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Rose River Loop

May 16, 2009

The Rose River Loop is one of Shenandoah National Park’s most beautiful hikes for streams and waterfalls.  Over the course of 3.7 miles, you’ll hike along the Rose River, the Hog Camp Branch, and finally up the Rose River fire road.

A new log is resting on the crest of the falls

Two large fallen trees obscure Rose River falls.

Adam Says…

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 connects to Dark Hollow Falls.  However, you should normally only come across a few other people on this trail.  There are some good places to 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.

The hike starts off at the parking area just north of the Fishers Gap Overlook.  Cross the road and follow the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail for .5 mile.  There is a steady downhill grade, but it’s not too steep. At .5 miles, you’ll reach the junction of the Horse Trail and the Rose River Trail.  Go right and follow the Rose River Trail, continuing downhill.  Once you reach the bottom of the trail in about a mile, you’ll hear the water. The trail continues alongside the stream for a ways.  You will reach Rose River falls at 1.3 miles.  They are impressive, but more beauty awaits along the trail.  For fans of long-exposure photography, this is a paradise.

The trail will pass an old copper mine at 1.8 miles.  Some people like to explore the old mine, but we don’t think there is anything worth seeing there.

For the next mile, the trail closely follows the stream.  It is very rocky and can be icy or muddy depending on the weather.  There are tons of small waterfalls, slides, and plunge pools to explore.

At 2.7 miles, you will reach the footbridge at the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls.  Turn right, cross the  bridge, and follow the Rose River Fire Road uphill.  At 3.3 miles, you will pass the Cave Cemetery on the right.  At 3.7 miles, you will arrive back at Skyline Drive and your vehicle.

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.

Some graves date back to the Civil War.

Some graves (not this one) in the Cave Family Cemetery date back to the Civil War.

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)

Christine Says…

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.

The Rose River

The Rose River has many beautiful small, unnamed falls.  I’ve named this one “Slip and Slide Falls” because the bushwhack down to the base is so steep.

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 got really muddy and touched a gross centipede-like creature.  I’ll never like bugs!

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.

I had my tripod all set up when the fisherman jumped into my scene

Speaking of stepping into someone’s shooting space… I had my tripod all set up when this fisherman dropped into my scene.  Oh well 🙂

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.

I'm so lucky that Adam routinely offers to carry all my photography gear.

I’m so lucky that Adam routinely offers to carry all my photography gear.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.7 miles loop trail
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • 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.

Download a trail map

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.

47 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherri permalink
    May 26, 2019 8:40 am

    Thanks for this wonderful write up and the beautiful photos! We have done this hike before—based on your description—and thoroughly enjoyed it. We are planning to go again this weekend. Much appreciate your post!


  2. Lex permalink
    May 24, 2017 10:16 pm

    It is not the easiest to navigate we were following trail markers and somehow got onto the fire road and apparently kept following that all the way out of the park and into a very difficult situation! More signs need to be in place or a better map needs to be made available.


    • May 25, 2017 10:01 am

      You *should* end the hike on the fire road. My guess is you turned the wrong way and hiked toward the park perimeter instead of toward Skyline Drive.


  3. Aline permalink
    April 26, 2017 8:17 pm

    I am going to try this track on this coming Saturday, but i was wondering if its possible to go the parking near Dark Hollow and then go do the loop track of rose falls? I see on the map this parking so maybe this one is better than Fishers Gap overlook?
    I don’t know whats the name of that parking lot..i can see it on the map though!


    • April 26, 2017 9:30 pm

      You won’t be able to make this exact loop if you park in the lot closest to the top of Dark Hollow Falls. The trail goes in different directions at the bottom of Dark Hollow. You could make a different loop setting out from the top of Dark Hollow, but you would be picking up a bit of distance and adding a section of the Big Meadows-Skyland horse trail to make the loop.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Henry permalink
    May 26, 2016 6:08 pm

    Hiya, what is the easiest route to take for this trail for the older folks who can’t really do the uphill? or is there another trail that you recommend? Was planning on going tomorrow. Thanks!


    • May 26, 2016 8:16 pm

      Hi Henry… if you want to see Rose River, there really isn’t an easier way than the route we outlined here. If you’d like to see Dark Hollow, you can take the fire road down from Fishers Gap. That’s a really easy, short route to see a pretty waterfall.


  5. Deborah permalink
    February 19, 2016 3:13 pm

    Thinking about trying this hike – would you recommend hiking boots or would good ole Nikes do? We also have a Beagle who likes to go with us – looking forward to seeing some waterfalls through my camera. Thanks for the write up


    • February 19, 2016 4:08 pm

      If you’re planning on doing this hike any time soon, I would definitely go with boots and some kind of additional traction (YakTracks, Stableicers, or microspikes). It’s going to be icy! When the snow and ice are melted and the trail is in normal spring/summer/fall conditions, a pair of sneakers/athletic shoes would be fine. I normally hike everywhere in a pair of trail runners, but lately – I’ve needed serious boots.


  6. Ashby A permalink
    February 16, 2016 1:10 pm

    Does anyone know where the closest backcountry permit station is for this trail?


  7. June 22, 2015 5:52 pm

    Is this a place where a person could take a quick little swim? Is it allowed? Are the coves secluded enough not to encounter many people/passerbys?


  8. Suzanne permalink
    June 13, 2014 5:45 pm

    We did this hike in reverse yesterday and loved it! And a young black bear decided to grace us with his presence not far above the trail. Perfect afternoon hike.


  9. May 4, 2014 10:02 am

    Thanks for such a great writeup! I’m a photographer and wasn’t sure which of the SNP waterfalls to hit first, but am heading to this one today based on your review.


  10. Sandy permalink
    March 7, 2014 6:04 pm

    We hiked this trail last weekend. Even though it was snowy and icy the views were simply breathtaking. Dark Hollow was almost frozen over. When we got to the Rose River Fall it was starting to get dark so we didn’t get much time to enjoy it. We have hiked this same trail in August and put our chairs the small streams. This trail is a real beauty.


  11. Yvette permalink
    October 27, 2013 11:54 am

    I have never hiked, but want to shoot Dark Hollow Falls. Do you recommend someone who has never hiked before to try it?


    • October 27, 2013 1:38 pm

      Hi Yvette… if you’re in decent shape, Dark Hollow Falls should be do-able for even a beginning hiker. The hike to the bottom of the falls and back, though quite steep, isn’t even two miles. The Rose River loop is longer, but more moderate in terms of steepness. Also, the Rose River loop only passes the bottom cascade of Dark Hollow. If you want to see the middle part of the falls, you’ll have to ascend the Dark Hollow trail for a couple 10ths of a mile before backtracking to the fire road to return to your car.


  12. September 28, 2013 6:36 am

    We hiked Sept 2013. On the 2 mile round trip we saw 5 bears. really more than normal.
    But as we neared the falls, I had a balance problem and had to leave before seeing all
    the falls. I am still getting over my problem. Doctors couldn’t find the cause.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 28, 2013 9:38 am

      Five bears, wow! I hope your balance problem clears up, Chazz. I once had a sudden onset of balance issues. It turned out to be a virus that attacked my inner ear. I felt dizzy, unbalanced and vaguely nauseated for a good long while before it fully resolved. I hope you feel better soon!


