virginia
GPS: 38.032691, -78.857905
Elevation: 1903′

Management (Unofficial)

There is an abandoned restaurant that will work as a Shenandoah National Park boondocking, it has an orange tile roof, parking around it is free, no signs, often used by hikers and bikers. I have stayed overnight here a number of times in the last 4 years. It is on hwy. 76, (off hwy. 250) the entrance to Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Pkwy. There is a visitors center 1/4 mile away, up on a hill above here, with maps, restroom, and free WiFi. The freeway is also nearby so there is that noise.

2. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking Locations – C.F. Phelps WMA

Address
Sumerduck, Virginia
GPS: 38.465637, -77.750008
Elevation: 347′

Management Public – Fish and Wildlife Service (Official)

C.F. Phelps WMA is open Year Round. There are 16-29 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 Days at C.F. Phelps WMA. $4 per day for a day pass, $23 for a yearly pass, or one of the acceptable licenses/waivers. More information below. Most of the management area’s 4,539 acres are in southern Fauquier County with the balance being in Culpeper County. This was one of our favorite Shenandoah National Park camping spots.

3. Shenandoah National Park Camping Spots – Rapidan WMA

Address
Culpeper, Virginia
GPS: 38.42173, -78.406632
Elevation: 1562′

Management Public – Fish and Wildlife Service (Official)

Rapidan WMA is open Year Round. You may stay 14 Days at Rapidan WMA. $4 per day for a day pass, $23 for a yearly pass, or one of the acceptable licenses/waivers. More information below. The area consists of 10,326 acres broken into eight separate tracts distributed along the east slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison and Greene Counties. Four of these tracts adjoin Shenandoah National Park and share nearly 25 miles of boundary.

4. Shenandoah National Park RV Parking – Dry Run

Address
Hinton, Virginia
GPS: 38.564991, -79.08806
Elevation: 1978′

Management Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Paved. There are 1-5 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 days at Dry Run. Good campsite along teh dry river, about a 5 minute walk from the side of route 33 in George Washington national forest. Perfect for large groups or by yourself. parking along road.

5. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking – Slate Lick Fields

Address
Fulks Run, Virginia
GPS: 38.605652, -78.957977
Elevation: 1445′

Management Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Unofficial)

Located within the North River Ranger District of Virginia’s George Washington National Forest.
GPS and map location are approximate. A three word submission with a location somewhere in the arctic circle was submitted. I was able to locate the area I believe they were trying to submit.

6. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking Locations – Narrow Gate Farm

Address
Amissville, Virginia
GPS: 38.6715, -77.9956
Elevation: 512′

Management Private – Privately Owned Farm (Official)

Our working farm is located in the middle of many local wineries, Washington D.C. is 60 miles east of us, there are many Caverns within 40 miles of us and Skyline Drive is about 30 miles away. Many Civil War battlefield attractions are nearby. Monticello and Montpelier are both within an hours drive.

7. Shenandoah National Park Camping Spots – South Fork Shenandoah River

Address
Luray, Virginia
GPS: 38.770537, -78.391351
Elevation: 705′

Management Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Gravel and 7 miles from a paved road. South Fork Shenandoah River is open Year Round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 at South Fork Shenandoah River. This location is in Luray, Virginia. There is 5-6 campsites with a bathroom (2 non-flush toilets). These campsites are located at mile marker number 13 on the river. The river is good for tubing during the summer and fishing when the season is in.

8. Shenandoah National Park RV Parking – Dispersed on Crisman Hollow

Address
Luray, Virginia
GPS: 38.69034, -78.58193
Elevation: 2005′

Management Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Gravel. There are 6-15 campsites at this location. Multiple primitive sites along a nice creek. most are walk ups with large boulders and signs blocking drive up but have fire rings and plenty of tent space. Spread out with lots of privacy. We didn’t stay here but passed by while exploring the Forest.

9. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking – Wolf Gap

Address
Columbia Furnace, Virginia
GPS: 38.924095, -78.68866
Elevation: 2236′

Management Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)

Wolf Gap is open Year Round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 Days at Wolf Gap. Enjoy a wooded retreat on the Virginia and West Virginia state lines. Once the site of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, Wolf Gap F-3, this campground provides 9 campsites complete with tent pad, picnic table and fire ring.

