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 permitYou must have a permit to camp in the backcountry. Permits are free and can be obtained during business hours at visitor centers and entrance stations. You need to know your itinerary prior to asking 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.
If you are planning your visit well in advance (by at least two full weeks), permits are also available by mail from Park Headquarters. You may request that a permit be sent to you via U.S. mail. Permits cannot be emailed or completed online. You will be sent a permit and directions for filling it out. You will be responsible for mailing it in to the backcountry office prior to your visit or you may bring the completed permit with you to the park and deposit a copy in one of the the self-registration boxes located at each entrance. Permits should be affixed to your pack or tent in full view.
You can also get a permit at a self-registration kiosk. Self-registration kiosks are at the following locations:
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!
For information on camping at backcountry facilities or designated campsites along the Appalachian Trail, or dispersed camping park-wide, contact the park Backcountry office at 540-999-3500 ext.3720. 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
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.
4. Backcountry campfires are not permittedCampfires 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 wasteDefecation 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 trashPack 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 individualsLarge 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 trailsPets 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 backcountryCamping 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
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: March 10, 2020