Camping at Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park

While Big Meadows Campground is not the largest in Shenandoah National Park, it is arguably the most popular. With numerous hiking trails, the scenic meadow, a visitor center, and wayside all in one place, campers find this to be a central place and good base camp. I’ve camped here since I was able to walk and most recently visited in July 2012.

Access

Big Meadows is located at mile 51.2 on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. It is in the Park’s central district, about 12 miles north from the Swift Run Gap entrance on US-33, or about 20 miles south of the entrance at Thornton Gap on US-211. These two entrances book-end the central district. The fee for entering the Park is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

Campground

There are over 200 campsites, most of which are available by reservation. Some campsites tend to be close together with little privacy, while others can be quite spacious. The sites are fairly open and visible. Each site has a paved drive, picnic table, and fire ring. The level spot for tents is mostly dirt with sparse grass and rocks, which can occasionally be painful on bare feet inside the tent. Paved drives for RVs are usually pretty level, but there are no electric or water hookups.

Sites 1 to 53 are tent only, walk-to sites with a central parking lot. These sites, as well as most of A-loop and all of B-loop are in a generator-free zone. Recently I stayed at B106, a smaller site, and probably only heard one distant generator the entire weekend.

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Bathhouses are located throughout the campground, with two sinks and two toilets on each male and female side. Around the back side of the bathhouse is an oversized sink for dumping used water, but it will not handle food scraps and it is advised to wash dishes at your campsite, disposing of food in the trash. Dumpsters and recycling are sporadically available in the campground and may require driving.

Facilities

On site at the campground are shower and laundry facilities, a store for wood and ice, wayside and restaurant, visitor center, and lodge. The visitor center, wayside, and restaurant are at the entrance to Big Meadows on Skyline Drive. Here they sell gifts and souvenirs, camp equipment and supplies, and gas.

Up the drive into the campground are the showers, wood, ice, and laundry. Showers cost $1 for five minutes. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time but it’s plenty, and the water is hot with good water pressure. And while $1 may seem ridiculous, remember that the cost of building and maintaining these water systems in a National Park is pretty high. Wood costs about $5 for a bundle with six pieces, and ice is about $2 a bag.

Farther up the drive is the main lodge, where they rent rooms and cabins.

Hiking

Several hiking trails originate in or near the Big Meadows area. The Appalachian Trail meanders right above the campground’s upper E-loop, accessible from a side trail in this section. Lewis Falls Trail is a popular, moderate 3.3-mile loop from the picnic area parking lot to an 81-foot waterfall with an observation point. It is extremely rocky and downhill all the way to the falls, which of course means it’s uphill all the way back.

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Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a short but strenuous 1.4-mile hike to a 70-foot waterfall, starting just north of Big Meadows on Skyline Drive. Visitors are free to wander the various animal and foot paths through the meadow across Skyline Drive from the Big Meadows entrance.

Wildlife

It’s not uncommon for animals to wander through the campground, just keep your distance and don’t feed them. On a trip in July 2012, a large buck came through my site on a Sunday morning when the campground was still full. During the same trip, I saw a group of does and a fawn in a different section, and an adolescent black bear in the grass beside the road between the wayside and the campground. There are berry bushes in the meadow that attract bears as well. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and skunks also make appearances in the campground.

Tips

Weekends are busy! The campground was full on a non-holiday weekend in July, and plan on that being the case from spring wildflowers to fall foliage. Plan ahead and make reservations online at recreation.gov, or by phone at 1-877-444-6777.

-Campsites are $20/night during peak season, $17/night during early spring and late fall. Group sites are available for $45/night. The campground and Skyline Drive are closed in the winter.

– Elevation is around 3,500 feet at Big Meadows. Daytime can be warm, with chilly nights. At times, fog (or more accurately, a cloud) can envelope the area for days.

– The road weaving through the campsites is one-way only. Most sites require vehicles to back in.

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-Try to avoid buying gas at the Big Meadows gas station. It is way more expensive than filling up outside the park, sometimes up to $0.50 more per gallon.

-Bring cash for showers, laundry, wood, and ice.

-Do not bring outside firewood. The Park is trying to contain and reduce the damage done by invasive insects that piggy-back on outside wood and end up destroying trees and other plants in the park.

Resources
Big Meadows Campground Map (pdf)
Big Meadows Road and Trail Map (pdf)