Woodstock Tower

The Woodstock Tower hike is a fairly easy hike in the Lee Ranger District of George Washington National Forest that leads to a fire tower with 360-degree views of the surrounding area.

View from Woodstock Tower
The view from the Woodstock Tower is panoramic - offering views of the valley, river and distant mountains. Below: A wider view includes the mountains; It really wasn't the best time of day to photograph the actual tower -- I had to shoot right into the sun; The inside of the tower is covered with graffiti.

A wider view Tower Sunburst Inside the Tower

Adam Says…

After parking in the Little Fort Campground area, we headed up for our hike to Woodstock Tower.  The white-blazed Wagon Road/Nature Trail starts off as a rough fire road and after .1 mile, intersects with Peters Mill Run.  Peters Mill Run is an ATV/OHV trail, so look both ways before crossing this popular trail for ATVs and motorcycles.  Continue straight across Peters Mill Run to connect to the trail again.  The trail does go steadily up with a few switchbacks, but the switchbacks really make the trail easier of a climb.  The first switchback comes in around .25 miles and the second switchback comes around .5 miles.  After the second switchback, the trail does become steeper, but it ends after just a couple tenths of a mile.  At .7 miles, take a left on the pink-blazed Tower Trail.  It is only about .2 miles to reach the tower on a fairly level trail.

The Woodstock Tower
The Woodstock Tower. Below: A little bit of fall color was already showing; We took a break for water where the short trail meets up with the longer trail; Looking up through the Woodstock Tower.

A little fall foliage Water Stop Looking up through the tower

When we reached the tower, we climbed up the metal stairs to reach the top.  I’m not a big fan of heights, but I’m especially nervous when it involves man-made things.  The tower did seem quite sturdy, but it makes some noises when railings move slightly, so I was more eager to get down from the tower than the rest of Christine’s family.  The views are nice, but the area is quite crowded.  Unless you went up early in the morning, I fear that it would be hard to have a moment’s peace at the top.  There aren’t any signs posted for maximum number of people on the tower and you may have to hug the side of a platform as people pass in opposite directions.

There are a few geocaches in the nearby area:

Christine Says…

This was the second time I’ve been to the Woodstock Tower.  Last time I was there was several years ago in mid-October.  I remember the fall foliage being amazing from atop the tower. This time, the foliage had just the slightest hint of change, but the day was crystal clear and sunny – not a bit of haze – so the view was extra nice.

There are shorter ways to get to the view.  In fact, you can practically drive right up to it.  However, we chose to hike up from the Little Fort campground instead.   The slightly longer route gave my mom a chance to try out her new hiking boots.

Off Highway Vehicle
The area has lots of ATV and dirt bike trails. Below: All the roads and trails in this area are well-marked.

Wagon Road Campground Sign

Because the day was so beautiful, we had to share the tower with crowds of people.  At times, there was actually a line of people waiting to get to the top.  We even saw a person trying to coax their pit bull up the open, metal stairs.  That didn’t go so well, and they had to turn back about halfway to the top.  The inside of the tower is covered with graffiti and the area is littered with broken beer bottles and empty soda cans – a very unfortunate side effect of its popularity.

Despite the tower’s less-than-pristine nature, it still offers one of the best views of the mountains in the area.  It’s well worth the short walk.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2 miles
  • Elevation Change – about 500 feet
  • Difficulty –2. While you would think that going up 500 feet in one mile would be steep, the trail up seems to take off a lot of the steep terrain.
  • Trail Conditions – 3. The trail had some loose ground in a few areas (especially in the first .1 mile), but overall was well-maintained.
  • Views – 4.5. It does have 360-degree views, but we always enjoy views from natural surroundings like rock outcrops over man-made towers.
  • Waterfalls/streams 0. Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 2. Too many people to see anything other than people.  May be good for hawk spotting or some other woodland birds.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Not too many turns on this one and trails are well-labeled.
  • Solitude – 1. You will see lots of people on this trail during a nice day.

