Cabin Camping in Shenandoah
This past weekend, my family took a trip to a primitive cabin outside Shenandoah National Park, one of many cabins owned and operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). Despite really cold temperatures, we had a great time and enjoyed slow-cooked meals, games played by candlelight and peace and quiet away from cell phones, Internet and other modern distractions.
We left Alexandria on Friday afternoon and hiked 1/2 mile up a steep trail to Morris Cabin. My kids had never been cabin camping (or camping at all for that matter) so I was a little nervous how they would handle it. Fortunately, as soon as they saw the cabin from the trail, they were instantly in awe and couldn’t wait to get inside.
The cabin, built in 1927 by Wayman Morris, has four rooms: a kitchen/dining room, living room, separate bedroom and a sleeping loft. It’s primitive, meaning it has no electricity or running water, but it has everything you really need.
Since it was so cold, we all decided to sleep in the main living room near the wood stove.
The cabin sleeps 12 and extra mattresses are kept in a screened cage (to protect from mice) in the loft.
Through the main living room, you enter a spacious kitchen with a second large dining table, a sink that drains outside (no running water though), an antique wood cook stove and cabinets with dishes and utensils.
The exposed beams add rustic charm and the skylight provides much-needed additional light during the day. Make sure to bring candles for evening card games.
It was fun to cook on the wood stove, although it took a really long time to heat up. We cooked French toast, faux sausage links and scrambled eggs for breakfast on Saturday and vegetable fajitas for dinner. On our first night, we cooked hot dogs and baked beans in a fire pit outside.
The back door leads to a covered porch with an array of old tools and an area to chop wood. The code of the cabin is to chop more wood than you use. Much of our afternoon on Saturday was spent gathering logs and branches for firewood. Everyone helped.
Past the shed, you’ll find the privy and a natural spring which runs through an old claw-foot tub. If you have a water purifier, you can drink the water. Otherwise it’s just good to have for washing dishes and hands. I imagine if you visit in the summer, a dip in the tub would be quite relaxing, but the temps during our visit barely rose above 40 degrees.
Wayman Morris grew corn and raised horses on the land up and down the mountain. I’m guessing he used this now abandoned barn, just up the hill, for his horses.
The cabin is one of six on the property known as the Vining Tract, named after Dr. and Mrs. Rutledge Vining who sold the land to PATC in 1981. Trails connect all the cabins, providing lots of opportunities for exploration, with stunning views of the Piedmont below.
Rental rates vary by cabin — Morris was only $35/night. You do have to be a member to rent their cabins (except the ones inside Shenandoah National Park) but the membership fee is only $40/year. I’d recommend purchasing their cabin book for $15 so you can browse the options — it includes a regional cabin map, floor plans and interior photos, plus handy instructions for operating a wood stove and other “survival” tips.
All members of our family had an incredible time and we’re already browsing the cabin book for our next adventure.