Skip to content

Riprap Trail

May 28, 2010

This 9.8 mile circuit hike offers all the best of Shenandoah – panoramic views,  bubbling streams, a swimming hole and even a nice final stretch along the Appalachian Trail.  It comes close to our 10 mile limit for a day hike, but it’s definitely well worth the effort.

Chimney Rock View

The view from Chimney Rock is very pretty on a clear day.

Christine Says…

The Riprap trail has long been on my list of hikes to tackle in Shenandoah National Park.  Last Friday, we finally got around to it. I have to admit, the nearly ten-mile length and over 2,300 feet of elevation gain intimidated me just a little. The hikes we’ve completed that are close to that length (i.e. McAfee Knob or Mount Rogers) both have substantially less elevation gain. But, we had a free day and beautiful weather, so we decided to go for it. I’m so glad we went because the scenery on this trail showcased everything I love about Shenandoah. And, honestly… hiking 9.8 miles really wasn’t that hard.

We started the hike from the Riprap parking area at mile marker 90. We turned right at the end of the parking lot and followed the Appalachian Trail uphill for about a third of a mile. At the intersection with the Riprap trail, we turned left. The trail went alternately downhill and uphill for about three-quarters of a mile. We passed around a talus slope and came out to a viewpoint near Calvary Rocks. This was a great place to pause and take in the panoramic scene of the valley below. About a third of a mile downhill past Calvary Rocks, we arrived at Chimney Rock. I found this to be the prettier of the two views – but they were both very nice. The trail was especially pretty in late May because of all the blooming mountain laurel, wild azaleas and rhododendron. There were some sections that were so lush, I felt like I was walking through a tunnel of flowers.

Wild Azaleas, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel

Wild Azaleas, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.  Below: The view near Calvary Rocks; Adam taking in the view from Chimney Rock.

View Near Calvary Rock Adam Takes in the Chimney Rock View

From Chimney Rock, the trail follows a ridge for a while, with many nice views between the trees. There is still quite a bit of evidence of forest fire damage from the late 1990’s in this area. The mountainside is still rather barren and charred stumps are visible. Slowly, the trail descends into Cold Springs Hollow. We passed through some of the densest mountain laurel along this section. We saw and heard so many beautiful birds – everything from American Redstarts to Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks.

Near the bottom of the hollow, we started to pick up the stream. It started off as a trickle, gaining volume and speed as we climbed continually downward. There were a few small, unremarkable waterfalls in the gorge, but we didn’t stop walking until the first stream crossing. Adam and I sat on a couple big boulders in the middle of the stream and ate a few handfuls of trail mix.

Swimming Hole with Fish and Rhododendron Reflection

The swimming hole displayed beautiful rhododendron reflections and was full of brook trout. Below: The trout were hard to photograph through the water, but you get the point.

Brook Trout

We stopped again just a couple tenths of a mile later at my very favorite spot along the trail – a wide, green swimming hole shaded by the forest canopy. We sat along the pool for a long while. We watched colorful brook trout lolling in the water. Every now and then, one would splash up and break the quiet surface of the water. The water was so clear. We could see reflections of the rhododendron on the surface and big, round stones at the bottom of the pool. The spot is made even more beautiful by the gentle slide waterfall that cascades down and fills the pool.

After leaving the pool, we had almost about three-quarters of a mile of level walking and a couple more stream crossings. A post marks the intersection with the Wildcat Ridge Trail. We turned left, and enjoyed our last little bit of flat walking for a while. We decided to stop and eat lunch before the big uphill climb began. We had ham and cheese on crackers, chips and some candy – perfect to give us lots of energy!

Climbing along Wildcat Ridge is a steady uphill for almost three miles, but the grade is generally moderate. There were several more decent views through the trees along this section of trail. And of course, more mountain laurel! I think I must have said “This is SO PRETTY!” to Adam a dozen times as we walked through the flowers. This section is where we saw our only other hikers of the day – a young couple hiking the loop in the opposite direction. We got to the junction with the Appalachian Trail faster than we thought we would. We were anticipating another .7 miles of uphill climbing when we reached the marker post. It’s always such a pleasant surprise when an uphill climb ends earlier than you thought it would.

