With nearly 200,000 acres of beautiful scenery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is one of the most underrated parks in the country, and a must-see for hikers on the East Coast. An hour away from Washington DC, there are over 500 miles of hiking trails, traversing cascading waterfalls, rocky and rolling hills, beautiful forests, and wetlands in Shenandoah. While the park’s most famous attraction is the 105 mile long Skyline Drive, once you venture off the main road you’ll discover scenic overlooks, rich historical landmarks, and hikes for people of all ability levels. We created this guide to the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park so you can find a trail to explore, no matter your experience level.
Easy Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
Blackrock Summit via Trayfoot Mountain and Appalachian Trail
- 1.1 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 180 Feet
This well traveled, short hike is both easily accessible and gives a great view at the end. With plenty of natural sights, from birdwatching, wildlife, and a great view of the surrounding mountains, few hikes beat this one when searching for an adventure that’s suitable for everyone. This hike is at its best from April to October, otherwise winter conditions may make the rocky terrain slick. Dogs are also allowed on this hike if you want to bring a furry friend along, just make sure you take a leash with you. This area is a popular bird watching spot as well, and it’s a good choice if you want to expose children to wildlife on a hike. At the end, there’s plenty of optional scrambling to be done if you want a slightly better view or haven’t worn yourself out yet.
- 1.3 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: Minimal
This trail is among the easiest hikes in the park, and will bring you along great views of nature and wildflowers. The trail is relatively flat and well maintained, and it is both stroller and wheelchair friendly. If you’re looking for a quick kid friendly hike that’s not too remote, this is a great option!
The Limberlost Trail also offers great opportunities for seeing wildlife and birdwatching. White-tailed deer are known to graze in this area, and hawks and owls are frequent visitors to the area. For bird watchers, this is a great hike, as the elevation means that several species of warblers, veery, Acadian Flycatchers, ruffed grouse, and more are waiting to be found. In marshy areas, salamanders are common for the amphibian lover in your life. This trail is a great option for an easy, casual amble outdoors.
Loft Mountain Loop
- 2 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 495 Feet
This 2-mile hike offers 2 scenic overlooks along the way. The trails are well maintained, and the area is moderately trafficked. With a paved road to the trailhead and dirt trails most of the way, Loft Mountain Loop is great for families or anyone looking for a short, rewarding hike. The primary challenge lies early on, with most of the elevation gain coming in the first mile or so. There is some mild scrambling by a stone overhang, but it is very mild and hardly of note. If you plan to stay in Loft Mountain Campground, this hike is closeby. There are plenty of picnic tables and stopping points if you want to bring along lunch. It’s a popular birdwatching trail as well, and offers great views of wildflowers between the rocky vistas.
Stony Man via Appalachian Trail
- 1.5 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: 321 Feet
This popular hike offers one of the best views among short hikes, and offers attachment to the Appalachian Trail. The hike follows a forested gradual incline to the peak, where you have a spectacular view of the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding area. Like the other hikes, there are great opportunities for bird watching, views of wildflowers and wildlife, and more on the way up.
People commonly use this trail for running and walking, and it’s great for anyone, from young children to the seasoned hiker alike. It can be windy at the peak, but the views are well worth it! As a more popular hike, it’s recommended to go early to beat the crowds. It can also get quite slick in winter conditions, so you may want some spikes if you plan a snowy day hike.
Moderate Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- 2.7 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 748 Feet
As one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for the views alone, Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in the park, coming in at 4,049 feet. This circuit hike brings you to a rocky steep that offers 360 degree views of Shenandoah Valley. With a stone observation platform (Byrd’s nest #2) at the top, and plenty of space to enjoy the views, a hike up Hawksbill is essential for anyone visiting the park. The way up is moderately intense due to elevation, but the hike back down is primarily downhill. There’s some very mild scrambling along the trail, but the biggest obstacle is making sure you brought insect repellent. Pets are allowed on the hike as well if you want to bring your dog along! Similar to most of the park, there are plenty of wildflowers to be found on your trek.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
- 1.4 Miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: 564 Feet
Dark Hollow Falls Trail is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah if you’re looking for waterfalls and wildlife. This popular, moderate hike brings you to a beautiful cascade, and offers amazing snapshots of rocky streams, wildlife, and forests. The way to the falls is downhill most of the way, leveling off as you get closer to the waterfall. In autumn, the falls are framed by beautiful trees filled with yellow leaves, giving a unique and aesthetic view that ranks high among the park’s features. The way back can be challenging since it’s primarily uphill, earning this hike a moderate rating. If you’re up for the incline, this trail is still relatively friendly for hikers of all levels. This is the most popular waterfall in the park, and while it’s no Angel Falls, it’s often very crowded. The area is teeming with wildlife, with plenty of beautiful plants and flowers, deer, and birds to see along the way.
