24 Easy Hikes in Shenandoah National Park (Best of 2023)

By Joshua Davis •  Updated: 05/19/22 •  27 min read

Every summer, the Davis family hits the road to experience as many National Parks as time and money will allow. Last summer, Heather and I took the boys on a 2,800-mile road trip from South Texas to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Hiking along the Appalachian Trail had long been on our Bucket List and it was time!

We had an incredible time hiking, camping, and exploring the winding trails through lush, green forests, discovering huge waterfalls, and climbing to breathtaking, towering panoramic vistas overlooking Shenandoah Valley.

The park is HUGE (about 200,000 acres!) with 500+ miles of trails to explore. We only had a week before the return trip home, so we had to be selective about the hikes we did.

Also, our youngest son, Jack, was only 5 years old and, Griffin, our Boston Terrier, wasn’t even 1 year.

Our itinerary had to include short hikes that little legs could enjoy.

If you’re wanting to get the most out of Shenandoah but find yourself in a similar situation, we’ve compiled what we learned on our trip and put together a list of the best easy hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

From the easiest hikes to moderate, these trails will still provide families with small children the opportunity to experience some of the best hikes and best views Shenandoah has to offer.

Trail Tips: 

White Oak Canyon Area

1. White Oak Canyon Falls (Park Boundary to Lower Falls Hike)

The White Oak Canyon Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park. And for good reason! It’s a beautiful, easy hike that winds through the canyon along the Robinson River to Lower White Oak Falls.

Past the lower falls, the trail will take you all the way to Skyline Drive (about 6 miles) and past 5 additional waterfalls, the highest being 86 feet! 

We recommend hitting the trail from the southern end at the White Oak Canyon Trailhead on Chad Berry Lane. From there, take the trail as far as is appropriate for your family. 

The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. It’s a moderate incline for the first mile or so as you make your way up into the canyon.

Trail Tips:

Thornton Gap Area

2. Mary’s Rock Hike 

One of the most popular trails in the park due to its WOW-factor and ease of access, the hike to Mary’s Rock begins with a pretty steep .6-mile climb made a little easier by the stairs the NPS thoughtfully installed.

Beginning on the Meadow Spring Trail, you’ll pass a mysterious 100-year-old stone chimney (spooky … ), the spring itself, and connect with the white-blazed A.T. From there, you’re only three-quarters of a mile from the summit.

A short spur trail will take you through an opening in the lush vegetation to a rare, eye-popping sight. Yeah, you’ll know it when you see it.

Trail Tips: 

Hawksbill Area

3. Hawksbill Summit Trail

Welcome to Shenandoah’s highest point! What a view!

While three trails lead to the summit, we chose the shortest … and the steepest.

From the Hawksbill Gap (comically small) parking area, proceed to the trailhead kiosk. Be sure to take the correct one … read the map.

The trail begins deceptively easy until about a tenth of a mile in and then things get steep and, thank God, shady. About half a mile in will bring you to a stone “stairway” and a bit further will find you at a good resting place before making the final ascent.

Stay to the right of the trail marker you come upon past a shelter with a picnic table (who had to carry that in!?) and continue on to a sign that indicates you only have 50 yards to go.

Enjoy spectacular views from the spacious summit and, as it turns out, the rare cell phone service! 

Trail Tips:

4. Upper Hawksbill Trail to Hawksbill Summit

From the (significantly larger) Upper Hawksbill parking area, leisurely ascend the 2.1-mile stroll to the summit, smugly laughing at those who took the other route.

Okay, so in some areas, you’ll break a little sweat, but, still …

One mile in, take a left on the Lower Hawksbill Trail where you’ll come across the same shelter with the picnic table mentioned in the above trail description. The viewpoint is ahead.

Trail Tips:

Big Meadows Area

5. Dark Hollow Falls Trail

Dark Hollow Falls is another popular Shenandoah hike as it offers views of a tall, stunning waterfall via a very short hike.

The first half of the hike from the trailhead is a moderate descent along a mountain spring that fills the air with a relaxing babble as you make your way to the base of the falls. 

