This is Day Two of a travel series to Shenandoah National Park. If you'd like to start at the beginning, go HERE.
On our second day at Shenandoah National Park, "Skyline Drive" opened. We were so excited we could officially drive into the park. We felt we had to make up for loss time, so we set an ambitious goal of hiking three waterfall trails in one day: Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Falls.
Shenandoah National Park is a very unique park as the entire park sits on top of a mountain range. There is a road on top of the mountain called "Skyline Drive". You can see it marked in red on the map below. "Skyline Drive" is 105 miles long and has more than 75 miles of overlooks with scenic views. There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails that lead to stunning views of waterfalls, mountain vistas, and lush forests. All the trails are accessed from "Skyline Drive".
There are so many trails that it's hard to choose which ones to hike, that is why we allowed four full days in the park. We've never spent this much time in one park before. We decided to only do waterfall hikes (with the exception of Hawk's Bill) because we thought we got enough scenic views by stopping at most of the overlooks.
We were always in the park early in the morning and we were able to see a lot of wildlife because of it. Below is an owl who we spotted as we were driving into the park. We saw most of the animals that were listed as "Wildlife in the Park" including a lot of interesting birds and snakes. The only animal we didn't see was the black bear...which is probably a good thing. 😀
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the park. When I was googling information on what hikes to take, everyone recommended Dark Hollow Falls. It's a 1.4 mile circuit hike with an elevation gain of 440 feet and is rated as moderate. The trail is short, but the return climb is steep and rocky. I should mention that the one drawback of a park being on top of a mountain range is that most of the trails involve climbing of some sort...especially waterfalls trails. All the waterfall trails had to go DOWN to get to the falls, so every trail we hiked (with the exception of one) was difficult climbing back up.
Now add to the steep nature of this trail snow and ice. In the picture above you can see how the ground was solid ice. I had my hiking poles with me, so I used them to keep me from slipping. I never would have been able to hike this trail without them. I saw so many people struggling hiking down to the waterfall, but the hike back up was much more manageable.
Dark Hollow Falls is a gorgeous trail, even if there were no waterfall at the end. The entire trail runs alongside a mountain stream, through a beautiful forest, with lots of interesting rock formations.
Dark Hollow Falls
Seeing the waterfall at the end was a real treat. And I think the fresh snowfall on the rocks made it even more pretty. The falls are 70 feet high. If you look closely in the picture above, you can see me sitting at the base of the falls wearing all black. But if you look up, right in the middle of the falls, you will see my adventurous son standing. He was so camouflaged by his clothing, even I didn't see up there when I got to the bottom of the falls.
Here is a short video of Dark Hollow Falls
This trail was so beautiful in the snow with bare trees, I can't even imagine what it would be like in the summer or fall. Everyone said the park is super crowded during the summer months. I found this park one of the least crowded of any I've ever been too. I know it's not the tourist season, but we always travel off-season, and the parks are always super crowded. I think this park is just so large, and it has so many hiking trail possibilities, that people are just more spread out. We never once had trouble finding parking for any trail. And most of the time, we had the trail completely to ourselves.
The deer are so plentiful in this park. I've never seen so many deer in a park before. They are everywhere, and are very tame. You can get very close to them, they don't run away easily. And my husband said "They are very well trained, because they never got scared and ran across the road when they saw a car." 😂. They always stay to the side of the road.
We just loved walking alongside this beautiful stream all the way to the falls.
Rose River Falls
Rose River Falls is a moderate 4 mile circuit hike with an elevation gain of 910 feet. I must admit this was one of my least favorite hikes in the park. It's two miles to the falls, most of which you are walking through a forest (you do walk past a stream as you get closer to the falls), so there isn't much scenery....and it's all downhill to the falls, so guess what the return trip will be? You guessed it! Two miles, all uphill. It's not easy going uphill for two straight miles, so I was hurting at the end.
I also didn't think the falls were worth the two mile hike to see. It's only 67 feet high, and the falls are split into two on each side of the rocks. In the summer, I'm sure a lot of people use the base of the falls as a swimming hole.
A video of Rose River Falls
Well, by now we had already hiked 5.4 miles so after a lunch break we got back in the car and enjoyed more scenic overlooks on the way to our final hike of the day: Lewis Falls
Lewis Falls is the fourth tallest falls in the park at 81 feet. I really don't recommend taking this hike at all, as there are so many better waterfall hikes in the park (coming in future travel posts). It starts nicely through a pretty forest and alongside a stream (saw a deer drinking water from the stream), but then it gets very rocky and is a steep climb down (and yes, you have to go back up). It was our last hike of the day, and we were already extremely fatigued, so I think that might have added into our dislike of the trail. But when I read other reviews of the trail, most other hikers had similar feelings. It was also very slippery with both snow and ice, so thank goodness I had poles.
This trail is a 3.3 mile circuit hike and is rated as moderate with an elevation gain of 990 feet.
I think our biggest issue with the falls is you go through so much work to get to it and you can barely see it. You can't get to the bottom of the falls, but only to an observation deck off the side. In the summer when the foliage is on the trees, you probably can't see much of it at all. I did read on another blog however, that you can see more of the falls if you take a spur trail to the right of the overlook. We didn't know about the spur trail at the time, but that's probably ok because at that point we were exhausted and ready to call it a day. All in all, by the end of Day Two we hiked 8.7 miles. And on Day One we hiked 10 miles. Our bodies were aching!
Some Scenic Overlooks
We spent the remainder of Day Two driving out of the park en route to our resort, and of course we stopped frequently enjoying all the overlooks along the way. The picture above shows more tame deer, and a typical overlook. Not all the overlooks are as large as this one, some are just one side area for a few cars to fit. But as you can see, there one was only one car enjoying the view when we arrived. We never had trouble waiting for a spot to pull over at an overlook.
The beauty of this park, is that anyone can enjoy it because of the gorgeous scenic drive and all the beautiful overlooks. Heck, you can spend all day in the car and never get out if you want. We did not take advantage of them, but they have several restaurants and waysides in the park where you can enjoy a meal and look out the window or sit on the patio and enjoy the view too.
Next week, I will be back with another water fall hike plus a hike to Shenandoah's highest peak. The trip only got better after Day Two, for the rest of our hikes were INCREDIBLE!
Have A Great Day! Amy
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