Turk Mountain is a very recommendable trail at the southern end of the South Section of Shenandoah. In the Southern Section, perhaps only Blackrock, Loft Mountain, and Hightop give such a commanding view for such a small effort. The trail to the summit is a 2.2-mile round trip that climbs about 650 feet. From Turk Gap, the trail follows the Appalachian Trail southward to a trail junction with the Turk Mountain Trail. The Turk Mountain Trail descends briefly to a saddle, then begins a moderate climb through the forest. Near the end of the climb, the trail makes a switchback and then follows the ridge, which gets progressively rockier and has occasional views south to Bucks Elbow, Calf, and Bear Den Mountains. The trail ends at the summit of Turk Mountain, atop a massive talus slope. There is a sweeping view from here to Shenandoah Valley, which begins at the base of the mountain; to the north, the Peak of Massanutten, Trayfoot Mountain, Blackrock, and Riprap Hollow are all visible. There's lots of potential fun exploring on the talus slope- also note that the rocks here are white/pinkish, similar to the rock at Rocky Mount but very different from the rock found atop Humpback Rock, Hightop, and the other peaks on the Blue Ridge crest.
Rocky Mount is a decently strenuous and rewarding hike in the Southern section of the park. I did on a late fall/early winter day, when most of the foliage was gone, so there were amazing views through the trees along the entire trail. If you don't mind a workout, want some great views, and want to escape the crowds, this trail is a good choice.
The 6.8-mile round trip starts just north of the Two-Mile Run Overlook. The trail follows a ridgeline and drops about 1000 feet in 2.2 miles to a gap, where the Rocky Mount trail intersects the Gap Run trail. From the intersection, the trail climbs rather steeply, switchbacking up the slope of Rocky Mount up about 800 feet in 1.1 miles. The trail flattens out maybe a third of a mile before the summit; the summit itself is unmarked but unmissable (a jumble of rocks) and the view is to the left of the trail about 100 yards short of the summit. The viewpoint itself is very small (there is very little room), as there are only two small rocks from which you can sit on for views; thus, it can get crowded here if more than two groups are at the top at once. The view, however, is great: from left to right, Flattop Mt, Weaver Mt, Loft Mt, Big Flat Mt, Two-Mile Ridge, Rocky Mt, Rockytop, and Trayfoot Mt are all visible; the Big Run Portal is also visible. The mountains here look very multi-layered; further to the right in the view, you can see Shenandoah Valley. Although the summit of Rocky Mount is deep in Shenandoah's wilderness, the mountain's proximity to Shenandoah Valley makes it possible for you to hear trains and other loud noises from the valley.
All in all, a very recommended hike!
One of the confusing names in Shenandoah is Blackrock, which can refer to either a rocky talus slope on Trayfoot Mountain or to the mountain that Big Meadows lies on that is also the park's fourth highest peak. This tip is about that second Blackrock, which is accessible from the parking lot of the Big Meadows Lodge by just a couple hundred meters of walking. The rocky view stretches west and north, with good views of the park's highest peaks and of the ridges stretching out toward Shenandoah Valley. Although it's not paved and accessible, this viewpoint is reachable by essentially anyone who can walk.
Blackrock Summit, accessible by a short and essentially flat 1 mile loop from Skyline Drive, provides one of the greatest views of Shenandoah National Park. The trail leads through the woods and reaches the rocky talus slope in 0.5 miles; no trail leads to the actual summit, but a couple minutes of scrambling up and around some truck-sized boulders will get you there. From this high summit, you can see the entirety of the southern section of the park: to the south, Calf Mountain, Turk Mountain, Bear Den Mountain, and Humpback Mountain are visible; to the southwest, a glimpse of the Shenandoah Valley with the Alleghenies behind; due west, the talus slopes and forests of Trayfoot Mountain, and to the north, an incredible view of Austin Mountain and Dundo Hollow, as well as the Loft and Big Flat Mountains and Hightop and the Big Run watershed. Although it's not quite 360 degrees, this view is an unquestionable highlight of the southern part of the park, and considering its accessibility, there's no reason not to visit. I did the hike in the late afternoon and ate dinner on the summit with spectacular autumn views; it was certainly a Shenandoah moment to remember.