The falls are quite picturesque; however, as it is popular, you’ll likely come upon quite a few people waiting for their chance to get a picture. 

Trail Tips:

6. Story of the Forest Trail

A wooded area frequented by whitetail deer, Story of the Forest provides a peaceful family hike. You’ll begin a gentle descent through lush ferns and wildflowers (primarily in Spring) to a footbridge crossing a stream that leads to Dark Hollow Falls.

Although it’s not lauded for anything spectacular, it’s a pleasant, leisurely stroll through the woods.

Park at the north end of the Byrd Visitor Center parking lot to access this trail.

Trail Tips:

7. Rose River Trail

Anyone for a swim?

You’re going to have to work for it.

We recommend walking straight ahead on the Rose River Fire Road from the trailhead and tackling the trail in a counter-clockwise direction. This will take care of the longer, more strenuous portion of the hike first, leaving only half the distance to walk back after visiting the falls.

You’ll begin with a pretty chillaxing yellow-blazed descent amongst tall oaks, passing an almost 100-year-old cemetery about half a mile in.

The fire road will bring you to the narrow tail of 70-foot-tall Dark Hollow Falls where you’ll traverse a bridge and turn left along Hogcamp Branch stream. The trail blazes will change from yellow to blue.

Descend with the stream, watching your footing. At about a mile and a third, you’ll find a good spot to rest and soak your tired feet in the water. At 2 miles, you’ll cross another bridge.

Hang a right (not towards the horrifically steep trail to the left). At this point, you’re a third of a mile from the falls.

You’ll have to perform some light rock scrambling to access the base of the falls; but then, find a dry spot to drop your gear and dive in!

Trail Tips:

8. Lewis Falls Hike

Lewis Falls is the fourth largest waterfall in Shenandoah at 81 feet, only 12 feet shorter than Overall Run Falls, Shenandoah’s tallest.

Taking this hike before or after lunch is ideal given the trailhead’s proximity to restrooms and a wide-open picnic area or the restaurant two miles up Skyline at the Byrd Visitor Center.

From the Big Meadows Amphitheatre, you’ll begin left at the white-blazed trail of the A.T. and then right at the blue blaze marking the Lewis Falls trail.

A shaded hike among mossy rocks and lush fern undergrowth. The first view of the falls appears about a mile-and-a-third into the hike, a good place to stop and rest.

A bit further, and you’ll stone-step across a water crossing and ascend a dirt incline equipped with a handrail. Here, you’ll approach the falls observation deck for a worthwhile viewpoint of the falls.

9. Bearfence Mountain Trail and Rock Scramble

I’ll say it up front: this trail is only appropriate for those with an excellent fitness level and who are NOT afraid of heights. It is not recommended for young children.

While this hike is short, it requires a (fun and exerting) rock scramble that begins relatively easy, escalating to the more challenging, resulting in a worthwhile 360° view of Shenandoah Valley.

Park across Skyline Drive from the Bearfence Loop trailhead. After the rock scramble, turn right onto the connector trail. Take the A.T. to the right and turn left at the intersection to the parking lot.

Trail Tips:

Skyland Area

10. Stony Man Trail

This trail offers a spectacular summit view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

To access the trail, park in the Stony Man parking area and follow the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) to the Stony Man Trail Post. From there, follow the blue trail blazes to the summit. The trail is wider than others steadily climbing to a fork, which you can take either way as it forms a loop.

Trail Tips:

11. Limberlost Trail (TRACK Trail)

Limberlost is a beautifully vegetated, meandering stroll through ferns, towering oak woods, and mountain laurel (highly fragrant in the spring).

This trail is nicely paved with crushed greenstone making it wheelchair-accessible (and, therefore, stroller accessible).

From the Limberlost trailhead on Old Rag Fire Road, take the trail right and follow the loop.

It’s important to understand that Limberlost was blazed with the intent of establishing a trail accessible to everyone. As such, it is highly developed with benches every half mile, planked walkways, and wide trails.

While a beautiful, peaceful hike, it may not provide the remote wilderness experience that many of the other trails in this review have to offer.

Still, a geological oddity will surprise you along this path and you can turn it into a more adventurous hike by adding on the Crescent Rock Trail when you come across the concrete trail posts.

