The 8 Best Hikes in Shenandoah NP for Spring 2024

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Virginia is already equipped with plenty of beauty, rolling mountains, and cascading waterfalls. However, the gem of the Appalachians is Shenandoah National Park, and getting your hike on is the best way to explore the depths of that beauty.

Lace up your hiking boots and grab your water bottle for incredible adventures in the mountainside forests of Shenandoah. There aren’t only views and rivers to take in inside the park, but get ready to steep yourself in America’s history as well.

There are quite a few trails that feature areas like old cemeteries or pioneer farmsteads.

Here are 8 of the best hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park.

Bearfence Mountain Trail

  • Length : 1.2 miles
  • Difficulty : Moderate to hard
  • Estimated Time : 1 to 2 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

Bearfence Mountain Trail is a shorter hike, but it can be quite challenging considering several areas involving semi-technical rock scrambles. In the end, you are awarded some of the best views in the entire park, making it worth the trek if you have an adequate physical condition. It is worth bringing your camera and camera backpack to remember the views forever.

Typically, hikers take this walk-on in a clockwise direction, but you can do it going counterclockwise. There is part of the Appalachian Trail that takes you out to a lookout going the other way, and then you can turn back around and continue on the loop. It is also a taster, so if you are not confident to take on the rock scrambles, stick to this shorter hike.

There are many hikes in which dogs are allowed in this park, but this is not one of them. The parking area for this trail is close to the milepost 56.5. This hike is a relatively heavily trafficked loop, so start early to beat the crowds.

Dickey Ridge Loop

  • Length : 5 miles
  • Difficulty : Moderate
  • Estimated Time : 4 to 6 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

The overall allure of Shenandoah National Park isn’t just wrapped up in its mountainous beauty. Much of the influential American history took place in this area of the country. The Dickey Ridge Loop not only brings you through beautiful forests and gives you spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley, but it is also full of examples of history.

Along the trail, there is a historical visitor center placed at the trailhead. When you head into the forest, you will see pioneer homesteads and an old cemetery. Along much of the trailside, there are interpretive historical informational markers.

To start this hike, head toward the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, or milepost 4.6 along Skyline Drive. Pack hiking snacks to picnic next to one of the old homesteads along the way.

Dark Hollow Falls Trail

  • Length : 1.4 miles
  • Difficulty : Easy to moderate
  • Estimated Time : ~1 hour
  • Best Time : April to October

Dark Hollow Falls Trail is the most popular trail to hike in the entire park, consistently recommended by the park rangers. One of the reasons for this is that it is relatively short and very family-friendly, no matter your fitness. The trail is mostly even, with only a few rock patches along the ground.

To start the trail, go to the parking area located slightly north of the Byrd Visitor Center. Since it is such a popular trail, the parking lot can fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

The path slopes down, starting from the trailhead, taking you to Dark Hollow Falls. The picturesque waterfall tumbles off a 70 feet high ledge and trips into the numerous shallow pools at the bottom. The cascade is very close to the trail, so bringing a rain jacket with you allows you to avoid getting wet.

This section is the end of the hike’s main feature, and many people turn around and go back. However, you have the option to continue slightly farther to where the trail intersects with the Rose River Trail. At this point, there is another small waterfall, a lower section of Dark Hollow Falls.

Rapidan Camp via the Mill Prong Trail

  • Length : 3.8 miles
  • Difficulty : Moderate
  • Estimated Time : 3 to 4 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

Rapidan Camp is another excellent example of the kind of history you can engage with while visiting Shenandoah National Park. This trail also allows you to hike past Big Rock Falls, one of the more significant allures in the park, if you are out to see some spectacular cascades.

Rapidan Camp was the first presidential retreat set up, this time for Herbert Hoover. He and his family would have getaways to this spectacular area and invite some of the most famous entertainers and politicians of the time to come with them. They called it the “Brown House” in contrast to the White House they left behind in D.C.

