Backcountry Trip Planning

A female park ranger standing behind a desk at a visitor center points to a map for 2 visitors.

Learn and Explore

Planning a backcountry trip is an involved process. There is a lot to consider when you'll be carrying everything that you need on your back. However, with proper planning, you can help to ensure that your group enjoys a safe and fun backpacking adventure! Here a few things to consider as you plan your next trip:


Physical Ability

Are you used to hiking in steep mountain terrain with a loaded pack? How many miles and what elevation gain can you hike over multiple days? Be sure to gear your hike to the least-fit member of the group so that everyone can enjoy the trip.

Skill Level

An experienced backpacker will be able to read a topographic map, orienteer with map and compass, find an appropriate campsite if pre-existing sites are unavailable, properly hang a bear bag, know how to cook over a camp stove, bury human waste properly, and otherwise practice Leave No Trace principles. If you don't know these skills, but are planning a trip with someone who does, we would suggest that your backpacking group has at least one highly-skilled person for every four beginners, with a backup plan in place if the highly skilled person is incapacitated.

If you are still learning these skills, contact the backcountry office for help in planning a beginner trip. You may also consider taking a class in order to gain the experience necessary for a safe backpacking trip.

Trip Length

Consider how many miles you plan to hike each day. For adults of average fitness, we suggest 1-4 miles on the first day, assuming you start by noon in the spring or summer, or by 10:00 a.m. in the late fall or winter. Then 6-8 miles each day thereafter. If you will not have time to travel, hike, and set up camp before dark on the first day of your trip, consider spending your first night in a nearby campground, lodge, or motel. For your return journey, include some time to clean up your camp, pack up the car, and travel safely home.

Trip Terrain

Shenandoah National Park has mostly steep and rocky terrain! While there are a few short, rolling hikes, if you go any distance, you'll be climbing and descending mountains. Finding campsites is often challenging, and areas that seem like promising camps on topographic maps could be covered in a briar patch or under a dangerous snag. Because of this, identify several potential areas to camp before you set out.

Avoiding Crowds

May through June are peak months for "through hikers" heading northbound on the Appalachian Trail, while September is the peak month for southbound hikers. In order to minimize resource impact, it is best to plan a trip that avoids camping on the Appalachian Trail during these months.

Selecting a Backcountry Trip

With over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, it can seem like a daunting task to choose the right backpacking trip for you. To help you choose, we've put together a list of suggested backcountry trip itineraries.

Still Have Questions?

If you have reviewed all of the information on our website and still need help planning a backcountry trip, call the backcountry office at 540-999-3500 ext. 3720. We try to staff this phone line on Fridays. Note that there may be a high volume of calls, but we will try our best to answer and/or return your call.

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4 minutes, 30 seconds

Exploring Shenandoah's backcountry is a great way to experience the breathtaking trails, waterfalls, and vistas that the Park has to offer. This short film will prepare you for the best possible trip!

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7 minutes, 11 seconds

Part two of this short film series focuses on ways that you can help protect park resources while exploring its backcountry.

Last updated: July 9, 2021

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Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray , VA 22835


540 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

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