Jones Run Falls is accessible by a 3.4-mile round trip trail starting from the Jones Run trailhead. I hiked to this waterfall as part of a 6.6-mile loop with the Doyles River Falls, which I would highly recommend; the trailhead for this hike is at Browns Gap. My previous tip, on Doyles River, describes the hike from Browns Gap to the confluence of Jones Run and the Doyles River; this tip is a hike description that will pick up from there.
The confluence of the two streams is not visible from the trail. Follow the trail for Jones Run uphill from the trail intersection of the Jones Run and Doyles River trails; you'll soon make a stream crossing and begin ascending, sometimes steeply, along the cascading stream. Jones Run below the Jones Run falls is one of the liveliest streams I've seen in Shenandoah- at one point, the run cascades down a rocky incline, similar to a slide; numerous other small but pretty smalls can be observed as the the trail follows the rocky stream. There are also a number of large boulders and plenty of moss and ferns down in the Jones Run gorge, even in winter. The main Jones Run Falls is 0.7 miles above the Doyles River confluence and lies at the top of the Jones Run gorge. There's a nice rocky resting spot right below the falls, which drops perhaps 30 to 40 feet down a small rock face.
Above Jones Run Falls, the trail flattens out, passes another small waterfall, and then ascends one last time to reach the Blue Ridge crest and the Jones Run parking. To return to Browns Gap to complete the loop, follow the AT north for 1.2 miles, a fairly nondescript section that follows the Drive but nonetheless has good views through the trees of Big Flat and Cedar during the winter.
The Doyles River is a wild and beautiful stream that plunges down the side of Big Flat Mountain near the Loft Mountain development in the South District. A hike along the river takes you to two major waterfalls, as well as numerous smaller plunges. A combined hike of this trail and Jones Run is easily one of the most spectacular waterfall hikes of the park, along with Overall Run and Whiteoak Canyon. It's possible to reach the falls from the Doyles River Trailhead; I hiked down from Browns Gap in order to do the Falls Loop with the Jones Run Trail.
From Browns Gap, follow the fire road to the east of the drive downhill for 1.9 miles; this part of the hike is forested, with few views. At 1.9 miles, the fire road intersects the Doyles River Trail; turn right and follow that trail further downhill. The trail follows the stream, which begins to make many small falls as it heads downhill. 0.3 miles past the trail junction, the trail reaches Upper Doyles Falls, a multi-tiered drop that you can easily approach. The two lower drops of the falls are probably only each about 10-15 feet high, so there's a very personal feel about this waterfall.
Continue downhill for another 0.3 miles, and the trail reaches the Lower Doyles Falls, a larger drop surrounded by a spectacular rocky gorge. The base of this waterfall is a little less accessible than the base of the higher falls, but two paths still take you to decent views of the falls.
The lower falls is a good place to turn around for a round trip hike; to finish the loop with the Jones Run Trail, you can follow the river further downstream. The trail descends fairly steeply as the river makes numerous small plunges and passes through a few pools. On my winter hike, I could see and feel water pouring or dripping down from many different areas of the cliffs making the river's gorge; I have no doubt that this hike would be especially spectacular during a cold spell, when the cliffs would freeze, or during the spring, when there's bound to be lots of water spilling down both the falls and the nearby cliffs.
An enjoyable hike that doesn't require driving on Skyline Drive is the trail to Shenandoah's Furnace Mountain. It's 4.2 miles round trip and requires an elevation gain of 1300 feet, and leads to a good rocky viewpoint near the summit of Furnace Mountain. The trail starts a hundred yards past the park entrance at the Madison Run Fire Road, leading off to the right, crossing Madison Run and then climbing along the west side of Furnace Mountain to a saddle. During the ascent, there are good examples of Skolithos, a trace fossil found in the Erwin Formation in this part of Shenandoah; there is also a quartzite talus slope that gives a good view of Shenandoah Valley. At the saddle, a spur trail leads half a mile to a rocky viewpoint a little beyond the summit of Furnace Mountain, from which there is a good view across Dundo Hollow to Austin Mountain and of the other peaks that branch off from the Rockytop ridge. When the leaves are down, you'll be able to spot a smaller rock to the right of the main viewpoint; a little bit of bushwhacking can get you to that rock, from which there is a better view of the hollow, including a view of Blackrock and Trayfoot.