A note of caution: some less-outdoorsy people might find the rock scramble a bit daunting. It's not dangerous and is certainly easier than Old Rag, but may present a largely psychological challenge to some.
If you're in the northern part of the South District and don't have enough time to hike Hightop, a decent alternative is a hike to a viewpoint above Powell Gap. This 1-mile round trip trail climbs roughly 300 feet to a small but pretty viewpoint towards a hollow on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge. Start by following the Appalachian Trail south; the trail climbs for a short stretch until it reaches a ridgetop, which it follows for 3 or 4 minutes to the rocky viewpoint. Very few visitors hike this section of the AT, as most head for Hightop or the higher mountains of the Big Run Valley area. A good hike for those short on time who want a pretty view and plenty of solitude!
I got the idea of this hike from Virginia Trail Guide, which offers one of the most interesting and comprehensive overview of trails in Shenandoah.
The loop around Loft Mountain is an easy trail with incredible views that is perhaps one of the most enjoyable hikes I've done around Shenandoah. From the Loft Mountain Wayside, follow the Frazier Discovery Trail- when you get to the fork, take the right fork and follow the trail gently uphill. The trail passes through older forest at first before entering a thin sort of forest; after a little over a half mile and 500 feet of climbing, the trail reaches a junction with the Appalachian Trail. Take a left; in a couple hundred yards, a trail goes off to the left to an incredible rocky viewpoint. The 180-degree view encompasses the entire Big Run watershed, Massanutten Mountain, and the peaks of the Central Section. If you continue north on the Appalachian Trail (not the Frazier Discovery Trail!) you'll pass a similar viewpoint and follow the ridgeline. The trail here is flat, grassy, and pleasant, with views occasionally peeping between branches. About 15 minutes of hiking from the first viewpoint is the second big view: the trail leads directly to an open view east to the Piedmont, with Charlottesville visible in the distance to the south. After that view, the trail descends through a gorgeous forest to a trail junction- take a left, pass by Ivy Creek Shelter, and follow the Fire Road back to the Wayside for a 2.7 mile loop.
Bearfence Mountain is a short (1 mile round trip) and fun trail in the Central District of the park that includes an amazing 360-degree view and a short rock scramble. From the trailhead, the trail climbs easily through the woods for a couple hundred meters past an Appalachian Trail junction to the beginning of the rock scramble. The rock scramble is short and fun; it is significantly easier than Old Rag, but still requires the use of your hands. After passing a false summit, the rock scramble leads to a high, rocky viewpoint with a 360-degree view that stretches west to the Shenandoah Valley and east to Bluff Mountain. The true summit of Bearfence is the hump directly to the south and can be reached by continuing a couple hundred meters onward with more rock scrambling; after passing a side trail that leads back to the AT, the trail reaches the true summit, which has no views, and a spur trail that leads to a more limited view.
A trip from Skyland Resort to the waterfalls in Whiteoak (yes, it's one word) Canyon was one of the first visitor attractions in this area. While guided horse rides between the two are no longer scheduled (although you can still use your own horse, if you desire), there are several options for seeing the falls by foot.
If low clouds have obscured the panoramas of Skyline Drive, this is a trail that can be enjoyed even when fog is around. It is best done in spring, particularly a few days after (but NEVER during) a heavy rain, when the falls are running at their height. This is a popular hiking area, so don't expect animals sightings or isolation. But it's a must for lovers of waterfalls.
When I saw a mother taking her pre-teen children on this hike, I gave the kids some encouragement that I now give as a warning. This is NOT a "little kid" hike, this is a "big kid" hike. Although there is no significant danger if you exercise basic cautions (ie, stay away from cliffs, wet rocks, and fast flowing water), this is NOT an easy hike nor one you should attempt without some planning. You will hike for several miles, descending at least 1000 feet (or more if you want) which means (if you can't guess) you must then ASCEND the same amount. Proper footwear is a MUST -- hiking shoes and thick socks are mandatory unless you like blisters. The trail can get treacherous in bad weather, so do NOT start if rain is likely. As you will be exposed to the elements for several hours, wear proper clothing. The water in the canyon is NOT safe to drink, so carry your own -- also food, as this a minimum half-day hike.