Directions to trailhead:
We approached this from I-81.  There are other ways to the east to approach this, but here is the most common way for anyone traveling via interstate.  Take exit 283 on I-81, heading east on 42.  Stay on 42 until it intersects with US 11.  Take a left on US 11, heading north through the town of Woodstock.  As soon as you pass the Woodstock Shopping Center, take a right on S.R. 665/Mill Road.  Take this until it ends at S.R. 758/Woodstock Tower Road.  Take a left here and continue to follow S.R. 758 up and down the mountain (this area can be scary when passing other vehicles – there are no guardrails in most spots).  Be sure to stay on S.R. 758 until you reach Little Fort Campground.  Turn into the campground area.  There are campsites and parking spots along the road here.  The trailhead is located on the right-hand side of the road near a campsite right before you reach the outdoor restrooms.

Simmons Gap

Simmons Gap is a very easy walk from the ranger station down to the park’s eastern border.  It follows an old route used by the mountain people that inhabited the area.

Simmons Gap Fire Road
The Simmons Gap fire road extends to the park boundary. Below: We saw a bear less than a tenth of a mile from the Simmons Gap parking area; Apple trees probably attract lots of wildlife; Bear scat was everywhere along the Simmons Gap trail.

Bear Near the Trail Apples Trees Along the Way Scat

Christine Says…

Truthfully, we probably wouldn’t have bothered with this hike if it weren’t so close in proximity to the other two we selected for the day.  Our Falcon Guide said it was nothing special, but it was one of the few hikes left in the park that we haven’t done at least once.  (There are a few long 10-16 miles hikes still on the to-do list, but we’ll likely do those as backpacking trips)

The walk down Simmons Gap was about what I expected – a quiet walk down a shady path through the woods.  There wasn’t much scenery – no views and no waterfalls.  The stream running along the trail was nearly dry despite the decent rain we’ve had lately.

As we walked, we kept our eyes peeled for bears.  We had seen a bear less than a tenth of a mile from where we parked our car.  Also, the fire road was practically paved with bear scat.  Besides the ridge of Knob Mountain, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much bear poop in one place. Unfortunately, all we saw was the poop… no bears!

Wildflowers in Simmons Gap
Wildflowers along the Simmons Gap fire road. Below: The trail follows along, and eventually crosses a small stream.

Small Stream Along Simmons Gap

There are many hints of a bygone era along the trail – old stone walls, crumbling foundations and the odd apple tree tucked into the forest.  The spot where the fire road meets the park boundary is obviously used as a dump by people who are too rude and lazy to take their garbage to a proper facility.  The streambed at the end of the trail was littered with everything from a broken baby stroller, to a beaten plastic Shrek suitcase to a box full of empty 2-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper.  It was disgusting.  I wish I knew what people were thinking when they did stuff like this. How could anyone back their car up to a beautiful mountain stream, and just empty their trunk-load of discarded property?

Despite the disappointment of seeing the litter, we still had a nice walk down the path.  Although, I don’t think I’d recommend this hike to anyone.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 1.6 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change – About 200 feet
  • Difficulty –1. Easy walking with very little elevation change.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5. This fire road is smooth and easy to walk on.
  • Views –0. You’ll be in the woods the whole time.
  • Waterfalls/streams 1. The small stream is pretty and is often lined by stone walls, but it may be dry most of the summer.
  • Wildlife – 3. There’s a good likelihood of seeing bears in this area.
  • Ease to Navigate – 5. There is no place to go wrong.  Follow the fire road straight out and back.
  • Solitude – 4.5. Because there isn’t much to see in this area, not many people come this way.

Directions to trailhead:
At mile 73.2 on Skyline Drive you will see a small parking lot on the western side of the road (directly opposite of the sign for the Simmons Gap Ranger Station).  Cross Skyline Drive, walking on the paved road to the ranger station.  You will see a chain guarding a fire road.  Cross the chain and start the trail down the fire road.

Pocosin Mission Trail

The Pocosin Mission Trail is a fairly short walk along a fire road that leads to the ruins of an abandoned Episcopal mission.

Pocosin Mission Ruins
The Pocosin Mission ruins are slowly sinking back into the forest. Below: The fire road makes this trail pleasant and easy to walk along; The old church steps still stand at the site; Adam explores the ruins.

Pocosin Church Steps Adam Explores the Mission Ruins

Adam Says…

We’re back to Virginia hikes!  This week, we’ll be sharing a trio of short hikes.  In fact, the hikes are so short that we’re going to skip doing our typical dual write-ups.  I’ll cover this one, and Christine will cover the next two.