A very good Shenandoah hike is the 2.7-mile, 720-foot elevation gain hike to Rose River Falls. From the trailhead, follow the sign toward Rose River Falls. The trail begins to descend, gently first, then more steeply through a fairly typical Shenandoah woods. At the bottom of the descent, the trail reaches and follows the Rose River for about 0.3 miles to the first major cascade, a very 20-foot waterfall with a fallen tree running across it. There is a large pool at the base of the falls that may be conducive to swimming at a warmer time of year. A hundred yards further on the trail, it's possible to see the second cascade, in which the Rose River plunges 25-30 feet down a narrow chute. An unmarked path leads to the base of the lower falls, which is situated in a pretty, rocky, two-tiered gorge.
It is possible to make a loop out of this hike by taking Hogcamp Branch trail on the way back, but on my hike I did a round trip and returned the way I came.
One of the most spectacular streams in Shenandoah is the Overall Run in the park's North District, which cascades down Twin Falls and a series of smaller waterfalls before dropping 93 feet into a deep, rocky gorge. Big Falls of the Overall Run is the highest waterfall in the park and one of the prettiest in the park.
A good hike is a moderate 6.5-mile loop that starts from near the Hogback Overlook on Skyline Drive and visits both falls while wandering through the hilly upper parts of the Hogback-Mathews Arm area. The trail follows the Appalachian Trail south at first, until a junction with the Tuscarora-Overall Trail, which heads off the right and takes you all the way to the falls. On the way back, take the trail toward Mathews Arm, then merge onto a Fire Road and follow that until you reach the Traces Trail, then take a connector from Traces back to the Tuscarora-Overall Trail and return to the parking area.
There are few views on the actual loop portion of this hike, but the final half mile descent into the gorge of Overall Run is what makes this hike. During that steep descent, you'll pass by 29-foot Twin Falls, which is already one of the prettier falls in the park. The trail continues to descend steeply from there, leading to a series of open rocky viewpoints above Big Falls that allow views not only of Big Falls and its gorge but also of Massanutten Mountain and Shenandoah Valley. A highly recommended hike.
The slightly more difficult but probably more scenic route to the summit of Mary's Rock is from Panorama, at the Thornton Gap entrance. This route is also a good option in winter, as Skyline Drive may be closed but this trailhead is still easily accessible since it's close to 522. This trail is about 3.7 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 1200 feet.
From the far end of the Panorama parking lot, follow the AT south and you'll immediately start climbing; the trail switchbacks fairly gently back and forth across the rocky spine of the mountain. In the winter, there are constant views to the north and east of Oventop, Pass Mountain, and the Piedmont. The trail is fairly well maintained but is also fairly rocky; after about 1.8 miles, you'll reach a fork where a trail leads to the right to the viewpoint at Mary's Rock. This trail is probably fairly safe to hike after small snowstorms in the winter, as the grade is not too steep and it never strays more than 2 miles from the entrance station, which is staffed during the day. Check my older tip on Mary's Rock summit for information about the fabulous 360 view.
From the viewpoint at Mary's Rock, an easy scramble up a couple of rocks puts you at the summit of Mary's Rock, which, at 3,514 feet, is the eighth highest peak in the park. The view from the summit is a full 360 degrees, and includes Pass Mt, the Peak, Mt Marshall, Hogback Mt, Neighbor Mt, Stony Man, Old Rag, the Three Sisters, Thornton Gap, and the town of Luray in Shenandoah Valley. This is one of the most spectacular views in the park; be sure not to miss it.
You can follow the rocky spine of Mary's Rock to its end; some fun rock scrambling past the summit will put you back on the Appalachian Trail, which you can follow north for a tenth of a mile back to the viewpoint. I certainly recommend doing this if you're physically capable of doing it- the scrambling here is easily as good as that at Bearfence and provides views that are just as good, too. You can also find a tiny rock cave and all sorts of other fun things. Be careful, though, as there are steep dropoffs to the west.