Trail Tips:

12. Miller’s Head Trail

Taking a brief break from the woods, follow this hike through a vast wildflower field before entering another Appalachian forest, peeking through the trees at a breath-taking view of Shenandoah Valley below.

Continue down until you reach an old stone-and-mortar fire watch station that sits above the clouds, providing some truly awe-inspiring vistas.

Trail Tips:

Rapidan Camp Area

13. Appalachian Trail – Tanners Ridge Road

Rich in history, Shenandoah National Park is home to over 100 cemeteries serving as a memoir to the past generations that called Appalachia home.

This particular trail will lead you through one such cemetery that is still cared for and used by descendants of former residents, the Thomas-Meadows family cemetery and former farm.

Begin your trek at the Milam Gap parking lot and follow the A.T. through the homestead. Turn around when you reach Tanners Ridge Road.

Trail Tips:

Loft Mountain Area

14. Loft Mountain Loop (via Frazier Discovery Trail and Appalachian Trail)

This particular trail name will not appear on the NPS map or website. It is a popular composite circuit trail comprised of the shorter Frazier Discovery trail and a short leg of the A.T. with a fire road thrown in.

This highly scenic loop begins at the Loft Mountain Wayside, near Shenandoah’s largest campground by the same name. Park at the Wayside, stocking up with snacks and water if necessary.

The trailhead can be found on the north end of the lot across Skyline Drive to the left of Loft Mountain Road (the northern portion of the Frazier Discovery).

Follow the blue trail blazes to remain on the Frazier (otherwise, you’ll end up in the campground). When you reach an unmarked fork in the trail, you can take either direction. The loop will bring you back to this point.

From here, we’ll assume you went left …

A little less than a half-mile in, you’ll come upon some interesting rock formations, and a little more than a half-mile will bring you to a rocky summit. from the top of this outcrop, you should find two concrete trail posts – go to the SECOND post and hang a left to the A.T. 

The first overlook is about 1.2 miles into the hike … and what a sight!

Continue on the A.T. for .4 of a mile until it forks; then, hang a left onto the Blue Spring Trail. You’ll come upon a shelter for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Past the shelter, the trail will transition to a gravel fire road that will take you back to Skyline Drive.

Once there, walk along Skyline south for a short .1 of a mile and you’ll be back at the Wayside.

Trail Tips:

15. Jones Run Falls Trail

This 42′-foot-tall waterfall is gorgeous; especially after a good rain.

Begin this adventure at the Jones Run parking lot. Head to the trail kiosk and look over the YELLOW trail on the map. (The red trail is a longer loop trail that includes Doyles River Falls (see next trail discussed).

You will quickly intersect the A.T.; however, remain on the blue-blazed Jones Run Trail, descending for most of .6 of a mile to an easy water crossing of the Jones Run itself. From there, it’s about a mile to the falls.

After you’ve enjoyed this beautiful, cascading waterfall, return to the trail and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Trail Tips:

16. Doyles River Falls Trail

Time to get your feet wet … or you can don your waterproof hikers.

The path to Doyles River Falls is a gorgeous wilderness trek to 2 waterfalls that are unique in their own right (if there has been a good supply of rain).

At the blue-blazed trailhead, the kiosk will provide info on two approaches to the falls: a shorter out-and-back (prescribed here) or the longer loop trail.

Cut a perpendicular trail across the white-blazed A.T. into a forested descent, coming across the .1-mile spur trail to the Doyles River cabin constructed by the CCC almost 100 years ago (which can be rented if you fancy an overnight taste of the historic). It’s worth a gander.

A little over a mile in, you’ll have to fjord a water crossing (if sufficient rain has fallen) and a little further will bring you to a small waterfall on the left.

A bit further will bring you to the concrete trail marker that will direct you to the 28-foot Upper Falls. Retrace your steps back to the main trail and head left to continue to the 63-foot Lower Falls.

Head from whence you came to return to the trailhead.

Trail Tips:

17. Blackrock Summit Trail (TRACK Trail)

The Black Rock Summit Trail is a great option for those who want to experience one of the best Shenandoah views without having to commit to an all-day hike.

