Best trails for hiking in Shenandoah National Park

hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia offers over 500 miles of spectacular trekking trails through the Blue Ridge Mountains. From rugged summits with panoramic views to refreshing waterfall hikes and family-friendly paths, Shenandoah has an incredible diversity of trails for all levels and interests. Read on to discover the park’s must-do hikes and start planning your adventure in one of America’s most beloved national parks!

Top 10 Hiking Trails in Shenandoah National Park

  1. Old Rag Mountain Loop – Challenging 9 mile circuit with rugged rock scrambles rewarded by 360┬░ views from summit
  2. Stony Man Trail – Iconic 1.6 mile with stunning scenes of Stony Man summit set between skyscraping granite cliffs
  3. Dark Hollow Falls Trail – Popular 7.4 mile out-and-back along cascades to view the dramatic 70ft waterfall
  4. Rose River Loop – Moderate 4.4 mile loop passing waterfalls and swimming holes along refreshing streams
  5. Hawksbill Summit Trail – Steep 2 mile with over 1,300 ft elevation gain leading to park’s highest point (4,051ft)
  6. Limberlost Trail – Easy 1.3 mile descent into ancient hemlock forest with towering trees and rich ecology
  7. South River Falls Trail – Scenic wooded 4 mile roundtrip to the park’s largest waterfall at 83 feet tall
  8. White Oak Canyon Trail – Stunning 7.5 mile in Shenandoah’s famous canyon with a half dozen waterfalls to see
  9. Frazier Discovery Trail – Family friendly 2 mile providing great kid-focused activities and hands-on educational exhibits
  10. Lewis Falls Trail – Short 2 mile walk suitable for all levels and vantage points of the scenic 50 foot falls

Key Details on Hiking in Shenandoah

Park size199,173 acres (800 sq miles)
Miles of trailsOver 500 miles of hiking trails
TerrainForested mountains & valleys, elevation range from 968 ft to 4,051 ft
Backcountry campingAllowed by permit along designated trails
Trail difficultyRange from easy walking paths to very strenuous mountain climbs
Map resourcesPrinted maps for purchase, interactive maps online
Guide servicesPrivate tour guides & group hikes available
Fees$30 per vehicle for 7 day pass, $55 for annual pass
Best hiking monthsApril to June & September to November
Key gear to packSturdy shoes, layers, rain protection, water, map, first aid kit, headlamp
Nearby townsLuray (13 miles), Front Royal (4 miles), Shenandoah River State Park (5 miles)

Reaching the Trails is a Scenic Journey Itself

Shenandoah National Park sits just 75 miles west of Washington D.C., making it an easy weekend getaway for many eastern travelers. The park stretches 105 miles along the famous Skyline Drive which runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle ($25 in winter) which provides access for 7 consecutive days. For frequent visitors, the $55 annual pass is excellent value.

Spring and Fall are Ideal For Comfortable Hiking

With elevations ranging from just under 1000 feet to over 4000 feet, Shenandoah sees cooler temperatures and more rainfall than lower lying regions. Popular hiking months are April to June and September to November when the weather is mild, vegetation is green and lush, and skies are generally clear for fabulous views. July and August bring heat, humidity, thunderstorms and crowds while winter months can have snow, ice and closures.

Drink in Epic Scenery from Old Rag Mountain

hiking in Shenandoah Atop Old Rag Mountain
Atop Old Rag Mountain

The strenuous 9 mile loop ascending Old Rag Mountain is amongst Shenandoah’s most popular hikes thanks to otherworldly granite rock formations, scrambles, and far-reaching vistas at the summit. Be prepared for steep inclines, rough terrain, and congestion on weekends when a permit system operates to limit numbers on the trail.

Soak Up Panoramas Along Hawksbill Trail

hiking in Shenandoah Lower Hawksbill Trail - Shenandoah National Park - Luray VA
Lower Hawksbill Trail – Shenandoah National Park – Luray VA

For close encounters with Shenandoah’s highest peak, take the moderate 2.1-mile Hawksbill Summit Trail as it climbs over 1000 feet to reach the summit of Hawksbill Mountain (4050 ft). Stone ledges along the trail serve up non-stop views of the park before a final steep push leads to the highest vantage point for epic 360-degree views.

Admire Iconic Mountainscapes on Stony Man Trail

The 1.6 mile roundtrip hike to Stony Man’s summit is immensely rewarding for little effort. Meander through fern-filled forests and negotiate some rock scrambles before a sweeping vista reveals the park’s signature view – cries of “wow!” are inevitable when you first glimpse the breathtaking profile of Stony Man framed between skyscraping granite cliffs.

Wander Through Ancient Forest Along Limberlost Trail

hiking in Shenandoah Crossing the Limberlost Accessible Trail
Crossing the Limberlost Accessible Trail

For a peaceful walk through virgin forest filled with towering trees, flowering plants, and abundant wildlife, Limberlost Trail is just the ticket. At 1.3 miles it makes for an easy and enchanting introduction to Shenandoah’s natural splendor as it meanders downhill following an old woodland road through cathedral-like stands of hemlock and white pine.

