Backcountry Trip Planning

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When planning for your backcountry trip, you will want to do the following to ensure a safe and memorable experience:

Learn the Backcountry Regulations

How far must your camp be from a creek or spring? What are the two options to store your food? How many nights can you camp in one location? All these answers and more can be found on our Permit and Regulations page.

Obtain a Good Map

You'll want a detailed map to help plan your route and to help navigate when on the trail. Maps can be purchased online through the SNPA and PATC websites.

Plan Your Itinerary

Use your map and the interactive map on to determine where you will enter and exit the backcountry and in what zone you will camp in each night. This information is necessary when obtaining your permit. Do you know which trail(s) you want to hike but having a hard time figuring out which zones they are in? Use the list below to help find the zone you will camp in each night:


Camping Zones and Associated Trails


Trip Details

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.

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.

Last updated: January 11, 2024

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Contact Info

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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