This trail will take you to an overlook with panoramic views of the valley below as well as Skyline Drive.

The trailhead is located at the Blackrock Gap parking area. From there, follow the A.T. south, turn right at the trail post, hiking until you come upon a boulder field with a fantastic view. This is what you came for!

 Keep on the A.T. heading south until you can turn left on the Blackrock Hut Road – Trayfoot Mountain Trail and it will take you back to the parking lot.

Compton Gap Area

18. Fort Windham Rocks

If you’re short on time and enjoy weird geological features, here’s a quick treat. This short leg of the A.T. will take you to some boulders that jut 50 feet out of the summit of Carson Mountain. What’s weird is how deeply they’re shaped and split! 

These rocks are ancient lava stones that now provide a fun climbing playground and, in the case of one huge monster, a strange gap that runs through it entirely that’s pretty cool to squeeze through.

Access this portion of the A.T. from the Compton Gap parking area. At the Dickey Ridge Trail, turn left. You’ll see the Fort Windham Rocks shortly.

Trail Tips:

19. Lands Run Falls

Lands Run is a good waterfall trail partly because it is rarely crowded; although, you may encounter some on horseback (in which case you should give them the right-of-way).

The hike takes you along an old park fire road that is not strenuous in the least. The falls themselves are not particularly impressive and can run dry if rain is scarce. However, it still provides a nice, scenic leg-stretcher if you’ve been driving around for a while.

The Lands Run parking area sits at the top of the fire road. Walk until you see a small stream run under the road. Follow this stream to the right a short way to the top of a small waterfall.

Trail Tips:

Dickey Ridge Area

20. Snead Farm Dickey Ridge Loop Trail (Snead Farm Loop)

Here’s one for you history buffs … or if you just like spooky old ruins and stuff.

Occupied until the 1950s, there is very little known about the original resident(s) of Snead Farm. Interestingly enough, when Shenandoah National Park was created in the 1930s, the 500+ families that lived in these mountains there bought out of their land and were forced to move (a rather tragic story).

The fact that the Sneads were allowed to remain until the 1950s is a bit enigmatic.

Still, the well-preserved remains of the farm are without a doubt one of the best glimpses into what life was like for the settlers and former residents of the area: from the fully-intact, whitewashed barn to stone stairs, masonry well, root cellar, and foundation, the whole area emits a historic and somber vibe.

To begin your time-traveling hike, park at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Make your way through the Dickey Ridge picnic area, across Skyline Drive, and reach Snead Farm Road.

A half-mile in, you’ll pass by two concrete markers for the Dickey Ridge Trail; however, remain on Snead Farm Road. At the forks follow the clear signs guiding you to the farm, a tad over a mile into the hike.

Take your time and have a look around this fascinating site … if you’re a spooky-history-stuff-nerd like me.

Past the barn, you’ll find a concrete trail marker indicating the Snead Farm Loop Trail. Turn left. Continue for 2 miles until you junction with the Dickey Ridge Trail. Turn right and follow this to Snead Farm Road.

A left turn will have you retracing your steps back to the trailhead.

Trail Tips:

21. Fox Hollow Trail (TRACK Trail)

Nope, it’s not named after the fluffy-tailed mammal. Over 160 years ago, this was home to Thomas and Martha Fox. Today, you can take a stroll through what once was their thriving farm, now camouflaged by time and old forest growth.

One of the easy hikes in Shenandoah National Park, this will take you through remnants of the past including rock walls, periwinkles, and, eerily enough, a cemetery.

To access the trail, park at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and walk across Skyline Drive to the Dickey Ridge railhead. Follow it to the Fox Hollow Trail and turn right.

Trail Tips:

South River Area

22. South River Falls Trail and South River Fire Road Loop

An 83-foot waterfall, wildflowers, and birds galore. Let’s go!

South River Falls is Shenandoah’s 3rd-largest, definitely worth the 1,299-foot elevation gain you’ll trudge to see it. You’ll begin with a long descent through a heavily wooded area along the serene South River, crossing perpendicular to the white-blazed A.T.

