Fall Camping in the Shenandoah

pa139809aaWhen we came out to the east coast we headed straight to Assateague National Seashore, but weren’t able to stay there. For one thing, Hurricane Matthew had dumped 16 inches of rain the week before, and even though it’s all sand, the island was still waterlogged, and a third of the campsites were flooded. More importantly, the first come first served season had been pushed back from October 15 to November 1, so weekends were still booked solid. Too many people chasing too few campsites – welcome to the east coast. After a couple of nights, we headed inland to explore the Shenandoah Valley, where we had never camped before.

pa209852aWe headed south down the DelMarVa peninsula, overnighted at the rest area on the north end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (right by the toll booths, maximum stay 48 hours), fought our way through the Fleet Week traffic in Norfolk/Hampton Roads, and headed east on Interstate 64. This is a hotbed of historical locations – Yorktown, Williamsburg, and many Civil War sites such as the Seven Days battlefield and Cold Harbor. Only 100 miles separated the capitals during the Civil War, and both armies had to invest considerable resources in defending their capital and maneuvering to try to capture their opponents’.

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Even Walmarts have beautiful fall foliage- Waynesboro, VA.

Our overnight destination was Waynesboro near Shenadoah National Park, where we overnighted at the Walmart and provisioned up for a few days up in the mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway is just east of town, so the next morning we headed north, waved our Senior Pass at the ranger at the park entrance, and drove up through the changing leaves and enjoyed breathtaking views, east over the coastal plains and west over the Shenandoah Valley, to the first big campground, Loft Mountain. It’s only 25 miles, but takes nearly a hour because of the winding road. They had spots – most of the campground is first come first serve.

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The Appalachian Trail behind our campsite, so close you could hear the hikers huffing and puffing.

I grabbed a spot for the first night and had my eye out for a better one, and sure enough one of the spots right on the rim opened up the next morning. The Appalachian Trail went right by it, and every sunset we had a beautiful view west over the valley. Loft Mountain has water and a dump, but no hookups, so the park rangers were busy yelling at people running noisy generators. I also saw the bear truck come by – a special truck with a giant section of culvert pipe mounted in the bed, with a big door on the end. I didn’t inquire closely, but wasn’t really worried either – I was surrounded by tent campers hiking the Trail, so I figured the  bears would be stuffed by the time they got to me.

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Our campsite at Loft Mountain.

The weather was interesting – we stayed maybe ten days, and it was warm and sunny at first, but then a front blew through. One thing about being up on the Blue Ridge – we were literally on the top of the ridge – is that you get a front row seat for any weather traveling east-west across the country. We had wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour, and most of the leaves on the trees disappeared overnight. I never lost satellite signal because my dishes were weighted down with heavy rocks and tied to stakes, the picnic table, and other handy stationary objects.

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Raccoon Run Campground – nobody here.

After the front blew through, my handy NOAA point forecast weather website showed highs around 60 for the next week – too cold for me.  We packed up and headed south down the Shenandoah Valley on Interstate 81 a couple of hundred miles to another campground I had found online Raccoon Run, near Sugar Grove, VA. This was more my style – nobody there but the campground host, who was there mainly for handy access to the national forest during hunting season. We stayed there a few more days in blessed relative solitude before heading southeast on Interstate 26, out of the Shenandoah and back to the flatlands.

 




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  • Jonathan Clement

    Thanks for your article. I camped in a tent at the Loft Mountain Campground during my 1974 thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. It was my one and only encounter with a bear which pulled down a bag of food I had hanging from a tree.

  • Gene Bjerke

    Gene, the nit-picker here. When you were in Loft Mountain, what you were on was the Skyline

    Drive (part of Shenandoah NP). The Blue Ridge Parkway runs south of the entrance station for another 469 miles. You need to come back and spend some time on the BRP, it has lots to offer.

    When we were in Loft Mountain last summer, a bear strolled across the road from behind our camp site, paying no notice to the people (like myself) who were around. We live near the Blue Ridge, and the only times we have seen bears were in Shenandoah NP, though they are all through the Blue Ridge.

    We are fans of yours and follow your adventures. If you come back to this area, give us a call (757-876-4521), we can put you up on the farm.