Lewis Spring Falls
Lewis Spring Falls is a hike leading to the fourth tallest waterfall in the park. It starts out from the Big Meadows amphitheater.
In my opinion, Lewis Spring Falls is decent for a waterfall hike. If you are visiting Shenandoah National Park, I would recommend Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, South River Falls, Doyles River or White Oak Canyon before this one.
We started this trail from the amphitheater at Big Meadows. You can also take off from the Big Meadows Campground, adding an extra .8 miles to your trip, but we feel this is the best way to see what is necessary. From the parking lot, you’ll go down a very short spur to connect with the Appalachian Trail. After a short distance, there is a cement post to let you know to leave the AT and proceed on the trail to the right for the Lewis Spring Falls.
Shortly after we started the Lewis Spring Falls trail, we had a great barred owl viewing. We heard a bunch of birds causing quite a racket. We stopped to try to identify the birds, when I spotted the barred owl on the tree. There were at least six chickadees that were dive-bombing the owl. Our guess is that they were trying to protect chicks nearby. As the owl looked in one direction, the chickadees took turns diving down to snip on the owl’s back. It reminded me of the old elementary school trick, when you would tap on someone’s shoulder to make them look behind their shoulder when nobody was there. We got to watch this interaction for several minutes before the owl finally flew away to a different tree, giving the chickadees a moment of victory. However, the owl may ultimately win the war when the sun sets.
The trail down to the falls is quite rocky. While it is well-traveled, the trail is very steep downhill. This will make you constantly have to watch where you are placing your feet, as rocks and gravel are very loose. Once you have traveled 1.2 miles, you will come to a post showing that the viewpoint is shortly ahead. This post also includes the junction of the trail for your return loop. You will cross a stream but there are tons of rocks in the trail to make this an easy crossing.
On your return trip from the viewpoint, shortly after crossing the stream, you will take the spur trail to the right that connects to the Appalachian Trail. This is a constant uphill through more rocky terrain for .7 miles. You will come to a gravel road and a cement post showing that the AT trail junction is up ahead 70 yards. Take the AT to the left (north) to get back to the parking lot. The AT is definitely easier to walk, but the trail stays uphill at a slightly lesser grade. You will eventually come up behind the Big Meadows Lodge. There is a nice viewpoint to the west from a rocky overlook, which may give you a nice place to view a sunset and still be close to the parking lot.
One side note is that before you reach the Lodge, there is a side trail to Blackrock, another popular trail to view a sunset. This has been closed until further notice due to Peregrine Falcons nesting.
I told Adam I was going to write a one word entry for this hike and that word was going to be “lame”! Maybe I was in a crabby mood on this particular evening, but I still think there are so many nicer waterfall hikes in the park. We hadn’t hiked to Lewis Spring Falls in three or four years. I had remembered the falls being substantially more impressive than what we encountered on this particular night. Even with all the wet weather we’ve had this spring/summer, the waterfall was down to a trickle. When we got to the viewing point, I told Adam that the faucet in our bathtub has a more impressive flow. My other problem was the light. Even in late evening, the sun was still high enough in the western sky to put the waterfall in direct sunlight – so, alas – no nice photos of the falls.
The terrain on the trail down to the falls is tough going – steep, scrabbly rocks that force you to look down and pay attention to every step you take. I always prefer to hike places where I can look around and enjoy the trail-side scenery instead of constantly following every move of my hiking boots.
We only saw one other pair of hikers along the trail – a couple guys trying to find their way down to the base of the falls. Another drawback to the Lewis Spring Falls is the fact that there is no good, safe way to reach the base of the falls. Our hiking book advises explicitly not to attempt to climb down – there is no trail and there have actually been fatalities at this waterfall. I do know a few people who have climbed to the bottom, none of them said it was worthwhile. We watched the two guys make a couple unsuccessful attempts to descend before they eventually gave up.
The hike back up is on the long arm of the loop, so it’s a long, steady uphill back to the amphitheater. By the time we got back, I was pretty tired and hungry. I’m definitely a morning person through and through. Evening hikes, even the short and easy ones, really have a tendency to kick my butt. If I was pressed to share my favorite thing about this hike, it would have to be the owl sighting. That was pretty cool.
- Distance – 3.0 mile loop trail (longer options are also possible depending on how you connect to the trail)
- Elevation Change – 990 feet.
- Difficulty – 3. The route we hiked was moderate.
- Trail Conditions – 2. The AT section is nice footing, but the trail down to the falls and back up is quite treacherous.
- Views –2. There are views from the overlook near the falls, but the nicest mountain views are near the end of the hike.
- Waterfalls/streams –3. Decent waterfall views, but because you can’t get to the bottom easily, you can only appreciate it from afar.
- Wildlife –3. We have heard a bear on this trail before. We saw a barred owl and several deer near the Big Meadows area.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. The trail is easy to follow and marked with blue blazes.
- Solitude – 2. You’re likely to see some people here since the close proximity to Big Meadows.
Directions to trailhead:
Follow Skyline Drive to the Big Meadows Area near mile 51.2. Follow the signs to the amphitheater. At the parking lot near the amphitheater, you will see the post marking the trailhead.