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October 05, 2020 3 min read

By Colleen Goldhorn 

Unlike out West, finding true solitude within nature can be hard to find in the Eastern US. This makes places like Shenandoah National Park a true treasure among the bustling cities and crowded streets found up and down the coast.

From picturesque summits to raging waterfalls, this park has everything needed for the perfect wilderness escape. Although both tent and RV camping is allowed in neighboring towns, a backcountry camping trip is truly the best way to get an intimate experience with the rolling mountains and lush green forests that make up the park.


Source: Mark David shenandoah-valley-virginia-fall

Looking for the best way to go about planning your backcountry adventure within this East Coast oasis? We’ve got you covered:

First Things First, Get Your Permit

All backcountry campers need to obtain a permit from the park before embarking on their trip. Permits are free, and can be found at park entrance stations, waysides, and gift shops. Hiker’s must keep their permits visible at all times when both traveling and camping in the backcountry, so it’s wise to attach it to the outside of your pack when hiking, and then displaying it on the outside of your tent while sleeping.

Route Options:

With the Appalachian Trail running through 105 miles of the park, most backpackers will be using the trail at some point in their hike. Hikers are not just limited to this single trail though: with 516 total miles of trail to choose from, hikers can make their own routes by combining popular trails, and stitching them all together into one spectacular backcountry adventure. Some of the most popular backcountry destinations are South River Falls,Big Run Portal, Hawksbilll Summit, and Old Rag Mountain.

What’s Up With The Park’s Backcountry Huts?

If you plan on backpacking on the park’s massive section of the Appalachian Trail, you may notice a few backcountry huts on your map. These huts are three-sided wooden structures that are free to sleep in for all hikers in the park. The shelters are first-come-first serve, and typically sleep about 8-10 hikers (with some being larger, and some being slightly smaller). If you arrive too late, then no worries. Shelters typically have campsites spread out in the surrounding area that are also free to stay at.

Have Knowledge of Proper Food Storage

Shenandoah is home to one of the highest concentrations of Black Bears on the East Coast. Although most of these bears are afraid of people, they tend to be courageous when it comes to stealing hiker’s food. It’s imperative to properly store your food while camping in the park, and to remove all “smellables” from your tent before zipping up for the night. Backcountry huts in the park offer bear boxes, bear poles, and bear cables to help with food storage, but it’s always a good idea to bring a good ol’ fashion bear bag just in case all the storage options are full when you arrive.

Bring The Right Gear

In addition to the standard backpacking gear list, it’s important to bring a rain jacket, rain fly, and pack cover on your trip... even if the forecast looks clear. The East Coast is known for being wet and rainy at all times of year, and nothing ruins a trip like all of your gear getting soaked. It’s also important to bring a proper map and guidebook. If hiking along the Appalachian Trail,  AWOL’s AT Guide is a popular choice, as well as the app Guthook Guides. If taking a different route through the backcountry, the  National Geographic map of the park will be your best friend!

Do You Need A Shuttle Driver?

Although the park doesn’t offer a shuttle service for backpackers, there are a handful of private companies who offer rides to hikers in the area. Most shuttle drivers in the area specialize in the Appalachian Trail, but are willing to give a ride to just about any trailhead you have in mind. There are multiple places online to look for shuttle drivers, but a few of the most popular lists can be found  here and  here. Also check out the latest  AWOL Appalachian Trail Guide for an up-to-date shuttle list for all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. 

Shenandoah National Park stands as a true oasis among the large cities of the East Coast. With hundreds of miles of rolling green mountains and an abundance of wildlife, this park is the perfect place for a backcountry camping trip to truly connect with nature and escape the hustle and bustle of coastal city life.