Rose River Trail
- 3.8 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 875 Feet
A nearly 4 mile loop, Rose River trail guides you through a wilderness designated area filled with streams, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful forests. Many recommend the Rose River Trail as one of the best hikes in Shenandoah to take during winter months because you can see some surreal ice formations. There are many smaller waterfalls along the hike, and like most of the park, plentiful wildlife, wildflowers, and natural features that will captivate you along the way.
This hike earns a moderate rating due to mild inclines and possibly slick areas. Due to the waterfalls and streams, some rocks and leaves may be slippery. There’s a small stream crossing, but if you keep an eye where you step it doesn’t offer much of an obstacle! If you have a waterproof pair of shoes or boots, it may be a good idea to bring them along.
Bearfence Mountain Trail
- 1.4 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 311 Feet
With a short distance and relatively low elevation gain, Bearfence Mountain Trail earns its moderate rating due to a high amount of scrambling on rock. The hike offers a 360 degree view of the Virginia Piedmont and the valley, but for those who fear heights, you may want a different trail. You begin the hike on some wooden steps built into a hillside, but before long you’re navigating some jagged boulders. While you aren’t rock climbing, this hike does require some use of handholds on the rocks, and possibly pulling yourself up in some areas. To navigate the scramble, follow the blue painted markers along the way. The views are well worth the scrambling, even if it isn’t your favorite style!
Challenging Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- 9.3 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 2,116 Feet
This trail is among the best hikes Shenandoah National Park, as you’ll find mountainside views of the rolling hills, streams and waterfalls along your path. There’s also a swimming hole if you need to cool off, and teeming wildlife all around you. The hike doesn’t feature any inclines that are too intense, despite the elevation gain. It’s rated as a hard hike primarily due to the distance, but hikers in good shape should have no problems. There are some stream crossings, so waterproof footwear is a good choice.
If you’re looking for a hike that has it all, few are better than this one. It can be difficult to find one hike that can take you to spectacular viewpoints, forested areas, and an easy to navigate space.
White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop
- 9 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 2,372 Feet
This strenuous hike will take you to a waterfall, through beautiful foliage, and give plenty of opportunity to see the natural features in the valley. Several cascades are by the trail, and flowing waters will accompany your entire hike. There are several stream crossings on this hike, so waterproof footwear may be a good idea. Many hikers recommend this as a winter trek due to the beauty of the waterfalls when frozen. Wet leaves and stream crossings make potential falls a hazard, but if you’re careful, this is a rewarding and well loved hike. Some scrambling is also required. You will follow well maintained trails the whole way, but a longer distance and large amount of elevation change clocks this hike in as higher intensity. The views of several waterfalls are well worth it, you’ll see some of the best areas of the park!
Dark Hollow via Appalachian Trail and Story of the Forest Trail
- 5.9 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 1,476 Feet
This often traveled trail connection gives a great opportunity to search for wildlife and plants in the park, as well as witnessing some of the spectacular waterfalls. It earns a hard rating due to steep hiking later in your journey. If you want to take the hike in a less intense manner, some hikers say that the clockwise trek isn’t as strenuous as the traditional method. If you’re searching for a forested, calm, and higher intensity hike, this is a great option. Smaller cascades are along the trek, as well as some larger waterfalls. There are also no required scrambles or cliffside walks, so this is a favorite for hikers who can’t stand heights. If you’re looking for hikes to introduce yourself to harder days on the trail, this is a great start.
Old Rag Mountain Loop
- 9.5 Mile Loop
- Elevation Gain: 2,683 Feet
Among the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag Mountain Loop ranks among some of the best hikes in the country. Old Rag Mountain tops out at 3,284 Feet, and the hike features rugged and rocky scrambles up to a beautiful view at the peak. It’s so popular that a ticket is required for each hiker, though they only cost $1.
The hike begins as a dirt trail, and before long you’ll find yourself scrambling and pulling yourself through boulders, passages and crevasses, and eventually travel up a stone staircase. After that, you’ll hike up some more rocks and boulders to the summit for some great views of the park. The hike finishes up along some creeks, and you follow dirt trails littered with some gravel and rock, and bridges across streams. There are alternate routes to avoid the scramble, but it’s a fun challenge that hikers should be open to. As long as you wear proper footwear, and you’re in shape enough to handle the scrambling, this hike is a spectacular way to explore the park!
Shenandoah National Park is among the best natural spaces in America, and for hikers of all levels, there are great adventures to be had. If you plan and pack properly, you’ll be in complete safety on your adventure. Remember to wear proper footwear and clothing, bring food and water, and consider items like insect repellent or sunscreen depending on the time of year and conditions in the park. Few places offer such variety, beauty, and opportunities to see wildlife in the same way you can in Shenandoah Valley. Happy Trails!
What to Bring Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
- Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women. And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks in the world! For more information, check out our guides to hiking shorts for men and women and our top tips and gear for hiking in winter.
- Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable. For more information, check out our guide to the best trekking poles.
- Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
- Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
- A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
- Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
- Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.