For some of the best views in Shenandoah National Park, hike the moderate trail up Mary's Rock. From the Meadows Spring Trailhead, walk across Skyline Drive and head south a little bit to a wooden sign reading "no fires." From there, the blue-blazed trail starts and heads uphill. In the first section, there are many switchbacks, and parts of the trail are somewhat steep. At one point the trail passes the ruins of a cabin. After 0.7 miles, the trail meets up with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. Turn right at the trail junction and the trail will soon reach the ridgetop and level out. Along this stretch, there will be many large rocks to your left where you can walk out to a great view; but don't mistake these for Mary's Rock. Soon afterward the trail passes a large pile of rocks and goes downhill for stretch. At 0.6 miles past the first junction, the Appalachian Trail makes a right turn. Take the left fork, which leads .1 mile through wildflowers to a viewpoint on Mary's Rock. The round-trip for this hike is 2.9 miles, and takes about 2.5 hours (you'll want to spend half an hour at the top, unless it's really hot or hazy). The trail gains 830 feet of elevation.
A short 1.2-mile round trip stretch of the Appalachian Trail leads from grassy Beagle Gap to the summit of Bear Den Mountain. This trail has a decent amount of views, but also has plenty of human-related artifacts, so it's not the best place to escape into the natural world. Nevertheless, it's a worthwhile jaunt, as the summit of Bear Den gives a unique view of Humpback Mt and the Blue Ridge peaks south of the Rockfish Gap.
From Beagle Gap, the the trail cuts across a mowed grassy pasture before entering the forest and climbing gently; about a third of a mile from the trailhead, a spur trail cuts off to the left and enters a former pasture land. This spur trail gives some huge views of the Piedmont, as well as the summit of Bear Den and its radio towers. At the summit itself, there are the large and unsightly radio towers, but if you walk around a bit you'll also find a couple of tractor seats stuck in the ground, and a service road that leads to a decent view of Humpback. This view is fairly unique- there are few peaks with views to the south in this part of the park, so this is a view that you'll struggle to find elsewhere. On the return to the trailhead, you'll see the bare top of Little Calf Mountain across Beagle Gap.
I'll spill another Shenandoah secret. This waterfall is fairly remote and unknown because no trail leads to it. Getting to this waterfall requires some nasty bushwacking- possibly a couple stream crossings, plenty of working through thorns and low branches, the potential for poison ivy and rattlesnakes during the summer, and a very steep, slippery drop into the bowl surrounding the waterfall at the end of the hike. So this is only for experienced hikers and people who have become fairly familiar with Shenandoah. If you get to it though, the reward is one of the park's prettiest waterfalls: at least a 60-foot drop into a bowl surrounded by low cliffs. There are few if any unobstructed views of the entire falls, but that's part of the charm of the place: knowing that you're in an incredibly beautiful part of Shenandoah where few things, if anything, have been altered by humans.
How to get there? Well, it's off the Dry Run Fire Road and marked on most topographic maps- so if you want to see this hidden gem, you'll have to find your own route! Once again, this is only for experienced hikers!
I'll spill some Shenandoah secrets. Lost Cliffs is a rarely-visited set of rocks on Baldface Mountain that offer decent rock scrambling and views and plenty of solitude. Getting there involves following a rarely-used fire road and then a short bushwack- so this is certainly not for everyone! But if you've explored much of Shenandoah already and want to find another beautiful corner, I'll recommend this.
Follow the Dry Run Fire Road for about a mile from the South River Overlook and you'll see a large rock outcropping popping maybe a hundred feet out of the forest floor, set maybe a hundred feet off the right side of the trail. It's possible to bushwack up both ends of the cliffs, but realize that it's steep and slippery; atop the cliffs, there are some limited opportunities for scrambles that are set back from the cliff edge. The cliffs are just tall enough to clear the forest canopy, allowing a pretty view of Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.
Once again, getting to the cliffs is not for everyone!
Skyline Drive is the reason most visitors come to Shenandoah. This mountaintop road traverses the entire park, running 105 miles between Front Royal and Waynesboro with over 70 overlooks along the way. The road is an engineering marvel: it literally hugs the crest of the Blue Ridge through the entire park, yet none of the grades are too steep, though the road is certainly a bit windy. This is one of the most scenic roads in the state and the way most people experience the park.
I will recommend a couple of overlooks along the length of Skyline between US 512 and I-64 that I believe are particularly worthy of stopping at, from north to south.