  13. Donna Pomphrey permalink
    September 25, 2013 8:58 pm

    Ok, so I have taken trails and have camped and hiked, but have never encountered a bear. what is your best advice on what to do. Do you just keep walking, take pictures, stop and let the bears go away? I really don’t know, and I kind of frightens me… lol


    • September 25, 2013 9:29 pm

      Hi Donna! In our area, bears aren’t really a cause for much concern. Typically, they’ll turn and run away as soon as they realize a human is nearby. Sometimes (especially in Shenandoah National Park), bears might also act indifferent. They’ll remain a good distance away from you and continue flipping over rocks and foraging for food. I think these bears are just more acclimated to seeing hikers. When we come across bears, we typically stay a safe distance away, take lots of photos and enjoy the moment. 🙂


    • Dave Braxton permalink
      September 26, 2013 12:51 pm

      The key is to hike quietly and keep your eyes and ears open. This is a great time of year to see them because they are foraging for food like crazy. And, keep an eye on the trees. I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a few bears all the way up in the tops of the trees eating acorns. It’s amazing to see animals that big that far up and you can hear branches cracking and such. I’ve also seen quite a few climbing down the trees and even saw one lone male bear lose his footing and fall to the ground. He quickly got up and ran. I guess he was “embearrassed”. Definitely watch from a distance and take lots of pictures and they won’t bother you a bit. Good luck.


    • September 26, 2013 2:31 pm

      Great tips, Dave!


  14. liz permalink
    May 30, 2013 2:58 pm

    Really excited to try this. I have been out of hiking (or anything super ground pounding) for the last 2 years because of a back injury which I still have and was looking for something beautiful and with some distance and not too easy to get back into it.


  15. Dave permalink
    April 22, 2013 11:08 pm

    This has been one of our favorites and we’ve hiked it numerous times. In fact we haven’t branched out too much as we only get to the park a couple of times a year. September has proved to be a great time to hike it. One year my wife and I saw nine bears in the course of the 4 mile hike. The last one was a rather large bear climbing down from a tree after having eaten acorns. He lost his footing about 20 feet up and crashed to the ground. He ran off in the opposite direction. What an amazing day that was.


    • virginiatrailsadam permalink*
      April 23, 2013 4:41 pm

      Thanks for the visit Dave! That’s amazing that you saw that many bears. We’ve seen them on this trail also. It sounds like the one bear may have been embarrassed you witnessed the fall and had to run away in shame.


  16. jsomersa permalink
    September 25, 2012 10:55 am

    Thanks for the great pictures and directions. we are heading that way in 2 weeks and hoped to see some falls we haven’t visited before.


    • September 25, 2012 11:24 am

      Thanks for the visit, Judy! I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the falls – water is pretty low in the park right now!


  17. Gretchen permalink
    August 12, 2010 6:53 am

    Great write up, thanks so much for sharing! We were looking for something like this as we wanted to hike it, but with a 3 year old wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be too difficult and be worth it. After reading what you wrote, we decided to do it, and it was probably the best hike we did in Shenandoah. The water was very low, typical for the end of July, but the waterfalls were still beautiful. And my daughter walked the whole way on her own! I do recommend leaving the fire road for last (do the loop clockwise) for those that are out of shape or have little ones, I don’t know if she would’ve made it if we did the loop the opposite way. And we ran into a black bear on the fire road, so that part of the hike was more eventful than we anticipated!


    • August 12, 2010 7:04 am

      Thanks for the visit, Gretchen! I’m glad you enjoyed the hike. It’s definitely one of my favorites, too. I bet spotting the bear was a perfect bonus!


  18. Wei Wang permalink
    October 10, 2009 2:51 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m looking for some good hikes in SNP. Plan to hike this trail tomorrow. 🙂


  19. May 19, 2009 10:06 am

    I love this hike! Mostly because of all the photo opportunities. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Rose River Falls. I think I’ve finally recovered from the uphill hike back. Maybe I should do it again sometime, and this time I’ll take Adam with me so I have someone to carry my gear 🙂


  20. May 17, 2009 12:29 pm

    Hooray! You have a blog now. That’s so awesome. I have added you to my reader. I have just joined a group where I can walk more regularly again. I’ll be posting more hiking stories as well. I have two scheduled for this week already.


  21. Jim Hopkins (kayaker729) permalink
    May 16, 2009 11:24 am

    This blog and your descriptions and directions a really nice!
    Thanks for sharing!



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