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15 Hikes in Shenandoah National Park You’ll Want to Add to Your Bucket List

A hiker enjoys the view from the summit of Old Rag, one of the most popular and difficult hikes in Shenandoah National Park
NPS Photo

There are many activities one can enjoy when visiting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Golfing, horseback riding, boating, fishing, water-skiing, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and ice skating are just some of the fun things you can do at this beautiful park. However, what draws most people here are the fantastic hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah in order from easiest to most difficult. Since there are over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, I’m hoping this will help you decide where to go. Hiking in Shenandoah includes everything from easy strolls at waterfalls to rock scrambles up mountainsides. No matter what you’re interested in seeing, there’s a hike on this list for everyone.

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Land Acknowledgment: This post promotes travel to native lands for the following nations: Manahoac and Monacan. We honor all Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.

10 Tips for Hiking in Shenandoah

A brown dirt path through green trees
NPS Photo
  1. Before hiking in Shenandoah, you should be physically fit. If you’re not, hiking in Shenandoah could be a little difficult. That said, there are many ways to get yourself ready for a hike. You can even practice some hikes at nearby parks that aren’t as long or difficult as what you plan on doing in the future. Start with one of the easier hikes in Shenandoah and work your way up.
  2. You have to know what kind of hike you’re going on before you set out. If this is your first hiking trip it might be best to start with a trail rated as “easy”. It sounds obvious, but the more difficult trails will take a lot of effort and could cause fatigue after several hours. 
  3. Choose the right gear! I have some suggestions below, but make sure the gear you choose is right for you. You may want to do some shopping to try things on or get fitted before your trip.
  4. Weather is always tricky to predict and the same goes for Shenandoah National Park. Keep an eye out for any signs of incoming weather no matter what season it is. Always check up-to-date forecasts before heading out on a hike and never underestimate anything.
  5. You’ll find three different colors of trail blazes in Shenandoah. Blue blazes are hiking trails, white blazes are the Appalachian Trail, and yellow blazes mean the trail is open to horses.
  6. Bring more water than you think you’ll need! It’s always wise to have extra.
  7. Do not attempt any rock scrambles when conditions are wet or icy.
  8. There are ticks in Shenandoah. After hiking, I recommend checking to make sure you didn’t pick up any ticks on the trail.
  9. You may want to read our bear safety tips before your visit. Remember, never feed or approach wildlife and always store your food properly. Nothing is more dangerous than a food-conditioned bear! 
  10. Bring a trail map. Do not rely on cell phones or GPS devices.
A sunrise over blue hazy mountains
NPS Photo

Shenandoah Hiking Maps

Here are Shenandoah trail maps from the official website, broken up into different areas of the park. Typically, map/area names are the same as the parking areas for the trailheads. I recommend downloading these prior to embarking on any hikes in Shenandoah. 

Bearfence | Big Meadows | Compton Gap | Dickey Ridge | Hawksbill | Keyser Run | Loft Mountain | Matthews Arm | Old Rag | Rapidan Camp | Riprap | Skyland | South River | Thornton Gap | Whiteoak Canyon

How to Interpret Hiking Difficulty

The summit of Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park is one of the more popular hikes in Shenandoah.
NPS Photo

Below, we explain the process behind the difficulty level given to our favorite hikes in Shenandoah.

Easy: More like a walk or stroll than a hike. Mostly level or with a slight incline. Generally less than 3 miles.

Moderate: A great option for new hikers seeking a bit of a challenge. Expect a moderate incline or steep sections. Typically 3 to 5 miles.

Moderately Strenuous: Challenging for someone who doesn’t hike often. There could be steady or steep inclines. Expect distances to range from 5 to 8 miles.

Strenuous: Strenuous hikes are challenging for just about everyone. Expect longer distances and steeper ascents, potentially at higher elevations. Generally 7 to 10 miles.

Very Strenuous: Only physically fit and well-prepared hikers should attempt. Expect these trails to be long and steep. Some may include rock scrambling, stream crossings, or other challenging terrains. Generally 8 miles and over.

What to Pack for Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Long sleeves, long pants, boots, and sun hats are recommended year-round for sun protection. For more suggestions, read my posts on my favorite outdoor gear and the best daypacks for women.

