Mountains stretching as far as the eye can see, really, travel the 109 mile long Skyline Drive and you will certainly get your fix of mountainous views.
I saw more butterflies in two days than I have seen all of my life! It must be on account of the abundant wildflowers…To me, Shenandoah National Park felt like home. The lush green mountains truly reminded me of my favorite backyard mountains, the Adirondacks, but intriguing and new.
There are multiple access roads, visitor centers, and even a gas station in the central district of the park. Overlooks are everywhere, be sure to stop off whenever the mood strikes. You may even learn something about the area.
Shenandoah has the most dense population of black bears in the US, although we didn’t see one, but be up to date on how to deal with a black bear encounter. Below you will find a list of trail recaps, restaurants, and even a roadside attraction to help you better explore one of America’s fantastic national parks.
Easy – Moderate hikes:
Dark Hollow Falls, Central District Mile Marker 50
We arrived to the park late in the afternoon after a day of traveling that made us quite weary. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to hike, we took on a more mild trail, 1.4 miles round trip. Initially you will descend and the path can be a bit steep and slippery at times, just remember you will have to ascend 440 feet on the way back up. Follow the water heading downhill and you will know you’re heading in the right direction (even though the path is very clearly defined). There are a lot of little treasures to discover along the way. Beautiful mossy rock formations, a sparkling silver pool, many beautiful butterflies, and a perfect Mario mushroom were just a few special sights we saw.
Although the trail continues for miles, the end point of our hike was the 70-foot Dark Hollow Falls, a most picturesque scene with a perfect pool for quenching your feet.
This is a very popular trail in the park you will undoubtedly be sharing it, and it’s pretty kid-friendly to boot.
Little Stony Man, Central District Mile Marker 39
If you’re looking for a quieter hike this is your best bet, we only passed one family along the way. This is a quick .9 roundtrip with just 190-foot elevation gain. From the parking lot head out on the trail then turn left at the white blazed Appalachian trail junction. Climb for .4 miles and turn right at the junction with the Passamaquoddy trail. This portion of the hike was cool and shady. From there head .1 to bright and sunny rock outcropping. You have made it to the lovely vista, which we had to ourselves!
Well, except for the brave little junco, but we didn’t mind sharing with him.
You will notice Stony Man, a bit of a longer hike with larger elevation gains, above.
Head back the way you came, take time to notice all of the wildflowers and critters along the way. This was a very easy, peaceful, perfect hike for us to explore more trails after doing a very strenuous route earlier in the day. Full of life, excellent view, would be great for kids.
Bearfence, Central District Mile Marker 56
Another kid friendly, popular hike, this is a 1 mile loop with 300-foot elevation gain. You cross Skyline Drive to begin the hike. There is an option for a more mild hike or a bit of excitement with a light rock scramble.
We had done the parks most difficult rock scramble trail earlier in the morning, and we were a bit scrambled out so we opted to take the easier trail. To be honest, I think this hike would have been a lot more memorable with the scramble, because it was kind of blah without it. The woodsy trail did not hold much in the way of excitement and didn’t even have tranquility because there were plenty of people.
The viewpoint however, was very nice, but there are plenty of these throughout the park. My tip is to definitely take the rock scramble, which would make this a really fun hike for kids or a cool light hike for the rest of us.
More challenging hikes:
Old Rag, directions from the NPS
This hike was one of my favorite parts of my entire roadtrip through Virginia! It is only for the most experience hikers and best enjoyed if you get there early (weekday if possible) before the crowds and heat – it is an extremely popular hike in the park. Parking is not on skyline drive, so be sure to follow the directions written by the NPS. When you get to the lot check in with the steward who can give you a map and answer any questions you will have. The entire hike is 9.1 miles roundtrip if you choose to create a loop. You start out on a road to get to the trailhead .8 miles, fresh for the day we were excited about everything we saw.
Many of the properties along the road had beautiful flowers which attracted man butterflies. When you get to the trailhead you’ll be thinking, why the heck couldn’t I have parked here and saved myself the extra 1.6 miles?! And continue hiking. The next two are relatively nondescript, a walk through the woods ending up in some serious switchbacks.
