The hike to Lands Run Falls is a fairly easy 1.6 mile walk down an old park road. The waterfall is not terribly large or impressive, but it’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the mood for a short leg-stretcher.
We planned to do a long hike on Saturday, but Adam was having knee trouble. Instead, we waited until Sunday and decided to try doing a few short, gentle hikes in the north district of Shenandoah National Park. It’s been several years since I ventured as far north in the park as Lands Run Falls, so it was a nice change of pace.
The walk to the waterfall stays on a wide gravel road the entire time, so the footing is easy and there is absolutely no place you can possibly take a wrong turn. The only place you might go wrong is by hiking across the top of the waterfall and missing it completely. The falls aren’t marked and they’re really not visible from the trail. You’ll know you’ve reached the falls when you pass over a small stream and culvert. You can also follow the sounds of falling water!
To get a good look at the falls, you’ll need to follow a worn path through the woods down into the ravine. It’s a fairly well-worn path, and the rocks in the ravine sort of form big steps. Be careful on the rocks immediately around the waterfall. They’re very slick and covered with moss and algae.
If you hit Lands Run Falls when there has been lots of rain, you’ll be treated to a pretty waterfall with three small, but distinct drops. The first drop of about 20 feet is the most accessible and the most photogenic. The other two drops are mostly obscured by blow-downs and underbrush. If the weather has been dry, Lands Run Falls probably is not worth your time. It frequently dries up completely in the summer.
In Henry Heatwole’s well-known Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, he stated “This [Lands Run Falls] is an unrewarding experience for most people… This is for the very few hikers who are willing to go to a lot of trouble to find solitude beside a pool on a mountain stream.”
I wouldn’t characterize Lands Run Falls quite so grimly. I mean, it’s not spectacular – but it is definitely worth seeing if the water flow has been nice.
We started off with this as our first of three short hikes for the day. I was battling some knee issues and Christine thought we should turn around because I was limping the first few steps. I felt I could make it though and luckily my knee felt better on the trip back up from the falls.
You descend 310 feet during this walk down the fire road. While it doesn’t seem quite as noticeable on the way down, you will feel the elevation change on the way back up. Most people should be able to do this hike, but you may need to take your time if the steepness gets to you.
Once you reach the area of the falls, to get the views that we did, you do need to climb down a steep section off the trail that can be slippery. I was able to do it on a bad knee, but you do have to watch your feet carefully. The fire road continues further for another 1.4 miles past the falls, but that only leads to a park boundary and there is nothing of interest to see.
The day was quite brisk with temperatures in the upper 40s. I initially wished that I had brought a fleece along, but once the blood got pumping I was fine in my T-shirt and shorts. The leaves were just starting to turn color – I think we’re still two weeks before peak season on Skyline Drive and higher elevations.
The trail was a nice quick view to a waterfall. I believe it is a somewhat popular trail, but that is largely due to the number of people that are driving down from Northern Virginia and are looking for a close waterfall hike. The falls themselves are pretty but they are not as impressive as many others in the park.
- Distance – 1.6 miles out and back
- Elevation Change – Around 300 feet
- Difficulty – 2. Relatively easy, but definitely uphill on the return trip
- Trail Conditions – 4.5 The trail is a well-maintained fire road
- Views – 0. The trail stays in the woods and does not offer any panoramic views
- Waterfalls/streams – 3. Lands Run Falls is small but pretty. It does dry up when there hasn’t been much rain
- Wildlife – 2. You’ll likely see the usual park specimens along this trail – birds, squirrels and deer
- Ease to Navigate – 4. The fire road doesn’t have any turns. Be careful not to miss the falls – you walk over a small stream and the waterfall cascades below the trail.
- Solitude – 3. We saw a couple groups, but for a beautiful fall day, the traffic was light.
Directions to trailhead: Follow Skyline Drive to mile marker 9.2. Park in the lot on the west side of the drive. The hike starts at the south end of the lot.