A collection of items you should pack for a trip to any national park, especially if you plan on hiking.
  • Reusable Water BottleLiterally the most important thing to have in the national parks. It’s also a good idea to bring a water filter.
  • Moisture-wicking Layers: You’ll want short- and long-sleeve shirts to wear underneath your jacket. In the summer, you may also want a tank top. Choose polyester over cotton. It’s also good to have wool or synthetic clothing to layer (and dry clothes to sleep in).
  • Jacket: I always have a packable down with me on trips. I also love this new jacket I got a few months ago, as it’s very light yet warm. Synthetic is a good alternative to down if you’re worried about rain or snow.
  • Rain Gear: It rains a lot here, so a rain jacket and pants are essentials.
  • Hiking Pants or Shorts: My favorite hiking pants can be found here. As a taller woman, I also love Columbia’s pants because they offer long sizes.
  • Hat: Depending on the season, you’ll need a winter hat or summer hat.
  • Gloves or MittensGloves are critical if you’re visiting in the winter.
  • Wool SocksSmartwool is my favorite brand for wool socks. Make sure to get wool so your feet stay warm and dry.
  • Grippers, Spikes, or Crampons: If you plan to hike in the winter, I strongly recommend grippers for potentially icy trails. Come prepared and avoid the fall!
  • Camera: I had my trusty Canon Rebel T5i, my Canon Powershot SX620, and a GoPro with me on my most recent trip to Colorado.
  • Tripod: If you’re hoping to take decent photos of the slot canyons, sunsets, or wildlife, I’d strongly recommend carrying a tripod with you.
  • Shoes: For hiking, I love my Keens, and will never choose another brand for my everyday boots. In winter, I choose a much warmer pair of Solomon boots. Lightweight camp shoes like Crocs are my favorite. You’ll also want waterproof hiking boots or hiking shoes.
  • Backpack: For daypacks, you could use a North Face pack or this water-resistant Patagonia pack. For backpacking, you’ll want a larger pack.
  • Packing Cubes: Never find yourself unorganized or frantically searching for missing items ever again with these. Plus, it’ll help you squeeze more into your bag!
  • Travel Scarf: I love the ones with hidden pockets!
  • Map: Detailed topographic maps and a good overview map
  • General Camping GearCompassfirst-aid kit, high-calorie food, shelter, sleeping bag and padcampstove and fuel, and an emergency signaling device will be of great help when camping in Shenandoah

The 10 Hiking Essentials

Every hiker should always carry the ten essentials with them. These include:

A collection of the ten essential items for hiking: shelter, water, food, matches, tools, a light, insulating layers, navigation, sun protection, and first-aid

The Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy Shenandoah National Park. There are several trails that may seem difficult at first, but they all have their own advantages and beauty.

To help you decide which hike is best for you, I’ve listed some information about some of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Which hike will be your favorite?

Stony Man

A rocky overlook and a vista filled with fall foliage
NPS/Neal Lewis

The Stony Man hike is about 1.6-miles roundtrip and is relatively easy. If you’re short on time but would like to take a short hike to an outstanding view, I’d recommend Stony Man out of all the hikes in Shenandoah.

Park at the Stony Man parking area near Skyland Resort, between mileposts 41 and 42. If parking there is full, you can also park at the Little Stony Man parking area near milepost 39. This makes the hike a bit longer.

No matter where you park, you’ll take the Appalachian Trail to complete this hike, then return the same way. Look for the white blazes.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.6 miles / 2.6 km

Elevation Gain: 340 feet / 103.6 m

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Need to Know: Pets are not allowed on this hike.

Traces Trail

Traces Trail in Shenandoah

The Traces Trail offers a great chance to see some wildlife such as deer, foxes, and grouse. If you are lucky, you might also see some black bears!

Begin at Matthews Arm Campground. The trail is about 1.7 miles roundtrip and takes about an hour to hike or walk. The Traces Trail is ranked one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, especially for wildlife. Don’t be discouraged because it loops around a campground. This is also one of the easier hikes in Shenandoah if you’re looking for something easy to end your trip.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.7 miles / 2.7 km

Elevation Gain: 333 feet / 101.5 m

Estimated Time: 1-1.5 hours

Whiteoak Falls

A small stream with water and small falls running through it
NPS Photo

The White Oak Canyon Falls Hike is one of the moderately difficult hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The first section of the trail has some inclines and declines but is all very doable.

There are two hikes to choose from: Upper or Lower Whiteoak Falls.

