13 Best Hikes in Shenandoah Park for Fall Foliage

September 19, 2023

Looking for the best hikes in Shenandoah for fall foliage? Look no further. I’ve got the lo-down on some of the best places to hike throughout the fall season. You’ll definitely want to add these to your hiking list!

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Located to the east of George Washington National Forest in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has a lot to offer with hiking trails for all levels. 

While you can’t go wrong visiting at any time of the year, some of the best views are found in early October. This is when the leaves display their most vibrant colors at Shenandoah’s higher elevations with breathtaking mountain views. 

During late October, you can get in on the peak display of colors at mid to lower elevations. And in some areas, in early November.

There’s a good reason why Shenandoah National Park is a hot spot in the fall. Between the scenic drive and beautiful waterfall hikes with miles of trails to choose from, Shenandoah is an absolute must-visit. 

Whether you’re looking to simply cruise along Skyline Drive or explore the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, I’ve got you covered either way!

Skyline Drive runs through the park for nearly all of its length. It has 75 overlooks offering spectacular fall foliage views, east or west.

A great place to stop is at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center located at the north end of the park entering from Front Royal (mile 4.6). Here you can get park information, as well as suggestions on the Shenandoah hiking trails and other outdoor activities.

The Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center is another place you can stop along Skyline Drive. It’s located in the heart of Shenandoah National Park near Big Meadows Lodge.

Both visitor centers are good places to explore the exhibits and learn about the park’s natural habitat and environment. 

Trails are open year round so you can go back in the spring for the beautiful mountain blooms.

Entering the Park

Skyline Drive is the main road that winds through Shenandoah National Park with breathtaking views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The scenic road runs 105 miles through the park and connects with the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s also the only public road that runs through the park. 

If you’re driving, you can enter the park at any of the following entrances along Skyline Drive: 

  • Front Royal (mile 0) by Rt. 66 and 340 in Front Royal (Most northern entrance)

  • Thornton Gap (mile 31.5) by Rt. 211 (15 minutes from Luray Caverns)

  • Swift Run Gap (mile 65.5) by Rt. 33 near Elkton 

  • Rockfish Gap (mile 104.6) by Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 

The Rockfish Gap entrance is also the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the north end. 

If you need directions, follow these. Relying on your GPS could get you lost and lead you in the wrong direction as it isn’t always accurate. 

13 Best Hikes in Shenandoah Park for Fall Foliage

Shenandoah National Park is a popular hiking destination, so be prepared for crowds during peak fall foliage times. Keep in mind, that parking tends to fill up pretty quickly at the trailheads and Skyline Drive viewpoints.

So if you want to have ample time to take in the panoramic views and enjoy the hiking trails, an early rising is key.

White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails

This popular White Oak Canyon Falls hike offers nature enthusiasts a diverse and immersive experience with breathtaking views. Some of these include lush forested areas, diverse wildlife, and picturesque viewpoints.

The trail spans around 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) round trip taking you along a series of cascading waterfalls. The highest being White Oak Canyon Falls which plunges around 86 feet (26 meters).

The hike is known for its varying levels of difficulty, offering options for both beginners and more experienced hikers. While some parts are a bit tough, it’s totally worth it if you’re up for the challenge. 

*Image from Trail Run Project

Hawksbill Summit Trail

If you want to see some massive colorful fall foliage, Hawksbill Mountain Trail is a great place to be. It’s the highest mountain peak in Shenandoah National Park at 4,050 feet (1,232m).

This moderately difficult trail is a 4-mile loop featuring spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding valleys. There are several stops along the way, including an observation tower that provides 360-degree views at Hawksbill Summit. 

*Image from National Park Service

Stony Man Trail

Stony Man Mountain is a popular hiking spot, with several routes to the summit that are accessible from Skyland Resort. This is one of the shorter hikes to the Stony Man summit – the second-highest peak in the park.

Stony Man Trail is a fun, easy hike with a 1.3-mile loop that features beautiful natural areas and views of the mountains. The terrain is mostly flat, making it perfect if you’re a beginner hiker or have small children.

Along the way, you’ll see wildlife such as deer, wild turkeys, and birds of prey. You may even spot black bears!