Since we had surprisingly nice temperatures on an August day (it didn’t get above 68 on our hike), we decided to go for three short hikes off Skyline Drive. The last time we did the Pocosin Mission Trail we were with a couple of friends.  Shortly after we got to the mission site, we were pounded with a fierce thunderstorm.  We were all so soaked to the bone, that we ended up buying clothes at the Big Meadows wayside, looking like complete tourists with all of our Shenandoah National Park gear.

PATC Cabin

The PATC maintain a cabin, available for rent, along the Pocosin Mission Fire Road. Below: Wildflowers (and bees) were abundant along the trail; We saw many varieties of berries; There were also butterflies everywhere.

Bees and Flowers Along the Pocosin Trail Berries Along the Trail Butterfly along the Pocosin Trail

On this trip, we had a nice easy stroll down the fire road.  After about .2 miles, the road crosses over the Appalachian Trail, but you just want to stay on the fire road for this trail.  We took a few minutes on our way down to stop by the PATC Pocosin Cabin, which can be rented by the PATC.  The cabin was locked, but we could tell that people renting this cabin would wake to a nice sunrise view.  Continue down the trail for another .8 miles until you reach another cement post, marking the junction with the South River Falls fire road.  You will see the remains of a cabin nearby and stone steps with a foundation.  After exploring, just go back to your car up the fire road.

The Pocosin Mission was an Episcopal mission established in 1904 for the mountain community living in the area.  “Pocosin” is a Native American word meaning “swamp”.  The mission building is actually where you see the stone steps, a small foundation, and a fallen-down chimney.  Be careful as you explore the area – there is a lot of broken glass and twisted metal.  The cabin has a rusted metal roof and there are plenty of rusted materials on the ground, so watch your kids carefully in this area.  In addition to these sites, there is also an overgrown cemetery that is across the trail from the mission, marked by old nameless headstones.

Old Church Walls and Fallen Chimney
The old church walls and a fallen chimney are still visible. Below: Buckets and an old sink can still be found inside the mission ruins.

Inside the Ruins

For those interested in the history of the people that lived on this mountain will enjoy visiting this site.  While there aren’t any views to speak of, the hike does cause you to speculate on how life was back in the early 1900s being a part of a community that lived and worshiped together.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.2 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change – 450 feet
  • Difficulty 1.5.  Most people should be able to handle this.
  • Trail Conditions 4. It’s just a fire road, so not much difficulty for trail conditions.
  • Views –0. No views.
  • Waterfalls/streams 0. No streams/waterfalls.
  • Wildlife 2.  There should be a variety of wildlife in the vicinity.
  • Ease to Navigate 5.  Just straight down a road and back.
  • Solitude 4.  This isn’t a very popular spot, so you should have your peace.

Directions to trailhead:
Around mile 59.5 on Skyline Drive, you will see a small gravel road leading to a parking lot on the eastern side of the trail.  Park here, cross the chain, and walk down the fire road to start the trail.

South River Falls

This 4.6 mile hike leads you along the South River to an impressive waterfall that plunges deep into a canyon.  When the park has experienced lots of rain, this waterfall hike is one of the nicest Shenandoah has to offer.

Cascades along the South River
The South River is impressive in times of heavy rain.

Adam Says…

We have kept with a tradition the last few years of doing a hike on Thanksgiving morning.  It’s a great way to appreciate nature and try to do something active before a big meal.  This year, we decided to break the tradition of having a huge Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the trimmings.  We decided to have an easier meal that we would both enjoy – homemade pizza.

We’ve hiked South River Falls before, but we’ve never had as much water in the falls before.  We thought it would be impressive, since we could hear rushing water through the South River a lot earlier than normal.  Waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park tend to be fairly tough ones.  Since you park on Skyline Drive at a high elevation, you have to hike down to the valleys where the falls are created.  What makes it difficult, at least psychologically, is that you get to the payoff fairly easily and then have to do the hard work on your way back to your vehicle.

The South River right at the crest of the waterfall.
The beauty of the South River is found mostly in its small details. The cascades and little falls leading the large waterfall are prettier than the main waterfall.  Pictured below: South River Falls from the overlook at the top of the canyon; the falls from the base.  You’ll see neither vantage point of the waterfall is terribly photogenic (especially after the leaves have come down). Both of the small photos below are from another date.  This time, the falls were much bigger – but it was too sunny to photograph them.