Upper Whiteoak Falls

The more difficult of the two trails is the one to the upper falls. Begin at Whiteoak Canyon parking area (milepost 42.6) and take the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. After about 2.3 miles, you’ll see a rocky overlook with a view of the falls. You’ll pass a few trails junctions on the way, but you want to stick to the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. Return the same way and use caution; it’s very steep.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4.6 miles / 7.4 km

Elevation Gain: 1,040 feet / 317 m

Estimated Time: 3.5 hours

Whiteoak Canyon

Lower Whiteoak Falls

If you’re short on time or looking for an easier Shenandoah hiking experience, hike the lower falls instead. Park at Whiteoak boundary parking (follow directions on the trail map). Take the Whiteoak Canyon Trail to the base of the falls, then return the same way. Don’t take the Cedar Run Trail.

There is a small stream crossing on this route.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2 miles / 3.2 km

Elevation Gain: 500 feet / 152.4 m

Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

Hawksbill Mountain

Hawksbill Mountain sunset

Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park at 4,049 feet. There are a few different hikes in Shenandoah that go the top.

Hawksbill Loop

Park at milepost 46.5, Hawksbill Gap parking area.

Hikers can connect the Appalachian Trail, Salamander Trail, Upper Hawksbill Trail, and Lower Hawksbill Trail to form a loop to the summit. Trail connections should be made in that order. It’s very important to descend on the Lower Hawksbill Trail. If you descend on Upper Hawksbill, it will lead you to a different parking area.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.9 miles / 4.7 km 

Elevation Gain: 860 feet / 262 m

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Hawksbill Summit

Upper Hawksbill

The Upper Hawksbill hike is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It’s also the easiest way to reach the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. Park at milepost 46.5, the Upper Hawksbill parking area, to begin.

This route is about 2.1 miles round trip. That’s a small price to pay for the great views you get from this hike. This route includes some inclines but is very rewarding. Follow the trail until you reach a shelter, then follow signs to the viewing platform. 

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.1 miles / 3.4 km

Elevation Gain: 520 feet / 158.5 m

Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

Hawksbill Mountain Summit

Lower Hawksbill

This is the shortest trail to the top of Hawksbill Mountain. However, it’s also the steepest and the most difficult. 

Begin your hike at the Hawksbill Gap parking area at milepost 45.5. Take the Lower Hawksbill Trail to the trail shelter, then follow signs to the viewing platform. This route will be uphill the entire way. Take the same route back down to the parking area.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 1.7 miles / 2.7 km

Elevation Gain: 690 feet / 210 m

Estimated Time: 1-1.5 hours

Bearfence Mountain

Bearfence Golden Hour

If you’re like me and appreciate challenging hiking trails, then you should definitely check out Bearfence Mountain Trail. This is a moderate 1.4-mile hike along rocky terrain. It’s also one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Begin at Milepost 56.4 on Skyline Drive in the Bearfence parking area. You’ll utilize two trails for this hike: the Bearfence Mountain Loop Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

This hike does include a rock scramble. With its short distance, it’s one of the more thrilling hikes in Shenandoah rated below strenuous. If you’re afraid of heights, you can shorten this hike but still get amazing views. Avoid the rock scramble and turn around at the first viewpoint. This is also wise if conditions are wet or icy, as this makes rock scrambling unsafe.

Whether you scramble or not, the 360-degree views you get the trail are worth the hike! 

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 1.4 miles / 2.2 km roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 311 feet / 95 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Need to Know: Pets are not allowed on this trail. 

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls

Typically if you ask someone about their favorite hikes in Shenandoah, Dark Hollow Falls is one of the more common answers. This hike is a moderate 1.4 miles in length and offers some beautiful views of the creek upon arrival. The waterfall you will find at the end of this trail is a very nice reward!

This is one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park, so be prepared for crowds. You’ll walk down a steep, rocky trail to view the falls. Then, you’ll climb back up the same way. The climb up is more challenging than you might think, so take your time and enjoy the views.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 1.4 miles / 2.3 km

Elevation Gain: 440 feet / 134 m

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Compton Peak

Alien

This hike leads to incredible basalt columns that look incredibly out of place in Shenandoah. 

Take the Appalachian Trail from milepost 10.4, the Compton Gap parking area. Once you reach the viewpoints intersection, you can head east or west to take in the views. Toward the east viewpoint, follow the blue blazes to see the columnar jointing. This veers from the Appalachian Trail and becomes steep and rocky. 