Adam on the AT

Adam and I both enjoyed the more level terrain along the Appalachian Trail.

We took a left onto the AT for the final 2.8 miles of the hike. This section was typical Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah – rolling hills, nothing too steep. We saw a brief glimpse of a bear diving into the mountain laurel about a mile into this stretch. After about an hour of walking on the AT, we arrived back at our car. My feet were a little sore and tired, but other than that I still felt pretty energetic. Riprap now claims the spot for the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day! The 9.8 mile circuit took us just under six hours – including our very frequent snack and photography stops. On the way home, we stopped and rewarded ourselves with Lime Cream Slushes from Sonic – my favorite post-hike treat.

Adam Says…

This may also be the longest hike I have done but it was well worth it!  This hike really does have it all and we hit it at a great time of year.  The mountain laurel and rhododendron were at peak on this trail and we often felt like we were in some type of fantasy land while being surrounded by pink flowers.

The views from Calvary Rocks and Chimney Rock give you some great 180 degree views to the north of the mountains.  I was a little worried that the payoff for this hike was going to be over in the first couple of miles of the hike, but I was glad to be wrong.  After we continued the descent from Chimney Rock, there were still some open views along the way.  Once we reached the bottom of Cold Springs Hollow, we saw a glimpse of a waterfall along the way.  Shortly after the falls and after crossing the stream you come to the beautiful swimming hole that Christine mentioned above.  This was a great spot to relax and enjoy seeing the fish, or you could take a quick, refreshing dip.

View Along the Riprap Ridge

View Along the Riprap Ridge. Below:  The swimming hole is such a beautiful place – even though we constantly had to bat the bugs away.  Note the slide falls coming down to the pool.

Swimming Hole

Once we were done with relaxing, we took the hike up the Wildcat Ridge Trail.  This is a constant uphill for about three miles and does include a couple of switchbacks on the trail.  However, we felt that the terrain wasn’t too steep.  You continue to observe nice views as it hugs closely to the side of the mountain.  Once we met up with the AT, the trail didn’t have a lot of elevation gain/loss.  I do suffer from plantar fasciitis, so my feet were quite sore on the rocks of this section of the trail.

Butterfly on Mountain Laurel

Butterfly on Mountain Laurel.  Below: Adam hikes through the mountain laurel along the Appalachian Trail.

Adam hiking the AT

For those interested in geocaching, I did place an earthcache at the overlook for Calvary Rocks.  This is a way to learn about the geology of the area and there are a few steps to get credit for the cache:

I definitely enjoyed my first trip of the Riprap trail, but I know it won’t be my last.  This would also be a great place to do a backpacking trip, since there is a reliable water source at the bottom of the trail.  We really felt like it was one of the prettiest trails we have done in all of Shenandoah National Park.  Part of that largely is due to the abundance of blooming wildflowers, but another part was the views.  The Riprap trail really has it all!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 9.8 miles
  • Elevation Change – Around 2300 feet.  The hike is a mix of uphill and downhill, with one long, steady uphill stretch of about three miles.
  • Difficulty – 4.5 While the elevation gain is substantial, the trail is rarely steep.  Grades are moderate.  We scored the hike a 4.5 mainly due to the length.
  • Trail Conditions – 4 Nice trail to walk along!  The stream crossings are easy.
  • Views4.  You get the best views from the Chimney Rocks and Calvary Rocks overlooks.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 3 The stream was on the low side when we hiked, but was still pretty.  The swimming hole at the bottom of the hollow is very beautiful.
  • Wildlife – 4 We saw lots of brook trout, a little toad, many bird species and we even caught a glimpse of a black bear’s rear end diving into the laurel thicket.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2 A few turns to make along the way.  There are a few false trails leading away from the main trail and also one tricky turn after a creek crossing.
  • Solitude – 3 We saw only two other people on the entire loop.  We hiked it on a beautiful Friday in late spring.  I imagine the trail is much more crowded on weekends.  It’s a very popular short backpack loop.

Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, park on the western side at mile marker 90.  There is a parking lot specifically for Riprap hikers.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2018 3:02 pm

    We hiked the Riprap loop on 7/28/2018 and enjoyed the hike very much. We did the loop counter-clockwise starting at MP 90 (AT section first, followed by Wildcat ridge, etc.). We spent over 1 1/2 hours at the swimming hole. The water, being mountain-fed, is cold but my wife soaked in it for a long time. (I still don’t know how that is possible!). The way back up from the swimming hole to Chimney Rock is a long, steep grade but there are lots of blueberries once you get out of the valley. Chimney Rock is the only place on the trail where you have a view, but these views are not that much different from any of the Skyline Drive overlooks. The way back to the parking lot seemed longer that it should be, but I think we were tired from the previous eight miles! Good shoes are recommended as much of the trail is rocky. Our longest hike so far in the park, but we really enjoyed it.


  2. July 13, 2014 9:42 pm

    Wow – you covered a lot more miles than you expected to. We’re glad you’re safe!


  3. Carrie Eheart permalink
    July 5, 2014 11:29 pm

    Went today 7/5/14. After 6-7 inches of rain in past two weeks the falls were amazing. Doyles River Falls were spectacular! More rain in forecast next week. SNP is so beautiful!


  4. Ryan permalink
    July 2, 2014 12:52 pm

    My girlfriend and I are going on a 3 night camping trip in Shenandoah at the end of august were from PA and this will be are first time in Shenandoah and your the reason i picked riprap as one of our overnight stays!! I read almost all your reviews and the south section seems so nice, so we are gonna hike trey foot and paine run then down the app trail to riprap and wildcat then back up the app trail for one big loop!! Ohh and after reading and seeing the pics of the waterfall hikes we are gonna do one or two before we start are 3 night trip and one or two after we are done are 3 night trip. Thank you for posting great reviews!!


    • July 2, 2014 12:57 pm

      Hi Ryan! Thanks for visiting. I was out on the Paine Run – Trayfoot Mountain trail three weekends ago on a girls’ backpacking trip. There were a couple new blowdowns and tall grass along the Trayfoot Mountain trail between Black Rock and the Buzzard Rock viewpoint. It was nothing big, but the trail was definitely overgrown from when I hiked it in April. The girls on the trip all treated their gear/clothing with Permethrin and were able to avoid ticks, but our companion dog came home with dozens of ticks on his legs and paws. I just wanted to caution you about the changing trail condition and the ticks. Have fun out there!


  5. Madison Lindgren permalink
    October 7, 2013 1:37 pm

    Is camping on this trail allowed? If so, is it recommended?


    • October 7, 2013 1:39 pm

      Yes – there are a number of nice campsites close to the water at the low point of the hike. It’s a popular area for camping, so you may run into other people (and unfortunately their garbage), but all in all, this would make a short but fun overnight circuit.


  6. August 31, 2013 4:18 pm

    My favorite hike in VA.


  7. Jerome Venteicher permalink
    June 13, 2012 10:53 pm

    This is a great trail to run, too. Just be sure that when you’re headed down the trail along the creek, you don’t miss the left turn to catch the Wildcat Ridge trail. If you are moving along quickly with your head down, you might find yourself at a terminal parking lot at the park’s boundary.


  8. March 11, 2012 6:53 pm

    I’ve been looking to do the Riprap Trail for a while but I’ve never made it past Calvary Rocks. I love the photos- especially the mountain laurel and water photos!

    Thanks for visiting my blog, too. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog, you’ve described so many good hikes in the area! I always look forward to when the two of you post a write-up about a new hike.



  1. Riprap Reflections & Brook Trout |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: