8 Amazing Waterfall Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Despite what TLC says, chasing waterfalls is never a bad idea! Did you know there were so many in Shenandoah National Park? There are mountain streams with numerous cascades and several larger waterfalls in each district of the park. While they're uniquely beautiful in every season, it's hard to beat swimming in the summer! Here are 8 of my favorite waterfall trails in the park, plus a few bonus ones at the end that are still on my bucket list!
1. White Oak Canyon Trail
These aren't in any particular order (per se), but I do think this trail deserves the #1 spot for several reasons. For starters, it's probably the most popular trail in the park next to Old Rag. Yes, it will be busy! It's a must though, especially if it's your first time visiting the park. This trail will wow you with over 6 waterfalls and several smaller cascades along one 3 mile stretch of trail.
There are several ways to complete this hike (including a 9+ mile loop with the Cedar Run Trail, described below). You really can't go wrong with any of them (granted, they are all challenging)! Personally, I prefer the 6 mile out and back version starting from Weakly Hollow Road. While White Oak Canyon is accessible from Skyline Drive, I think it's easier 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', it's worth the strenuous hike to see. Then, you'll return the way you came.
Something to note is that this parking lot fills up FAST, especially on summer weekends. Your best chance of snagging a 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 hike is probably my favorite waterfall trek in the park. One reason for that of course is the beautiful Overall Run Falls. It is the largest single drop waterfall in Shenandoah at 93'. 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.
This trail option is about 6 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 the Overall Run Falls viewpoint, and you can continue upward to Upper Overall Run Falls if you wish. From the Overall Run falls viewpoint, there's a little side trail that will take you over to the top of the waterfall if you wish. It's a cool view, just be careful!
The other route option I'd recommend is a 4 mile out and back hike from Matthews Arm campground (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 Lew Spring Falls is "underrated." This trail is so close to many popular Shenandoah hikes (Hawksbill, Stony Man, Dark Hollow Falls), so I think it just gets overlooked. That's everyone else's loss though! Just down the road from Dark Hollow Falls parking lot on Skyline Drive, across from the visitor center, you'll find a tiny parking lot. This is the trailhead to Lewis Spring Falls. I consider this hike moderate, as it's only .9 miles one way (1.8 total), but climbs 650 ft on the way out. Just above the falls, there is a beautiful mountain vista.
4. Jones Run Falls
It may not be the tallest falls 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, 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!
Oh, and did I mention how amazing the wild flowers are here in the spring and summer!?
5. Rose River Falls
This is one of the most picturesque and soothing hikes in Shenandoah. Like White Oak Canyon, it mostly follows a mountain stream, giving you the peaceful sound of running water. 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)! In the summer, I definitely recommend a dip in the falls. There are plenty of places along the trail to stop and cool off. Rose River Trail is 4 miles with 875 ft of elevation gain. It connects to several other trails, giving you plenty of options to make a longer hike if you wish. For an extra .25 miles 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 if I said this is the most popular waterfall in the park. The 70' falls can be reached relatively quickly from the Dark Hollow Falls parking area along Skyline drive. From here, it is a 1.4 mile RT 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- this one will be busy. Like all popular places, it's best to go in the morning if you want solitude and clear camera shots.
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 price of one! (sort of ?). 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 (very refreshing in the summer). This hike will start on a rather steep descent from Skyline Drive and then require you to climb back up the way you came. I personally recommend (if you have the time) making this a three-waterfall hike by combining it with Jones Run (see Number 4 above). This combo hike comes out to ~7 miles 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, I lied. My favorite waterfall hike in the park is a tie. If it weren't for the popularity, Cedar Run trail would solely claim my top spot. This steep, rocky trail is 100% worth it though for the beautiful blue pools that you can swim in during the summer. 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 5 sizeable waterfalls on this trail, and you can also rock jump at one of them (as long as you're careful!). If you're on the adventurous side, this trail is for you- definitely plan to spend some time playing in the falls.
Like White Oak Canyon, you can access 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 (or 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. This is 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, gaining over 2,000 feet. I personally recommend approaching this one from the bottom up.
Still on my bucket list...
South River Falls
South River falls is the 3rd tallest waterfall in the park and has several route options that vary in length and difficulty.
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).
Both trails are located in the Southern district of Shenandoah!
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 the outdoors! Take all trash (& other waste) out with you, stay on trail, respect wildlife and other hikers. Make sure to use caution near waterfalls, as these areas are wet and slippery. I recommend sturdy footwear for steep, rocky trails.