When you get above the treeline around mile three, the rockin’ good time begins and lasts for approximately one mile. Be on the look out for the blue blazes painted on the rocks. One mile of strenuous,
and beyond gorgeous breathtaking views.
Some of the really noteworthy parts of the scramble include a 12-foot deep crack
and a cave to amble through.
I’m really glad we got there so early, I couldn’t imagine how backed up the trail can be through the narrow passages. Don’t forget to enjoy the little things along the trail, and tickle some butterflies.
We made it through the scramble and were ready to cross over to the more relaxing yellow blazed Saddle Trail, winding down the mountain. Take in the last of those views and keep going. After passing by the Byrd’s Nest our next sign pointed us in the direction of Weakley Hollow Fire Road which would bring us back to the parking lot. Reaching flat land again we made many observations, this land is so full of life!
I was attracted to the sound of running water and took a little heard path to discover a beautiful little waterfall.
Once you reach the set of bridges, you are not far off from the trailhead!
The walk back on the road is a great cool down after completing one of the most difficult and thrilling hikes in the park!
White Oak Canyon, Central District Mile Marker 42
Early in the morning the light filtered through the trees, we barely left the parking lot before seeing a young buck with velvety antlers.
What a special treat, I was already feeling extra lucky on my birthday hike! This is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the park so once again, get there as early as possible if you seek solitude. You descend the entire way out, and ascend the entire way back so know you limits. Depending on where you turn back or if you decide to make a loop trail you can hike upwards of 10 miles. We had a big drive ahead of us afterwards so we turned our route into a 6.6 mile out and back and were quite satisfied with the results. The hike has six waterfalls, the upper falls is the highest at 86 feet. At the beginning of the hike you will pass by the Limberlost Trail twice. Keep heading straight, pass an epic throne-worthy rock,
and you will hike beside White Oak Run, enjoying the many playful little falls. At 2.3 miles you will reach the Upper Falls, visible from a distant overlook.
From here on out the trail gets steeper, but worth it for all of the up close and personal sights.
We saw a lot of interesting flora and fauna.
I couldn’t quite figure out what was in this nest hidden in a little cave, maybe mud wasps?
Many of the other waterfalls have short trodden heard paths to get a closer view.
If its warm enough, bring a swimsuit and maybe you’ll be lucky to find a path off to your own private swimming pool!
Where to eat? Southern Kitchen, 9576 S Congress St, New Market, VA 22844
The perfect Southern cuisine experience packaged in a kischy old-school diner! Make this your first choice for a casual delectable dinner. The perfect equation? Start with peanut soup. I had no idea what it would taste like, but it rocked my world. Add their famous fried chicken, succulent and crunchy. Finish with a slice of heavenly meringue pie.
If you want a certain flavor, let your waitress know and she may put it aside for you so it doesn’t disappear! Great service, great food, great memories.
Roadside attraction: Route 11 Potato Chip Factory, 11 Edwards Way, Mt Jackson, VA 22842
The factory opens at 9AM, so I had fresh hot potato chips for breakfast on my birthday. It was amazing. This place is full of flair: their wooden potato sculpture, hand painted signs, and mysterious tales.
Upon entering you will be offered a tour of the facilities (no pictures on the tour). It was definitely one of my favorite factory tours I’ve ever been on, very informative and exciting to watch the chips (I looove chips, who doesn’t?).
The end was the best part, as we were the first tour of the morning our guide brought out fresh samples. Trust me the Mama Zuma’s are REALLY hot. The dill REALLY taste like pickles. We stocked up on the Yukon gold which are only produced a few weeks out of the year. Lucky us to visit in that time frame, they were so buttery, sweet, and divine. Don’t miss a trip to the factory for the freshest potato chips you’ll ever eat!
Enjoy every moment.
Shenandoah National Park and its surrounding towns are blessed with truly exquisite nature. Wake up early, take advantage of every minute of daylight, and don’t miss a single spectacular sunset.