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The Last Night in Shenandoah National Park


Though the exterior of the Big Meadows Lodge might not be flashy, the interior of the dining room reflects the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: As our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, continue on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System, they get to sample some of the best lodging, food, and camping there is to be had. This dispatch was filed on their last night in Shenandoah National Park.

We were on our second-floor balcony reading when we noticed someone below walk to the wooden railing separating the lodge grounds from the surrounding countryside. He pointed west toward the woods. Coming through the trees and into the small meadow were two bear cubs that commenced frolicking in the grass. They ran back and forth and one suddenly jumped and caught the side of a tree. A short time later their mother lumbered out of the woods and sat near where her cubs were playing They soon walked to their mother and began nursing. This scene must have played out for 20 minutes before the cubs followed the sow over a small rise and back into the woods.

This is our way of introducing you to Big Meadows Lodge, where we spent the last two nights. This is the third of Shenandoah National Park's lodges managed by Aramark Parks and Destinations. Tucked between Skyland Resort 10 miles north and Lewis Mountain Cabins 6 miles south, Big Meadows has its own unique personality.

Big Meadows has fewer rooms and is more compact compared to Skyland Resort with its many buildings. All of the rooms at Big Meadows are within easy walking distance of the main lodge that houses the registration desk, dining room, gift shop, and lobby. Some guest rooms are in the main lodge building. Although at a high elevation, the terrain is flat so there are no hills to climb unless you hike away from the lodge complex.

Skyland offers better views of the Shenandoah Valley from most of its rooms. Big Meadows is surrounded by a hardwood forest, and while good views are available from several locations, most views from guest rooms are obscured by trees.

Big Meadows Lodge offers six categories of rooms ranging from rustic cabins and rooms in the main lodge that rent for $106 per night, to $161 for more modern Blue Ridge rooms and ten large Mountain Top rooms, the latter of which have wood-burning fireplaces but no particularly good views. Traditional Lodge Rooms are relatively nice, but without a view, and rent for $125. Five units, including one cabin, have two bedrooms but rent for the same price as units with a single bedroom. These are great for families with children.

The dining room is quite attractive with a wall of windows and a menu similar to that at Skyland. In fact, the two lodges share the same executive chef. The signature dining room dessert is Mile High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie, a dish that Kay was unable to resist. This thing was amazing and could probably have fed four. In our case, it fed two.

A nice Park Service visitor center on Skyline Drive at the entrance to Big Meadows offers exhibits examining the history of the Big Meadows area. An adjacent store has a gift shop, coffee shop, and a fairly nice grocery store.

So, were we just lucky to see the bears? Probably, but the following morning we were sitting in the lounge when a young bear walked out of the woods behind the dining room. No more than five minutes later a mother and two cubs appeared in the same area. The cubs were smaller than those we had witnessed the prior night, so this was a different family. We have now seen more bears in two days at Big Meadows than during the last four trips to Yellowstone National Park.

Tuesday was cool with extended periods of fog floating through the Big Meadows area. A little rain, no sunshine, but lots of reading and writing. Not a bad day. Today we leave Shenandoah National Park to travel west. Tomorrow’s blog will offer Traveler readers an overview of our trip and a plan for a similar trip of your own. See you then.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.

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We LOVE Big Meadows Lodge! What a wonderful remnant of the legacy of the New Deal on our National Parks landscape. We've traveled there many times with our children (now 11 and 13) who love that two-adjoining-rooms setup upstairs in those rooms with the eaves and wood paneling and weird little outside door to the fire escape.

Also, as you mention the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows has SPLENDID new historical exhibits on the history of the development of Shenandoah National Park. They were installed in 2007 and based on prodigious work by NPS historians on the park staff. Some of the best exhibits we have seen anywhere in the National Park system in which a park honestly and fully confronts its OWN history. Anyone interested in knowing more about this can see a review of the exhibits that my husband David Whisnant and I co-wrote last year for the Journal of American History (December 2009 issue).

Just wanted you both to know that I enjoyed reading your above blog and review of the Big Meadows Lodge and its surroundings. And yes, there is no other dessert comparable to the Mile High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie is it? :-)

However, a bit of sad news regarding one of the bear families that you observed. I am almost 100% positive that one of those 2 bear families you saw was this one that I recently posted about on Flickr:

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