When you’re done admiring the impressive geology, take the Appalachian Trail back to the parking area. Seeing the columns makes this one of the more unique hikes in Shenandoah.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.4 miles / 3.9 km

Elevation Gain: 855 feet / 261 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Lewis Falls

Lewis Spring

Have you noticed a trend yet? Shenandoah National Park is one of the best national parks for waterfalls, and Lewis Falls is no exception.

Begin this hike at the Big Meadows amphitheater parking area in Big Meadows Campground. Turn left on the Appalachian Trail, then turn right on the Lewis Falls Trail. From here, it’s a steep and rocky descent until you reach the viewing platform. Head back up toward the right until the trail connects back with the Appalachian Trail, near a fire road, then take the Appalachian Trail uphill to the campground.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3.3 miles / 5.3 km

Elevation Gain: 990 feet / 301.8 km 

Estimated Time: 4 hours

Mary’s Rock

Mary's Rock, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Mary’s Rock is one of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It’s one of the shorter, easier hikes to a summit that you’ll find while still getting some good exercise. There are two ways to reach the summit.

One way is to begin at the Panorama parking area at milepost 31.6. Follow the Appalachian Trail to the viewpoint. Stop and enjoy, then return the same way. This is the longer and more difficult trail to Mary’s Rock.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3.7 miles / 6 km

Elevation Gain: 1,210 feet / 368.8 m

Estimated Time: 3.5 hours

Marys Rock and Ocean of Clouds

Alternatively, you can also park at the Meadow Spring parking area at milepost 33.5. Cross Skyline Drive and take the Meadow Spring Trail to the Appalachian Trail. Follow this to the viewpoint, then retrace your steps to return. This route is shorter and easier, but you’ll still have to climb.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.9 miles / 4.7 km

Elevation Gain: 830 feet / 253 m

Estimated Time: 3 hours

Rapidan Camp

President and Mrs. Hoover at Rapidan Camp

This was my favorite hike in Shenandoah, which greatly surprised me. I like challenging hikes that lead to rewarding views, and this is not that.

Park at Milam Gap, milepost 52.8. Take the Appalachian Trail to the Mill Prong Trail and Horse Trail, then down to the camp. You’ll return the same way.

Why make the trip, you ask? Rapidan Camp, also known as Hoover Camp, was the presidential retreat for President Herbert Hoover. While many other presidents preferred Camp David at Catoctin Mountain Park, one of the national parks in Maryland, President Hoover insisted on visiting Shenandoah. 

Plan the hike for the right time of day and park rangers or volunteers may be leading guided tours.

The trail is considered moderate due to its three stream crossings. It’s still worth the trip. Of all the hikes in Shenandoah, I’d say it has the most fascinating history.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4 miles / 6.4 km

Elevation Gain: 870 feet / 265 m

Estimated Time: 3 hours

Rose River Falls

Rose River Falls

The Rose River Falls hike is about 4 miles roundtrip and is a perfect trail for those who are just getting into hiking. This area has some moderate inclines which offer an easy challenge and some beautiful scenery as you hike to a beautiful 67-foot waterfall.

Park at Fisher’s Gap (milepost 49.4) and cross Skyline Drive to begin your hike on the fire road. Then, connect to the yellow-blazed Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail and take that to the blue-blazed Rose River Loop Trail. Walk slowly as you pass the falls to take in the scenery. Cross the bridge and continue to climb up a steep hill by the falls. When you reach the fire road, cross the bridge and continue on the yellow-blazed trail. 

If you want to add just 1/4-mile more to the hike, you can also visit Dark Hollow Falls. The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is at the junction of the Rose River Loop Trail and the fire road. Take it to visit the bottom of the falls, then return the same way to take the fire road back to your car.

A lot of people include this on the list of their favorite hikes in Shenandoah, so be prepared to encounter crowds on the way.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4 miles / 6.4 km

Elevation Gain: 910 feet / 277 m

Estimated Time: 4.5 hours

Browns Gap 

Browns Gap, Shenandoah

You can begin this moderately strenuous hike at the Browns Gap parking area at mile 83. You’ll form a loop with the Browns Gap Fire Road, Doyles River Trail, Jones Run Trail, and Appalachian Trail to create the hike.

