500 miles of hiking trails travel through Shenandoah National Park. These trails range from short, easy summit hikes, gorgeous walks to waterfalls, to challenging climbs up the tallest mountains. You also have the option to walk a few miles of the legendary Appalachian Trail. In this post, we have 10 great hikes in Shenandoah National Park to share with you.
Shenandoah National Park holds a special place in our hearts. Just two hours from where we live, we have spent more time here than any other national park in the United States.
Old Rag, the toughest hike on this list, was Tyler and Kara’s first long-distance hike. We did this in 2013, when they were only 8 and 10 years old, as a test hike before taking them on longer trails in Norway. Shenandoah was our kids’ introduction to hiking, and what a beautiful place to start.
Even though we have spent a lot of time here, we haven’t even come close to hiking all 500 miles. But on this list are 10 popular hikes to consider. Each offers a slightly different experience. So, if you prefer summit climbs, hikes to waterfalls, or something fun and easy to hike with younger kids, we have a lot of great suggestions for you.
10 Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
I am putting these hikes into two different categories: summit climbs and hikes to waterfalls. In each list, I start with the easiest hike and end with the hardest. All hiking distances are round trip. You can see the location of these hikes on the map at the end of this post.
1. Little Stony Man
Distance: 0.9 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: 285 feet | Time: 30 – 60 minutes
This hike is short, sweet, and I loved it. It doesn’t quite have the sweeping views that Stony Man has (mentioned next) but this trail is also less crowded.
This hike is less than one mile round trip. It’s an uphill walk to summit but it’s doable for most people. In fact, there was a group of young kids here that were rock climbing (with a guide) on the nearby cliffs.
From the peak of Little Stony Man, it’s a nice view over the park. You can also look up at Stony Man, another summit hike that is well worth your time.
Parking: On Google, the parking lot is labeled “Little Stony Man Parking.” The trail starts on the west side of Skyline Drive.
2. Stony Man
Distance: 1.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: 360 feet | Time: 1 hour
Little Stony Man is the small rocky outcropping below.
At 4,040 feet, Stony Man is the second highest peak in Shenandoah National Park (Hawksbill is #1). From the top of Stony Man you are treated to spectacular views.
For a summit climb, this is a relatively short and easy trail, so it’s great for almost all ages and ability levels. That being said, it is also an extremely popular hike, so expect big crowds on this trail.
To get to the peak, it’s an easy to moderate uphill walk through the forest. The trail ends with a small loop. Go either way to get to the summit. From the top of Stony Man, enjoy the view. You can look down on the peak of Little Stony Man from here.
Parking: Park in the Passamaquoddy Loop Hike – Stony Man parking lot. This is located in Skyland. From Skyline Drive, turn onto Skyland Upper Loop at the north entrance and the parking lot will immediately be to your right.
3. Bearfence Mountain Trail
Distance: 1.1 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 400 feet | Time: 1 hour
In my opinion, this hike is the most thrilling on this list. It’s a short, easy hike, with some fun rock scrambling thrown in.
It’s a short, uphill walk to get to the base of the rocky Bearfence summit. This is where the fun begins.
At first, the rock scrambling is easy. You’ll climb up and over a few large boulders on the trail. This is a nice test to see if you can handle what is coming. If this first part is challenging, consider turning around here.
To get up to the summit, you will climb up a short, sheer rock wall and then up and over a series of enormous, jagged boulders. To do this, you will need to use both hands.
Once on top of Bearfence, you get 360° views of Shenandoah National Park.
The view from Bearfence
To finish the hike, rock scramble down the other side of Bearfence. The trail hits the Appalachian Trail (AT), which you will hike back to the parking lot.
I saw lots of kids on this trail, some as young as 6 years old.
Parking: Park at the Bearfence Mountain Trailhead, which is at mile marker 56.4 on Skyline Drive. The trail starts on the east side of Skyline Drive.
4. Hawksbill Mountain
Distance: 1.5 to 2.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Total Ascent: 500 to 700 feet | Time: 1 to 2 hours
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park, at 4,049 feet. There are several ways to get here.
