Fall Tips for Camping in Shenandoah National Park
We took a midweek camping trip this past week. It may look like it was for the kids, but really it was for me. We started school in early August so by mid October I was very much in need of a break. I think we all were. We needed a reminder about why we're homeschooling and in some ways, if you can't go camping mid week, why are you homeschooling?!
With leave on the books and a very packed car we headed towards Shenandoah National Park. This National Park seems to be our go-to for camping but we are far from mastering it. However, this post will hopefully help some families who want to camp with kids know some good trails and spots to go!
Once you get into the park it takes some time to get into the campsites. We stayed at Big Meadow for the second time and really like it. We've stayed here before and walked around the campground enough to figure out which spots we'd want to reserve in the future. We got a spot close to the hillside so you really do feel like you're camping in the mountains. If you look on a map, look around site 187 and your fire pit will be right on the edge, looking out into the trees and forest! There is a little trail down there so it's still kid-friendly and no need to fear kids going down any hillside! Bathrooms are within walking distance as well. No showers in those, but no one was showering with temps at 39 when we arrived! Many spots have showers you can pay for near the camp store.
We've stayed at the group site at Matthews Arm which is very nice for camping with friends! We have friends who love Lewis Mountain but haven't stayed there. We did drive through it this time and it would be good to see in the summer. From what I understand it's closer to some watering holes which would be fun for summer camping.
If you go up to Skyland there's a lodge with a restaurant and very beautiful views. We've walked around it before, but not on this trip. I remember in the summer hearing that you could go horseback riding from there so that's definitely something to look into if you go in warmer months!
Learn from our mistake: Always talk to the Park Ranger and be clear about your stamina! In the past we've camped with friends and went on hikes that were too long, too steep, and overall not ideal for our crew of kids from 4 to 12. We learned from that mistake and this time it was recommended that we do two hikes, Story of the Forest and then another 2 mile loop that brought us to a lookout from the Upper Hawksbill Trailhead.
Story of the Forest Trail took us from our campsite down to the visitor center where the Ranger told us a presentation would be happening on bears! Homeschool science class, check! The boys learned some new facts and overall I slept better knowing how scared of us bears really are. We were sure to follow the guidance we learned, like my youngest yelling, "bear we're in your property!" on every hike after that.
That hike and time at the visitor center filled our afternoon and with daylight fading we got back to the campsite, played a bit of a game then started dinner. We were able to be all cleaned up and the kids were ready for some uno in the tent by seven! Thankfully the winds died down and we all slept much better the second night. This is why we always go camping for two nights, don't put in all the work for one!
On our last day there we packed up in the morning then decided to take the boys for a short hike again before heading out. We went to the Upper Hawksbill Trailhead and did the 2 mile round trip hike up to a lookout then back. It was not all an incline and though it was super cloudy it was still a fun experience for the kids.
All in all, a fun break and nice time. Next year I'd go earlier in the month, but still mid-week!