10. Shenandoah National Park Boondocking Locations – Columbia Furnace Boondock

Address
Woodstock, Virginia
GPS: 38.91471, -78.62722
Elevation: 1552′

Management Public – Forest Service (Unofficial)

This is a large gravel lot owned by the state forest service as part of George Washington National Forest. Likely fits 5+ large RVs. Plenty of space and less than 5 miles to town. Very friendly forest rangers and completely legal. Lots of smaller campsites along the main forest road. Plenty of space for everone

11. Shenandoah National Park Camping Spots – Little Fort

Address
Woodstock, Virginia
GPS: 38.867289, -78.444355
Elevation: 1375′

Management Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)

Little Fort is open Year Round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 Days at Little Fort. Little Fort is a minimally developed recreation area near the meadow that was once a rest stop for a stagecoach line. There are 9 campsites and vault toilets. No water is available, please bring your own.

Top 8 Trails to Hike at Shenandoah National Park

1. Old Rag Mountain Hike

This pretty trail is on Old Rag Mountain, one of the most prevalent hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It has some problematic elements, but it isn’t too difficult to complete. You aren’t want to miss this one if you are an avid hiker.

The hike begins at the parking lot, where there is also a restroom. From there, you will take the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag Mountain.

A few spots can be a bit challenging, but it’s nothing you can’t handle if you are in good shape. The views from the summit are humbly astounding and well worth the effort.

After taking in the views, you will begin your descent via the Saddle Trail. This is a fairly steep descent and can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. However, there are plenty of places where you can stop and rest without feeling too tired out.

Once you make it to the end, take a break and enjoy lunch before returning to Old Rag Mountain via the same route you came down.

The Old Rag Mountain hike should take you around 4-5 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop and rest or take pictures. The walk isn’t easy, but it sure is worth it! This is a moderate difficulty trail that shouldn’t be missed.

Length: 15.3 km
Elevation gain: 818 m
Route type: Loop

Hiking, Forest, River, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Rocky, Scramble, Fee, No dogs

2. Mary’s Rock Summit Trail

This hike is a pretty moderate one, and it’s located just outside of the town of Sperryville. You start at the Mary’s Rock Trailhead and eventually make your way up to the summit, where you will be treated to some mighty panoramic views.

To get to the trail, you take Route 211 and turn onto Route 22. The trailhead is on the right. There is a small parking lot, and it can get crowded on the weekends, so you may have to park a little way down the road.

The hike up to the summit is about 4 miles round trip, and it’s a bit steep in some areas, but nothing you can’t handle if you are in average shape.

Once you are at the summit, you’ll have some people selling hot dogs and drinks near the parking lot. It’s a great place to stop to eat before heading back down since it’s pretty close to the trailhead.

The Mary’s Rock Summit hike should take between 2-3 hours to complete. The views are definitely worth it, though! It isn’t too tricky, but it is long, so be prepared.

Length: 3.4 mi
Elevation gain: 1,210 ft
Route type: Out & back

Dogs on leash, Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Walking, Bird watching, Running, Forest, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Rocky, Fee

3. Appalachian Trail

If you want to try a long hike, this is for you. It starts from Springer Mountain in Georgia and goes up to Maine. When it’s completed, it will be over 2000 miles long!

The Appalachian Trail is a pretty rugged trail with some steep sections. Luckily, there are lodgings along the way, so you don’t have to carry a tent if you don’t want to. These are also lovely places to stop and take breaks before continuing on your way.

The path will take you entirely some time, so be prepared for this one. You can either get a quick start or stay overnight at the shelters if you think you will make it to the next one by dusk.

This trail is definitely not for beginners, but you will love it if you are an experienced hiker. The sights are simply amazing, and you will get to see a lot of different parts of the country.

Length: 115.5 mi
Elevation gain: 22,765 ft
Route type: Point to point

Dogs on leash, Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Bird watching, Running, Forest, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Fee

4. Cedar Run Trail

One of the lesser-known trails at Shenandoah National Park is definitely worth checking out. It’s perfect for day hikers looking to get outside and enjoy nature without having to do too much work.

To get to the trailhead, you take Road 211 North from Sperryville. Then you turn onto Route 743, and you will see the trailhead parking lot on the left.

The Cedar Run Trail is about 6 miles round trip, so it’s pretty long but definitely not too difficult. It follows Cedar Creek until you get to the Potomac River, where there are some great places to set up camp or have lunch before turning back.