Dark Hollow Falls Trail

The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a 1.4-mile out-and-back moderate trail that leads to a 70-foot waterfall where you can cool off. A perfect trail if you’re looking for a shorter hike. It’s also great for hikers of all ages and skill levels. 

You can begin the trail at the Dark Hollow Falls parking area and descend to the Hogcamp Branch stream. Hike along the stream until you reach the waterfall viewing platform at the bottom of the trail.

Go a bit further down the trail to get to the base of the falls where you will get a much better view.

Crescent Rock Overlook

Crescent Rock Overlook is located at milepost 44 on Skyline Drive. It’s a short, easy walk from the parking lot to the overlook, which offers amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and Hawksbill Peak.

The fall foliage season is the best time to visit if you want to experience a sight for sore eyes! The colors are breathtaking with leaves of bright red, orange, and yellow.

​Not far from the overlook, you’ll find a short hiking trail that leads to Crescent Rock. The trail is 0.3 miles long and is rated as easy.

Rose River Loop Trail 

The Rose River Trail is a scenic, 4.6-mile loop with moderately rugged trails. This trail has an elevation gain of 1,400 feet offering beautiful fall foliage views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rolling hills.

The trail takes you along the Rose River and passes by Rose River Falls, a 67-foot waterfall.

You can start your hike at the Fishers Gap Parking Area and descend to the Rose River. The trail then follows the river upstream, past the falls, and to a bridge. From the bridge, the trail climbs back to the parking area.

The hike to the falls is an enjoyable one, so make sure to take your time and take in the beauty along the way! 

Bearfence Mountain Trail

The Bearfence Mountain Trail is a short, but strenuous 2.2-mile loop located in Shenandoah’s National Forest. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding mountains.

​So if you can make it to the top, it will be well worth it!

​The trail begins at the Bearfence Mountain parking lot and climbs up a steep slope to the rock scramble leading to the summit. The rock scramble is the most challenging part of the trail and requires hikers to use their hands and feet to climb up the rocks.

This is a moderately challenging-rated trail. Due to its steep inclines and rocky terrain, it’s not recommended for novice hikers.

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South River Falls Trail

The South River Falls Trail is a moderately challenging 4.8-mile hiking loop. The trail follows the South River and passes by South River Falls. An 83-foot-tall waterfall which is known as the third tallest waterfall at Shenandoah National Park.

The trail begins at the South River Picnic Area and descends to the South River. The trail then follows the river upstream, past the falls, and to a bridge. From the bridge, the trail climbs back to the parking area.

*Image from the Hoppy Hikers

Lewis Falls Trail

The Lewis Falls Trail is a 1.5-mile out and back in Shenandoah National Park. This scenic trail takes you along a river with stunning views of surrounding peaks and valleys.

As you make your way up the trail, you will pass by cascading waterfalls, lush greenery, and awe-inspiring rock formations. The hike is rated as moderate with an elevation gain of 600 feet.

At 66 feet tall, Lewis Falls is popular for hikers and photographers alike. You can view the falls from several different vantage points, making it a great spot to capture your best shot. They make great canvas prints for your home too!

Overall Run Falls Trail

The Overall Run Falls Trail is a 4.5-mile out and back located in the Shenandoah National Park. 

​Along the path, you can observe native wildlife such as deer, foxes, and birds. You’ll also go past soaring overlooks and cascading waterfalls, which make it great for photography.

The trail is rated as difficult with some steep sections along the way, so make sure to plan accordingly. As you make your way up the path, you will eventually reach Overall Run Falls.

At 93 feet tall, it is the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park.

The falls are best experienced during heavy rainfall as this creates an impressive amount of water cascading down from the top. It is a breathtaking sight and well worth the trek!

Rapidan Camp Trail

The Rapidan Camp Trail is a National Historic Landmark with approximately a 4-mile out-and-back trail in Shenandoah National Park. The trail leads to the former summer home of President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

This trail is moderately challenging, with some steep sections and three stream crossings. It begins at the Milam Gap Parking Area (mile 52.8) and follows the Mill Prong Trail to the camp.

​This historic site served as the former president’s summer retreat from 1929 to 1932. The camp has been restored in recent years and includes several original structures, including a kitchen house, dining hall, and guest cabins. 

