15 Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

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There are truly some amazing hikes in Shenandoah National Park and with over 500 miles of trails you are sure to find one that you love.

Most of the trails in Shenandoah lead to either a stunning viewpoint or a gorgeous waterfall, but there are also trails that just meander through the forest.

On some hikes you’ll pass by foundations from the buildings of the people who lived in the area before 1935 when the park was created.

The National Park Service does a fantastic job of maintaining the park and trails. I tried to explore as many hiking trails as I could during my stay in the park and each one was well maintained.

Before I visited Shenandoah, I put together a bucket list of hikes that I wanted to take. This post was put together based on that research and my personal experience. I’ve put an * beside each of the hikes that I completed personally.

If you have your own hiking bucket list then check out these best hikes in the southeast.

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

The hikes under this section do not allow dogs! If you want a full list of hikes where dogs are not allowed then check out the Pets Page on the National Parks Service website.

Old Rag

This is by far and away the most iconic hike of the park. At least for serious hikers.

There are a couple of different ways that you can hike this. The traditional Old Rag circuit is 9.4-miles and considered very strenuous.

With an elevation gain of 2,348ft and an estimated hiking time of 7.5 hours, do not take this one lightly. There is also a long rock scramble (I believe over a mile) that you have to traverse.

The Old Rag parking lot is actually located outside of the National Park so if you want to get there you’ll have to come down off of Skyline Drive.

An alternate route to get to Old Rage that leaves out the rock scramble and is a bit shorter is Old Rag via Berry Hollow.

The trail is still 5.4-miles total on an out-and-back trail and considered strenuous. There is 1,760ft of elevation gain and the estimated hiking time is 6.25 minutes.

No matter which way you choose, if you hike Old Rag you should definitely be proud of yourself.

Stony Man* – One of my Favorite Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

This was one of my absolute favorite hikes. Many of the trails I went on in Shenandoah were pretty tough and this one was actually pretty easy.

The Stony Man parking area is near the Skyland Resort area and is located at mile 41.7 on Skyline Drive. The parking area is pretty big and when you’re facing the forest opposite the road the trail will be in the right-hand corner.

You walk through beautiful forest and at one point ferns cover the ground surrounding you. The hike is 1.6-miles long and considered easy.

As you start to reach the summit the trail gets rockier and you’ll pass large boulders. You’ll come up on a small sign that says “Stony Man Summit.”

Once you emerge from the trees the view is absolutely incredible. Right after you get out of the trees you’ll walk up onto a large rock outcropping where you can climb and look at the valley below and the surrounding mountains.

The town of Luray is down below and if you’re lucky you’ll be up among the clouds. It was very rainy/misty during my visit so the clouds were floating by but they didn’t obscure the view below.

The suggested hiking time is 1 hour for this trail and there is only an elevation gain of 340ft. I finished the trail in about an hour but that included 15 minutes of taking photos.

In my opinion, this is by far one of the best trails in Shenandoah National Park.

Fox Hollow

This is an easy trail that starts across the road from Dicky’s Ridge Visitor Center at mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive.

There is no viewpoint on this hike but you will learn about the inhabitants of the area before it was a park and see what they left behind like rock piles and even a family cemetery.

This 1.2-mile loop trail has a self-guided brochure that goes with it and educational signs every so often.

It’s perfect for kids since it is educational and very easy. Only an elevation gain of 310ft and suggested hiking time of 45 minutes.

Limberlost

trailhead sign and path

This trail is one of the easiest in the park and it’s also fully accessible. The entire 1.3-mile loop trail is paved with only 130ft of elevation change.

There is a brochure that goes with this hike as well and signs to educate about the forest that surrounds you.

This is another one that won’t lead you to a viewpoint, but it will give you a peaceful walk in the woods.

Come in the springtime for mountain laurel and you can also see an example of columnar jointing on this trail.

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Best Waterfall Hikes

You can take pets on all of these waterfall hikes except for Dark Hollow Falls. Pets are not allowed on the Dark Hollow Falls trail.

Dark Hollow Falls Trail*

woman in front of waterfall - hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Dark Hollow Falls is the most popular waterfall trail in the park. The parking area is just north of The Meadow and Big Meadows Campground at mile 50.7.

Get there very early if you don’t want to deal with crowds – especially on weekends. You’ll see a large sign at the corner of the parking lot and that’s the direction of the trailhead.

I think people think that this is an easy hike because it’s only 1.4-miles total but do not underestimate this one. It is steep. The trip back was a doozy.

