Shenandoah National Park is a wilderness wonderland, drawing over a million visitors each year with its numerous hikes, cascading waterfalls, tranquil woods, and mountain vistas. Located amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, the picturesque park encompasses over 200,000 acres and is just under 100 miles from Washington, D.C. One of the park’s central features is Skyline Drive, a historic winding mountain road lined with trees that extends for 105 miles and features many scenic overlooks. Along Skyline Drive, the park boasts over 500 miles of trails, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, as well as many cultural landmarks.
The park is studded with old growth forests and a variety of wildlife, but it’s the park’s rich history that makes SNP especially unique. Established on December 26, 1935 during the Hoover administration, the park’s creation was no small feat as many of the area’s inhabitants were reluctant to give up their land to the government. At least 500 families are said to have been evicted from their homes during this time and many are buried in the old cemeteries that remain in the park today (see Little Devil Stairs and South River Falls below). The park’s main artery, Skyline Drive, also has historical roots, as it was a major accomplishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – a work relief group that provided unemployed men with jobs preserving natural resources in America during the Great Depression.
With its rich history and stunning outdoor opportunities, SNP is a great place for a unique outdoor experience. To make planning a trip to Shenandoah a little easier, this mini guide will highlight 8 different hikes ranging from easy to strenuous that are located near the park’s four entrances along historic Skyline Drive.
Entrance 1: Front Royal Entrance
Little Devils Stairs
As the name suggests, this hike will have you working hard for your lunch. The trail starts at the Keyser Run parking area and the first half is a steep climb through quiet woods that passes an impressive gorge with many cascading falls. The second half of the loop is a pleasant walk on a fire road through old growth forests and passes by Bolen Cemetery, which makes this hike perfect for those who enjoy a bit of history with their hike.
Mile marker: 19.4
Mileage: 7 miles
Overall Run Falls
A challenging, but rewarding hike that features expansive views and the park’s largest waterfall. The first half of the hike is a steep descent on Overall Run Trail past the base of the falls where hikers can then turn around and retrace their steps up the mountain and back to the parking area. At the base of the 93 ft falls, you’ll find several swimming holes that are great for a midhike cool off. There are also a few lovely campsites close by if you wish to extend your trip and spend a night under the stars.
Mile marker: 22.2
Mileage: 5 miles
Entrance 2: Thornton Gap Entrance
This short and steep hike takes you to the Hawksbill Peak, the park’s highest summit at 4,051 feet. There are two options to get you to the top, a short and steep climb or a less challenging winding trail. Once at the top, hikers can stand on the viewing platform and feast their eyes on 360 views of the Shenandoah Valley. This short hike is perfect for hikers looking for a quick sweat with big payoffs.
Mile marker: 45.5
Mileage: 2-3 miles
Rose River Falls Loop
A beautiful and scenic loop that winds for 4 miles through beautiful woods and is accessible in all seasons. The trail meanders along the Rose River and features a lovely 67 foot waterfall. There are many spots for swimming during the summer, so be sure to bring a swimsuit! The total elevation gain of the hike is 910 ft and since the trail is moderately steep at parts, it is best suited for intermediate hikers.
Mile marker: 49.4
Mileage: 4 miles
Entrance 3: Swift Run Gap Entrance
A short but sweet hike located at just about the center point of Skyline Drive, Bearfence includes a challenging, but fun, rock scramble and is suitable for beginner and intermediate hikers. The summit features stunning 360 views and many places to sit and take in the views, which makes this hike perfect for a sunrise or sunset adventure – just be sure to bring your camera and a headlamp!
Mile marker: 56.4
Mileage: 1 mile
South River Falls
This is a lovely wooded hike suitable for just about any hiker. About 1.3 miles into the hike, there is a walled overlook of South River Falls, which is the third largest waterfall in the park! There is even a spur trail that leads down to the base of the waterfall if you’d like to get a closer look at the falls or are feeling up for a cold dip. You can retrace your steps to take the trail back to the parking area or you can take the South River Fire Road back and visit the South River Cemetery. An easy and steady trail, this hike is perfect for those who want to enjoy the park’s quiet woods. Bonus tip: try out this hike in the Spring to see beautiful wildflowers and to hear the melodies of migrant songbirds.
Mile Marker 62.7
Mileage: 3.3 miles
Entrance 4: Rockfish Gap
Jones Run Falls Trail
With a 42 foot waterfall and stream crossings, Jones Run Falls Trail is a great choice for hikers who want to pair a short, moderate trail with a refreshing dip. To try out this hike, simply take Jones Run Trail for 1.7 miles to Jones Run Falls. Once you’ve arrived, you can explore the area for other smaller falls, continue on the trail to Doyles River Falls (another popular waterfall in the area) or turn back to hike back to the parking area.
Mile Marker: 84.1
Mileage: 3.5 miles
Riprap + Wildcat Ridge
Riprap Hollow is a very popular hike and perhaps the most challenging on this guide, but well worth the effort for its beautiful waterfall and scenic views from Chimney Rock. The hike is in the southernmost region of the park near the Rockfish Gap entrance and follows Riprap Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, and part of the Appalachian Trail. The hike includes an impressive 2,225 feet in elevation gain but all that hard work is rewarded with a 20ft waterfall and a large swimming hole to cool off in!
Mile Marker: 90
Mileage: 10 miles
Tips for When in the Park
Each of these hikes offers something unique and all are wonderful ways to explore the majesty of Shenandoah National Park. If you do decide to visit SNP, or any National Park for that matter, please remember to do so responsibly. The National Park Service strives to preserve the integrity of natural and cultural resources in America and you can support this mission by leaving no trace. This means disposing of waste properly, staying on the trail, leaving what you find, respecting other visitors, and maintaining a safe distance from wildlife. As visiting National Parks has become more popular in recent years, it remains crucial that we follow these guidelines and do our part to assist in the maintenance of these special places.
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