I can be at a campground in Shenandoah National Park in 2 hours. To be sure can get a camp site, I need to make reservations months in advance. This past weekend we had a reservation, booked late last year, so we spent two relaxing nights in the woods. It was also the first time we’ve dry camped in the Ascape - no hookups at all.
Dry campgrounds tend to attract more tent campers, and the sites are often more spread out. We were 3000 feet above sea level there, so a good 10 degrees cooler than back in Richmond. All good reasons to camp more often in dry campgrounds. Tent people are more my people than the folks in 40 foot luxury apartments on wheels. I fought some “sell out you are not really camping” thoughts when I bought the Ascape. But I got over it, because I was tired of sleeping on the ground. But there are no luxury recliners in my camper. It’s 72 square feet - where would I put them?
We got in relatively late on Friday, around 8 PM. So we just set up and retired to the camper to play board games, where I got squashed in Scrabble.
Saturday morning I hit the trail before 10 AM, doing a 7 mile loop from the campground.
- North on Appalachian Trail to Rose River Fire Road
- East on fire road, cross Skyline drive and turn left on Rose Rover horse trail.
- Follow horse trail to Rose Rover loop trail.
- Follow loop trail past Rose River Falls to Dark Hollow Falls Trail
- Climb past lower and middle falls to touristy and busy upper falls.
- Take .7 mile steep and rocky trail to Dark Hollow Falls parking lot - it will be a zoo if it’s a nice day.
- Cross street and pick up an unnamed trail back to campground.
On the Dark Hollow trail, don’t miss out on noticing the really poor footwear choices of your fellow “hikers.” I saw a woman in dollar store flip-flops with a baby in a baby carrier. I hope she didn’t fall and land on the kid. I’ve fallen on that trail. It is steep and rocky.
The hike is 3.5 miles down, then 3.5 miles back up. Once you hit the Rose River loop, you are paralleling rocky streams filled with little runs and falls the entire way, with countless opportunities to chill in a boulder in the river and relax.
Dark Hollow Falls is quite nice. The top viewing area will be over run with tourists. The middle falls, just a two-minute walk further, will be empty. I sat by the middle falls and had a good 10 minutes to myself before anybody else showed up. The last leg from Dark Hollow Falls to the parking lot is also filled with rocky rapids and mini falls all along the way. There are also a couple of places with inviting looking pools at the base of the falls.
I made it back to the campground around 1:30 PM and after a beer and a shower ($1.75 for 5 minutes!) I bought firewood for the night and took a pleasant 60-minute nap in the cool mountain air. I grilled steaks and corn on the cob for dinner, and we spent the evening relaxing by the campfire. With beer.
Checkout time on Sunday is noon, which is pretty liberal. Beats the KOAs that kick you out by 10 AM. Shenandoah National park is highly recommended. I buy an annual pass every year. And I booked a fall October weekend at Loft Mountain campground in the park, because Big Meadows was already sold out.