The view from the top of the canyon. The view from the base of the falls

The hike begins at the South River Picnic Area.  Look for the large sign about the hike on the northeastern side of the picnic area.   At slightly over .1 mile, you will cross the Appalachian Trail.  You will continue your descent and around 1 mile, you will rock-hop across a small creek that drains into the South River.  Usually this is not much of a challenge due to the water, but we found the water was higher than normal this time.  At 1.3 miles, you will come to a nice overlook for the South River Falls.  You really get a great view of the 83 foot waterfall.  It plunges to a rocky ledge and splits in two about half of the length of the waterfall.  If you continue on the trail for another .2 miles, you will arrive at a cement post and join a spur to the South River Fire Road.  If you continue on for another .2 miles, you will descend even further and arrive at another cement post.  Following the path from the cement post for another .1 mile, you will arrive at the base of the falls.  For any adventurous shutterbugs, there are ample opportunities near the base of the falls for long-exposure photography. Make sure you have your strength up, because you have 2.2 miles to hike at a steady incline back to your vehicle.

To follow the trail as a loop as we did, once you make your return from the base of the falls, go .7 miles until you reach the cement post and the junction with the South River Falls Trail. Stay on the fire road instead and after .4 miles more, you will reach the yellow-blazed South River Fire Road.  Take a left on the road.  In about a mile, you will reach the junction with the Appalachian Trail.  Take a left on the white-blazed AT, heading south for about .4 miles.  You will then reach the junction with the South River Falls Trail and only have about .1 mile to reach the picnic ground.

The hike was a tough one, but it was nice to get some exercise.  The thought of carving into our pizza helped us muster the energy to make it back.

Christine Says…

This was a great trail to burn off Thanksgiving calories!  The terrain is rugged and the return arm of the loop is nothing but steady, tough uphill climbing.  Even Wookie, who is normally a bundle of boundless energy, got quite tired on this hike.  By the time we got to the Appalachian Trail junction, his corkscrew tail was completely unfurled.   Even though there are some hikes in the park with more elevation gain, I think the 1300+ feet on the South River trail provides some of the park’s tougher climbing.   Anyone looking for an easier version of this hike should consider doing the short loop (3.2 miles) that returns after the overlook at the top of the falls.  By taking that route, you reduce the elevation gain to a very manageable 850 feet.

Despite the hard work required to get there, I really enjoyed seeing the South River and its namesake falls so flush with water.  The Shenandoah area has had over five inches of rain in the month of November – more than double the normal amount.  All of the park’s streams, rivers and waterfalls are flowing beautifully right now.  It’s a great time to get out and enjoy the scenery and the less-crowded conditions in the park.

Cascades along the South River
There are many small, but beautiful, waterfalls along the trail. Pictured below: Another pretty spot along the river.

Cascades along the South River

I had hoped to get some photo opportunities along the river on our Thanksgiving hike.  I did take a few shots, but the weather was less than cooperative.  It was too sunny to take shots of the moving water. Every now and then, I found a shady spot down in a deep ravine.  I did a bit of bushwhacking to get to a few pretty spots, but overall I don’t feel like I came home with any special photos.

Honestly, while South River falls is probably the park’s most impressive waterfall, it is not one that translates nicely on film.   The falls plunge into an enormous natural amphitheater.  The sheer rock walls are amazing, but they aren’t photogenic.  I’ve seen a few nice shots of South River Falls in the spring, when the water is flowing and the falls are surrounded by the lush new green of the trees and plants.  In the late fall and winter, the falls are really scrubby and barren looking.

I think some of the prettiest and most dramatic places along the South River come at the bottom of the falls.  In the last .1 mile of the trail, leading to the base of the falls, the water tumbles over a hundred feet down over giant boulders.  There are many small, beautiful waterfalls to enjoy before you get to work climbing back up to your car.

When we got home from our hike, we found several TICKS!  Can you believe it – ticks in late November; ticks after the mountains have had snow and temperatures at night are regularly below freezing?  These were tiny ticks – about the size of a pinhead.  We pulled one off Adam’s sweatshirt and two off of Wookie.  I hate having to watch for ticks year round, but it seems that we must.

