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  • Writer's pictureKris Maria Wanders

11 Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park (with Waterfalls!)

Updated: Mar 27




Despite what TLC says, chasing waterfalls is never a bad idea! Thankfully, for those who call Virginia home (such as myself), chasing waterfalls can be an every weekend reality -- especially if you live within driving distance of Shenandoah National Park. In fact, Shenandoah National Park is home to more than 500 miles of trails, including 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Many of these trails lead to more than a dozen named waterfalls, while dozens more are scattered throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 



In each district of the national park, you will find mountain streams with numerous cascades, along with several larger waterfalls. The largest concentration of waterfall hikes can be found in the park’s Central District, which spans from the Thornton Gap Entrance Station to the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station. Many of the hikes you will read about below are some of the best and most popular hikes in the park, along with some lesser-known trails thrown in, of course!


Most of these trails are also indicated by mile markers (I include these where applicable), and are the perfect hikes to experience in any season. However, I must admit summer is my favorite time to enjoy these hikes, which you’ll quickly see why!


Keep reading below to learn more about 10 of my favorite waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park, as well as a few bonus ones that are still on my bucket list!


1. White Oak Canyon Trail


None of the trails in this blog post are listed in any particular order as far as favoritism goes (per say). They are each uniquely amazing in their own way. However, I do think this trail deserves the top spot for several reasons. Located between mile markers 42 and 43 on Skyline Drive, it's probably one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park. It might be equally as popular as Old Rag or Little Stony Man (Shenandoah’s second highest point). Because of this alone, it will be busy! It's a must-do though, especially if it's your first time visiting the park. This trail contains six waterfalls and several smaller cascades along a 3 mile stretch of trail that will simply wow you with natural beauty. 


The Best Way to Hike White Oak Canyon Trail

There are several ways to complete this hike, including a 9+ mile loop with the Cedar Run Trail which is described below. You really can't go wrong with any of them, but if you are looking for easy hiking trails, these may not be it since they are all quite challenging! If it’s a challenge you’re looking for, however, definitely put them on your Shenandoah waterfall hikes to-do list. Personally, I prefer the 6 mile out-and-back version as it provides easy access from Weakly Hollow Road. While White Oak Canyon is accessible from Skyline Drive, I think it makes more sense to start with an incline and hike back down, rather than the reverse. From Weakly Hollow road, you'll trek from Lower White Oak Falls parking area up to Upper White Oak Falls. Dropping 86 feet, it's worth the strenuous hike to see. Lastly, you'll return the way you came. 


Something to note is that this parking lot fills up extremely fast, especially on summer weekends. Your best chance of snagging a parking spot is to arrive early in the morning. If that isn't an option, the neighbors typically charge $10 per car to let you park on their property. You do still need to pay your park entry fee (or have your Annual Parks Pass) to enter Shenandoah from this access point.



2. Overall Run Falls


This Shenandoah waterfall hike is probably one of my favorite hikes in the park. One reason for this is of course the beautiful Overall Run Falls. It is the largest single drop waterfall in Shenandoah at 93 feet. Another reason is the "path less traveled" option for reaching the falls that not only offers solitude, but an incredible bonus along the way: several cascades into glorious blue pools. It offers some seriously spectacular views!


The Best Way to Hike Overall Run Falls


This trail option is about six miles out and back, and is challenging primarily due to the steep climb at the end to reach Overall Run Falls. You'll start outside the park from Thompson Hollow and hike about a mile to reach the cascades and blue pools. Then, you'll briefly retrace your steps back to an intersection where you'll turn right onto the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail. You'll follow this trail up to Overall Run Falls for beautiful panoramic views, and you can continue upward to Upper Overall Run Falls if you wish. From the Overall Run falls viewpoint, there's a little back trail that will take you over to the top of the waterfall. While it’s a beautiful view, be careful of your footing!


The other route option I'd recommend is a 4 mile out-and-back hike from Matthews Arm campground at mile marker 22 (though it will be longer from the hiker parking lot). This route takes you on a decline first, passing by Upper Overall Run Falls before reaching the larger Overall Run Falls.


3. Lewis Springs Falls


I think the best way to describe Lewis Springs Falls is simply "underrated." This trail located at mile marker 51.2 near the Big Meadows Lodge, is so close to many other popular Shenandoah waterfall hikes. Thanks to trails like Hawksbill, Stony Man Trail, and Dark Hollow Falls, it likely just gets overlooked. However, that's everyone else's loss and your gain!