The trail is rocky like many other Shenandoah trails and you’ll walk by the creek for part of the way. I came up on a deer on this trail as well and it started walking right toward me until it decided to cross the creek and go up the bank.

Once you get down to the bottom there are plenty of places to hang out for a bit if you want to rest a while. There are multiple drops at this waterfall and they really are stunning. I’ll be honest though – this wasn’t my favorite waterfall.

Worth it? Absolutely. But there was one that literally took my breath away when I saw it. More on that later.

This is an out and back trail so you go down for 0.75-miles and then come back up the same way. It’s a total of 440ft of elevation change in that short distance.

They’ve rated it as moderate and according to the National Park Service, it should take an hour and 15 minutes to hike it. It took me about an hour which included 15 minutes for pictures at the bottom.

Rose River Falls*

tall waterfall with surrounding rocks

A huge storm came through and I decided to hike this one the day after. All that rain made this one very impressive. However, the trail was basically a small stream.

I was never more thankful for my waterproof boots than in that moment.

To reach this waterfall you’ll park at the Fisher’s Gap Overlook – there is a small parking area at the actual overlook but if you are at the entrance on the north side, you’ll see the Red Gate Fire Road just beside it and a sign for Rose River Loop parking.

You walk across Skyline Drive and start out on a horse trail. You’ll want to stay right at the first intersection that you come to and it will take you down to the falls.

You can either continue along the loop trail until you meet the Rose River Fire Road (go right) or you can turn around and go back the same way.

I chose to go back out the same way that I came because I thought the distance was shorter. I think it may have been steeper though which slowed me down a bit.

I don’t do so well with elevation changes. If you do the Rose River Loop as you see it on the NPS map then it’s a 4-mile circuit with an estimated 4.5 hours hiking time.

I passed a couple who said it had taken them about two hours though and they probably had another 20 minutes to go. They looked very fit though.

The trail is rated as moderate and there is an elevation gain of 910ft. It is VERY rocky through here so I do recommend hiking boots.

This is not a waterfall where you can hang out and enjoy the view for long. In fact, I struggled to even get to an angle where I could take a decent photo.

You’ll walk down a few stairs when the waterfall appears on your left and there is a steep bank that leads down to the river. It was muddy and slick when I was there so not a great place to hang out.

I even wasn’t sure that I’d found the right waterfall since there wasn’t a great place to admire it from. This is why you should look up photos of where you’re going before the hike.

Doyles River Falls* – Another of my Favorite Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

waterfall in the middle of woods

Finally, my favorite one. This is just one of those waterfalls that dreams are made of. I didn’t run into anyone else on the trail until I got to the falls and there were two photographers that arrived.

I started this hike between 8 – 8:30am. This is one of the trails that leads to multiple backcountry camping spots. You do need a permit to camp in the backcountry here but it’s free.

There are a couple of stream crossings but there are huge rocks to walk across at the big stream.

The first waterfall that you come to is small but very pretty and peaceful. Honestly though, I was thinking “Wow that was a long hike for this little thing.” Thank goodness I kept walking.

Just a short distance after you get to the upper falls you’ll come up on the lower falls. When you first see the falls it will look like there is a path for you to climb down the rocks to get to the base.

Don’t do that.

Keep walking along the trail and you’ll come to an open area that gives you a beautiful view of the falls and there are actually places to sit and chill for a bit.

The lower falls are stunning. This is where my breath was taken away. I truly felt like I was in a fairy tale.

The parking area is at mile 81.1 and the out-and-back trail is 3.3-miles round trip. The elevation gain is 1,189ft making this another tough one.

I’m not sure if it was because this was one of my last hikes of the week or if this trail really was that tough but I had to take a lot of breaks on my way out.

NPS estimates the hiking time for this one at 2 hours and 15 minutes. I 100% recommend the Doyles River Falls hike.

South River Falls

South River Falls came highly recommended by multiple park rangers so I will definitely head back in the spring to complete this one.

This hike is similar in difficulty to Doyles River Falls. 3.3-miles out-and-back and 910ft of elevation change.

It starts at the South River Picnic area at mile 62.7 just below the comfort station there. Bring a trail map with you as there are a few different turns on this one that you need to make.

You can also screenshot the hike description on the NPS website. The trail takes you to an observation point which is pretty easy to get to.

If you want an easy hike you could always go to the observation point and then come back.

Of course, the real reward is making it to the base of the falls. The estimated hiking time for the trail is 2 hours and 15 minutes and it’s rated as moderate.

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Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park With Dogs

Shenandoah is one of the most dog-friendly parks in the National Parks System. You can take your furry friend on all but a few trails so if you have a special hiking buddy then this is the park for you!