Wookie Says...Wookie Says…
Hey all of you fellow hiking dogs.  It’s been a while since I’ve been hiking, so I’m going to let you know what I thought of the trail.  I enjoy getting the chance to get in the outdoors and I usually run laps around the house when my masters ask,  “Would you like to go on a car ride?”

The hike on South River Falls was pretty fun for the most part.  I enjoyed going downhill until I reached the stream to try and rock-hop.  I’ve done this hike before with my masters, but there was a lot of water this time around.  I don’t really like to get my feet wet and when I see any water on the hike, I try to take the driest option.  After Adam crossed the creek, I really didn’t want to follow him.  Only after Christine gave me a little nudge with her trekking poles, did I take the plunge and hop across the rocks.

Wookie Enjoyed the Hike
Wookie enjoyed the hike, but was exhausted the rest of the day.

All the rushing water on the trail, really made me need to go to the bathroom.  I tried to make my mark as much as possible to let all my fellow canines know that Wookie was here.  The hike back from the falls was pretty brutal for a small dog like me.  My tail was down a lot of the trip back, because it was exhausting.  At least I got some pizza scraps and a taste of sausage instead of turkey scraps this year.  For that, I was truly thankful.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.6 miles – loop.
    (Check out the stats from MapMyHike – added 5/16/15)
  • Elevation Change –1315 feet.
  • Difficulty – 3. The return arm of the circuit climbs steeply uphill along a fire road for two straight miles.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in great shape.
  • Views –0. You are deep in the woods for the entire hike.
  • Waterfalls/streams –4. In times of heavy rain, the South River is an impressive stream.
  • Wildlife – 0. We didn’t see *anything*, but over the summer there was a bear with three cubs in the area.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are clearly marked.
  • Solitude – 2. This trail’s proximity to a park entrance makes it a popular hike.

Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, follow the drive to the South River Picnic Area (near mile marker 62).  The trailhead is located at the back end of the picnic grounds, across from the restroom facilities.

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.

Lower Doyles River Falls didn't have much water, but was surrounded by foliage.
There are three significant waterfalls along the Doyles River – Jones Run trail.

Christine Says…

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.

Park at the Brown Gap lot
Parking is available at Brown Gap. Pictured Below: The fire road leading down from the parking lot is one of the prettiest in the park; the Shenandoah area has tons of Civil War history. We passed the grave of confederate solder, William Howard, along the way.

We started the hike along the Brown Gap fire road. William Howard, a confederate soldier, is buried along the Brown Gap fire road.

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.

The water is Upper Doyles Falls was low - compare January 2009 to October 2009.
The photo above shows Upper Doyles Falls is October 2009 (left) compared to January 2009 (right).

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.  🙂

Adam perches on a rock along lower Doyles River Falls.
Lower Doyles Falls was a bit nicer than the upper falls.

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 trees above displayed beautiful fall colors
The foliage along the Jones Run Trail was spectacular. Pictured Below:  Jones Run and Jones Run Falls.

Jones Run is a beautiful stream The water was low in 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.

Adam Says…

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 woods on the Doyles River - Jones Run trail were gold and red.
The woods were very colorful at the lower elevations. Pictured Below: One downed tree we came across was so large that Adam could climb inside.

This fallen tree was big enough for Adam to crawl into.

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.

The morning light made the trees glow golden.
More golden foliage along the trail.

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.

Cars waiting to get into Shenandoah National Park
There was a very long line of cars waiting to get into Shenandoah National Park

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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.

Sugarloaf – Keyser Run – Hogback Mountain Loop

The Sugarloaf-Keyser Run-Hogback Mountain Loop is a lovely 4.9 mile hike through classic Virginia forest.  It passes by several nice panoramic viewpoints and makes use of the Appalachian Trail, a couple SNP trails and a fire road.

Mom on the Little Hogback Summit
Mom on the Little Hogback Summit

Christine says…

We hiked this trail with my parents to celebrate a combination of (belated) Mother’s Day and (early) Father’s Day.  My parents are fit, active, outdoorsy people, so we knew they would enjoy a day of wildlife watching, hiking and picnicking in Shenandoah.