Also, if you over-estimate your abilities, or fail to properly plan, do NOT count on a cell phone call to get you out of trouble. First of all, you may well be out of cell range. Secondly, the Rangers will send someone to help you ONLY if you need a medical evacuation -- which will be at YOUR expense. Tired, wet, blistered, thirsty, hungry, and sore because of your bad planning? -- that's YOUR problem.
Still want to do this hike despite these warnings? Great! You can start at Skyline Drive, hike down, and return by the same route. If you choose this option, you can start at Skyland (not recommended, as it means more walking) or Whiteoak Canyon Trailhead (Milepost 42.5, ditto) or the Limberlost Trailhead (Milepost 43) or the Whiteoak Fire Road (easiest, must park at Hawksbill at Milepost 45.5).
The Upper Falls are seen from a rock outcropping that provides a wonderful view. IMPORTANT NOTE: there is NO rail at this view, and a fall here WILL kill you. When you get to this overlook, you'll remember it till the day you die -- whether or not that's the same day is up to YOU. The Parks Service does NOT protect you from your own carelessness or inattention to your children.
The hike to the Lower Falls is short, but FAR more strenuous, with a lot of steep rock stairs. If your knees are hurting by the time you get to the Upper Falls, do NOT continue on. Rest them there before you make your return hike, and vow to increase your knee muscles for your next visit. Also, if rain or mist has made these steps wet, use EXTREME caution while walking on them. These steps are in a wilderness, not a water slide park -- they are NOT designed for fast travel when wet.
You can also do a loop of down either the Whiteoak Fire Road or the Cedar Run, and return the other way. The Cedar Run Trail has its own waterfalls, just not as spectacular as those in Whiteoak Canyon.
Or you can start at Limberlost Trailhead, follow that trail till it meets the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, hike down the latter, return via either the Fire Road or Cedar Run, then return by either the Skyline Trail (not recommended for walkers) or the Crescent Rock Trail.
Or you can use two cars, leaving one at a starting point and the other at the end point.
The 4.5-mile loop to the base of South River Falls is a fun trail to see one of the park's higher waterfalls. From the South River picnic area, the clearly marked trail heads immediately downhill, passing a junction with the Appalachian Trail just a few hundred yards past the trailhead. From that junction, the trail descends, sometimes switchbacking, until it reaches South River, which it follows to a viewpoint high above the falls and the South River's rocky canyon. This viewpoint, 1.3 miles from the trailhead, has a very limited view; especially when trees have foliage here, as most of the view of the falls is now blocked by trees. If you've made it this far, you might as well follow the trail further onward; at a trail junction with a fire road, take a right and descend into the forested river canyon. When the trail reaches the stream again, a rocky trail heads off into the canyon- the next two hundred or so yards is walking through the spectacular and rocky canyon floor until you reach the base of the falls. South River Falls drops 83 feet and is one of the highest in the park. Watch out for snakes. The waterfall can dry up to a trickle in the summer, so the best time to visit might be winter or spring.
For the climb up, head back to the fire road junction, then follow the fire road until it intersects the Appalachian Trail. Take a right at the AT and follow it back to the original junction of the AT and the South River Falls trail and then return to the parking lot. The total elevation gain of this trail is about 1300 feet.
Visitors on the far southern portion of Skyline Drive who wish to stretch their legs can do so on the Little Calf Mountain Trail. The trail begins at Beagle Gap, where after passing through a gate you'll follow the Appalachian Trail north through a pasture, with a few views of the lower peaks in the southern section. After crossing the pasture, the trail enters the forest, gradually climbing 400 feet until a trail junction at the top of the hill. Take the trail to the left (which branches off the AT) and follow it for 3 minutes, and you'll arrive at the top of Little Calf Mountain. The 2,910-foot summit is a pasture, with limited views towards the south and southeast. You can follow another path back to the AT to return to Skyline Drive. The roundtrip is around 2 miles and should take no more than 1 hour; it's a pleasant leg-stretcher, but not one of the more spectacular trails of the park.