The easiest way to hike to Hawksbill Mountain is on the Upper Hawksbill Trail. Park in the lot “Upper Hawksbill Parking.” From here, it is a 1.1 mile mostly uphill walk to the summit, with almost 500 feet of elevation gain (round-trip distance = 2.2 miles).
The shorter but harder trail to the summit is the Lower Hawksbill Trail. Park at Hawksbill Gap. It is a very steep, strenuous 0.75 mile hike to the summit (1.5 miles round trip), with 700 feet of ascent. It is an uphill walk the entire way. This is the way that I went and I can tell you, it can be a real thigh-burner.
A third option is to turn this hike into a loop. Park at Hawksbill Gap. Take the spur trail to the Appalachian Trail and hike this for 1 mile, until you get to the trail junction for the Salamander Trail. Turn left onto the Salamander Trail and follow this for 0.7 miles. Once you reach the Upper Hawksbill Trail, it is a very short walk to the summit. Return to your car on the steep, downhill walk down the Lower Hawksbill Trail. This hike is 2.8 miles long and takes up to 3 hours.
Byrds Nest No. 2 Shelter (at the summit of Hawksbill)
5. Marys Rock
Distance: 2.6 to 3.6 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Total Ascent: 800 to 1200 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours
Marys Rock offers breathtaking views over Shenandoah National Park. There are two ways to get here.
Marys Rock North. This is the longer, tougher trail to the peak. Park in the Panorama Parking Lot. For the majority of the hike you walk the Appalachian Trail. To get to the summit, it is a moderate, uphill climb. Just before reaching the summit, take the short spur trail off of the AT to reach the viewpoint.
This is the way that I went. The overall distance is 3.6 miles with 1,200 feet of total ascent.
Marys Rock North trail.
Marys Rock South. This is the shorter, easier route to the summit. Start at the Meadow Spring Trailhead. This trail dead ends at the AT. Turn right to continue onto Marys Rock. Just before reaching the top, take the spur trail to the summit. Retrace your steps to get back to your car. This hike is 2.6 miles long with 800 of total ascent.
6. Sugarloaf – Keyser Run Fire Road – Hogback Mountain
Distance: 5.1 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 1,000 feet | Time: 2 to 4 hours
Hogsback Mountain (view from Little Hogback Overlook which is also on the AT)
This is my least favorite hike on this list and I recommend skipping it. So, why even mention it? If you purchase the Falcon Guide to Shenandoah National Park, read about this hike, and want to give it a try, I recommend otherwise. The book says you’ll get spectacular views from this scenic trail. I beg to differ.
This is a long, boring, monotonous hike. It’s over 5 miles long and for 90% of the time you will be in the forest with no views, other than trees and groves of mountain laurel. The one good viewpoint, Little Hogback Mountain Overlook, can easily be reached on a short walk from Skyline Drive. Plus, on this trail, you will hike up a steep, strenuous trail to the top of Hogback Mountain. There is no view here for your reward, just more views of the forest.
Hogback Mountain Overlook: If you want the same view with minimal effort, park in the parking lot for Little Hogback Overlook. You will hike less than a tenth of a mile on the AT to the viewpoint.
View from Little Hogback Overlook
Parking: If you still want to do this hike, park in the small lot at mile 21 on Skyline Drive, just south of the Hogback Overlook. The trail starts on the opposite side of Skyline Drive.
7. Old Rag
Distance: 9.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Total Ascent: 2,400 feet | Time: 5 to 7 hours
Old Rag is the toughest hike on this list but it is also our favorite. And we’re not the only ones. Many people who hike this trail say that it’s their favorite in the park, too. In fact, Old Rag is hailed as the best day hike in the mid-Atlantic region.
On this hike, you’ll ascend to the base of Old Rag on a moderate hike up through the forest. To reach the summit of Old Rag, you climb through, up, and over enormous boulders. The rock scrambling is challenging, fun, and the best part of the hike. The view from the top is pretty sweet, too.