The trails will bring you to multiple waterfalls, including Upper Doyles River Falls, Lower Doyles River Falls, and Jones Run Falls. If you don’t want to see each one, you can make the hike shorter by skipping a few. Upper Doyles is closest to the parking area and is where I would turn around if you’re feeling tired. You can still see the beautiful views from the Doyles River Overlook if you make it that far. 

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

Distance: 6.5 miles / 10.5 km

Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet / 427 m

Estimated Time: 7 hours

Little Devils Stairs

Snag at Little Devils Stairs Overlook

This is a 7.4-mile roundtrip strenuous trek along the Appalachian Mountains. Little Devil Stairs offer beautiful views of the mountain ranges. Plus, during springtime, the trail is absolutely stunning when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Begin at the Keyser Run parking area at milepost 19.4. First, take the Keyser Run Fire Road and follow it to the next boundary. You’ll pass by private property along the road, so please be respectful and stay on the trail/road. Then, pick up blue-blazed Little Devils Stairs Trail and follow it back to Keyser Run Fire Road, making a loop (or, more like a lollipop). Retrace your steps on the Fire Road back to your vehicle.

If you want to shorten your hike, Little Devils Stairs Overlook isn’t too far from the parking area. Hike here via the Fire Road, then turn around and head back to your car. 

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 7.4 miles / 12 km

Elevation Gain: 1,897 feet / 578.2 m

Estimated Time: 8.5 hours

Cedar Run

Cedar Run Falls

If you’re up for a challenge and have a full day, why not hike the Cedar Run Trail? 

Begin at the Hawksbill Gap parking area at mile 45.6. Your hike will follow the Cedar Run Trail to Whiteoak Canyon Trail before you descend on the White Oak Fire Road.

On the climb up, you’ll encounter no less than six waterfalls on this scenic trail. The waterfalls along the way are what attract brave hikers to this trail.

There are several stream crossings on this hike. Check with park rangers for current conditions before you go. If the water is high, make sure to use the footbridges to cross (when available). Remember to be cautious as this is one of the more strenuous hikes in Shenandoah. 

Difficulty: Very strenuous

Distance: 8.1 miles / 13 km

Elevation Gain: 2,794 feet / 852 m

Estimated Time: 7 hours

Old Rag

Hikers in white make their way up a rock scramble on Old Rag, one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah
NPS Photo

Old Rag is likely the most well-known of all the hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It’s also notorious for being the park’s most difficult. Make sure you’re prepared; this guide is very helpful.

Note: As of 2022, visitors are now required to secure tickets in advance to hike Old Rag. More information is available on the official website.

There are two ways to reach the summit. 

Ridge Trail - Old Rag Mountain

The first is the most popular route and the one with the infamous rock scramble. Expect to hike all day. Park at the Old Rag parking area on Weakly Hollow Fire Road. Visitors often miss the sign, so pay close attention. Take the Ridge Trail up, cross the rock scramble, and descend on the Saddle Trail and fire road.

Difficulty: Very strenuous

Distance: 9.4 miles / 15 km

Elevation Gain: 2,348 feet / 715.7 m

Estimated Time: 7.5 hours

Need to Know: Pets are not allowed on this hike. Do not attempt in wet or icy conditions. Do not descend the rock scramble.

Hikers on the Ridge Trail

The second route allows you to reach the summit without having to navigate the rock scramble. This is a better option for hikers with children.

Park at the Berry Hollow parking area, then follow Berry Hollow Road for almost one mile. Turn right at Old Rag Fire Road and continue until you reach the Old Rag Shelter, about 1/2-mile. Then, continue on the Saddle Trail to the summit. Return the same way.

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 5.4 miles / 8.7 km

Elevation Gain: 1,760 feet / 536.4 m

Estimated Time: 6-6.5 hours.

Need to Know: Pets are not allowed on this hike. Do not attempt in wet or icy conditions.

Pin the Best Hikes in Shenandoah

As you can see, there are hikes in Shenandoah National Park to suit any type of hiker. Whether you are new to hiking or just looking for a quick trip, there’s always a Shenandoah trail for you!

Before You Go: Read about some of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park
There are over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, this guide to the best hikes in Shenandoah will help you choose a future favorite.
There are over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, this guide to the best hikes in Shenandoah will help you choose a future favorite.
There are over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, this guide to the best hikes in Shenandoah will help you choose a future favorite.

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