Mile 22.1 of Shenandoah National Park
I have camped here 4-5 times now and I thoroughly agree with Bill Bryson’s feelings in his book “A Walk in the Woods” when he stated, “Shenandoah National Park is lovely. It is possibly the most wonderful national park I have ever been in, and, considering the impossible and conflicting demands put on it, it is extremely well run. Almost at once it became my favorite part of the Appalachian Trail.” (By the way, Bryson’s book is definitely worth a read if you have any inkling towards hiking/camping or have the slightest appreciation for humor). Matthews Arm is one of the three main campgrounds in the park. Big Meadows is the biggest and most popular (it has showers), but because of this it often fills up the quickest on weekends with lovely weather. Loft Mountain is too far a journey south through the park for my humble little Corolla. Therefore, Matthews Arm has been the campground of choice for most of my Shenandoah trips. It is well situated for anyone wanting to do a good deal of hiking. Some of the hikes are a bit of a drive from the grounds, but there are a few that can be accessed by foot from the site. Like I mentioned, Matthews Arm has no showers, but there is access to potable water and toilets/sinks (the real flushing kind too, what a treat!).
According to reports, “Shenandoah is said to have the highest density of black bears anywhere in the world – slightly over one per square mile” and I believe it. I’ve seen at least one black bear on each of my visits (except for the abbreviated trip to Big Meadows in early March) and I once saw three during a two day trip. Needless to say, don’t ignore the bear-factor in your planning. All food needs to be properly stored in a bear proof container, disposed of in a labeled campground dumpster, or you can take the lazy approach and shove it in your car during the night (I have often employed this tactic with dirty dishes after dark). The end result of this last tactic is usually a car smelling of pancakes and chili for the ride home, but at least the bears weren’t catching whiffs of this delightful smorgasbord downwind while you slept unawares.
A word of encouragement for the ursaphobic (I made that up): In my 4-5 camps at this park I have had no up-close encounters with bears . I have headed all park warnings and kept all food, dirty dishes, and food stained clothing in the car at night and that seems to have done the trick. I’m not promising you won’t have an encounter yourself, I’m just saying there are things you can do to avoid said-face-off. In fact I’ve had more instances at Hickory Run than here – but then again I camp at Hickory run far more frequently . For more bear-avoiding tips check this out: Backpackers.com.
Major Pros: AMAZING hikes nearby. This is the closest campground to Overall Run (the largest waterfall in the park). Shenandoah is beautiful and there are plenty of scenic outlooks of the mountains and valleys.
Major Cons: If you’re into showering daily, too bad. And watch out for bears and snakes.
Tips: 1) Baby wipes work just as well as showers. 2) When hiking in possible “bear territory” make loud noises occasionally: talk loud, clap, sing, etc. A surprised bear is an angry bear, so let them know you’re coming, unless of course they’re hungry and waiting…