There are longer loops that include Overall Run, but this 4.8 mile route hits the key notes with fairly minimal effort. Overall Run Falls is the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park (93 feet), but the best part of this hike is actually the spectacular view overlooking a gorge with open vistas facing west.
Well… here we are – finally back to Virginia hiking! For a website that focuses on Virginia hikes, we really haven’t done many ‘home-state’ hikes lately. Part of it was finding time to hike with a busy schedule, but even more at fault was the dreadfully hot and stormy summer. I’ll admit, I’m not a summer person. I wither in the heat and humidity. I loathe bugs, especially mosquitoes and ticks. There were so many days that we passed on hiking just because we didn’t want to endure the heat.
Fortunately, over the last few weeks, summer seems to be fading away. There’s been a snap of fall in the air. Summer haze is evaporating, leaving skies crisper and clearer. Nights are dipping down into the fifties (we hit the forties a couple times last week). Even the ridgelines atop the taller peaks are started to fade to a rusty green. Autumn is just around the corner, and I couldn’t be happier!
On one of the first ‘fall-ish’ days in September, we decided to hike down to see the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. I’ve hiked just about every trail in the park, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to hiking Overall Run. It’s one of those hikes that’s been on our to-do list forever, but keeps getting bumped for other hikes. Overall Run is notorious for slowing to a trickle during dry periods, but we were coming off a very rainy/stormy week, so we figured it was a good time to see the falls with a decent volume of water.
We started out at Mathews Arm, in the parking lot adjacent to the campsite check-in station. We followed the Traces Trail for a short distance until it met the Tuscarora/Overall Run trail. The trail descended gently through the woods. There was nothing exceptional along the way – just pretty, quiet forest scenery.
Eventually, the trail dropped steeply down a set of log steps set into the trail. Right before the descent, we saw a shirtless guy sitting in a tent, about ten feet off the trail. Seriously… if you camp in the park, shouldn’t you be far enough off the trail that everyone passing by can’t see you? At the bottom of the initial descent, we came to the first (and smaller) of the falls. It was just a thin ribbon of water through the canyon, so we quickly moved along. After one more short descent, we reached the large falls on Overall Run. It was barely a trickle, just a sheer film of water running down the canyon wall. While the waterfalls were seriously disappointing, the view was not! It was spectacular and expansive, offering gorgeous views to the west.
We shared the view with lots of other people. Besides Dark Hollow Falls, I’ve never seen so many people at a Shenandoah waterfall at once. It was a little surprising. I had no idea Overall Run was so popular! We stayed for a while, enjoying the beautiful day and the wonderful view.
On the way back, we intended to return the same way we arrived, but at the top of the climb after the falls, we saw a trail junction that pointed 1.5 miles to Mathews Arm Campground, so we decided to go that way. The trail took us over to Beecher Ridge, which turned into a fire road, then back into a trail, which eventually led to the back side of Mathews Arm campground. We walked through the campground and back to our car.
All in all, it was a pretty hike made worthwhile by the awesome view! I’d like to see Overall Run falls running generously someday, but after doing a little digging on a couple photo sites, it seems to take seriously heavy rain or snowmelt to make the falls truly impressive. If we do this hike again, we’ll do it in the spring after there has been lots of rain!
Overall Run was definitely a pleasant surprise to me. I knew about the large waterfall here, but I had no idea that the views would be so impressive.
We started off our day with a big breakfast at Skyland Resort. I hit the breakfast buffet, which had eggs, bacon, sausage, french toast, fresh fruit, oatmeal, and biscuits. It was a good way to get some energy in my system for a hike, but I did feel the need to do some exercise to “earn my bacon”. After leaving breakfast, we made our way to the trailhead at the Mathews Arm campground, seeing a coyote and bobcat on the way there. We didn’t get any pictures, since both of these animals are typically very skittish and darted off Skyline Drive as soon as we spotted them.
We pulled into the Mathews Arms campground, passing the fee station for overnight camping and taking a right to the large parking lot. From the parking lot, we began our hike on the Traces Trail, which led into the woods. We stayed on the Traces Trail until we reached the junction with the Tuscarora/Overall Run trail at .6 miles. Take a left on this trail. At 2.0 miles, you reach a junction with the Mathews Arm trail, which will be your return route for the loop. We continued on the Tuscarora Trail until we reached the overlook area at 2.5 miles. For the return, we went back the way we came. At 3.0 miles, we took a right on the Mathews Arm trail towards the campground. At 3.5 miles, we reached a junction with the yellow-blazed Beecher Ridge trail (more like a fire road) and took a left towards the campground. At 3.9 miles, you will reach a junction with the Weddlewood Trail, but stay straight. You will reach the campground around 4.5 miles near a restroom. Follow the road to the right making your way back to the amphitheater and parking area for your vehicle at 4.8 miles.
The definite highlight of the hike was the views from the overlook and I wasn’t the only one to think so. We would see people that would say, “Oh, that’s the waterfall?”, but then camp themselves on the rocks to soak in the views. There are a few different spots to enjoy the views from the overlook, but not a ton of room. The northern district in the park tends to get a lot of visitors from the northern Virginia area and since this trail is accessible from the northern most campground, you will likely see lots of people on your hike. I climbed up some precipitous rocks and sat looking out into the canyon with views of mountain ridges for miles.
Of interesting note about this hike is when you start your hike from the Traces Trail and reach the intersection with the Tuscarora Trail, the trail splits into two. If you head to the right, you will reach the eastern terminus of the Tuscarora Trail in just a few tenths of a mile. The other terminus of the trail is 252 miles away. The area in Virginia and West Virginia was once known as the Big Blue trail. Originally designed as an alternative to the Appalachian Trail (since it connects to the Appalachian Trail at both ends), it will one day become a part of the Great Eastern Trail, connecting Alabama to New York. Check out a map of the plan here.
- Distance – 4.8 miles
(Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
- Elevation Change – About 850 feet
- Difficulty – 2 This hike has only one steep section leading down to the waterfalls, the rest of the trail is flat or requires only moderate climbing/descending.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy to walk.
- Views– 4. The view at the gorge next to the waterfall is spectacular!
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. There are two primary falls on Overall Run. The second waterfall is the largest in the park, measuring 93′, however, it’s not terribly impressive in volume. We started this hike to see the waterfalls, but found the view far more rewarding.
- Wildlife –2. We didn’t see anything on the hike, probably because the heavy hiker volume, but we did see a coyote and a bobcat on the drive to the trailhead.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. There are few trail options to take, but most of them lead back to the start point. As long as you pay attention, you shouldn’t get lost.
- Solitude – 1. We were on the trail before 9:00 a.m., but still found the trail exceedingly crowded. The overlook at the point of the largest falls had about a dozen people when we arrived. We saw many more people on the way back. We even saw one group camped less than ten feet off the trail.
Directions to trailhead: Follow Skyline Drive to the Mathews Arm Campground at mile marker 22. Park at the amphitheater and follow the blue-blazed Traces Trail that departs from the east end of the parking lot.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.