March 26 : Officially the first day of camping season, at least in Shenandoah National Park, VA.
Big Meadows, their largest campground, is the earliest one to open its sites to campers. Lewis Mountain opens a bit later in April while Matthews Arm and Loft Mountain open late May. Needless to say, we were going to be there on the 26th come rain or shine. Unfortunately it ended up being more rain than shine; rain, wind, and below freezing temperatures to be precise. Apparently Mother Nature did not receive the memo about opening day, or maybe she chose to ignore it out of spite towards the average camper's lust for gas-guzzling, emission-belching, motor-vehicles. Whatever her motives were, the results were far from perfect. Friday made for a nice drive with sunny moments and highs in the 50s. Friday night temps dropped fast - warm around the fire, but our breath was visible even with 4 people inside our tent. Low of 29 degrees with rain starting around 5am - it was a very chilly night. Saturday we were debating sticking it out until the sun returned, but a park ranger informed us during breakfast that it would get worse before it got better - by breakfast we were the only campers left, so we felt well enough accomplished for the day.
We did however land a campsite right alongside the Appalachian Trail, which wasn't all that surprising seeing how very few people were competing for sites that weekend. Many of the areas had bear boxes and the bathhouse was a short walk away. Big Meadows is near mile 51 of the park and is close to many of the popular Shenandoah Hiking trails. It has around 200 sites and fills up quickly in the summer; only $20 per night.