Northern Virginia Dayhikes

Shenandoah National Park, Central Section
These hikes are listed roughly in order from north to south. The trails are usually best accessed from the edge of the park (when possible) so that you can hike up and then down, rather than the reverse. The central section of the park runs from Thornton Gap (mile 31.5) to Swift Run Gap (mile 65.5).

The highest peaks in the park can be found along the Skyline Drive in this section, which probably also has the greatest concentration of impressive views and interesting trails. Some of the better short hikes include Marys Rock, Stony Man, Millers Head (see picture of trail), the Limberlost Trail, Hawksbill summit, Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Spring Falls, and Bearfence summit.

The southern section of the park also has excellent views and trails, many with a more mountainous and remote feeling than the ones further north, but this gets beyond my 2-hour drive limit from the DC area.

On-line References
Guide to Shenandoah National Park contains good detailed descriptions of trails and small area maps.
The National Park Service has good information and a large park map in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has more good info and slightly smaller JPG images of the park map.

Buck Hollow
Distance: photo
Buck Hollow/Buck Ridge circuit - 6.5/1800
side trip to Marys Rock - 2.9/830
side trip to Hazel Falls - 4.6/800

Location: Near Sperryville, just inside the park on the road up Thornton Gap, or from the Skyline Drive at the Meadow Spring Parking area (mile 33.5).

Picture: Pink Lady's-Slipper orchid on the Buck Hollow Trail.

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. See also park references.

Description: A pleasant hike by a small stream, Buck Hollow is a very scenic area and you will usually have it all to yourself. The hike down Buck Ridge provides a few limited views and also takes you through some interesting burned out areas. Most of it is recovering quickly, but one short section was pretty well devastated. Side trips take you to the excellent (but often crowded) Marys Rock overlook or to a small waterfall and cave on the Hazel River.


last hiked: May, 2001

Robertson Mountain
Distance (estimated):
Limberlost/Skyland/Loop circuit - 10/2800
Loop from Limberlost - 9/2500
Loop from Old Rag parking - 5.1/2200 (+1.6/200 from lower pkg)
Limberlost to Robertson peak and back - 5.2/1200

Loop = Robertson Mountain/Corbin Hollow loop

Location: From the Skyline Drive at the Limberlost Trail (mile 43), White Oak Canyon (mile 42.6) or Stony Man Nature Trail (mile 41.7) parking areas. See Old Rag for hiking up to the loop.

Details: See "Old Rag" for partial map at Guide to SNP. See also park references.

Description: The centerpiece of this hike is a loop made up by the Corbin Hollow and Robertson Mountain trails. The first takes you through a nice hollow with 2 pretty stream crossings near the bottom. The second gives you a few good looks at Old Rag and takes you up to a very good view from the top of Robertson Mountain. It's not as impressive a view as from Old Rag, but you probably won't have to share it with anyone else. As an added attraction, the Limberlost Trail takes you through a very nice hemlock forest.


last hiked: 2002

Old Rag
Distance: photo
Ridge Trail loop - 7.1/2200
from lower pkg area, add about 1.6/200
up and back from Berry Hollow - 5.4/1760

Location: East edge of park at Nethers, VA (or at Berry Hollow). For a longer trip, it can also be accessed from the Skyline Drive around miles 42-43.

Picture: Resting just below the summit.

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. See also park references.

Description: Standing by itself just east of the main Blue Ridge, Old Rag provides wonderful views of the mountains in the central portion of the park and the rolling farmland to the east. Along the rocky ridge of the mountain, the trail features its well known boulder scramble as it winds over, under, and around large boulders. It squeezes through rock slits, climbs up a narrow natural staircase and through a short tunnel before reaching the summit. It's even nicer around early June when the mountain laurel is in bloom, but after the fires in 2000 it may be a few years before that happens again.


last hiked: October, 2005

White Oak Canyon
Distance: photo
short loop - 7.7/2270
standard loop - 9.1/2560
extended loop - 12/3100

up to upper falls and back - 5.3/1670
down to upper falls and back - 4.6/1040

Location: East edge of park near Banco. May also be accessed from Skyline Drive between miles 42.5 to 45.5.

Picture: The lower falls in White Oak Canyon (falls #6)

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. See also park references.

Description (standard loop):The hike up White Oak Canyon takes you through a beautiful ravine passing 6 waterfalls along the way and providing a very nice view back out to the east. After climbing out of the ravine, you walk through a shady hemlock forest and then connect up with the Skyline Drive at Crescent Rock for an excellent view to the west. Hiking back down Cedar Run, you'll pass a natural waterslide and another waterfall before returning to your starting point. The extended loop adds a trip to the excellent view at Hawksbill summit, the highest point in the park.


last hiked: September, 2003

Rose River
short loop - 8.7/1700
medium loop - 10.3/1950
long loop - 11.6/2500 (rough estimate)
longer loop - 12.8/2600 (rough estimate)

Location: The east edge of the park at Syria. This can also be accessed from the Big Meadows area on the Skyline Drive (mile 51).