Pinnacles Overlook has one of the grandest views in the park: Old Rag rising at the southern end of a deep valley. Jewell Hollow Overlook has a beautiful view north to the very pretty shape of Neighbor Mountain. Stony Man Overlook has a commanding view of Shenandoah Valley. Crescent Rock Overlook has a pretty view of Hawksbill, the highest peak in the park. Rockytop Overlook, in the southern part of the park, has a stunning view of the Big Run Valley. Moorman's River Overlook has a very wide view of the Piedmont.
However, to best experience the park, I recommend that you park at a trailhead and hike at least one of the park's many great trails.
The wildest and most remote part of Shenandoah National Park is the huge Big Run Valley, the largest watershed in the park. The valley lies to the west of Skyline Drive in the southern section of the park and is bound by Loft Mt, Big Flat Mt, Brown Mt, and Rockytop, which has one of the most distinctive shapes of any of the peaks in the park.
Casual visitors can get huge views of the Big Run Valley from the Big Run and Rockytop Overlooks, which both have plaques describing the natural and human history of the area, including a description of a major fire that reshaped the valley in the 1980s. The valley can also be viewed from the Brown Mountain Overlook. A number of 10+ mile loops follow the ridgelines of Rockytop and Brown Mtn and descend into the valley before following the run back to the drive; I will write tips on those hikes once I do those hikes!
The southern section of Skyline Drive is a 40-mile stretch between Route 33 at Swift Run Gap and I-64 at Rockfish Gap. It passes by some great scenery and is perhaps the most appealing part of the drive as it's also the least frequented- most visitors head north. A summary of which overlooks to stop at and which to skip, going south:
Swift Run Overlook: You'll arrive here first; there's a broad view of Shenandoah Valley, but the views north are a bit limited, so you might as well not stop until you reach
Sandy Bottom Overlook: A commanding view of the valley and of the peaks of the central section, and Sandy Bottom.
Bacon Hollow Overlook: A nice view eastward through a valley to the Piedmont.
Eaton Hollow Overlook: A beautiful view of Grindstone Mt. and the town of Shenandoah.
Rocky Mount Overlook: A view of Rocky Mount, but not much else.
Beldore Hollow Overlook: Honestly, not a terribly interesting overlook; a decent view across a small valley.
Loft Mountain Overlook: A very nice view of the Piedmont, with Charlottesville visible on a clear day.
Two-Mile Run Overlook: A very good view of the southern end of Massanutten, Rocks Mountain and Rocky Mount.
Brown Mountain Overlook: A must stop: this long overlook, punctuated by a stand of trees, has views far to the north to Grindstone and Hazeltop, across a valley to Rocky Mountain, and south to pointed-Trayfoot Mt. and the Big Run Valley.
Ivy Creek Overlook: A view of the Piedmont, as well as Flattop and Hightop; a good view.
Doyles River Overlook: A good view of Cedar Mt. and the Doyles River watershed.
Dundo Overlook: A limited view down Dundo Hollow to Austin and Furnace Mtns.
Trayfoot Mt. Overlook: A limited and less worthwhile view of Pasture Fence Mountain.
Horsehead Overlook: A nice view of Rocks and Trayfoot Mountains, especially the talus slopes on Trayfoot.
Riprap Overlook: A sweeping view of Shenandoah Valley and down Riprap Hollow; a good place to catch a sunset.
Moormans River Overlook: A broad eastward view of the Charlottesville Reservoir and in the distance, Charlottesville itself.
Crimora Lake Overlook: A broad view of the Valley.
Turk Mt. Overlook: A pretty view of the pyramid-shaped peak of Turk Mt, and of peaks Humpback Mt. to the south.
Sawmill Run Overlook: Layers upon layers of blue ridges visible above a small valley
Calf Mt. Overlook: a great view of Waynesboro and the Valley.
Beagle Gap Overlook: An eastward view of the taller foothills, Calf Mt, and Charlottesville on a clear day.
McCormick Gap Overlook: the last overlook of the drive; a good view of the Valley.
How opinions can change in a short time! When I first wrote this tip around 2005/2006, I wrote off this overlook as one that "doesn't have much of a view." However, as I've become more familiar with the park, I've also come to a much more favorable conclusion about this overlook: it is perhaps one of the best in the central section of the park. The fairly extensive viewpoint, near the Pinnacles Picnic Area, gives a beautiful view north of Neighbor Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley- certainly make this a stop on your Skyline journey!