Rose River Loop
The Rose River Loop is one of Shenandoah National Park’s most beautiful hikes for streams and waterfalls. Over the course of four miles, you’ll hike along the Rose River, the Hog Camp Branch, and finally up the Rose River fire road.
This hike is one of our most-repeated hikes in Shenandoah National Park. It has some great views of running water throughout the trail. This isn’t the most secluded trail since it does connect to Dark Hollow Falls. However, you should normally only come across a few other people on this trail. There are some good places to camp and also do some trout-fishing along the river. The man pictured a few photos down had caught a 8.5 inch trout the day before at the same spot. Please see the fishing regulations if you’re interested in fishing.
The hike starts off with a steady downhill grade, but it’s not too steep. Christine and I usually differ in the terrain we like. She doesn’t like climbing uphill and I don’t usually like climbing downhill. My calves tend to scream when I’m doing too much downhill. For this hike, I didn’t really feel any pain, so it’s manageable. Once you reach the bottom of the trail in about a mile, you’ll hear the water. The trail continues alongside the water for most of the remaining hike until you reach the fire road. The main falls at Rose River are impressive, but some of the sheer beauty can be found by going slightly off the trail to see some of the lesser falls. For fans of long-exposure photography, this is a paradise.
You can see from some of Christine’s pictures that there is really a lot of nice water to see on this trail. I highly recommend doing this if you have a day or two in the park.
As I usually like to comment, there is a geocache located here. For those that are unaware, physical geocaches are not allowed in National Parks. However, there is a small cemetery located off of the fire road that is considered private land and not owned by the Park Service. The cemetery was used by the people who used to live in the mountain hollows before the government took their land for the park in the early 1900’s. The Cave family gave permission for a geocache to be placed here called Viking Treasure Cave. ETA: This cache has since been removed from the park (September 2010)
When we started down the Rose River trail, I couldn’t help but skeptically watch the blue sky peeking between openings in the trees above. The local weatherman had forecast a cloudy morning, but as we hiked along the sun began sending down rays and making a dappled pattern across the forest floor. It was lovely to look at, but was definitely not the kind of light I was hoping to have for the stream and waterfall photos I wanted take. You see, the Rose River Loop is one of the very best hikes in Shenandoah for folks who enjoy photographing running water. It’s also the place where my brother proposed to his now wife. They were engaged on a bitter cold New Year’s Eve camping trip somewhere along the Rose River.
Even though the light made photography a challenge today, I found several spots to shoot along the Rose River. We had to bushwhack off the trail a couple times, and all I could think about were ticks. I don’t think I’ve recovered from our walk down the Dry Run Falls fire road yet.
One bushwhack in particular was especially steep, slick and muddy. As luck would have it, it also offered the prettiest of all the little cascades along the walk. When I looked down the ravine, for some reason my inner girly-girl came out. I announced to Adam that I wasn’t going down there no matter what. He said “Yes, you are!” and took my camera away and starting climbing down without me. I was left with no choice but to follow. I touched a gross centipede-like creature and shrieked. I whined that I felt damp and dirty. I even got mud on my face! Fortunately for Adam, he didn’t hear much because the sound of rushing water drowned out most of my melodrama.
We stopped at Rose River Falls for a few shots. For the past few years, there has been a huge fallen tree lying across the waterfall. It’s still there, but now there is a new downed tree stuck at the crest of the waterfall. Both trees are way too big to move, and will likely be there for years to come.
We paused at a couple other places along the Hog Camp Branch for photos, but there was another photographer who was consistently about ten minutes ahead of us on the hike. Each time we got to a spot I planned on photographing, he was already there. He looked pretty serious getting his shots. At one spot, he even donned chest high waders and water shoes so that he could get to the middle of the stream for an ideal composition. I skipped a lot of my favorite photo spots along the Hog Camp because I always feel a bit rude stepping into somebody’s shooting space.
We finished the loop hike on the Rose River fire road. The last mile on the road is always my least favorite part of the hike. The fire road is easy walking, but yawn… it’s a bit on the boring side. Despite the dull last leg, the Rose River loop is a must-do hike for anyone visiting Shenandoah.
- Distance – 4 miles loop trail
- Elevation Change - Around 900 feet
- Difficulty – 2. Some downhill and uphill, but it’s not too bad.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5. There are some areas along the river that are more like a 2, but there are some areas that where it is more like a 5. Footing is tricky around the climb up after the red bridge.
- Views – 0. Just waterfall and stream views.
- Waterfalls/streams – 4.5. Some of the most continuous views of water that allow for some great water photography.
- Wildlife - 1. Some birds and chipmunks, but not much else here.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. Trail is well-marked and there aren’t any spurs until you get back to the fire road.
- Solitude – 3. Not the best on solitude, but you won’t run into a ton of people.
Directions to trailhead: The trail is located on Skyline Drive. Park at the Fisher’s Gap Overlook (at mile marker 49.4 miles), cross the road and pick up the trail. The Rose River Loop starts to the left of the fire road. You will see a cement marker.