Doyles River-Jones Run
The Doyles River-Jones Run loop is a nice six-mile hike that takes you past three sizable waterfalls and a lot of beautiful stream scenery.
Although, the wind, rain and (yes!) snow stripped the fall color from Shenandoah rather early this year, Adam and I still wanted to get out and hike on at least one glorious, sunny autumn day. There was still a little bit of colorful foliage hanging on in the south district of Shenandoah National Park, so we decided to hike the Doyles River- Jones Run loop on Sunday morning.
We got to the trailhead at Brown Gap right as the sun was coming up. It was f-f-freezing and windy. I carelessly left my hat and gloves at home, so I flipped up the collar of my fleece and retracted my hands into my sleeves. We set out down the Brown Gap fire road, which is one of Shenandoah’s prettier fire roads. It’s also where I used to ride my horse, “Friday”, whenever we trailed to the park. The morning sun was filtering through the golden leaves, and soon the activity of walking warmed me up enough that I didn’t miss my gloves at all. The fire road was really muddy, so I took that as a good sign that there would be plenty of water flowing in the three waterfalls we’d be passing along the route.
In fact, I was so sure that the waterfalls would be impressive, that I carried all the “big guns” in my photography arsenal – two camera bodies, three lenses, a shutter remote, a collection of neutral density and polarizing filters, extra batteries, memory card and my tripod (the one that feels like it weighs close to 100 pounds when I carry it on long hikes). I also brought my new tripod bag (by Kinesis) that allows me to carry the tripod backpack style – evenly centering the weight on my back. The sling style carrier I’ve been using for the past few years twists my neck and shoulders, so I try not to carry it on long hikes. The new bag was really nice, but it perfectly lined up the camera mount lock lever with my butt. Every step I took, the lever poked me quite rudely. I ended up giving the tripod to Adam. He’s taller, so he escaped the constant prodding. I ended up carrying the bag with the rest of the gear. It was much heavier, but still more comfortable.
When we reached the bridge at the junction of the fire road and the Doyles River trail, I groaned in dismay at the dry stream before us. We walked along the river, or at least where the river should have been for another .3 miles to get to the base of Upper Doyles River Falls. Normally, there are pretty little cascades leading down to the main double-terraced waterfall. This time the waterfall was barely a trickle. We ate our breakfast at the base of “Disappointment Falls” and headed on to the lower falls.
Surprisingly, the lower falls were running quite a bit more than the upper falls. I think narrower chasm through the rocks allows the second falls to hold onto more water flow. The second falls is thin and almost chute-like. Even though the second waterfall had more water, it still wasn’t anything spectacular. When you’re a photographer hiking with 40+ pounds of gear and realizing the shots you had planned aren’t going to happen, the gear instantly feels twice as heavy. I think this is the point that I started to feel like Atlas with the world resting on my shoulders.
Leaving the lower falls, the trail became incredibly beautiful. It followed a babbling brook through near-peak foliage. The trees were a spectacular mix of gold, orange and red – all set off by the brilliant blue sky above. This was, without a doubt, my favorite section of the trail.
So far, the hike had been relatively easy – just gentle up-and-down grades along the stream. At the junction of the Jones Run Trail, the real work started. In just under 2 miles, we picked up most of the elevation gain on the whole hike. It was steep, hard climbing to reach Jones Run Falls.
The waterfall on Jones Run was running low, but it was still really pretty. From the waterfall back up to Skyline Drive, the grade of the trail moderates a bit. It’s still a lot of uphill mixed with periods of flat terrain. Eventually, you reach the junction with the Appalachian trail and follow it north for a little over a mile back to the Brown’s Gap parking lot. This section of the AT follows closely to the road, so you constantly hear cars and smell exhaust. The walk along this section is easy, but rather uneventful.
Overall, I think this was a great hike. I’m so glad we had a chance to be outdoors on a beautiful fall day, but I wish the waterfalls had been nicer. We’ll have to try hiking it again in the spring after heavier, more sustained rains.
While we’ve hiked Doyles River a number of times, this was the first time that we had made a loop of the hike and added Jones Run. When we have done this before, we parked at the Doyles River parking lot around mile marker 81. We would normally hike down to both of the falls and then head back.
On this hike, we parked around mile marker 83 at the Brown Gap lot. We crossed the road and headed down the Brown Gap fire road. At about .4 miles, you see a short path leading up to the gravesite pictured above. In about 1.7 miles you will reach the junction with the Doyles River Trail. Take a right on this trail. After about two tenths of a mile, you will reach the Upper Doyles River Falls. There is a short spur path to lead down to the base of the falls. Once you rejoin the trail, you will then see the Lower Doyles River Falls after a tenth of the mile. Don’t try to blaze down off the trail to reach the falls. The trail loops around to bring you closer to the falls. When you reach near the base of the falls, there is a short, treacherous climb down to the base of these falls. When you join back to the trail, continue south down the Doyles River Trail. You will reach the Junction with the Jones Run Trail in about .6 miles from leaving the Lower Doyles River Falls. You begin your hike up to the Jones Run Falls and will reach them about .7 miles on this trail. After the falls, you will have a 1.2 mile hike up to the Jones Run Parking lot. Before you enter the parking lot, there will be a junction with the Appalachian Trail. Take a right on the AT, heading north until you reach the Brown Gap parking lot. The AT portion is about 1.3 miles back to your car, leading you to this overall hike of 6 miles.
The hike is not that long being only six miles, but there is a lot of elevation gain from the base of the Doyles River Trail, leading up to the Jones Run Parking lot. Christine felt that it may be better to do this hike in reverse, but based on contours, I think either hike has a tough trip back at the end.
The waterfalls along the way on normal days are really some of the nicer waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park. The water flow didn’t allow us to see them at their best today, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. The Upper Doyles River Falls stands at 28 feet; the Lower Doyles River Falls plummets 63 feet.; the Jones Run Falls plunges 42 feet. If you’re looking for a hike to see multiple falls, this is the best one to do in Shenandoah.
On our way back to the car on the AT, we ran into a woman doing the trail in the opposite way. She had two pugs with her on the hike, named Titan and Zoot. They were eager to greet us, since they must have known we had three pugs of our own. They were very energetic to begin their hike to the falls, but we wondered how they fared on the steep way back. We wish we had taken some pictures of these boys, because they looked like they were ready for a great adventure that day.
The foliage was just slightly after peak today. We decided to exit the south entrance of the park to reward ourselves with some frozen treats from Sonic. On our way out, we saw the longest line of cars we’ve ever witnessed trying to enter the park at the south gate. Cars were at a stand-still all the way down to the interstate. Three rangers were walking down the line, handing out information to make the fee stations handle things quickly. I guess everyone felt that it would be a nice day to see color in the park and hopefully they weren’t too disappointed in the color.
- Distance – 6 miles – loop.
- Elevation Change –1875 feet
- Difficulty – 4. The climb up from the bottom of Jones Run is tough!
- Trail Conditions – 3.5 The trail is well-maintained and traveled.
- Views –0. You might get a few glimpses of vistas through the woods along the fire road.
- Waterfalls/streams –4. The waterfalls and streams along this trail are beautiful, especially when there is plenty of rain.
- Wildlife – 1. Just a couple deer.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are well marked and easy to follow.
- Solitude – 3. You will likely see several other groups of hikers along the way, but it’s not as heavily trafficked as other waterfall trails in the park.
Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, follow the drive to Brown Gap (near mile marker 83). The parking lot is on the west side of the drive. To begin the hike, walk across Skyline Drive and follow the Brown Gap fire road downhill.