This is an extremely popular hike, so expect big crowds midday and on weekends. Get here early to ensure you get a parking space and to hike the trail before the bottlenecks occur on the rock scrambling sections.
Learn More: How to Hike Old Rag
1. Dark Hollow Falls
Distance: 1.4 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Total Ascent: 440 feet | Time: 1 to 2 hours
The hike to Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular hikes on this list. Why? It’s a relatively short, easy hike to one of the tallest waterfalls in the park.
From the parking lot, you will walk down the trail to the base of the waterfall. Just over a half-mile from the trailhead will be an overlook of Dark Hollow Falls. Descend a little farther to get to the base of the waterfall.
Go Farther: When you reach the trail junction for the Rose River Loop Trail (see photos below), you can hike a portion of this trail to see more waterfalls. A long series of much smaller waterfalls and pools is what you will see. A half to three-quarters of a mile one-way is as far as you need to go to get the best views. It’s a beautiful trail. Just note that it will be a long, uphill walk to get back to your car.
Parking: Park at the Dark Hollow Falls Parking Area on Skyline Drive. This is located just north of Big Meadows and the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center.
2. Lewis Spring Falls Trail
Distance: 3 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Total Ascent: 1,000 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours
This is a tough hike to a nice waterfall, but in my opinion, this hike is not worth the effort, unless you are a big fan of waterfall hikes. I recommend Dark Hollow Falls and the Rose River Loop (next) before putting this hike on your to-do list.
Starting at the Big Meadows Complex, take the Lewis Springs Fall Trail. This trail rapidly descends to the waterfall and it takes about 1.25 miles to reach Lewis Falls.
At this point, there is an overlook with your first unobstructed view over Shenandoah Valley. The small waterfalls here are also very nice to photograph.
To see Lewis Falls, cross the creek and take the spur trail to the overlook.
Backtrack to the main trail. There is a fork in the trail near the overlook. Now, it is a strenuous, uphill walk back to Big Meadows. The Lewis Spring Falls Trail ends at the Lewis Spring Fire Trail. Take this for 50 feet and then turn left onto the Appalachian Trail. Walk the AT until you get back to the parking lot.
Parking: Park near the amphitheater near the back of the Big Meadows Complex (the parking lot is marked on our map).
3. Rose River Loop Trail
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 1,000 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours
This is a beautiful hike and I think it’s the best hike in Shenandoah National Park if you want to see several waterfalls.
Park at Fishers Gap Overlook and cross Skyline Drive to the trailhead. Immediately, there is a fork in the trail. Go left to take the Rose River Loop Trail. You will return on the Rose River Fire Trail, which is to the right.
The first mile is downhill walk through the forest. This is the least thrilling part of the hike but that is about to change.
At about one mile into the hike, the trail turns to the right and you can hear the waterfall. Just a short walk later you arrive at the viewpoint for Rose River Falls.
The trail continues along the Rose River and it is a very pretty downhill walk through this section.
The trail turns the to the right again, crosses the Hogcamp Branch on a small bridge, and then you start your ascent back to Skyline Drive. Even though you are walking uphill, this is the best part of the hike. As you walk along the Hogcamp Branch, you get to see numerous cascading falls and pools of water. It’s beautiful.
Photographers: Bring your tripod, polarizing filter and neutral density filters for this hike. This is an extremely photogenic hike with the small waterfalls and pools of water.
The Rose River Loop Trail ends at the junction with the Rose River Fire Road and Dark Hollow Falls Trail. Cross the wide bridge to the right and take the wide fire road back to the parking lot to complete the loop.
Waterfall at the trail junction. This is where the Rose River Falls Loop meets the Dark Hollow Falls trail.
Pro Travel Tip: Start this hike first thing in the morning to hike the trail before it gets crowded. Not only will there be hikers doing this a loop but there will also be people hiking down from Dark Hollow Falls.