Whiteoak Canyon is one the most popular hikes in Shenandoah during the summer, when families head down from Skyline Drive to see the first falls. I've never done that hike, but in January 2010 I hiked up Whiteoak Canyon from the lower end. From the trailhead, the trail parallels the creek and ascends gently. During my trip, the lower stretches of trail were covered with snow and ice. As the trail ascends through the canyon, views toward the Piedmont pop out; at the farthest point I was able to reach, there was also a good view of Old Rag. All of the waterfalls were frozen solid: the canyon walls were often also coated with ice, quite a sublime sight. I turned back after seeing three of the falls, as the trail only got more icy and slippery the further up I went. This is one of my favorite experiences at Shenandoah- and one I'd encourage you to do if you happen to be in Virginia during the winter!
What an incredibly exciting trail! Old Rag Mountain is perhaps the best hike in Shenandoah National Park- it is certainly one of the most popular. This 7.5-mile loop climbs 2200 feet from the foot of the Blue Ridge to the rocky, exposed summit of Old Rag. From the Weakley Hollow parking area, the trail ascends rapidly, climbing 1000 feet in a mile through forest (with occasional huge boulders visible) to the beginning of the rock scramble. Here the views begin: Weakley Hollow is first visible, and then the summit of Old Rag, and then a tremendous view east over the Piedmont. The next 1.5 miles consist of an incredible scramble up and down rocks, through narrow tunnels, up a natural staircase, down an eroded gully, past a gargantuan rock suspended by its corner, finally to the 3291-foot summit of Old Rag. Climb one of the huge boulders at the top for a 360-degree view of the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge. Especially prominent are Hawksbill and Stony Man Mountains, and Robertson Mountain, a very symmetric mountain nearby. To continue the circuit from the summit, keep going on the trail- it'll descend quickly, with views of Hawksbill, down into the hollow, and pass Old Rag Shelter and a Byrd's Nest Shelter along the way. At the junction with Berry Hollow Fire road, turn right onto the Weakley Hollow Fire Road and follow the road back to the trailhead through the forest. Along the way, you can get water at a nearby creek. There is no water between Weakley Hollow and the summit of Old Rag.
On weekends, the upper trailhead is often full, so you'll have to park at the lower trailhead, which has a huge parking lot but means having to walk an extra mile each way.
It's been a while since I did this hike- but I remember correctly, the trailhead wasn't easy to find. Miller's Head is a point on one of the ridgelines of Stony Man Mountain and has a wide view of Shenandoah Valley and Hawksbill. From Skyland, the trail descends 450 feet, first descending steeply and then descending more gently once the trail settles on the ridgetop. It's an easy 1.5 mile round trip. The trail dead ends at a viewing platform that gives good views: you can see the town of Ida in the valley. However, vegetation around the platform is creeping up, so the views from this trail may someday become nonexistent. This hike is particularly enjoyable because it is not well known- I hiked it on a summer weekend but only ran into one other hiking party on it. A good trail for solitude-seekers in a park where the trails are usually inundated with people.
Stony Man Mountain, at 4010 feet high, is the second highest peak in Shenandoah National Park and one of the most easily accessible. From Skyland, an easy 1.5-mile round trip hike leads upward about 300 feet to the rocky top of Stony Man. The views from the summit are one of the most spectacular of the park, with a view of Skyline Drive winding its way around The Pinnacle to the north, Shenandoah Valley to the west, and the lofty summit of Hawksbill, the park's highest peak, to the south.
Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park, perhaps because of its graceful beauty, perhaps because it was a favorite spot of Thomas Jefferson, or perhaps because it's the closest waterfall to Skyline Drive in the park. A 1.5-mile round trip trail heads straight downhill for 450 feet of descent to reach the base of the 70-foot high falls, which has cascades down multiple levels of greenstone. The forested trail is relatively wide and is well-traveled. Don't get too near the top of the falls, which are slippery and dangerous; the viewpoint at the foot of the falls is probably more scenic and certainly more safe.