Shenandoah National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks on the east coast. It is home to some of the greatest hiking trails for experiencing the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The best hikes in Shenandoah National Park will give you incredible 360-degree views, stunning waterfalls, and challenging rock scrambles.
As outdoor enthusiasts and natives of Northern Virginia, Shenandoah is one of our favorite getaways from Washington DC. We have hiked several of these trails numerous times. Some of our favorites include Stony Man Trail, the short family-friendly hike with an incredibly rewarding view, and Old Rag, the most popular trail in the Shenandoah.
Despite exploring these trails for over 20 years, we are finding that there is always something new to see and experience.
Here are some of the most popular Shenandoah hiking trails to fuel your outdoor “adventurelust”.
- Best Hikes in the Shenandoah
- Conclusion: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Best Hikes in the Shenandoah
Stony Man Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 340 ft
The trail to Stony Man is easy, but the view at the end packs a punch.
The trailhead is at Mile 41.7 – take the turnoff to Skyland Resort and the small parking area is nearby. The trail starts on the Appalachian Trail (AT), so by taking this hike, you also earn bragging rights that you walked part of this legendary trail.
It winds its way through the beautiful woods of Shenandoah National Park until you get to a four-way intersection. This is where you leave the AT and follow the blue blazes to Stony Man.
At the end of the trail, there’s a sensational view to the north along the length of this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can even see a couple of sections of the famous Skyline Drive winding their way through the woods.
When you return, go right at the intersection to take a different path on a short loop that leads to another viewpoint – this one looking south along the ridge.
If you’re looking for a short, easy hike to a stunning view, this is the perfect trail for you.
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Dark Hollow Falls
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 583 ft
The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is one of the most beloved Shenandoah National Park trails for several reasons. It’s a short, moderately rated hike that’s great for a variety of ages and abilities. Thanks to its shorter distance, it is perfect for day hiking, or those looking to squeeze several nearby hikes into one day.
The trailhead is easily accessible, located right off the main park road, Skyline Drive, in close proximity to other hikes and park amenities. Finally, this Shenandoah trail is an epic destination hike to one of the most beautiful Shenandoah landmarks, the Dark Hollow Falls.
The Dark Hollow Falls Trail begins with a moderate downhill trek on a forested trail, paralleling a gentle stream. After a brief but steep descent on a series of rocky stairs, visitors will come face to face with the cascading Dark Hollow Falls, as it plunges 70 feet down over a series of rocky ledges.
When hiking Dark Hollow Falls, keep in mind that the majority of the elevation gain occurs on the second half. For those not wishing to traverse the steep stairs to the base of the falls, there is an alternative viewing platform where you can overlook the falls from above.
Distance: About 9 miles (loop)
Elevation Gain: 2,415 ft
As a JMU graduate and Virginia native, I have climbed Old Rag many times and it never gets old. I am particularly fond of the rock scramble where there is no defined path. You just find your own way, hopping from rock to rock, pulling yourself up, and then crawling back down through crevices.
It is by no means a rock climbing adventure requiring special equipment or exceptional strength. However, it is not recommended for small children or those hiking with baby carriers. Dogs are not permitted on Old Rag.
Old Rag is a Shenandoah favorite and one of the most popular hikes on the east coast and therefore one of the most crowded. To mitigate the foot traffic and potential damage to the trails, the National Park Services has launched a pilot program requiring hikers to obtain a day-use ticket . Old Rag tickets are currently only $1 but must be purchased in advance.
Upper Hawksbill Trail
Distance: 2.1 miles, Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 498 Ft
With an elevation of 4,050 feet, Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. Naturally, the Upper Hawksbill trail is considered one of the best hikes in the Shenandoah for its expansive views.
For the majority of the hike, the trail is a gradual incline as well as wide and well-maintained. It gets a little bit steeper and rockier near the summit. Just before reaching the summit, you will pass the Byrds Nest Shelter. From here, follow the signs to the summit.
From the Upper Hawksbill trail peak, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Virginia Piedmont. To hike this trail, park at the Upper Hawksbill parking lot off the main drive of the parkway (Mile 46.5).
Distance: Approximately 6 miles (out-and-back from Jewell Hollow Overlook)
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
Thousands of people visit Skyline Drive each year as it is one of the most scenic drives in Virginia. Although you can easily take in the views from any overlook along the road, many of the outstanding views can only be seen after a few miles of hiking. Mary’s Rock is one of the many hikes along Skyline Drive that provide incredible views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
Starting from Jewell Hollow Overlook, you will hike along the trail passing the remains of an old homestead and several outlooks. The trail to Mary’s Rock also overlaps with the Appalachian Trail, so about halfway up you will run into the hiker hut (Byrd’s Nest #3). Before reaching the summit, take pause to enjoy Pinnacle Overlook for a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The summit is a great place to enjoy a snack or lunch, but don’t stop there. Most hikers crowd this area as they stake out a spot on the rock for lunch, but if you keep climbing upward toward the back, you can escape the crowds for a moment of solitude. This is where we had our most rewarding moment, alone with the gorgeous view.
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White Oaks Canyon / Cedar Run Loop
Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,450 ft
White Oaks Canyon is a hiking and water adventure all wrapped up into one. Combining two out-and-back trails to make one big loop, this hike is a little over 8 miles, some of which are switchbacks. (Everybody loves switchbacks.)
Unlike the other hikes included on this list, the White Oaks Canyon Trail does not feature grand mountain-top views. Instead, it is known for its many waterfalls, smaller cascades, natural swimming holes, and even a water slide!
Don’t be shy! Take off your boots, plop your bum on top of the rock slide, push off and enjoy your way down. It is cold, but also refreshing.
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 485 ft
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Loft Mountain Loop is one of the most popular hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park. The trail starts and ends at Loft Mountain Campground. The total span is approximately 3 miles. This makes it suitable for experienced hikers as well as beginners. Along the way, hikers will encounter various terrains, including rocky sections and lush forests.
One of the highlights of the trail is its panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from several vantage points along it and a great place to watch sunset or sunrise. This provides an unforgettable experience and ample opportunities for stunning photographs. The place also offers opportunities for wildlife sightings like deer, black bears, songbirds, and other native species.
Hikers should wear appropriate footwear and clothing, carry plenty of water and snacks, and be aware of their physical limitations. Check the weather conditions before setting out on the trail. The Loft Mountain Loop provides an excellent opportunity to explore nature’s wonders in Shenandoah National Park.
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What is the most famous hike in Shenandoah National Park?
The most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park is also one of the most difficult hikes in Virginia. Old Rag is an outdoor adventurer’s dream with 9 miles of trails, rock scrambles, and one incredible 360-degree view.
What is the most popular waterfall hike in Shenandoah National Park?
According to reviews from AllTrails.com, Rose River Trail is the best waterfall trail in Shenandoah National Park, followed by Dark Hollow Falls and the Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop. Rose River Trail features a dazzling 67-foot waterfall and is located near Syria, VA.
When is the best time to visit Shenandoah National Park?
The best time to visit Shenandoah National Park is between September and November when you can witness the splendor of Virginia’s fall foliage. Between Skyline Drive and the numerous trails, there are endless places to appreciate the changing colors.
Conclusion: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is undoubtedly one of the best national parks in the USA for hiking. Trails are plentiful, diverse, well-maintained, and accessible. These mountains also contain a wealth of trails, rock climbing opportunities, and swimming holes, so go out, explore, and find your next adventure!