This is your guide to the top 10 best hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
The first time I ever went hiking in Shenandoah, my dad carried me around in one of those baby papoose carriers. But as soon as I could clamber up mountains on my own, we began checking off every trail in the park in earnest. Today, my dad and I have done every hike that doesn’t require camping, some of them dozens of times. Of all of those hundreds of miles of trails, there are a few that stand out from the rest. Here are the 10 best hikes in Shenandoah National Park that every hiker should have on their to-do list.
Note: Hiking is one of my favorite things to do, and I love sharing it with new people as much as possible. But although I fully support risk-taking and being adventurous, please be smart about it. There’s nothing worse than going on a hike without taking necessary precautions, and then end up ruining your day (or worse). Wear proper shoes and socks, know where you’re going, and bring plenty of water.
Top 10 Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park:
1. Bearfence Mountain (mile 55.1) – Bearfence has been my all-time favorite hike since before I was old enough to actually do the hike without being carried up the mountain. It’s only a mile-long, so you can do the round-trip in an hour. Two-thirds of it is a rock scramble, meaning you’ll be pulling yourself up rocks and boulders with your hands and feet. Many people turn around at the start of the rock scramble, but it’s not as difficult as it looks! But if you’re under 5ft (like my mom), consider doing this with a friend. Your reward for completing the hike is one of the only 360 degree views in the park. On a clear day, you’ll have lots of other people with you on the trail, but the view is worth it. Easily one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Note: This is one of the few trails that dogs are not allowed on.
2. Little Devil Stairs (mile 19.4) – This is a hidden treasure that few park visitors know about. It’s not an easy one, but you’ll be rewarded by incredible scenery and almost no company. The Little Devil Stairs trail descends from the Drive through an impressive gorge as it follows Keyser Run. You’ll pass several waterfalls and cross the creek numerous times. As it passes through the ravine, the trail is extremely steep and can be very slick if the water levels are high. If you make this a roundtrip hike, the 7.8-mile loop is strenuous because the trail is so steep and narrow. But there is an easier way to enjoy the canyon – bring two cars, leave one at the bottom parking lot (at the end of Virginia 670), and then park the other at the top. Then you just hike downhill, get in your car, and drive back to the top!
3. White Oak Canyon (mile 42.6) – This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and for good reason. It is the easiest way to hike to a waterfall in SNP, but if you complete the entire trail, you’ll actually see a series of 7 falls. The White Oak trail offers several options:
- The family-friendly option: You can walk the easy, gently sloping downhill 1.5 miles to the footbridge at the top of the first falls. There, you’ll find an excellent spot in the river for a picnic lunch. Then just retrace your steps back to your car.
- You can continue on past the first falls. Here, the trail descends steeply in a series of switchbacks and slick stony portions. You’ll pass the rest of the falls along the way and continue following the river as it levels out. The trail goes through quiet pine forests until it reaches the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain (at the end of Weakley Hollow Road). From here you can:
- Retrace your steps all the way back up for a strenuous 8-mile roundtrip OR
- Pick up your car that you left at the bottom (like Little Devil Stairs) and drive back to the top.
4. Passamaquoddy Loop – This is the “back road” up Stony Man Mountain. It’s longer but more scenic and secluded than the main trail. From the Skyland Amphitheater north, the Passamaquoddy Trail hugs the mountain on a narrow, rocky path. It provides just enough of a challenge to feel like a hike and not just a walk in the woods. You’ll eventually reach Little Stony Man Cliffs, the viewpoint located below Stony Man Summit. Keep following the trail until you reach the summit, which will probably be the first time you see people during your entire 3.5 mile hike.
5. Turk Mountain (mile 94.1) – Located near the southern terminus drive, Turk Mountain is another hike that doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more popular trails. But it should! The summit is a talus slope (a former cliff that has eroded into a giant pile of boulders) and offers spectacular views to the west. The round trip is only 2.2 miles, but almost all of the elevation change happens in the last 0.5 before the summit, making for a rough, but rewarding, ending to the hike.
6. Mary’s Rock via Pinnacle – No question, Mary’s Rock is one of the most scenic summits in the park. It’s one of only three summits with 360-degree views. But the normal trail from the Panorama parking lot is brutal for the inexperienced hiker – 1,210 feet of elevation gain in 1.7 miles. Instead, take the AT from the Pinnacles campground north to Mary’s Rock. At 7 miles round trip, it’s much longer. But the ascent is much more gradual, the trail less crowded, and you’ll cross a bonus summit – The Pinnacle.
7. Blackrock (mile 84.4) –This one is on the list of best hikes in Shenandoah for the kiddos. I haven’t been to Blackrock in years, but I absolutely loved it when I was little. From the parking lot, the summit is only a half mile “hike.” Nowadays, the summit an expansive boulder field, though presumably was a large rock formation thousands of years ago. For kids who can’t resist climbing on top of anything climbable, this is the perfect place. It’s also a great spot to catch sunrise or sunset if you don’t have the time for a real hike.
8. Old Rag – The only reason Old Rag is this far down on my list of best hikes in Shenandoah is because it’s always packed with people. It’s a fantastic hike, but unfortunately, everyone else on the East Coast seems to know that too. The hike itself is about 10 miles roundtrip, so plan to make a day of it. The first two-thirds are all uphill through the woods. But what makes it so popular is the last mile, which is a rock scramble. You’ll squeeze through rock crevasses and hoist yourself up cliffs. I’ve done Old Rag on my own (for reference, I’m only 5’3’’ but in fairly good shape), but if you’ve never done it or any other rock scramble before, I don’t recommend that. Or at least make friends with some other hikers in case you’re too short for parts of the scramble. Note: the more popular route starts from the Old Rag Parking Area off of Route 231. However, there is the option to start from Berry Hollow. While this route is usually less crowded, your hike will be more strenuous and you will not get to enjoy the full rock scramble.
9. Hawksbill Summit (mile 45.6) – Climbing the highest mountain in the park just has to be one of the best hikes in Shenandoah. There are three routes to the top, but my favorite way is to take the AT from the Lower Hawksbill Parking lot and follow it until it meets the Salamander Trail. You’ll cross over two talus slopes and have views of the Shenandoah Valley for most of your hike. This is the third of the three 360 degree views. Peregrine falcons call the summit home; I’ve never seen one, but I look every time just in case!
10. Compton Peak (mile 10.4) – This one gets to round out the list of best hikes in Shenandoah National Park not so much for the hike itself, but for the unique rock formation located near the summit. After only 0.8 miles, the trail reaches the top and splits into two directions. Go right, and you’ll go to a vista overlooking Skyline Drive and Dickey Ridge. But go left, and you’ll find an incredible rock formation called columnar jointing. When I last did this trail several years ago, this section of it was not marked and my dad and I had to search for what our outdated trail guide promised was there. Nowadays, you can follow the blue blazes right to the bottom of the cliff. Look up and you’ll see hardened lava that has cracked into prismatic columns, like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. It sounds nerdy, but I promise it’s really cool.
Related: Got a special hiker in your life? Check out this list of the best gift ideas for hikers!
There are plenty more hikes to do, but these are the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park (in my humble opinion, of course). Have you done any of them? Think I’ve left off a trail that deserves to be in the top 10? Got questions about hiking in SNP? Let me know in the comments!
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