Compton Peak*

girl standing in front of rock formations

The day I hiked the Compton Peak trail it was misty and foggy but that made the forest look absolutely mystical.

There is a small parking lot at mile 10.4 called the Compton Gap Parking area. The trail starts across the road on the Appalachian Trail.

The hike is 2.4-miles out-and-back and considered moderate with an elevation gain of 855ft. The estimated hiking time is an hour and 45 minutes but I did it in about an hour and 30 – including photo time.

This is a peaceful hike – I came up on a deer on this trail as well. I only ran into a few other people on this trail and it was midmorning when I went.

This trail will get you out of breath when you’re headed up to the peak and then the way back down is nice and you can coast.

When you reach the intersection, you can go left to see the columnar jointing or right up to Compton Peak.

Since it was super foggy that day, I chose to go see the columnar jointing. It is so impressive!

You do have to climb down a short section of rock and I started to wonder if I was still on the right track.

When you reach a huge boulder turn to your left and the trail continues that way. The columnar jointing is on the back side of that boulder.

If you want a longer hike then start at the Jenkins Gap Parking area. You just come to the peak/columnar jointing intersection from the opposite direction.

Upper Hawksbill*

The Upper Hawksbill Trail is a must so you can see the highest point in Shenandoah.

There are a few different ways to reach Hawksbill Summit but I decided on the easiest as I had two other hikes to do that day.

For the easiest way up you can park at the Upper Hawksbill Parking area and it’s a 2.1-mile (round trip) out-and-back trail.

The elevation gain is only 520ft and the estimated hiking time is 1.5 hours. There are a couple of steep sections on this trail but overall it was pretty easy.

When I reached the top, what do you know, everything was shrouded in fog. I could see a break in the fog here and there though so I decided to wait for a few minutes.

I am so glad I did. The fog totally cleared out after about 10 minutes long enough for me to grab a few great photos.

At the end of this hike there is a stone viewing platform where you can look out over the surrounding mountains and valley below.

Right before the summit, you’ll find Byrds Nest 2 shelter where you can sit for a while and enjoy the view.

Blackrock Summit* – Fun Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

This was probably the most surprising hike of my trip. On the last day, I decided to do Blackrock Summit after a Park Ranger had recommended it.

This was an easy trail with an incredible reward. It’s just a 1-mile loop trail with only 175ft of elevation gain.

So it’s rated easy and the estimated hiking time is just 45 minutes. If you are looking for a quick hike on the south end of the park this is the one.

The Blackrock Parking area is at mile 84.4 and you’ll hop right onto the Appalachian Trail. Head south on the AT until you come to a trail post where you’ll take a right to the Blackrock Spur Trail.

This will be the summit view. The trail hugs the mountain as you walk in the middle of a boulder field.

Literally, black rocks will be on either side of you. I had some trail mix and it was a great place to sit, have a snack, and enjoy the view of the mountains.

You’ll continue around the side of the mountain until you reach Blackrock Hut Road-Trayfoot Mountain Trail and you’ll turn left.

And you’re back! This was my last hike at Shenandoah and after a long weekend packed with hiking trails this was really the cherry on top.

This is another one that I thought of as one of the best trails in Shenandoah.

Whiteoak Canyon

I am pretty sad that I wasn’t able to do this trail since I love waterfalls. There are a couple of different ways that you can tackle this hike.

If you just want to see the Lower Falls and want an easier hike then you’ll want to park at the Whiteoak Boundary Parking that’s outside the park.

This means you have to get off Skyline Drive if you are staying in the park. If you go this way, it’s a 2.9-mile out-and-back hike rated as moderate.

If you want to hike Whiteoak Canyon from Skyline Drive then you can take the Cedar Run – Whiteoak Circuit.

This hike is a whopping 8.1-miles and estimated to take 7 hours total. With an elevation gain of 2,794ft it is very strenuous.

This is not for the faint of heart. However, you pass multiple waterfalls on this trail and it’s a favorite for those who have completed it.

Mary’s Rock

tunnel through mountain

Mary’s Rock trail will lead you to beautiful views and it’s a gorgeous trail through the forest in any season.

Park at the Panorama parking area beside the Thorton Gap Entrance Station at mile 31.6. From here it’s a 3.7-mile out-and-back hike to a gorgeous viewpoint.

The elevation gain is 1,210ft and the estimated hiking time is 3.5 hours. It’s a steady incline up to the top so one of the easier Moderate trails.

Once at the top you’ll have a great view of the mountains surrounding Shenandoah. After your hike make sure to head south on Skyline Drive.

