Since moving to the Richmond area a little over a year and a half ago, I have been lucky enough to travel to Shenandoah National Park multiple times. It is a stunning park with so much to offer visitors. I have explored several of the trails (though there are so many more I haven’t hit *yet*). Here are a few of my stories and some tips for hiking in Shenandoah:
My Hikes (So Far):
This was my first destination in the park and it was beautiful. This is the highest peak in Shenandoah and definitely worth the steep walk up. I am originally from the Adirondacks, so it was interesting to try out a different kind of mountain range. I am used to starting at the very bottom and climbing up over a period of time. This mountain is a very short, steep walk because the parking area is at a raised elevation.
After summiting, we did a wide loop through the surrounding area, including a section of the Appalachian Trail. This part covered a variety of terrain with varying degrees of difficulty. At the very end we had the option to go up Hawksbill again or continue on the AT. We chose the AT and it was one of the best parts of the hike. At one point, we walked through a very interesting boulder field. Our total mileage was about nine miles with a bit over 1,900 feet of elevation gain.
Cat Knob/Bear Church Rocks/Staunton River Trail
I did this hike solo in February. It ended up being about 13 miles once I got back to my car and an elevation gain of close to 3,000 feet. This was the most challenging hike I have done in the park so far. A recent storm had caused a lot of tree fall, so it was a bit tricky keeping my heading in some places. The Staunton River portion was one of the most brutal trails I have done. It seemed like I was going uphill for an eternity.
Towards the end of my hike, I ran into a member of the Appalachian Trail Club who was assessing the storm damage and clearing debris from the trails. He was the only person I saw on trail that day so our little chat was a nice rest for me. It was a challenging hike, but the views and sense of accomplishment made the entire trek worth it. If you do a loop similar to mine, you will actually end up summiting Cat Knob twice.
Three Falls Hike
The loop we chose goes around Lewis Spring, Dark Hollow and Rose River Falls. Our hike started near the Big Meadows Campground so if you explore it for yourself, please be respectful of the campers. This hike also had a significant elevation gain (2,400+ feet) and we ended up doing about 11 miles. This trail is listed as “Appalachian, Rose River, and Lewis Spring Falls Trail Loop” on AllTrails. According to them this hike is supposed to be 7.9 miles. We did not stray off course at any point during the day, so be aware that their mileage is not correct for this hike.
The falls had a varying degree of height, but they were all wonderful. You get to Rose River Falls first. It is just to the side of the main trail, but there is access to the bottom of the falls. Dark Hollow Falls is the most spectacular part of this hike. We rested here for a decent stretch before climbing up to the top. There is an option to just hike to the bottom of this fall and back if you want a less challenging visit. Lewis Spring Falls was the last waterfall we saw and was in a more wooded area, so I was not able to get any photographs.
I just wanted to mention that this trail can get confusing in one section because it takes you past the Big Meadows Wayside, a gas station and along Skyline Drive before turning back into the woods. It seems confusing at first, but it is the correct way to go.
- Always tell someone where you intend to hike and when you roughly plan to be back. Cell service is not available in all areas so it is important to share your plans prior to the hike. I typically send the AllTrails map to my husband and my Dad so my route is known. If you are planning a thru hike, consider a GPS option like a SPOT. You can send your GPS location to your loved ones at the end of the day or alert EMS of your location should something go wrong.
- Carry a map of some kind at all times. Also, keep in mind that AllTrails and similar apps can be helpful, but they aren’t much good if your phone is lost, broken or dead.
- Always plan for some setbacks. A first aid kit, small multi-tool and extra layers are not optional. Bring more food and water than you anticipate needing. Nothing is worse than being part of the way through a hike and running out of energy. Having extra provisions can also be life saving in an emergency. People do go missing here each year, and lack of preparedness can change the outcome to worst case scenario quickly.
- Choose your footwear carefully. I have noticed here more than in other places that there seems to be a large number of “toe grabbers” on trail. Between tree roots, rocks and other obstacles hidden under the leaves, it can be easy to get tripped up. I always wear my tallest hiking boots because I have a tendency to roll my ankles if I’m not being careful. I would only recommend some form of hiking boot.
- Bug spray. Tick repellent. Sunscreen.
- Be realistic about your skill level. I have found that AllTrails is usually under on their mileage. My hikes are always longer than the map says it will be. The park has plenty of options for all skill levels, so be sure to stick with what you can reasonably and safely do.
- Be a good steward of the outdoors. Leave no trace, do not litter.
- Leave wildlife alone. There are bears in the area, so be sure to give them plenty of space. It is also important to respect other hikers. Be courteous on trail and be sure to avoid disrupting any campers.
- Arrive as early in the day as possible as parking areas can fill up quickly!
- Bring a camera and get plenty of pictures! You’ll want to keep those memories!