Pro Travel Tip #2: Do this loop in a clockwise direction. You get the unexciting walk through the forest done first. Then, as you hike up Hogcamp Branch, you are walking towards the cascading waterfalls, which is a beautiful sight.
Bonus: Cedar Run to White Oak Circuit
This challenging hike is still on our to-do list, but because of the accolades it gets, I couldn’t leave it off of this list. On this 8 mile hike, you have the chance to see nine waterfalls! From the Hawksbill Gap parking lot on Skyline Drive, it’s a massive descent down to White Oak Falls and then a steep, strenuous hike up the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. Expect this hike to take 6 to 8 hours.
Hikes in Shenandoah: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (each hike is a different layer). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
About the Hiking Trails in Shenandoah National Park
All hiking trails in the park are marked with blue blazes on the trees. Every trail on this list is very easy to follow, just keep spotting those blue paint marks.
101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) run through Shenandoah National Park. For the most part, the AT follows along right beside Skyline Drive. Several hikes on this list share the trail with the AT. The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes and concrete posts with “AT” on them. In cases where a day hike and the AT share the same trail, you will see blue and white blazes painted on the trees.
At trail junctions, you will see a concrete post. Wrapped around the top of the post is a piece of metal, marked with the trails and distances to the next junction or trailhead.
Hikes on this list that include the Appalachian Trail:
- Little Stony Man
- Stony Man Trail
- Bearfence Trail
- Hawksbill Trail (if you do it as a loop with the AT)
- Marys Rock
- Sugarloaf – Keyser Run Fire Road – Hogback Mountain
- Lewis Spring Falls Trail
Pro Travel Tip: Before your trip to Shenandoah National Park, visit the official park service website to get updates on park and trail conditions. National parks can close at any time due to weather events, wildfires, COVID-19, or governmental shutdowns.
My personal favorites are Old Rag, the Bearfence Trail, the view from Hawksbill and Marys Rock, and the Rose River Loop.
If you are hiking with kids, our top picks include Dark Hollow Falls, Little Stony Man and Stony Man, and the Upper Hawksbill Trail. Older, more adventurous kids will love scrambling at Bearfence or Old Rag.
For an epic hiking experience, put Old Rag on your list.
If you want to avoid the crowds, Little Stony Man is a nice summit hike with fewer people than other hikes on this list. Hike the Rose River Loop Trail in the morning. Both the Lewis Springs Fall Trail and the Sugarloaf – Hogsback Mountain Trails had just a few people on them, but I personally wasn’t a fan of these hikes.
If you only have one day in the park, I recommend one waterfall hike (Dark Hollow Falls) and one to two summit hikes. Hike the Upper Hawksbill Trail to stand on the highest point in Shenandoah National Park and then have some fun on the Bearfence Trail.
Fall Colors in Shenandoah
With the exception of Old Rag and Dark Hollow Falls, all of the photos in this post were taken between October 19 and October 21, 2020. The best time to catch the fall colors in Shenandoah is the last two weeks of October.
Shenandoah Hiking Guide
If you want more information on hikes in Shenandoah National Park, I recommend purchasing the Hiking Shenandoah National Park Falcon Guide. This book contains 59 hikes to do in the park, complete with photos, maps, and detailed trail information. I used this book as a reference and its trail stats are very accurate.
If you have any questions about the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Shenandoah National Park:
- Shenandoah: Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Shenandoah: How to Hike Old Rag
- Hiking: How to Hike McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail
- Asheville, North Carolina: A Weekend Getaway to Asheville, NC
- Asheville, North Carolina: Photographing the Waterfalls Near Asheville
- Smoky Mountains: A Weekend in Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Smoky Mountains: How to Hike Mt. LeConte
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Destination Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
You Might Also Like:
- National Parks: 20 Epic Day Hikes in the National Parks
- National Parks: 10 Best National Parks to Take the Kids
- Washington DC: A One Day Walking Tour of Washington DC
- New York: 5 Days in New York City: The Perfect Itinerary for Your First Visit
- Tennessee: 12 Best Things to do in Nashville
Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.
All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.