articles

10 Awesome Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

From mountaintop views to waterfalls, there's a hike for everyone in Shenandoah National Park

By Sandy Wallace July 29, 2020

Many families enjoy spending time outdoors exploring nature. Hiking together is a great way to spend family time outdoors and enjoy nature in any season. 

Shenandoah National Park is an easy day trip from Lynchburg. The south entrance to Shenandoah National Park is located near Waynesboro and the north entrance is located near Front Royal. There is a $30 entrance fee, which covers unlimited entry for one non-commercial vehicle with up to 15 passengers for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase, or you can purchase an annual pass.

If you have a 4th grader, check into the Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass, available to U.S. 4th Graders (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age). The pass is valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September - August).

The 105 mile Skyline Drive runs the length of Shenandoah National Park. Speed limit is 35 MPH and there are more than 70 overlooks along the Skyline Drive. The Appalachian Trail runs alongside Skyline Drive with multiple access points from overlooks and campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is numbered north to south and milepost information (MP) is noted with each hike below.

With over 200,000 acres of protected lands, you'll find beauty everywhere you look! From mountaintop views to cascading waterfalls and over 500 miles of hiking trails, including about 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there's something for everyone. Here are 10 of our favorite family-friendly trails, listed from north to south. You can download trail maps on the website or pick up hiking books at the waysides and visitor centers in the park.

1. Fox Hollow Trail (MP 4.6) - 1.2 mile easy circuit hike starting at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. From the trailhead, go left onto Dickey Ridge Trail, then right onto Fox Hollow Trail. Stay on Fox Hollow Trail—past rock piles and the Fox family cemetery—back to your starting point. Pets are not allowed on Fox Hollow Trail. 

2. Fort Windham Rocks Trail (MP 10.4) - 0.8 mile easy round trip hike starting from the Compton Gap parking area. Follow the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) north to its intersection with the Dickey Ridge Trail. Turn left. In about 300 yards, look for Fort Windham Rocks on the right, deeply split boulders rising 50 feet above ground. Compton Peak Trail (2.4 mile moderate round trip) can also be accessed from this parking area by crossing the Skyline Drive. 

3. Marys Rock Summit - Access the Marys Rock Trail from the Panorama parking area (MP 31.6) or the Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5). Marys Rock Summit is a moderate 3.7 mile round trip hike from Panorama parking area. At the end of the parking area take the short connector trail to the Appalachian Trail and go left (south). At the next trailpost take a right to follow the trail to Marys Rock. Retrace your steps back to Panorama. Marys Rock Summit is a moderate 2.9 mile round trip hike from the Meadow Spring parking area. Cross Skyline Drive to pick up the trail. Take the Meadow Spring Trail to its intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Go right (north) onto the A.T. and follow it to the next trailpost. Take a left following the direction to Marys Rock. Retrace your steps back to Meadow Spring. The view at the top is beautiful, whichever way you go!

4. Stony Man Trail (MP 41.7) - 1.6 mile easy circuit hike. The parking area is located near the north entrance to Skyland Resort off Skyline Drive. From the parking area take the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) to the trail marker. Continue on the blue-blazed Stony Man Trail to the viewpoint. Finish the Stony Man Trail circuit to the intersection with the A.T. and retrace your steps to your starting point. Pets are not allowed on Stony Man Trail. 

5. Limberlost Trail (MP 43.0) - This 1.3 mile fully accessible trail is probably the easiest trail in the park. Limberlost is a part of the Kids in Parks program and is recommended for birding. The trail is a circuit loop. From the trailhead, take the trail to the right and follow the greenstone path in a circuit until you are back to your starting point. There are many benches and wheelchair pullouts along the trail. Limberlost is especially beautiful in late spring when the mountain laurel is in bloom. The kiosk at the trailhead tells you about the example of a columnar jointing geological feature you'll see on the trail. Pets are not allowed on Limberlost Trail.