Just down the road from Dark Hollow Falls parking lot on Skyline Drive, across from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, you'll find a tiny parking lot. This is the trailhead to Lewis Spring Falls. I consider this one of the park's medium hikes, as it's only .9 miles one way (1.8 total), but climbs up to 650 ft on the way out. Just above the falls, there is a beautiful mountain vista with great views. 



4. Jones Run Falls


It may not be the tallest waterfall in the park, but you'll definitely appreciate the beauty that is Jones Run Falls in the Southern section of Shenandoah. In addition to one larger waterfall, the Jones Run trail has several smaller falls, cascades, and pools for you to enjoy. The trek is roughly 4.5 miles out-and-back, and is rather steep at 1,200 ft elevation gain. You'll start this hike on a descent from Jones Run parking area along Skyline Drive, then return the way you came.


Personally, I recommend making this a loop hike. Past the base of Jones Run Falls, you can catch the Doyle's River Trail up to Lower and Upper Doyle's River Falls. You can also approach this loop from the Browns Gap parking area, which I've described in the Doyle's River Falls section below! Did I mention how amazing the wild flowers are here in the spring and summer? Well, now you know!



5. Rose River Falls


This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park as it’s so picturesque and soothing! There’s also a greater likelihood of seeing wildlife such as white-tailed deer on this trail, especially during the spring months. Like White Oak Canyon, it mostly follows a mountain stream, providing a peaceful sound of running water while you hike. There are several beautiful cascades along the trail, in addition to the main attraction of Rose River Falls. It's absolutely gorgeous when the trail is lined with wildflowers (we get so much mountain laurel)! 


During the summer months, I definitely recommend a dip in the falls. However, there are plenty of places along the trail to stop and cool off. Rose River Loop Trail is 4 miles with 875 feet of elevation gain. It’s not an easy hike by any means, but if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, it connects to several other gorgeous trails. Additionally, it offers plenty of other options to make it a longer hike if you wish. For an extra .25 mile each way, you can access the popular Dark Hollow Falls. It's worth it if you've never been! 



6. Dark Hollow Falls


I don't think anyone would argue the fact that this is the most popular waterfall in the park. The 70 foot waterfall can be reached relatively quickly from the Dark Hollow Falls parking area along Skyline drive. From here, it is a 1.4 mile round trip hike with 564 feet elevation gain on the way back. I'd definitely recommend this option if you are short on time in the park. If not, I'd combine it with Rose River Falls above! A note of caution, however: this one will be busy. Like all popular places, it's best to go in as early in the morning as possible if you want solitude and clear camera shots. 


Another note of caution that might be particularly helpful from late spring and early fall, is to be aware of black bears on this trail. The black bear is known to be much less aggressive than the Grizzly or brown bear, but it’s still important to keep your distance if you happen to cross paths with one. Not to scare you, but 40 percent of Shenandoah is a designated wilderness. It has the densest population of black bears in the United States, so the likelihood of spotting one is definitely higher!



7. Doyle’s River Falls (Upper and Lower)


A big bonus of this beautiful hike in the South district of Shenandoah is that you get two waterfalls for the hike of one! For just 3.5 miles of hiking through beautiful forest, you can experience two large waterfalls along Doyle's River in addition to several pools. These are very refreshing in the summer. This hike starts on a rather steep descent from Skyline Drive and then requires you to climb back up the way you came. 


I personally recommend making this a three-waterfall hike by combining it with Jones Run (see Number 4 above). This combo hike comes out to less than 7 miles in total, starting and ending at Brown's Gap parking area. Start out on a descent to Jones Run Falls, where you'll find several smaller falls and cascades along the way. Then, make your ascent up Doyle's River Trail, first passing Lower and then Upper Doyles River Falls. Complete the loop back to your car via the fire road.


8. Cedar Run Falls Trail


Ok, so maybe I lied. When it comes to the title of my favorite waterfall hike in the park, it's a tie. If it weren't for the popularity, Cedar Run trail would solely claim my top spot. This steep, rocky trail is 100 percent worth it  for the beautiful blue pools alone! The best time to hike this trail is in the summer months since you can cool off with a refreshing swim! And guess what? That's not all. This trail offers a very unique feature: a natural water slide! When the water level is high enough, it's a blast! There are roughly five sizable waterfalls on this trail, and you can also rock jump at one of them as long as you're careful! If you love outdoor adventures, this trail is for you. Definitely set aside extra time to play in the falls. 


