Article Overview: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Choosing the Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park isn’t easy. The Virginia park covers more than 200,000 acres with 500 miles of trails, including more than 100 miles along the famous Appalachian Trail (A.T., as the cool hikers call it) as it weaves along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I first visited Shenandoah National Park during a business trip to Washington, D.C. After five days of politics, peak crowds of Cherry Blossom season, and pristine conference rooms, I longed for something more. I opened up the NPS Parks App to find a place nearby.
70 miles later, I was on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, happy to be in hiking boots instead of heels. A wonderful world of waterfalls, foliage, far-reaching views, and the magic mysticism of the Blue Ridge Mountains were calling, and I’m excited to show you around this park.
Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Table of Contents: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Table of contents: Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Tips for Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park Countdown
- #15 Appalachian Trail
- #14 Mary’s Rock Trail
- #13 Bearfence Mountain Summit
- #12 Stony Man Trail
- #11 Blackrock Summit
- #10 Upper Whiteoak Falls
- #9 Traces Trail
- #8 Little Devil’s Stairs Trail
- #7 Hazel River Falls
- #6 Frazier Discovery Trail
- #5 Old Rag
- #4 Browns Gap
- #3 Rose River Falls Trail
- #2 Dickey Ridge
- #1 Hawksbill Loop
- Summary of Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Map of Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Pin Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Things to Know Before You Visit Shenandoah National Park
$30 vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, Earth 🙂
The Best Guide Book for Shenandoah National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Shenandoah National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Shenandoah National Park
Where to Stay: This is our favorite hotel in/around Shenandoah National Park.
Tips for Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Firstly, we need to go over a few hiking trail guidance bits of information and safety steps to get you ready for the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Blazes on Hiking Trails
You need to know the blaze colors on the trail so you don’t get turned around.
- BLUE: Park hiking Trail
- WHITE: Appalachian Trail
- YELLOW: Trails where horses are allowed (watch your step!)
Most trails will have a number underneath the blaze. Keep track of these as you pass. Rescue crews will be able to come much faster if you report that number in an emergency.
Before you pick your best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, you need to check the park alerts and trail conditions.
For those hiking Old Rag, you need a day-use ticket as part of a program to control the crowds on this popular trail. This is in effect from March 1 through November 20. Each person in a group needs their own ticket.
Backcountry hikers and campers will need a permit.
Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park Countdown
Shenandoah has many trails with the “best views” and “coolest waterfalls,” so you really can’t go wrong. Here are some of my top favorites, with a mix of skills and difficulty levels so everyone is included.
Distance: 101 miles (but obviously, you can shorten that to suit your needs)
Difficulty: Extremely Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 2,147′ (assuming you summit Hawksbill Mountain)
Time Required: 54 hours 16 minutes
The A.T. access points to Shenandoah National Park are at the Rockfish Gap entrance on the south side of the park and Lake Front Royal Junction just outside the park on the northern edge. Day hikers who want to explore part of the park can use this interactive map to see the options.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains and assists hikers with this part of the park. Reservations for cabins will be made through PATC, not the park.
Distance: 3.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,210′
Time Required: 3 hours 30 minutes
Instead of having to spend nearly four hours wondering, “Who is Mary?” I can tell you there is no firm answer. She was either a bride who was shown the land she would inherit, a bride who fell off the rocks and died or a child who brought home a bear cub.
This trail is likely going to be busy, and you’ll probably see a lot of dogs. You will follow much of the A.T. as you ascend this rocky climb. Summit views are incredible, and this is one of the best trails in Shenandoah National Park for children to get a taste of tougher hiking.
The trailhead is at Panorama Parking Area, with restrooms and ample parking.
Distance: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate (scrambling required)
Elevation Gain: 311′
Time Required: 1 hour
This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park to see the sunrise. Don’t let that short elevation gain fool you—this is not a great hike for those who are afraid of heights. You’ll start at the Bearfence Parking Area and cross Skyline to start the hike.
You’ll scramble up through blazed rocks with more challenging sections, and there is enough excitement for the expert scrambler to ride closer to the edge with safe spaces for those who don’t want to look down. It is a wonderful way to get your heartbeat going early and get those legs stretched out for longer hikes.
#12 Stony Man Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 340′
Time Required: 1 hour
Stony Man Trail has its own large parking area, which should be the first indication the trail will be crowded. It’s named for the perceived face of a man in the rocks at the top.
The park says this is an easy trail, but we’ve had plenty of hikers tell us this is more moderate. You’ll be walking on rocks and with light scrambling, but the views at the top across the Shenandoah Valley are worth it. This is another one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park to see the sunset, and the hike back in the twilight isn’t too risky.
#11 Blackrock Summit
Distance: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: 175′
Time Required: 45 minutes
This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for kids, complete with an activity guide and a chance to step on the A.T. The easy hike starts at the Blackrock Parking Area and has signs along the way to make the adventure as long as you explore the trail through your children’s eyes.
The summit is a rocky talus gathering of jagged beauty with great views over the valley. This can also be a great hike to see the sunrise or sunset.
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,040
Time Required: 3 hours 30 minutes
The trailhead starts at the Whiteoak Canyon Parking Area. This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for those who enjoy the journey and not just the destination. You’ll pass massive boulders with unique shapes and see flowering trees and bushes along the way.
Several bridges go over the water, but you’ll be getting your feet wet, too. The cascades are ongoing as you take this trail, so bring water shoes if you want to explore the pools that gather at the bases. At the top of the falls, you’ll have a great view to look down on the cascades, but watch your footing.
