George Washington National Forest
Getting there: I-64 West or Rt. 250 West to Blue Ridge Parkway, follow signs.
This huge national forest has 27 campgrounds in Virginia and West Virginia. The closest part of the forest to Charlottesville is the Pedlar District, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway south of the Shenandoah National Park, site of the Sherando Lake Recreation Area at beautiful Sherando Lake. The campgrounds here have 65 campsites on a first-come, first-served basis April 1 to October 31.
Shenandoah Hills Campground
Getting there: Rt 29 North 29 miles north of Charlottesville. South-bound side, one-half mile north of Eden's Garage in Madison.
70 sites. Heated bath house, horseshoes, volleyball, pool. Tent and RV sites and cabins available. Closed between Christmas and Jan. 1.
Shenandoah National Park
Getting there: Take I-64 West to Skyline Drive. Or take Rt. 29 North to Rt. 33 in Ruckersville, then go west on Rt. 33 to Skyline Drive.
Entrance to the park is $10/car Dec-Feb, $15/car March-Nov, or $5/person on foot (good for 7 days). Best to buy an annual pass for $30, which covers entrance for everyone in your car or your family on foot.
Campgrounds: The park has four major campgrounds near a section of the Appalachian Trail. All except Mathews Arm have showers, laundry, and a camp store. No campground has hookups for water, electricity, or sewage, but Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain have dump stations. All except Big Meadows are first-come, first-served, fees vary. Mileposts on Skyline Drive are given.
Mathews Arm (mile 22.1) is furthest north. Next to trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away. 179 sites. Open spring through October. No showers.
Big Meadows (mile 51.3), although secluded, is within walking distance of three waterfalls and across the Drive from the Meadow, with its abundant plant growth and wildlife. Reservations required mid-May through November; call 1-800-365-CAMP. 217 sites, open through November.
Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5), the smallest campground in the park, appeals to those who want a little more privacy without venturing deep into the back country. Within seven miles of the Big Meadows. 32 sites, open spring through October.
Loft Mountain (mile 79.5), the largest campground in the park, sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to east and west. Two waterfalls and the trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. 219 sites, open spring through October.
Back-Country Camping: Camping is permitted in specific back country facilities. Call the park to get a permit and regulations for back-country camping. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains a system of back-country huts and cabins. Huts, three-sided structures located along the Appalachian Trail primarily for long-term hikers, require permits. Permits are not required for cabins, which are reserved in advance from PATC at (703) 242-0693 (www.patc.net).
Lodges: The national park also has several lodges. To make reservations, write to ARAMARK Virginia Sky-Line Company, P.O. Box 727, Luray, VA, 22835; or call (800) 999-4714 or (540) 743-5108.
Skyland (mile 41.7) 177 guest rooms, rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites.
Big Meadows Lodge (milepost 51) 20 rooms in the main lodge, 72 additional rooms in rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites.
Lewis Mountain Cabins (mile 57.5) Several rustic, furnished cabins with private baths and outdoor grill areas.
Tubing, Canoeing, Kayaking
James River Runners
Getting there: From Exit #121 of I-64 take Rt 20 South for 17.5 miles. Turn right on Rt 726 (James River Rd.) just past "Welcome to Scottsville" sign. Turn right at second stop sign and continue for 3 miles. Turn left on to Rt 625 at T-junction. Go straight for 2 miles. Follow signs for Hatton's Ferry.
Canoeing, inner tubing, kayaking and rafting. Equipment rentals, group excursions, and wilderness trips. 20 years of experience.
James River Reeling & Rafting
Getting there: From Exit #121 of I-64 take Rt 20 South 18 miles to Scottsville. Turn left on Rt 6 (Main St.) at the Citgo station just before the bridge. Turn right after 2 blocks on Ferry St. On corner of Main and Ferry streets.
Canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and fishing rentals and trips.
For nice hikes and walks in or closer to town, see Parks/Lakes (Ivy Creek, Meadow Creek Trails, Mint Springs, Ragged Mountain). For information on equipment and clubs, go to Clubs & Organizations: Hiking. Some information below may repeat from the Camping section. Outdoors at UVa plans over 300 trips a year, and accepts community members and alums. The club also rents out gear for camping, biking, backpacking and more.
George Washington National Forest
This huge national forest has over 900 miles of trails, from easy half-mile loops to strenuous nine-hour treks. Below are a couple of favorites. Maps and information are available at visitor centers at the intersection of Rt. 250 and the Blue Ridge Parkway and at Humpback Rocks.
Getting there: Rt. 29 South 30 minutes past Lovingston to Rt. 56 West, then 20 miles, trailhead on left.
Four overlooks offer pretty views of the falls and lovely vistas of Tye River Valley. A vigorous 1.7 mile hike takes you from the trailhead parking lot on Rt 56 up to the overlook at the top of the upper falls. STAY ON the trails. From the upper falls, the trail follows the creek another 1.2 miles to Crabtree Meadows parking lot. There is a small parking fee, and an entrance fee to Lake Sherando.
Getting there: I-64 or Rt. 250 West to Blue Ridge Parkway. South to milepost 6. Park at Humpback Rocks Visitor Center or at trailhead itself across road.
A steep, short hike up to a spectacular 360-degree view. Popular on weekends. Be careful on the rocks. Great in autumn.
Shenandoah National Park
Getting there: Take I-64 or Rt. 250 West to Skyline Drive. Or take Rt. 29 North to Rt. 33 in Madison and go west to Skyline Drive (also see Camping).
This park has over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Maps and information are available at entrance points to the park. Entrance costs $10-15 per car (depending on the season) or $5 per person on foot . Best to buy an annual pass for $30, which admits your carload or your family on foot. Most hikes begin on Skyline Drive, but our favorite hikes begin in the valley.
Getting there: Take Barracks Rd./Garth Rd. out of town northwest for half an hour to Whitehall, where the road takes a 90-degree right turn just before a country store. Instead of following the road, go straight on to Sugar Hollow Rd. and go to the end.
Follow the river away from the reservoir for a level hike or cross the river at the parking area and go straight up to Skyline Drive. Great swimming holes either way in summer. A good place to bring the kids, and beautiful scenery along the way. No entrance fee.
White Oak Canyon Falls
Getting there: Rt. 29 North 30 minutes to Rt. 231 in Madison. Stay on Rt. 231 (it bears left after downtown Madison) to Banco. Left on Rt. 670 to Syria, then right on Rt. 643. Left on Rt. 600, four miles to trailhead parking.
A beautiful hike any time of the year. Spectacular falls and deep swimming holes, wildlife. Fairly level until the first big falls, so can be an easy day hike. Or make the loop all the way up to Skyline Drive for a full-day excursion. For a real treat, go up by the river, not the trail, after the first falls. Park entrance by foot: $5/person or annual pass for the whole family.