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Rapidan Camp: History at the Headwaters

How is Rapidan Camp tied to a hobby?  Read on to discover the history.

It’s always good to have a hobby. But when times are tough it’s especially wise to have a pastime you love – knitting, baking, assembling model airplanes, collecting stamps – something to take your mind off your current woes and clear out the cobwebs, so you can refocus and gain new perspective.

If ever anyone needed a hobby, it was President Herbert Hoover, our nation’s leader during the first years of the Great Depression. For many, the Great Depression was the toughest time in history. The stock market crashed, banks failed, people were out of work for years – hope was hard to come by.  Unfortunately for Hoover, on him fell the terrible responsibility to try to lead our nation out of the Depression. Fortunately for our 31st president, he came into office with a fully fledged hobby: fly fishing.

Because of his passion for angling, Hoover chose as his presidential retreat the area around the headwaters of the Rapidan River, in what would later become Shenandoah National Park. Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, created at Rapidan Camp a peaceful sanctuary, a second home where the president could unwind and host world dignitaries in a setting much more casual and relaxing than the White House. And where, of course, Hoover could fish to his heart’s delight.

When Hoover left office in 1933, he donated Rapidan Camp to the American people through the nascent Shenandoah National Park. Today three buildings remain at Rapidan, one of which, the “Brown House,” has been historically restored to its 1929 appearance. Another building, the Prime Minister’s Cabin, features exhibits about the Hoovers and the Camp’s history.

Ranger-Guided Tours

From Memorial Day through October, Shenandoah National Park offers a two-and-a-half-hour ranger-guided tour of Rapidan Camp. Reservations are required for the tour and can be made up to six months ahead of time, either online at Recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777 (10:00 a.m. to midnight EST). Request the “Special Tours” category and specify Rapidan Camp. You can also take a 4-mile hike to and from Rapidan Camp via the Mill Prong Trail, from the Milam Gap parking area just south of mile 52 on Skyline Drive.

There’s a wealth of information about the Hoovers and Rapidan Camp on the Park’s website. Before you visit, check it out.

Written by Patressa Kearns