6. Dark Hollow Falls (MP 50.7) - Rated moderate due to the steps, this 1.4 mile out-and-back hike takes you past a series of waterfalls and cascades. Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park and also the shortest waterfall hike. From the trailhead, follow the trail .75 mi/1.2 km down to the falls and return along the same route. The trail down has some steep sections and the hike up can be challenging. Pets are not allowed on the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.

7. Big Meadows (MP 51.2) - The flat trails at Big Meadows meander around the meadow. There's a gravel walking trail that circles the meadows and trails leading into the woods. Your best opportunity to see wildlife is at Big Meadows. Hike for as long or short of a time as you want. Visit Big Meadows Wayside, Visitor Center, or Lodge across the Skyline Drive when you're done hiking. Big Meadows Campground is one of the most popular in the park, so plan ahead if you want to stay here, especially on the weekends. 

8. Rapidan Camp Hike (MP 52.8) - Start your hike at the Milam Gap trailhead. This is a fun hike to historic Rapidan Camp, the summer retreat established by President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover during his administration and gifted to the American people after his presidency. The Brown House, he president's cabin, has been historically refurnished to its 1929 appearance.

9. Bearfence Scramble (MP 56.4) - Rated moderate, some sections of the rock scramble may be too difficult for younger kids; however, I've watched kids as young as 5 or 6 years old handle the scramble like champs. Your reward at the top of the rock scramble is a beautiful 360-degree view of the park. To begin the hike, cross the road from the parking area and climb the stairs up the bank. At the trail post, continue straight ahead on Bearfence Loop Trail. After the rock scramble, turn right onto the connector trail. Go right on the Appalachian Trail north. Once back to the intersection with the trailpost from the begriming of the hike, turn left and return to the parking lot. Pets are not allowed on the Bearfence Scramble Trail.

10. Blackrock Summit (MP 84.4) - 1.0 mile easy hike leading to a talus slope with sweeping views of the mountains and valley beyond. There's a rock scramble at the top of the summit if you're feeling adventurous! From the Blackrock parking area, follow the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) south. At the trail post, turn right and continue to the boulder field where you can see the layers and quartzite patterns on the rocks and a beautiful view. Continue south on the A.T. around the slope. At the intersection, turn left onto the Blackrock Hut Road-Trayfoot Mountain Trail and follow the trail back to the parking lot.

** Bonus Hike - Hawksbill Gap Summit (MP 45.6) - I didn't include this in our top 10 because it's rated as a moderate to strenuous hike, but I can't leave it out because Hawksbill is the highest point in the park. The shorter Hakwsbill Gap Trail is 1.7 miles, but rated strenuous. The longer Hawksbill/ Salamander/ A.T. Circuit hike is 2.9 miles and rated moderate to strenuous. The trail on the right of the parking lot is a moderate, but very scenic hike along the Appalachian Trail to the summit (via the Salamander Trail). The trail out of the center of the parking lot is a VERY steep and the most direct trail to the summit called the "Lower Hawksbill Trail". The Lower Hawksbill Trail climbs straight up the mountain, and you ascend 800 feet in 0.85 miles. The trail emerges from the woods at the summit, and the Byrds Nest Shelter (day use) will be on your right. Continue past the shelter to the stone platform on the summit of the mountain.

There are many more trails to enjoy in Shenandoah National Park, including hikes along the Appalachian Trail. From late spring through late fall, you may encounter thru-hikers who are attempting to hike the entire 2,190 mile trail which runs from Georgia to Maine. It's well worth taking the time to ask them to share their story with you!

Check out our guide to Hiking Off the Blue Ridge Parkway to find Parkway hikes for all ages and abilities. Find the best family-friendly local events on the Lynchburg Macaroni Kid event calendar any time.

Follow us on Facebook for lots of shared local events, subscribe to our FREE weekly newsletter to be first to know what's happening around town, and check the Lynchburg Macaroni Kid website anytime to Find Your Family Fun® in Lynchburg and Central Virginia!