After 1.4 miles, you’ll come upon the overlook … they’re rather far from the falls; so, continue on to better views ahead.

At 1.6 miles, you’ll reach the yellow-blazed South River Fire Road. Turn right to stay on the trail to the more vistas of the falls. At 2.2 miles, you’ll find steps marked with a blu blaze on the right. Another .1-mile along a rocky trail will bring you to the base of the falls.

Once you’ve rested and taken in the sights, you can either return to the trailhead via the same way you came (which is more scenic) or remain on the more bland fire road, which offers less of an uphill slog.

Trail Tips:

Riprap Area

23. Calvery and Chimney Rocks Trail

This hike is rockier than all 6 of Stallone’s movies! (Ha! I kill myself.)

Shenandoah’s fascinating geology is hard to appreciate given the dense, lush overgrowth that dominates Appalachia. Still, here and there, the gigantic rocks push through presenting fascinating and, at times, odd formations that make one wonder, “How did that happen?”

The Chimney Rock circuit hike will introduce you to some of these formations as well as some astounding vistas from the top of the world.

Begin in the Riprap parking area. The trail kiosk is at the rear of the lot. You’ll quickly intersect the A.T. on which you’ll hang a right beginning a slow-slog-of-an-ascension for a little less than half a mile.

Turn left when you come upon the Riprap Trail and follow it clear to Chimney Rock, 1 and a half miles in. Pop a squat on one of the very cool flat rocks and take in a very rare, majestic view.

Retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Trail Tips:

Keyser Run Area

24. Sugarloaf Loop

Our last reviewed hike is a tad longer for a family hike. We recommend this hike for those with older kids who can carry their own food and water. (The description by the NPS states that this hike requires 7 hours … we’re not sure why.)

If you’re looking for some solitude in your wilderness experience, this less-popular trail will provide it as well as a calming stroll through tall, green woods, mountain vistas, and babbling streams.

Heading out from the Piney River Parking Area, pass by the CCC Technical Building (built in the 1930s for the engineers of Shenandoah) towards Skyline. The Piney River trailhead sign is what you’re looking for.

Past the trail kiosk, descending through the forest to an intersection. You can choose between going left or straight as the loop will return you to this point.

If left you choose along the A.T., you’ll bisect Skyline a little less than a half-mile into the hike and then enter the forest again. A little more than a half-mile in, keep your eyes peeled for some easy-to-miss majestic overlooks.

At 1 mile the trail forks. Stay on the A.T. (Although the other direction along the Tuscarora-All Runs Trail is worth penciling into your agenda).

Another half-mile will have you cross Skyline and a bit further will present you with an outcrop with some beautiful panoramas.

Just over 1.5 miles, you’ll leave the A.T. and turn right at the concrete marker onto the Sugarloaf Trail for a serene wooded stroll. Crossing some streams, turn right onto the Pole Link Bridge Trail.

At 3-and-a-half miles, hold right to the Piney Branch Trail, across Piney River, and get ready for a slow climb through a shady forest to the end.

Trail Tips:

As the Sun Sets – Wrapping Up Easy Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park offers a wide spectrum of hiking trails at every difficulty level; so, you’re sure to find plenty that both fill your time and suit your family’s unique situation.

Of all the national parks we have scratched off our list, Shenandoah provides some of the most family-friendly hikes we have experienced.

If your family is new to hiking or you have very young children, begin with the trails labeled as “easiest” and work your way to a moderate hike as you and they become stronger and better acquainted with the open trail.

We sincerely hope this review makes planning your trip much easier.

If hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, exploring historical ruins, and discovering cascading waterfalls are on your bucket list (and they should be), hit the trail and start checkin’ ’em off!

Please remember: Always follow Leave No Trace practices and be a good steward of our treasured lands.

Be safe and have a great adventure!

Now, get out there!

Joshua Davis

Being outdoors is freedom! Being outdoors with my wife and two boys is LIVING! Whether in my backyard or getting lost in a National Park, there’s nothing I’d rather do than explore, discover, and experience the paradise that surrounds us. Give me my family, a backpack, and a trail and my life is full!