A couple weeks ago, a very close friend of mine got some bad news. I had already been debating on taking the kids camping for the night, so when she told me, it cemented my decision: I invited her over, and then whisked her off to the mountains for some nature-therapy in one of my favorite campgrounds.
Loft Mountain is located around milepost 80 off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and is a campground that I believe just about any type of camper can enjoy. There are a wide variety of sites, ranging from walk-in, car camping, and RVs, there are some that are reservable (loops F & G) and most that are first-come-first-served, sites that are hidden behind thick blackberry bushes, sites that are wheelchair accessible, and sites that look out onto a gorgeous view of the sun setting over the mountains. The bathrooms have water and electricity and are kept very clean, and the camp store sells everything from beer, to tent stakes, to SNP souvenirs–and has showers. Your fellow campers are anyone from family reunions and scout troops, to AT thru-hikers stopping for the night.
I’ve been camping here for most of my adult life. It’s one of the first places I brought Billy when we were dating, and we’ve been bringing both kids here since they were babies, and my only bad experiences here were have been due to bad weather. The rangers are always nice, and while other campers can be a little loud at times, they are very friendly. There are always families with kids of varying ages, and this past time was especially neat, as a family had heard Kairi talking while out on a walk, so we ended up hanging out with them while our kids played together.
The AT hugs the west side of the campground and crosses behind the camp store, so it is not uncommon to see thru-hikers while here during the summer. This time the site we picked was right at the top of the spur that leads from the AT to the campground, and a group of trail angels were in the sites across from us. They told me their son had hiked the AT in 2010 and they set up camp during the time he would be passing through to give him a place to stay and a hot meal, and offered some trail magic to all thru-hikers that passed them. Then a few years later their son set off to hike the PCT, and while they could not travel out to him, they set up at Loft Mountain again–knowing that people were offering him kindness out west, they wanted to mirror that by offering kindness to hikers where they could go. They had signs at the Blackrock Hut a few miles away, and again at the spur to the campground, letting hikers know they could come by for a place to sleep, and free dinner and/or breakfast. Both nights they hosted several hikers, and had music and conversation all afternoon–it was an incredible insight into the communitas that happens on the trail, and really me nostalgic for my time on the Camino de Santiago.
One of the must-dos at Loft Mountain is to watch the sun set over the mountains to the west. If you are lucky enough to find them available, you have a great view directly from sites 20A and 20B, but as those are almost always occupied, by taking the spur down to the AT and then turning left, after a short walk is a small outcrop of rocks. Come here at sunset and you’ll find many other campers joining you for the show. Our first night we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen, and while the second night we didn’t have the same vibrant colors, it was still beautiful to watch.
The day we left Kairi wanted to go on another hike, so we actually did part of the Frazier Discovery Trail this time. I’ve never done this as we usually drive to one of the hikes off Skyline Drive, but the part that we did on this trip was a very easy trail that follows the AT part of the way, and then turns off towards the campground amphitheater. In all the years of camping here, it was the first time I made it to this section of the campground, and just about kicked myself, because it has an incredible east-facing view. Now I know–come here at sunrise next time! (I loved this view so much that I actually took clients there yesterday and they agreed that it was spectacular!)
I should note the wildlife element of this campground. Deer and bears are very prevalent here, especially in the summer, and the campground now requires campers sign an agreement that improper food storage will result in an $80 fine. I’m glad they are doing this, as bears in Shenandoah are getting to be less and less afraid of humans. Bugs are also terrible in the summer, and as mentioned before, lyme has been found in ticks in SNP, so good bug spray is essential.
Overall family friendly rating: 5/5. This is a great campground, and it’s a great campground for just about any type of camper. If you have kids that get nervous easily, grab an open site near a bathroom. If you have kids that you’re worried will disrupt other campers, pick a site you have to walk to, or one of the ones on loop G. If you’re in an RV, you’ll have a lot more privacy and woodsy-ness than many campgrounds that cater specifically to RVs. There are plenty of nearby trails to fill the hours in the day, some without even having to get in the car–and all of the loops are paved, so even the most inexperienced of cyclists can enjoy taking their training wheels for an after-dinner spin.
If you’re planning a trip to Shenandoah with kids, I highly recommend spending at least one night here–although I’d guess you’re going to want to spend more!