Backcountry Regulations

Each year thousands of people spend a night or more in the park’s backcountry and wilderness areas. While we travel to the backcountry for isolation, the cumulative actions of all the people using the park can have dire effects on the resources we seek to enjoy. The following regulations exist to keep Shenandoah's wilderness wild and untrammeled for you and for future generations of hikers and campers. When in doubt, always follow the tenets of Leave No Trace.

1. You must have a permit

You must have a permit to camp in the backcountry. Permits are free and can be filled out online or obtained at the self-registration stations listed below. You need to know your itinerary prior to registering for a permit. Pre-planning is a must! Permits for Appalachian Trail long-distance hikers are available by self-registration on the Appalachian Trail near Shenandoah National Park entry points. At the park, permits will be issued only between the hours of sunrise and one hour before sunset. You should have your camp set up before dark in order to avoid damaging the park resources or injuring yourself. At this time, Shenandoah's permitting system is not automated. You must obtain a paper permit to display on your campsite.

Self-registration kiosks are at the following locations:

  • A.T. North

  • Front Royal Entrance Station at mile 0 of Skyline Drive

  • Panorama Comfort Station (near Thornton Gap Entrance Station) at mile 31.5

  • Swift Run Entrance Station at mile 65.5

  • Loft Mountain Wayside at mile 79.5
  • Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at mile 105
  • A.T. South

  • Old Rag Trailhead parking area at Etlan, Va.

If you use self-registration, please be sure to fill out the permit completely!


2. Select the right campsite

Allow time in your trip to look for a legal, comfortable, and safe place to camp. It is strongly recommended that camping occur at pre-existing campsites. These campsites have been created and established by prior visitor use and are not posted, signed, or designated by the park. Use only campsites that are at least 20 yards from a park trail or unpaved fire road. Remember, good campsites are found, not made!

  • Campsites must be:
    • At least 10 yards away from a stream or other natural water source.
    • At least 20 yards away from any park trail or unpaved fire road.
    • At least 50 yards away from another camping party or no camping post sign.
    • At least 50 yards away from any standing buildings and ruins including stone foundations, chimneys, and log walls. Our historic resources are valuable and fragile.
    • At least 100 yards away from a hut, cabin, or day-use shelter.At least 1/4 mile away from any paved road, park boundary, or park facilities such as campgrounds, picnic grounds, visitor centers, lodges, waysides, or restaurants.

For information or to make reservations for backcountry cabin rentals, contact the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club online or by phone at 703-242-0315.


3. Food, trash, and scented items must be stored in one of the following places

  • Your best option is to store food in an approved bear-resistant storage canister.
  • Hang food in a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the tree trunk.
  • If you are at a hut, use the food storage locker if provided. If not, hang food on the storage pole.

It is important to store food, trash, personal hygiene products, and other scented items properly because bears, mice, skunks, chipmunks, and a host of other wildlife will want to access these items. Following these storage procedures will protect yourself and the wildlife. More about food storage in the backcountry here.


4. Backcountry campfires are not permitted

Campfires sterilize the ground, scar rocks, and consume wood that if left alone will become the soil future generations of plants need to thrive. Unattended or poorly managed illegal campfires have caused thousands of acres to burn in wildland fires in Shenandoah. Use a backpacking stove for food preparation.

Campfires are only permitted at NPS-constructed fireplaces at Appalachian Trail backcountry huts and day-use shelters. Consider staying in one of our developed campgrounds or at the nearby National Forest if you want a campfire.

5. Properly dispose of human waste

Defecation within 20 yards of streams, trails, or roads is prohibited. If designated facilities are provided - use them. If not solid human waste must be buried in a hole at least 3 inches to 8 inches deep. Feces contains harmful pathogens. Protect water sources and the health of other hikers by burying solid waste. Always have a trowel at hand.

6. Carry out all trash

Pack it in; pack it out. Protect the backcountry experience by keeping the backcountry free of trash. All garbage, including food scraps, must be carried out. Leave glass containers at home.

7. Maximum group size is 10 individuals

Large backcountry camping groups can cause greater impacts to the plants and wildlife in the park. They can also impact the wilderness experience of other hikers and backcountry campers. Keep your group size small. If you do have more than 10 campers plan different itineraries, divide into smaller groups, and obtain a separate backcountry camping permit for each group. Groups must camp at least 50 yards away from each other.

8. Pets must be leashed at all times and are not permitted on some trails

Pets can frighten wildlife and other hikers. Keep Shenandoah a place where pets are allowed on most trails by keeping your pet on a leash and away from the pet-restricted trails. Learn more about pets in Shenandoah.

9. Backcountry camping may not exceed 2 nights in one campsite location or 14 consecutive nights in the backcountry

Camping in one spot for consecutive nights increases damage to park resources. Remember the 1964 Wilderness Act that protects wilderness across the nation. Wilderness is "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

10. Do not camp in the following closed areas

  • Limberlost Trail: closed area is bounded by Skyline Drive, Whiteoak Canyon Fire Road, and the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail

  • Hawksbill Mountain Summit: area above 3,600 feet

  • Whiteoak Canyon: area between Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail and Cedar Run Link Trail

  • Old Rag Mountain Summit: area above 2,800 feet

  • Big Meadows: cleared area within view of Skyline Drive

  • Rapidan Camp: area within .5 mile of buildings

  • A.T. between Hogwallow Flats and Gravel Springs Hut

  • Rock outcrops including (jpeg image files):

    • Old Rag, Little Stony Man, Hawksbill, Mary's Rock, Mount Marshall, Overall Run

      • The camping closures on these image files are shown as a blue fill. Posts on the trails in these areas mark where camping is off limits. The areas on Old Rag, Little Stony Man, and Hawksbill with the red slashes are completly off-limits, even to foot traffic.

These limited closures and campsite regulations protect the fragile plants that live on Shenandoah's rock outcrops, prevent certain areas from being overused, and allow for better experiences for all visitors in the park. It is the camper's responsibility to know and observe these closures. If you are planning to hike in the areas listed above, pay attention the closure signage on the trails. Learn more about current hiking alerts.


Last updated: August 5, 2020

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Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500

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