You’ll find Mary’s Rock Tunnel and the Tunnel Overlook just below Thornton Gap. The tunnel is really beautiful to see.

Mill Prong Trail

Ever heard of Rapidan Camp? This was President Herbert Hoover and the First Lady’s mountain getaway.

You can hike to the Camp where you’ll find cabins and exhibits on the President and family.

The easiest way to get to Rapidan Camp is by parking at Milam Gap at mile 52.4. From here you take the Mill Prong Trail to get started.

At the second stream crossing, stay right on the Mill Prong Horse Trail which will lead you to Rapidan Camp.

After you’re done checking out the exhibits you can retrace your steps. This is a 4-mile hike round trip with an elevation gain of 870ft.

The trail is labeled as Moderate and the estimated hiking time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Chimney Rock Trail

For beautiful mountain vistas and unique rock formations hike the Chimney Rock Trail.

Begin at the Riprap Parking area at mile 90 and turn right on the trail from the parking lot. Turn left when Riprap Trail intersects the AT.

After a bit of hiking, Calvary Rocks will be on your left. Then you’ll come to a viewpoint on your right and Chimney Rock is directly across the gorge.

The hike is considered Moderate and it’s a 3.4-mile out-and-back trail. Estimated hiking time is 2 hours and 30 minutes.

With 830ft of elevation gain this is another Moderate trail that’s on the easier side. It’s well worth a visit for those mountain views.

Tips for Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

mountain view with rock and trees in foreground

Wear Hiking Boots

All of the trails that I hiked were very rocky. While you can do these in tennis shoes or a hiking sandal, I am glad that I had my hiking boots on.

I prefer my Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof boots but you can go to an outfitter like REI and they will help fit you for your perfect boot.

Consider Trekking Poles

I don’t personally use trekking poles but I saw tons of people using them. It really isn’t a bad idea here.

The trails are pretty steep so trekking poles will help alleviate pressure on your knees as you are coming down the mountain.

Prepare for No Cell Service

I read everywhere that there is no cell service on Skyline Drive. While that is true in some places, I found that it was about half and half.

My cell phone plan is with a local provider that uses Verizon towers and I would go in and out of cell service frequently up there.

It’s best to plan for no cell service and then it’s a nice surprise when you do have it.

Be Bear Aware

Shenandoah is black bear country! Make sure you know what to do if you come up on a black bear.

Read the Bear Safety guidelines on the NPS website. Basically do not run or turn your back on a black bear, stand tall and big, and make lots of noise.

Park regulations state to stay at least 150ft away from a bear. Personally, I’d like to stay a lot farther than that.

Leave No Trace

It astounds me that people visit the parks and just leave their trash wherever they please. Apparently this has become an even bigger problem with so many people visiting due to COVID.

PLEASE check out the seven Leave No Trace Principles and leave the park better than you found it.

Dispose of your trash properly. If you can’t find a trash can or if the trash is overflowing take it with you until you find one that isn’t full.

Respect the wildlife and leave the trail or campsite as you found it. These are a few basic principles but you can check out the website for the rest.

Talk to the Rangers

I decided to go by the Visitor’s Center as an after-thought but I am so glad that I did. The rangers are SO helpful.

They can give you insight on what the best hikes are and free hiking maps after they explain exactly how to find and what to do for each trail.

Since I had limited time in the park it was helpful to hear which trails I really should or shouldn’t do that I had on my list.

mountain view with sun peeking out from behind clouds

Be Wary of the Difficulty Scale

Some trails that are marked as Moderate were pretty tough.

For example, I went to Elk Knob State Park right after my Shenandoah trip and took a trail that was rated Moderate/Strenuous.

This trail would have be rated Easy at Shenandoah. Maybe Moderate in a few sections. So it’s all relative.

Know your limits and stick to hikes within those. Honestly, I thought some of the easiest ones were some of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Be Prepared for Cooler Temperatures & Changing Weather

I looked at the weather before my trip and it was supposed to be in the 70s during the day and high 50s at night.

It wound up being about 10 degrees cooler and reached 70 for a few hours in the afternoon. It also rained for a majority of the time even though the forecast had said rain for only one day.

Just be prepared for any and all weather up there on the mountain. You never know when it will change.

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About Me

Anna Cook

Hey Guys! I’m Anna, a small town girl from North Carolina with a passion for exploring this beautiful world. I work a fulltime job, so I make the most of my weekends and 15 vacation days. I created this site to inspire people like you to make travel a bigger part of your life and help you figure out how to do that. If you like what you see be sure to follow along on social media.

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