There are plenty of options for different side trails that you can take, so you could quickly increase or decrease your hike by however much you want.

You can also stop at the campgrounds located close to the trailhead if you are looking to stay overnight instead. Either way, this is an admirable trail with lots of history behind it!

The Cedar Run Trail hike should take between 3-5 hours, depending on how often you stop and rest or go off the main trail. The views are amazing, though! It isn’t too difficult but it is pretty long so be prepared.

Length: 5.8 mi
Elevation gain: 2,247 ft
Route type: Out & back

Hiking, Beach, River, Views, Waterfall, Wildlife, Rocky, Fee, No dogs

5. Skyline Drive Trail

This one is definitely a must if you want to explore Shenandoah National Park in depth. You can park your car on the flank of Skyline Drive and start at any spot you want. It’s usually best to pick a trail close to the park, but it doesn’t really matter too much.

Some good places to check out are Doyles River Overlook Trail or Cedar Run Falls, which are perfect for hiking. There are many other great trails to choose from along Skyline Drive, so be sure to do your research beforehand.

Depending on how often you stop and rest, the Skyline Drive Trail should take about an hour or two to complete. It isn’t too tricky but keep in mind that it is long, so be prepared!

Length: 33.8 mi
Elevation gain: 3,792 ft
Route type: Point to point

Dogs on leash, Kid friendly, Road biking, Scenic driving, Forest, Views, Fee

6. Limberlost Trail

This one is perfect for people looking to get out on the water. The Limberlost Trail follows along the Rapidan River, which means you can stop and fish wherever you want!

To get to the trailhead, you would take Route 211 from Sperryville and turn onto Route 613 South. Continue following Route 613 until you reach the parking lot on the right.

The Limberlost Trail is about 8 miles round trip, but it’s pretty easy since you are following a river. There are many great plugs to stop and rest or have lunch, so this makes for a perfect day hike!

Be sure to check out the Doyles River Overlook Trail while in the area. It’s a great trail that offers fantastic views of the river below.

Subject on how often you stop and fish, the Limberlost Trail should take around 3-5 hours to complete. This is a perfect trail for people who want to relax and enjoy nature!

Length: 1.3 mi
Elevation gain: 98 ft
Route type: Loop

Wheelchair friendly, Kid friendly, Stroller friendly, Hiking, Walking, Bird watching, Forest, Partially paved, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Fee, No dogs

7. South River Falls Trail

The trailhead is behind the picnic area, and there is plenty of parking. The hike up to South River Falls starts out with some easy terrain, but it quickly becomes more difficult. The falls are definitely worth the walk, though, and you’ll be able to enjoy them from a few different angles

This is an outstanding hike for those looking for judicious to rugged roads with plenty of scenery. The South River Falls Trail is located in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park, and it’s definitely worth the trip.

To get to the trailhead, you take US 211 and turn onto Route 662. You will see the South River Picnic Area on the right, where you can park your car. This is a great place to use the restroom or buy snacks and water if you need them before starting your hike.

The hike should take between 2-4 hours, depending on how difficult you want it to be. It is about 7 miles round trip, so it’s not too bad, but it can be challenging at times.

Length: 2.4 mi
Elevation gain: 754 ft
Route type: Out & back

Dogs on leash, Hiking, Forest, River, Waterfall, Wildlife, Fee

8. Jones Run Falls Trailhead

To get to the trailhead, you take US 211 and turn onto Route 662. You will see the South River Picnic Area on the right, where you can park your car. It is a grand residence to stop and use the restroom or buy snacks and water if you need them before starting your hike.

This is another great hike for those looking for a temperate to the muggy trail with plenty of scenery. The Jones Run Falls Trailhead is located in the northern part of Shenandoah National Park, and it’s definitely worth the trip.

The trailhead is behind the picnic area, and there is plenty of parking. The hike up Jones Run starts out with an easy path to the falls, but it quickly becomes more difficult. The falls are definitely worth the trek, though, and you’ll be able to enjoy them from a few different angles.

The hike should take between 2-4 hours, depending on how difficult you want it to be. It is about 7 miles round trip, so it’s not too bad, but it can be challenging at times. Be prepared for a few steep rises and descents! All in all, this is definitely one of the best trails to hike at Shenandoah National Park!