Like White Oak Canyon, enjoy easy access to Cedar Run from Skyline Drive or from the parking lot on Weakly Hollow Road. The two trails actually share this parking area. About .25 miles from the trailhead, you'll have to choose your route: right to White Oak Canyon, or left to Cedar Run. If you have additional time, you can just do the entire loop! From the lower parking area up to the water slide, you're looking at roughly 2 miles and 1,000+ feet of elevation gain. It’s not the easiest hike in the park, but it's the easiest way to see all of the waterfalls and blue pools. If you start on Skyline Drive and hike down, it's a tough climb out with an elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet. I personally recommend approaching this one from the bottom up.


9. Hazel Falls


If you’re looking for another great out-and-back trail with beautiful views, you’ll want to check out Hazel Falls. This amazing waterfall trail is located at mile marker 33.5 from the Meadow Spring Parking Area, and takes roughly 5 hours to complete.





First, you’ll take the yellow-blazed Hazel Mountain Trail past the Buck Ridge Trail. Once you get to the fork in the trail, you will turn left onto the yellow-blazed White Rocks Trail. Walk until you get to the next trailpost, and turn right to enjoy two small waterfalls. At your leisure, you can turn around and retrace your steps back to your car in the parking lot. This 5.3 mile trail isn’t the easiest hike as it has an elevation gain of 1,070 feet. However, the best months to visit are between March and November, meaning it’s basically gorgeous to visit year-round!


10. Naked Creek Falls


Although this out-and-back hike in the park’s Central District is short at 1.5 miles, it’s anything but easy. Considered challenging, this off-trail, unmarked path at mile marker 53 has an elevation gain of nearly 1000 feet. Another important fact about this trail is that backcountry bushwhacking is necessary in order to advance on the trail.





Just off Naked Creek Outlook, it goes through a field and along a creek that leads all the way to an Upper and a Lower Falls. Because of this, it’s only recommended for advanced hikers. During certain months, the brush can grow very thick, and present numerous hazards including snakes, ticks, and dangerous plant life. The bright side to this, is that it is very unlikely that you will encounter other hikers. It’s not one of the most popular hikes, but if its quiet and solitude you seek, Naked Creek Falls will provide. 


11. South River Falls

Central District’s South River Falls is the third tallest waterfall in the park at 83 feet. There are several route options you can choose to get there, and all trails vary in length and difficulty making it great for hikers of all levels. Known to be one of the best hikes for outdoor adventure enthusiasts and bird watchers, this 3.3 mile circuit hike takes roughly 2 to 3 hours to complete. The elevation gain on this one is a bit steep at 910 feet, but it’s a great hike with a great reward. 





To begin, you can start at mile marker 62.7 (South River Picnic Grounds comfort center), and take the blue-blazed South River Falls Trail. Stay on the trail to the stony-walled observation point, then continue to the trail post. Go left once you get to the yellow-blazed South River Falls Trail, and continue until it joins into South River Fire Road. Continue on Fire Road until you reach the Appalachian Trail, then turn left and follow the white-blazed trail to its intersection. After you’re done exploring, turn right to turn back to the starting point! Two additional bonuses are that you don’t need a reservation for this trail, and it can be enjoyed year-round!


Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park: Honorable Mention


Riprap Trail

Riprap trail is known for a beautiful swimming hole in addition to stunning mountain views. This is a more difficult hike at 9.5 miles and 2,220 ft of elevation gain (rated hard on alltrails).

Closing Tips: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park


I definitely recommend searching these trails on the Alltrails app and/or Hikingupward.com before heading out! Not only will be able to choose the right route for you, but you can also find important information such as recent trail conditions, closures, wildlife sightings, etc. Alltrails usually tells you which trails are dog friendly which are not. I find recent reviews helpful (sometimes) for up-to-date trail conditions. Of course, the Shenandoah NPS website is also a great tool to reference as well!


Leave No Trace


Please remember the principle of leave no trace when enjoying you outdoor adventures! Whatever you pack in, pack out. Take all trash and other waste out with you, always stay on marked trails, and respect wildlife and other hikers you may encounter on the trails. Make sure to use caution near waterfalls as these areas are wet and slippery, and many may include rock scramble or steep inclines. 


Happy exploring!


-Kris


3 Comments


joseph.sershen
Jan 06

Naked creek waterfall is really nice go to naked creek overlook and park then go straight down to the creek and go to the left where you will have to climb down some rock not bad though then you will see upper then lower

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soanaalpatel
Jul 28, 2022

Thank you so much for all the detailed work💙

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Kristin Repchick
Kristin Repchick
Jul 28, 2022
Replying to

You're very welcome! I'm glad it's helpful!

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