​The Rapidan Camp Trail is a popular hike for history buffs and nature lovers alike. It offers stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. 

The best time to hike the trail is during the fall or spring when the weather is mild. And don’t forget your camera, there will be quite a bit of photo ops you won’t want to miss!

*Image from National Park Service

Jones Run Falls Trail

The Jones Run Falls Trail is a 4.7-mile round-trip loop that leads to a 42-foot waterfall at Shenandoah National Park. It begins at the Jones Run Parking Area (mile 84.1) on Skyline Drive and follows the Jones Run Trail downhill.

The trail passes through several habitats, including hardwood forests, pine forests, and mountain meadows. Along the way, you’ll be treated to picturesque views of the surrounding woodland with plenty of opportunities for wildlife observation. 

​Be sure to bring your binoculars as you may even spot some native birds like cardinals or bluejays in the trees!

Marys Rock Summit Trail

The Marys Rock Summit Trail is a 3.8-mile loop that starts at milepost 33.5 at Shenandoah National Park. This trail is perfect for those looking for a challenge as it climbs more than 1,500 feet to the summit of Marys Rock. 

Along the way, you’ll find spectacular views of the surrounding area including Panorama Mountain and Old Rag Mountain. If you can make it to the summit, it will be totally worth it. Once at the top, the fall foliage views are amazing!  

Be sure to bring plenty of water and wear a good pair of hiking boots as the trail can be quite steep in some sections. 

The trail can be done in about 2-1/2 hours on average. If you’re an experienced hiker, looking for adventure, this trail is for you.

Mary’s Rock via the Pinnacle Picnic Area

The hike to Mary’s Rock via the Pinnacle Picnic area can easily be reached south of the Thornton Gap entrance on Skyline Drive near mm 36.7. 

​The moderate-challenging hike is approximately 7 miles and follows the Appalachian Trail to The Pinnacle – a smaller peak with views of Mary’s Rock. From The Pinnacle, the trail continues to Mary’s Rock, with even more expansive views of the bright foliage colors.

​A truly incredible hike in Shenandoah National Park if you’re up for a challenge!

​When you’re done with your hike, the picnic area is a great spot to break, rest, and enjoy a picnic lunch. I typically like to pack my own hiking lunch when hitting the trails because when I’m done, I am always ready to refuel. 

​You’ll also want to make sure you’re prepared with electrolytes to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Dehydration can catch up to you before you know it! 

Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns are nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and are the largest, most popular caverns in the Eastern United States. And while this one is off the fall hikes topic, it’s worth the mention. 

​The caverns are made up of towering stalactites, stalagmites, and other captivating geological formations. These formations have been sculpted over time, creating an amazing phenomenon. 

​The caverns are also home to the Great Stalacpipe Organ. A unique lithophone that produces echoing tones when its stalactites are gently struck. 

​What’s more, the Luray Caverns were featured in several movies and TV series, including “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Twilight Zone.”

Enjoy a Meal with a Side of Fall Color

If you’re looking for a good place to eat with panoramic views of Shenandoah’s fall foliage, head over to Skyland Resort or Big Meadows Lodge. 

Skyland Resort offers an amazing panoramic view from your table in their indoor dining room and makes it easy to enjoy your meal with a view.  

For an outdoor viewing experience, grab a seat at the Big Meadows Lodge patio behind the restaurant dining room. This will give you a front-and-center spot to enjoy Shenandoah’s beautiful fall foliage display of colors. 

Both restaurants offer vegan and vegetarian options but the best seat in the park is at any of the outdoor picnic areas amidst nature herself. This way you can bring your own food and take in the beauty from any vantage point you choose!

*Image from Skyline Drive

What is the best time to see fall colors in Shenandoah National Park?

The best time to see fall colors in Shenandoah National Park typically ranges from early October to early November. However, the exact timing can vary depending on factors like weather conditions, elevation, and the specific types of trees in the area.

Be sure to check with local resources including fall reports and webcams closer to your travel date for the most up-to-date information on foliage conditions and timing.

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Sandra Campillo

Sandra Campillo is an eco, vegan lifestyle and travel blogger and entrepreneur. Join Sandra and her community of readers on SandraCampillo.com to learn how to live a healthier, more sustainable, and compassionate way of life while creating a passive income lifestyle.

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