Off the Blue Ridge Parkway and into Shenandoah National Park
Editor's note: As our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, continue on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System, they get to sample some of the best lodging, food, and camping there is to be had. This dispatch came from their first night in Shenandoah National Park.
Following a Thursday stay at Peaks of Otter Lodge, we drove north under blue skies to the terminus of the parkway at Waynesboro, Virginia. We decided to drive down the mountain into town for a few groceries, gasoline ($2.42 compared to $2.78 that we would find in Shenandoah NP), and a stop at the public library to email Kurt the Peaks of Otter story.
After entering Shenandoah National Park and driving 25 miles north on Skyline Drive, we stopped in mid-afternoon at Loft Mountain for our second night of camping. It has been nearly two decades since we last camped at Loft Mountain and we had forgotten how great a location it is to spend the night. We have camped in most of the national parks and can’t remember a more attractive Park Service campground. The 202 sites are widely spaced and surrounded with bushes and trees that offer privacy to campers. Kay nearly needed medication after discovering the bathroom had hot water. Hot water in a Park Service campground bathroom! What a great idea!
We had worried the campground would be full on a Friday night, but that was not the case, with only about half the campsites occupied. The ranger said that so far this year the campground had only filled on Memorial Day weekend. The campground has a designated generator-free area, a real plus for tenters. We appreciated this but always thought it more sensible to designate a small area where generators could be used rather than a small area where generators could not be operated.
Most camping experiences include getting to know other travelers. The couple across the way was from De Moines, Iowa, and had recently retired. They were touring the Eastern U.S. in a vintage red Mustang. While walking by the neighboring site we passed within ten feet of a deer standing in the road watching a golden retriever at the feet of his master, who was fast asleep in his chair. The deer was trying to figure out how to grab some food off the picnic table without upsetting the dog.
Friday was a star-studded two-blanket night that was perfect for camping. Saturday morning was warmer than expected and we had time to linger in the campground since we had only to drive 30 miles north to Lewis Mountain Cabins, the southern-most lodging facility in Shenandoah. One of the great pleasures of camping is relaxing in the morning with a cup of coffee and a good book.
Those of you who have stayed at The Ahwahnee, Old Faithful Inn, Many Glacier Hotel, or most other national park lodges would find Lewis Mountain Cabins quite unusual. The entire complex consists of a registration/store plus nine rustic cabins, two of which are constructed as duplex units. There is also one hikers’ cabin. All but the hikers’ cabin have a private bathroom. The 80-year-old cabins sit in a heavily forested area and are well-maintained. The cabin area is flanked on one side by a small Park Service campground and on the other side by a large picnic area. Although the cabins do not have kitchens, a covered picnic area with a grill is in back or beside each unit. Be certain to bring all your food and utensils, as the store has minimal groceries.
The facility offers both one- and two-bedroom units that rent for the same price of $106 per night. The two-bedroom cabins can hold up to four adults.
A stay at the cabins offers a true park experience. During a prior stay we were sitting on the porch drinking coffee one morning when a bear came out of the woods, climbed a tree, looked around, and descended to wander across the complex and back into the woods. On a subsequent stay a large owl sat on a branch and observed us during our entire dinner at the picnic table.
Tomorrow we will report from Skyland, a much bigger lodging complex about 16 miles north on Skyline Drive.
David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.