#9 Traces Trail
Distance: 1.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 333′
Time Required: 1 hour 15 minutes
This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for wildlife and campers at the Matthew Arms campground. If you’re not staying at the campsite, you can park in the Mathews Arms Parking Area. The trail circles the campsite, and it’s relatively easy with rocky sections.
The name comes from the “traces” left behind by those who lived here before. You’ll be walking in nature, but feel like you’re walking in historic footsteps. Look for deer and wild turkeys.
Distance: 7.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,897′
Time Required: 8 hours 30 minutes
I’ve long wanted to count up the number of “devilish” names in state parks, but that’s for another article. Start at the Keyser Run Parking Area, and you’ll hear water long before you see it.
You’ll weave across a stream that can be rough in spring or after heavy rain. Spring flowers line the path and fill the air with their scents. The “stairs” are a moderate stretch of narrow rocks. It’s not really scrambling, but you might do some bear crawls to ascend.
If you want a mix of challenging landscapes and waterfalls, this is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
NOTE: There is a cemetery on this trail that has a plaque with the poem “Why the Mountains are Blue” by Wayne Baldwin. It’s a reminder of the sacrifices that were made so you can enjoy the preserved land.
Distance: 5.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,070′
Time Required: 5 hours
Start at the Spring Meadow Parking Area and get ready to explore one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park to avoid the crowds and explore shallow caves (with a nice cool spot in the summer)!
The trail is wooded, and you’ll hear the Hazel River long before you see it. Even when you cross over the river several times, the sound of the falls erroneously makes you think it’s closer than it is.
You’ll descend to the edge of the river and the waterfall, so watch your footing. The caves, waterfalls, and river are all in the same cove.
Distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: Very easy
Elevation Gain: 429′
Time Required: 1 hour
This trail is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park to see the sunset. It’s also family-friendly while still giving a fairly good leg workout. You’ll start at the Loft Mountain Wayside Parking Area, and the toughest part of the incline is in the first half mile.
You’ll pass through dense woods with massive rock formations lining a side of the trail in parts. Once you arrive at the rocky outcropping, you’ll have fantastic sunset views. I’d love to come back to this trail in the fall to watch the sun light up the foliage.
#5 Old Rag
Distance: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,348 feet
Time Required: 7 hours 30 minutes
I know some of you are gasping at this being only #5 on our list of Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It’s iconic. The challenge of hiking, scrambling, and solid footing with the 360° at the top are truly one of the reasons humans started hiking for fun in the first place.
Parking is near the east entrance of the park on private property, where you’ll have to pay to park. That’s in addition to the cost of your park pass.
You’ll be doing a lot of scrambling here over big rocks and through tight spaces. Even with controlled ticket access, those narrow spaces can lead to lines. We only knocked this down to #5 because not everyone will be capable of this type of hike.
#4 Browns Gap
Distance: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 1,400′
Time Required: 7 hours
This is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park in spring to enjoy the cascades, waterfalls, and flowers that line the trail. An autumn trip might be ideal if you want to avoid the worst of the ticks and spiders while blending in the fall foliage of this dense forest trail.
You’ll get to see the upper and lower sides of Doyles River Falls, with a special appearance by Jones Run Falls.
Elevation Gain: 910′
Time Required: 4 hours 30
Park at the Fisher’s Gap Parking Area and cue up TLC to go chase waterfalls on Rose River Falls Trail, where you walk along the Rose River and can stick to the rivers that you’re used to seeing on a waterfall trail. You will walk through dirt paths and rocky inclines. No scrambling is required.
When you arrive at the falls, you’ll be treated to a top view 67′ above the water. Of course, this trail is best during spring when the snow is melting or after heavy rain. However, that same rain can make the trails very muddy.
As someone who loves waterfalls, I couldn’t resist not taking the loop and instead finishing the last quarter mile through Dark Hollow Falls, which is an impressive 70″ with places to cool off in the summer. The only sinister park of Dark Hollow Falls Trail is that you have the incline going out. Stretch out those calves before you ascend.
#2 Dickey Ridge
Distance: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Gain: 833′
Time Required: 2 – 3 hours
This trail starts at the Dickey Ridge entrance, making for a great first hike of the day. The trail weaves through dense forests and meadows while hugging Skyline Drive for a good chunk of the hike to get great views when you’re out of the woods.
The Browntown Valley overlook offers the best views and a great picnic spot. Be sure to use bear-proof containers and trash cans, as bears are seen often in this area.
Distance: 2.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 860′
Time Required: 2 hours
Hawksbill Loop tops the list of best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for several reasons. It gives a mix of meadows, rocky trails, vegetation, and views. The trail starts at the Hawkbill Gap Parking Area at Sunrise mile marker 45.5.
As you ascend the tallest spot in the park, you’ll be encouraged by endless vistas before finally reaching the top, where there’s a viewing platform. The jagged edges of rock blend with the scenic green or fall foliage views.
The final stretch to the summit is steep, so be sure to save some energy for the boost. Go earlier in the day to avoid the crowds
Summary of Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Hawksbill Loop
- Dickey Ridge
- Rose River Falls
- Browns Gap
- Old Rag
- Frazier Discovery Trail
- Hazel River Falls
- Little Devil’s Stairs
- Traces Trail
- Upper Whiteoak Falls
- Blackrock Summit
- Stony Main Trail
- Bearfence Mountain Summit
- Mary’s Rock Trail
- Appalachian Trail
Map of Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Pin Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
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