Rapidan Camp || Shenandoah National Park

Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2012, and was updated in September 2023 for accuracy and comprehensiveness. You will see both Hoover Camp and Rapidan Camp used. Don't be confused by the names, just know it's the same place.

The main cabin at Hoover Camp is called the "The Brown House".

Late Saturday evening, I decided that I wanted to go to Shenandoah National Park the following morning to do a day hike. I wanted to locate a route around the 10-mile mark. Digging around the house, I grab my collection of PATC maps and guidebooks that cover Shenandoah National Park. PATC guidebook for Circuit Hikes In Shenandoah National Park.

On page 67 of my outdated copy of the PATC guidebook for Circuit Hikes In Shenandoah National Park. I found the hike I was looking for. A circuit hike of Hoover Camp would provide me a route of 9.9 miles and a projected travel time of 5 hours. Great! Just what I was looking for.

When I arrived at Shenandoah National Park, I was greeted with fantastic weather. The temperature on the mountain was 61 degrees. That sure did beat the heatwave that we seem to have had for the past several weeks. I start my journey for this day hike at the Byrd Visitor Center. The Byrd Visitor Center and the Big Meadows area are great places to use as a base of operations for day hikes. The Hoover Camp circuit starts on the east side of Skyland Drive across from the Big Meadows Wayside.  

You will start this hike on the Rapidan Fire Road from the trailhead parking lot. The Rapidan Fire Road is a gravel road that cuts through the Big Meadows. As a side note, you could spend a day just hiking the spider web of trails in the meadow. This is a great place to see deer and all kinds of birds. About a mile down Rapidan Fire Road, you will come upon Mill Prong Spur Trail on your right. Mill Prong Spur Trail would be my return route from Hoover Camp. I follow Rapidan Road as it descends to the Rapidan River Valley.

NOTE: If you are not wanting to hike a 10-mile circuit. A shorter option is to take Mill Prong Spur Trail 1.8 miles to Hoover Camp. This would then make this hike an out-and-back hike.

Hoover Camp Shenandoah National Park
The sign is correct and my map was outdated.

I do a quick map check and see both Rapidan Camp and Hoover Camp listed on my map. I know I need to start back up the mountain. But this is confusing me. Let me explain and I will try to make a long story short. 

In 1948 the Boy Scouts of America were granted a 20-year lease on the Rapidan Camp to use it as a summer camp. The Boy Scouts renamed the camp "Hoover Camp". The resources I used to plan this hike at the last minute were the PATC Circuit hikes in Shenandoah National Park 13th edition 1990 guidebook and PATC map #10 17th edition 1995. In 2004 after the National Park Service restored the grounds of the camp. The Park Service officially changed its name back to Rapidan Camp. 

What the PATC map from 1995 showed me was the Rapidan Camp was the location of the camp that the Marines were located at and Hoover Camp was the renamed camp by the Boy Scouts. 

Hoover Camp Shenandoah National Park
The road looks like it goes up forever!

Just a little way up the fire road to the left, I see a trail marker that has Rapidan Camp on it. At the end of this side trail, I see a cabin. At this point, I believe I am about a mile east of where I should be at.

After rechecking my map to see how far up the trail Hoover Camp was. A guy pops around the deck of the cabin. I asked him, was Hoover Camp up the trail? He told me this was Hoover Camp...

Okay, now I am confused. I know where I think I am on the map... But the signs tell me something different...That's when he tells me that this is part of the Rapidan Camp. The guy cleaning up around the camp is an NPS Volunteer and has been volunteering at Hoover Camp for 9 seasons as an interpreter. As an interpreter volunteer, he shows park users around the camp and provides the history of the camp. 

Here's a link to the Park Service website about the camp

Hoover Camp Back of main BLDG
The back view of "The Brown House".

The Presidential retreat sits at the junction of Laurel and Mill Prongs. These two creeks create the headwater of the Rapidan River. The President's cabin known as the Brown House has been restored to what the cabin looked like in 1929. 

The NPS volunteer did a great job giving a tour and talking about the history of the camp and of President  Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. The guided tour of the camp took about an hour. The camp and the guided tour were definitely a highlight of this day hike.

After leaving Rapidan Camp I took Mill Prong Spur Trail to get back to Rapidan Road. From there it was about a mile to the start point.

While I did have some navigation issues on the trail with the two different camp names. This day hike turned out to be one of the better hikes that I have taken in the park. 

Note: I didn't follow the full route listed in my guidebook. This hike took me about 4.5 hours and was about 9.3 miles (this doesn't count for lunch or the tour) and an elevation gain of 1320ft.

Trail Notes-

Activity: Day Hiking.
Route/Place: Rapidan Road, Broyles Gap, Mill Prong Trail, Mill Prong Spur Trail, Rapidan Road/ Big Meadows
Activity Type: Day Hiking.
Trail Difficulty: Rapidan Road - Easy.
                            Broyles Gap-Easy.
                            Mill Prong Trail-Easy.
                            Mill Prong Spur Trail-Easy.
Trail Conditions: The trail is very well maintained. Marked with trail signs and white blazes.
Waterfalls/Steams: Big Rock Falls/ Mill Prong, Laurel Prong, Rapidan River
Trip Results: Successful.
Road Conditions: Road suitable for all vehicles- Access fee.

What you need to know before you go.

References: The hike can be found in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) guidebook Circuit Hikes in Shenandoah National Park 19th edition 2023. The level of detail that the guidebook provides is fantastic  The PATC Map 1o which covers the Central District of Shenandoah National Park, is another fantastic resource for this hike. PATC maps are the gold standard for the park. Both of these resources can be found in the PATC store, Visitor Center gift shops, and outdoor retailers.

Now It's Your Turn-

Leave a comment about hikes you have done in the South District. What is your favorite trail or loop? 
Navigate over to our other related articles on hikes in Shenandoah National Park


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