Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Reviews: Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

We’ve visited Shenandoah National Park numerous times but to date, we’d only done day trips. These outings are great except, due to the ride, it doesn’t give us a lot of time to really explore the trails and scope out the wildlife as much as we’d like.

A few weeks ago we decided we would spend the night in the park to give us a good two days to explore. We chose Big Meadows Lodge. 

Main building of the lodge (hard to get a clear shot of the whole building due to the trees)

Being the lodge was filling up and only two types of rooms left, we booked one of the traditional rooms before those were sold out. After we booked, we did more research and came across some off-putting reviews about the lodge so we considered canceling. The lodge advertises itself as being historic, rustic and basic. We were not concerned with that, it was the online complaints about vermin and cleanliness. In the end, we decided to stick with our room and see how it panned out. Always up for an adventure!

Check in and room condition

Sure glad we didn’t cancel. We left early in the morning so we could do some hikes and listen to some ranger talks between the Dickey Visitor's Center (mile 4.6) and Big Meadows (mile 51). After spending all morning and part of the afternoon at the park, we arrived a bit early for 3 p.m. check in. We figured we’d hang out in the Great Room until our room was ready, however, our room was all set so the staff gave us the keys despite us being 90 minutes early. The staff was very welcoming and friendly.

Our room was in the Blackrock building, #54. It was indeed from the mid-20th century, charming and clean. Since there is no air conditioning in this room, the windows were all open. The only immediate issue we saw was the screen on the bathroom window was hard to clasp, so we closed the window. Not really a problem.

Additionally, our room had an alarm clock, a fan, some extra lamps (ceiling lighting is dim) and there were plenty of outlets. No Internet, television, phones or good reception are in this group of rooms. You might want to download some music, movies or games before you arrive if you need entertainment beyond playing cards, board games or reading a good book at night.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos inside the room (I was focused on the outdoors!) but our room looked a lot like this one with some slight differences.

Location, location, location!

Convenience is a big draw for staying at Big Meadows and the lodge is located near several key places to visit, including the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, a wayside (gift shop, camp shop/grocery store and an informal eatery) and, of course, the meadow and several trails. We relaxed in the room for a few minutes before heading back out for some hiking. Feeling refreshed, our adventure was off to a great start. The popular Dark Hollow Falls trail is nearby and we headed straight there.

Bedding and bath

After our day’s adventure, we showered and played some cards before going to sleep. The bathroom was old, but water pressure was good and the lodge provides shampoo, soap, lotion, etc. Towels were abundant and of good quality. For the first shower, it took a few minutes for the water to warm up but every shower afterward was perfect.

We were tired so our card game did not last long. The beds and pillows were really comfy and the lodge did have darkening drapes in our unit so we barely noticed any light nor did we hear the second round of rain that came during the night. The day had been hot (in the 90s) and, despite this and no A/C in our room, the temperature was comfortable. We all had a great night’s sleep and it was pretty quiet, even though the lodge was booked to capacity.

Restaurant and the main lodge

There is a full-service restaurant and a tap room at Big Meadows Lodge. I can’t really say much about these since we did not eat here except once for breakfast. We did not get the buffet, but ordered off the menu and enjoyed what we got. You can order ala carte or a meal which ran, on average, about $10. I think the breakfast buffet was about $15. (The reason why we didn't eat at any of the properties was that we decided on a whim to have lunch at the annual Blackberry Festival. Our packed sandwiches in the cooler we had for dinner). We didn’t visit the tap room at all. There is also nightly entertainment.

The Great Room is large and looks like a cozy place to hang out, but we only spent a few minutes there since we were busy off in the park. 
There are numerous seating areas, along with some tables and, in the corner, are puzzles and board games to enjoy. Many people were sitting in the rocking chairs along the big windows that faced the mountains. There is some limited Wi-Fi in the Great Room, but it's probably the only place you'll have it. Mobile reception is very poor with most carriers, so hot spotting it is likely not an option. 

About those critters…

Coming in, we had already decided we would not bring any food into the room so not to entice mice, so we had packed extra zip lock bags and stored our double-wrapped food in a cooler in our car so as to not attract any bears. After reading the binder the lodge left on the desk, I noticed they do state not to bring food into the room. We only brought in sealed drinks and kept them in the ice bucket provided. We had absolutely no issues with mice or any other critter. Didn’t even see a bug!

We would definitely spend another night at Big Meadows and are already talking about when would be a good time to go. While there are negative reviews online, and there are some cabins that did look a little run down (it's my understanding there is a long-term plan to renovate them all), if you keep food out of your room and don’t go in expecting modern conveniences, you’ll probably have a great stay. 

We were going there to explore the outdoors and not planning to really spend too much time in the room anyway! If you're looking to unplug and don't care about fancy accommodations, but also not looking to truly camp in the great outdoors (like me!), this is the perfect place for you.

[ Related reading: 10 fun facts about Skyline Drive ]

A short uphill hike on the Blackhead Trailhead (.2 miles) on the lodge's property brings you to some beautiful views.