To get to the camp on this trail, use the Mill Prong Trail. It descends into the Rapidan River valley and reaches the confluence of Mill Creek and Laurel Prong. Rapidan Camp lies beyond this area in a beautiful wooded setting that is still maintained, even though the official presidential camp has been relocated.

Although the hike itself does not take very long, the area you reach when you enter the woodland clearing is engaging. You can use the short trails around the enclosures and plenty of interesting history to glean across the glen. You are also allowed to bring your dog with a leash and preferably a hiking harness to keep them secure.

Rose River Trail

  • Length : 4 miles
  • Difficulty : Easy to moderate
  • Estimated Time : 3 to 4 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

The Rose River Trail is a moderate trail that adds to the Dark Hollow Falls trail’s overall length. If you want to see Dark Hollow Falls and want the hike to be longer, this is a good choice. It is also a nicer option to pick on hot days in the park since it keeps you walking along waterfalls and streams and through cool, woodland groves.

Since the hike is a loop, you can choose to walk in either direction. Going clockwise takes you past the Rose River Falls earlier on in the hike and then keeps you on a more hilly section running beside the stream.

Once you come to the end of this portion, you come upon Dark Hollow Falls and can take the small detour upward to see the main Falls or continue to reach the Rose River Fire Road.

To get to this hike, park in the lot marked for Fishers Gap Overlook.

Old Rag Mountain Loop

  • Length : 9.2 miles
  • Difficulty : Hard
  • Estimated Time : 6 to 7 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

Old Rag Trail to the summit of Old Rag Mountain is another one of the more popular hikes, but this time for those with a higher fitness level. It is uncharacteristic from many of the hikes in this park since the trailhead is not accessible from Skyline Drive. Instead, you will need to loop around the park and come in from the lesser-used entrance along Route 600.

If you plan on doing this hike, you need to give it plenty of time, as it will take most of the daylight hours to complete. It is a favorite of those looking for a hike that challenges them and then rewards with plenty of breathtaking views. Be sure to pack a first aid kit to take with you if the technical parts of the trail become dangerous.

One of the big pulls of this trail is its technical interest. There are multiple miles featuring rock scrambles and sections running through narrow lanes between tall rocks. The uneven ground continues most of the way up this loop, and thus it is rated quite strenuous.

Stony Man Trail

  • Length : 3.7 miles
  • Difficulty : Easy
  • Estimated Time : 2 to 3 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

Stony Man Trail takes you up to the summit of Stony Man Mountain. Here, you can view the patterns, rises, and sea of undulations formed by the mountain view. These cliffs take you to an elevation that rises 3,000 feet above the Shenandoah Valley.

Stony Man Trail is accessed by walking along much of the Passamaquoddy Trail. It starts near to the northern entrance of the Skyland Resort shortly off the Skyline Drive. When you turn in, you will see a sign that points out that it is the highest point along this famous drive, starting you off on a good foot.

Hike the along until you reach the Little Stony man trail, which takes you out onto the overlook of Little Stony Man. Then, return to Passamaquoddy Trail and walk on towards even more views. There is also a historical highlight, a copper mine location along with the Furnace Spring.

Whiteoak Canyon Falls

  • Length : 5.2 miles
  • Difficulty : Moderate
  • Estimated Time : 3 to 5 hours
  • Best Time : April to October

Whiteoak Canyon Falls allows you to explore the widest range of falls in the park along one trail. Six falls range from heights of 45 feet to 86. It can be worth it to bring along hiking poles since the trek takes you up a rugged gorge filled with rocks that can be slippery at times.

At the top of the hike, you step out onto a rock promontory and get to view the last and uppermost of the falls. Although the hike is easiest to do during the months listed above, you can hike this in winter or spring since there are no fords. Hiking during the spring is best since the falls will be roaring with the melt from winter snows.

During the main season of this hike, and on nice days, be prepared to battle against crowds. Start earlier in the day to beat most of the people to the views. The trailhead is easiest to reach if you come from Madison and drive up towards the park instead of taking a route along Skyline Drive.

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.