Shenandoah National Park is a perfect getaway for families. Located 90 miles west of Washington DC, the park offers miles of hiking, scenic drives, family friendly accommodations and 4 campgrounds.
To celebrate the weekend our family decided to skip the crowds at the beach and head to the mountains. We reserved a campsite, packed up our gear and headed out for an adventure.
The park is only about a 90-minute drive from the metro DC area, depending on traffic.
What to Expect
Our destination for the weekend was the Big Meadows Campground.
Big Meadows Campground was the first campground established in Shenandoah National Park in 1937.
The Big Meadows area is one of the more developed in the park with a lodge, restaurant, amphitheater, Visitor’s Center, camp store and campground all located within the complex.
Everything is quite spread out which leaves the campground still feeling like a wilderness area. There are walking trails between all of the separate facilities so that you can set up camp and leave your car behind for a while.
After checking in and setting up our tent, my girls (ages 4 and 5) were anxious to explore. Using the map that we received from registration we made our way along the .9 mile trail from the campground to the Byrd Visitors Center.
The Visitors Center was not as hands on for kids as I had hoped but did have a large bookstore with many kids books on nature that provided some downtime (the rangers did not seem to mind them sitting and looking through them).
A movie theater shows a short film about the creation of the park, also not that kid friendly but there are a lot of shots of park wildlife in the film which kept the kids interested.
The next parking lot down from the Visitor’s Center is the camp store known as the Wayside. Here they sell any camp equipment you may have forgotten (bug spray, fuel for the camp stove etc.) along with groceries, diapers and beer and wine.
A souvenir section sells a good assortment of rainy day activities like puzzles, crafts and card games. There is also a small grill here which serves food like hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. The restrooms at the Visitors Center all have changing tables.
While all of the facilities in Big Meadow are an added bonus, the real star of the show for our family was the great outdoors.
Within the campground itself there is an area with pay showers ($1 for 5 minutes) and to buy ice and wood. No outside wood is allowed in Shenandoah National Park.
Cords of wood cost $5.25 which is sufficient for a small fire to burn for 2-3 hours.
The campground has 8 restroom facilities, all with flush toilets and running water but no changing stations.
The restrooms themselves seemed well cared for though the floors were a bit gritty by the end of the weekend.
Rounding out the facilities at the Big Meadow area are a lodge and an amphitheater.
The amphitheater hosts weekend evening campfire programs as well as weekday events such as Birds of Prey, where you can meet live raptors.
Camping & Cabins
The campground at Big Meadow has many tall trees and the areas separating the campsites are full of tall grasses and wildflowers.
The sites themselves are basic but spacious, providing a picnic table, fire pit and a parking spot. No more than two cars or two tents are allowed per site.
There are 210 sites throughout the campground, most of which can be reserved ahead of time.
Loop A is for tents only and is a “generator free zone”. The rest of the campground is a mix of tents and RVs though no electric hookups are available. The weekend of our stay we saw mostly tents throughout the campground.
The sites are spaced so that you have some privacy but you can definitely still see (and hear) your neighbors.
The campground posts quiet hours of 10pm to 6am.
We did not have any problem with noisy neighbors, though this will probably vary based on who winds up next to you.
The lodge has hotel and cabin rooms available as well as a dining room and taproom which provide nightly family friendly entertainment. I can’t vouch for either as we spent the night toasting marshmallows at our campsite.
We took a hike in the morning to Dark Hollow Falls.
We got a big surprise along the way to the parking area when we came across a bear in a tree right on the side of the road!
The trail is shady but steep and heads down .7 miles to a 70 foot waterfall. The girls loved taking pictures of the falls and watching the brook trout swim in the shallow pools below.
The hike back up is a bit strenuous but short. The promise of leftover marshmallows got us back to the car without too much whining.
As if on cue it began to rain when we got back to the car after finishing the hike. As we drove back out along Skyline Drive we caught a glimpse of a mama dear and her newborn fawn crossing the road ahead.
Minutes after that the kids passed out in the backseat, exhausted from the fresh air, hiking and the late night by the fire. We got to enjoy the 90 minute drive back home in peace and quiet…the icing on the cake of a great night camping out in Shenandoah.
Campsite pricing at the campground is as follows:
Nonelectric Campsite: $75 per group (7-15 people)
Standard Nonelectric Campsite: $30 (6 people or 1 RV)
Hours & When to Go
Big Meadows Campground hours are:
March 25 – November 10
Monday – Sunday: Open 24 Hours
November 11 – March 24
Monday – Sunday: Closed
They are closed on holidays including: New Years Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Good to Know Before You go
- Maximum number of stay is 30 days
- Check out time is 12:00pm
- If you will need a generator, make sure to book the sites that are not designated as “generator-free” as generators are prohibited otherwise.
- You may only use the generator from 8:00am to 10:00am and from 4:00pm to 7:00pm
- The sites post quiet hours from 10:00pm to 6:00am
- Feeding the wildlife is illegal
Big Meadows Campground is located on Skyline Dr in Stanley Virginia at milepost 51.2.
The parking lot of this hike fills up quickly on weekends. When we arrived at 10am we were the fifth car in the lot. When we finished the hike around 11:30 the lot was full.
Things to Do Near Big Meadows Campground
- The campground is located 1 mile from one of the park’s most popular short hikes: Dark Hollow Falls (you can also walk there using the same trail as you take to get to the Visitor’s Center but we felt our kids could not handle the additional distance)
- Explore Luray Caverns
- Hike to the waterfall at Dark Hollow Falls
- See antique & vintage cars at the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum
- Take a guided tour of Shenandoah Caverns
- Soar through the air at Bear Mountain Ziplines
- Visit the rescued animals at Luray Zoo