Before the official establishment of Shenandoah National Park in 1936, President Herbert Hoover found respite from the heat of Washington at Camp Rapidan, a shady retreat located at the confluence of Mill Prong and Laurel Prong with the Rapidan River, one of Virginia’s premier trout fishing streams. Hoover and the First Lady spent their time here in the surprisingly informal Brown House overlooking the Rapidan.
The Presidential couple used the retreat from 1929 to 1932, and many residents of Madison County (which borders the park just below Camp Rapidan) believed that when the national park came to be, the road into Camp Rapidan would become a park entrance. But this was never to be, and to this day, Madison County is the only community bordering the park without an auto entrance to Shenandoah.
The Brown House is one of only a handful of buildings left here at Camp Rapidan, and during the high season, park rangers often hold interpretive programs here. You can even catch a bus to the camp on certain days during the summer, but I recommend hiking in instead. The best (and least crowded) route to take is the Mill Prong Trail. The trailhead parking is located just south of Big Meadows.
The trek from the parking area to Camp Rapidan is about four miles roundtrip with a fair amount of up and down hiking, a few stream crossings, and lovely glimpses of small waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you might even see a black bear or two along the way. Much of the hike parallels Mill Prong, and there are a couple of great swimming holes along the way. Allow at least four hours if you plan to spend some time exploring the camp.