Be Dazzled By Waterfalls on Dark Hollow Trail

Virginia - Shenandoah National Park: Dark Hollow Falls Trail

No hiking in Shenandoah is complete without visiting a waterfall. Dark Hollow Trail features a spectacular 70 foot cascade – Dark Hollow Falls. The moderate 7.5 mile out and back trail follows rushing creeks through refreshing forests before reaching the thundering falls. Scramble down to its base for thrilling views or photograph its beauty from behind its misty veil.

More Falls Along Rose River & South River Trails

hiking in Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers
Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers

Two more of Shenandoah’s loveliest falls, Rose River Falls (63ft) and South River Falls (83ft) both lie at the end of moderate 4-mile trails that trace their cascading namesake waterways through gorgeous scenery bursting with spring wildflowers and summer greenery. Both offer nearby access for fall foliage peeping too.

Backpack Shenandoah’s Wild Backcountry

Hiking in Shenandoah allows backcountry camping along its 100+ miles of Appalachian Trail and horse trails that traverse the park. Permits are required so plan ahead. Recommended routes include hiking between the Pinnacles Picnic Area to Beagle Gap (9.5 miles) or trekking from Mathews Arm Campground to Elkwallow Wayside (10.5 miles) for stunning vistas.

Enjoy Family Bonding on Easy Trails

Several short easy hiking trails under 2 miles cater well for families with toddlers and kids. Limberlost, Dark Hollow Falls, South River Falls and Story of the Forest trail have minimal elevation gains. Stop at a wayside like Dickey Ridge Visitor Center to learn more about the park through hands-on kids exhibits too.

Explore Accessible Trails

For those with mobility considerations, Shenandoah offers several wheelchair-accessible paths. Easy surfaces like pavement or boardwalk can be found along Limberlost Trail, Story of the Forest Trail, Compton Gap Trail and the sensory trail at Byrd Visitor Center.

Superlatives Showcase Shenandoah’s Best

At 4050 feet, Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park. Meanwhile the epic Appalachian Trail runs 101 miles through Shenandoah, including challenging portions like scrambling granite on Old Rag Mountain (3729 ft). Other highlights include 500+ miles of trails, over 200 bird species and breathtaking panoramas like the one enjoyed from Jones Point overlook.

Stay Safe While Hiking

Most park trails have a clearly marked difficulty rating from easy to very strenuous. Pay heed to keep hikes enjoyable and within your group’s ability as even moderate ones can be more challenging for flatlanders. All hikers should bring plenty water, snacks, sun/rain protection, first aid supplies, maps and wear sturdy shoes. Keep distance from wildlife and be bear aware by carrying bear spray.

Maps and Guides Enhance Navigation

From detailed trail maps and helpful visitor center staff to informative signage throughout the park and guide services offering custom trips, Shenandoah provides exceptional resources to plan a tailored adventure. Whether self-guided or joining a group hike, resources are available to match glorious trails with your timeframes and abilities.

Sleep Under the Stars or Beddown in Luxury

One of the charms of Shenandoah National Park lies in overnighting amongst its wooded hollows and lofty ridgelines. Pitch your tent at one of 4 NPS campgrounds in the park that offer access to backcountry trails. Or hunker down in wilderness cabins and lodges like Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge inside the park for comfy beds, hot showers and meal service.

More Ways to Enjoy this Crown Jewel Park

Beyond world class hiking, Shenandoah offers over 200 miles of scenic drives overlooking the Blue Ridge Highlands. Horseback rides, guided waterfall tours and rock climbing also make the most of the dramatic terrain. Come fall, the spectacle of leaves changing color is showstopping! Don’t miss it.

FAQ Hiking in Shenandoah

What is the most beautiful part of Shenandoah National Park?

It’s hard to beat the sublime views of geologic wonder Old Rag Mountain and the iconic profile of Stony Man summit framed between cliffs. Standing on these peaks surrounded by the rolling blue ridges stretching to the horizon is a breathtakingly beautiful experience.

What is the most popular waterfall hiking in Shenandoah National Park?

Dark Hollow Falls is the must-see waterfall! The scenic trail following cascading creeks to the thundering 70 foot falls is amongst the most popular in the park. Expect plenty of fellow waterfall lovers along this moderate trail.

What is the most difficult hike in Shenandoah National Park?

Old Rag Mountain Loop would likely take the crown for the toughest trail. The 9-mile circuit with 2500 feet elevation gain has steep rock scrambles and narrow cliffside paths with exposure. Weekend permits limit numbers but expect crowds.

How many hiking trails are in Shenandoah National Park?

Shenandoah boasts over 500 miles of trails that explore lush hollows, wooded ridges, and lofty summits throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains. Choose from over 100 trails of varying difficulty and length, not to mention 101 miles of the epic Appalachian Trail also winding through sections of the park.

What is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park?

At 4050 feet, Hawksbill Mountain is Shenandoah’s highest peak. To earn those views, take the Upper Hawksbill Trail and be prepared for a steep, strenuous 2-mile climb conquering over 1300 feet in elevation on the way to the summit.

What is the easiest trail in Shenandoah National Park?

For a flat and paved path perfect for families, try out Story of the Forest Trail located by the Byrd Visitor Center. At just under a mile with zero elevation gain, it offers easy accessibility while interpreting the area’s ecology through markers and activity brochures for kids.

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