There are definitely plenty of great trails to choose from when hiking at Shenandoah National Park. These are pretty a few of our favorites, but be sure to do your research before heading out and pick the trail that’s right for you! The hikes are definitely worth it!

Length: 4.5 mi
Elevation gain: 1,272 ft
Route type: Out & back

Dogs on leash, Kid friendly, Hiking, Walking, River, Views, Waterfall, Wildlife, Fee

Places and 10 Things to Do and See in Shenandoah National Park

In Shenandoah National Park, there is so much to see and do that you could spend a week exploring the park.

Luckily for those who have not had a week off of work or school recently, we managed to fit in 10 of our favorite places and activities into only three days. Below we will tell you about these places and activities and encourage you to visit and experience these Shenandoah National Park gems for yourself!

If you’re looking for a place with wild natural scenery and plenty of things to do, Shenandoah National Park is the perfect destination. There are countless hiking trails to explore, miles of biking trails, beautiful waterfalls, and so much more. Here are 10 things we enjoyed during our visit to Shenandoah National Park:

1. Hiking the Trails

There are over 500 miles of hiking streams in Shenandoah National Park, so there is definitely a trail for everyone. We hiked the Old Rag Trail, and it was definitely a challenge! The path is 8.6 miles long and has a steady incline pretty much the whole way.

This hike is definitely not for beginners. We had to use our hands in several places to make it up some of the rock formations along the trail, but we could see how this would be a really great workout! We saw a few people who had to turn around because they didn’t have gloves, and their hands were pretty torn up from the rocks! I would recommend wearing gloves if you do a hike like this.

2. Biking the Trails

Biking is a great way to sightsee the park and see all the sights. The trails are well maintained, and there are plenty of them, so you can find one that fits your skill level. We rented bikes from Big Meadows Lodge and rode on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. The trail was beautiful, with waterfalls and lots of greenery. There were also plenty of other hikers and riders on the course.

3 Driving Skyline Drive

If you only have time for one bustle in Shenandoah National Park, make it a drive on Skyline Drive. The drive is 105 miles long and goes through the heart of the park. You will get to see stunning views of the mountains and valleys. There are also entirely of places to stop and explore along the way. We stopped at a few of our favorite spots, including Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Mountain, and Hogback Overlook.

4 Visiting Waterfalls

Shenandoah National Park is home to some breathtaking waterfalls. We visited Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Mountain and Upper Rose River Falls and each one was stunning in its own way. All falls are easily accessible from Skyline Drive or the park’s many hiking trails. We hope you get a chance to visit Shenandoah National Park soon. It is absolutely a residence that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

5. Horseback Riding

We didn’t get a chance to do this, but we definitely want to do it next time we are in the park. There are plenty of stables that offer horseback riding tours through the park. It would be an enjoyable way to see the park and explore some inaccessible areas by car or foot. Campgrounds in Shenandoah NP

6. Picknick by Skyline Drive

One of our favorites was Big Meadows, which is right by Skyline Drive and has plenty of grassy areas for picnicking and several trails taken through the meadow. We also really liked Lewis Mountain since it had the perfect view of the mountains.

7. Stargazing

The sky is so dark and clear, and you can see so many stars! We were fortunate and could see a meteor shower one of the nights we were there.

8. Birdwatching

This park is a superb abode to do some birdwatching!

We saw many different types of birds during our visit, but there are almost 300 species recorded within the park. Two of the most common species are ospreys and blue herons, so keep an eye out for those guys!

9. Swimming in the lake

One of the best things about Shenandoah National Park is its charming lake where you can go swimming! The water was really refreshing, and it was a great way to cool off after a hot day of hiking. There are also some great places to ease on the beach or take a paddleboat out for a spin. We had a lot of fun swimming in the lake and would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the park!

10. Camping at Big Meadows

We really enjoyed camping at Big Meadows Campground. It is located right on the edge of a meadow with lots of trails that can be hiked through, making it really easy to explore! The campgrounds are relatively small and offer some privacy since they aren’t packed together like sardines. There is also a general store on-site, which is really handy.

The park offers something for everyone, whether you’re interested in the great outdoors, want to go for a walk and enjoy some stunning scenery, or simply want to do some stargazing. The park has something for everyone and is perfect for those of us who love nature like my hubby and me!


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