Details: Description and maps of upper section from Guide to SNP under "Rose River Falls". NPS has detailed maps of Big Meadows area.

Description: The main attraction is bushwhacking up the scenic Rose River with its many small falls, cascades, and pools and a wonderful feeling of isolation to go with it. The remaining features overlap the Rose River Loop described below. The short loop takes you along Hogcamp Branch and the base of Dark Hollow Falls. The medium loop goes to Rose River Falls and Fisher Gap. The long loop allows you to come down Dark Hollow, passing the falls, and the longer loop adds the Blackrock overlook. All of them use a fire road to reach the edge of the park at the bottom of the Rose River.

Notes: Give yourself extra time for the 2 mile off-trail stretch. With water levels low, you can walk mostly along the streambed, but it's more difficult with high water. This area has some large sections of stinging nettles and bushwhacking always puts you at a higher risk for picking up ticks; long pants are strongly recommended no matter how hot it is.

last hiked: 2002

Rose River Loop
Distance: photo
short loop - 3.7/860
medium loop - 6.5/1600
long loop - 9/2320
Dark Hollow Falls and back - 1.4/440
Rose River Falls and back - 2.7/720
many other variations can be created

Location: Big Meadows area on the Skyline Drive (mile 51)

Picture: Hogcamp Branch filled with leaves

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. NPS has detailed maps of Big Meadows area.

Description (medium loop): Starting from the picnic area behind the campground, you follow the Appalachian Trail to a viewpoint at Fishers Gap, then begin descending to Rose River Falls. This is a nice 2 part falls, but not much to look at when the water is low. The trail continues down the river, passes the site of an old copper mine, then turns up Hogcamp Branch for what may well be the prettiest section of stream anywhere in the park. From there you climb up Dark Hollow, passing the falls, then take a nature trail to a good view at the Blackrock overlook. For the long loop, add a trip to the very scenic Lewis Spring Falls (see below).

Notes: This is not a trail for someone looking to get away from civilization. It crosses the Skyline Drive twice, both times at parking lots, goes through a developed area to get to the Blackrock overlook, and skirts the edge of a campground. As if that weren't enough, the Dark Hollow section of the loop is one of the most heavily used trails in the park.

last hiked: 1999

Lewis Falls
Distance: photo
down and back - 2/900 (estimate)
circuit - 3.7/1200
many other variations can be created

Location: Big Meadows area on the Skyline Drive (mile 51)

Picture: Lewis Falls seen from the viewing platform. See also the view from the base.

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. NPS has detailed maps of Big Meadows area.

Description: When the water is high, Lewis Falls is one of the prettiest falls in the park. There is an excellent viewing platform at the top and an unmaintained trail to an impressive view from the bottom. The circuit also contains a few nice views to the west.

Notes: Combine this with the Rose River Loop described above to create any number of dayhike circuits ranging from moderate to strenuous.

last hiked: September, 2003

Rapidan Camp
Mill Prong down and back - 4.1/870
Mill Prong loop - 6.8/1000
Laurel Prong/Mill Prong - 7.4/1520
Laurel Prong/Mill Prong/Rapidan Road - 10.2/1800 (estimate)
Rapidan Road/Mill Prong - 9.9/1165
Rapidan Road/Laurel Prong - 13.3/1800 (estimate)

Location: Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51) or Milam Gap (mile 53)

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. NPS has detailed maps of Big Meadows area.

Description: The highlight of this trail is exploring historic Rapidan Camp, a retreat created for and used by Herbert Hoover. There are many historical signs and some of the buildings are still maintained. There is also a small waterfall near the camp on the Mill Prong trail.


last hiked: 1999

South River Falls
Distance: photo
to overlook and back - 2.6/850
to base of falls and back - 4.2/1050
short loop - 4.7/1315
Pocosin Trail loop - 9.8/2000

Location: South River Overlook (mile 62.7). Pocosin Loop can also be started at mile 59.5. Both a trail and a road extend to the east edge of the park, but I don't know if there is access from those points.

Picture: Looking up from the base of the falls.

Details: Description and maps from Guide to SNP. See also park references.

Description: South River Falls is probably the single most impressive waterfall in the park. It sits at one edge of a huge natural amphitheater with the trail taking you to an overlook at the other edge. You can also hike to a pool at the base of the falls.

Notes: The falls are a very popular spot and can get quite crowded, but the rest of the Pocosin Trail loop does not get much use.

last hiked: 1998

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