My Wonderful Mom & Dad
My Wonderful Mom & Dad

We picked the Sugarloaf-Keyser Run-Hogback Mountain Loop because it sounded like the perfect length and difficulty for the whole group.  For some reason, my mom had a hard time remembering the name of the hike, and kept referring to it as “Hogland.”  I chuckle every time I think of a hiking trail being called Hogland; it sounds like the name of a porcine-themed amusement park.

It definitely turned out to be a suitable hike for the whole group.  The first 3.5 miles were really easy going. The AT and Sugarloaf segments were both especially pretty. The section along the Keyser Run Fire Road was boring, as fire roads always are.  My mom and I agreed that fire roads are always a little dull compared to “real” trails. We saw a couple hikers coming out of the Little Devil’s Stairs area on Keyser Run Road.  They looked exhausted and sweat-drenched.  The day turned out to be a lot warmer than had been forecast.

The view from the summit of Hogback Mountain (the highest point on the trail) was a little underwhelming for me.  The valley vista was lovely, but it was hazy and the view was ruined by power lines and an obstructive radio tower.  The views from Little Hogback are definitely nicer, even though the vantage point isn’t as lofty in elevation. The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback also has one especially beautiful view spot.

The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback is very pretty
The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback is very pretty

The whole hike only took us a couple hours to complete, even with water and snack breaks along the way.  Afterwards, we shared a delicious picnic lunch at Pinnacles and headed home tired and stuffed full of chocolate chip cookies and fried chicken.  It was a really fun day.

Adam says…

Since there are a lot of trails and options in this area, here are the trail directions we used.  After crossing Skyline Drive from the parking lot and proceeding .3 miles, you will come to a concrete post.  Take a right and follow the blue blazes down the Sugarloaf Trail.  Hike for 1.1 miles until you come to the next marker.  Take a left onto the Pole Bridge Link Trail.  Continue for .5 miles and then take a left on to the Keyser Run fire road.  Follow this for 1.1 miles, crossing Skyline Drive.  When you reach the AT junction, take a left heading south on the AT.  Keep on the south AT, going up Little Hogback and then Hogback Mountain.  You will cross Skyline Drive one more time on your descent.  Follow the south AT until you reach the parking lot.

The stream crossings were shallow and easy
The stream crossings were shallow and easy

This hike had some very pretty spots on the trail.  The fern-covered forest floor near the beginning of the trail and again near Hogback Mountain was really quite gorgeous.  I felt this trail was very easy and most people could handle it.  The only challenging portion was the brief half-mile set of switchbacks climbing up to the Hogback Summit.  Last year, a ranger told us this was the best hike in Shenandoah National Park.  I would disagree, but it was still an enjoyable hike and our first time on this particular route.

One of the prettiest section of trail was the Appalachian Trail crossing Hogback Mountain
One of the prettiest sections of trail was the Appalachian Trail crossing Hogback Mountain

We ran into our AT thru-hiker for a third time!  When we stopped to talk to him, I told him, “I promise we’re not stalking you.”  He laughed and asked “Don’t you guys ever go home?”  Quite funny that we’ve seen him so many times in a park that encompasses 196,000 acres!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.9 mile loop.
  • Elevation Change – 700 ft.  Most of this is during the climb up to Hogback Mountain.
  • Difficulty – 1.5.  For most of the trail, the trail is level or slightly downhill.  There is a steep set of switchbacks to the summit of Hogback Mountain.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. The AT is well-maintained.  You also travel on the Keyser Run fire road for a little over a mile.
  • Views – 3.  The view from the summit of Little Hogback was the nicest unobstructed view.
  • Waterfalls/streams  – 1.  A couple of very small stream crossings, but not photo-worthy.
  • Wildlife – 2. Some signs of bears in the area, but you’re more likely to see some deer along the way.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.   There are a couple turns, but the directions are well-marked on cement posts.
  • Solitude4.  Likely to see AT hikers mostly during June, but we didn’t really see many others.

Directions to trailhead:

Park just south of the Hogback Overlook, in the parking lot located at mile marker 21 on Skyline Drive.  At the south end of the lot, you will find the AT marker.  You will cross the drive here, go slightly uphill, and then start the descent.

Rose River Loop

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.

Dry Run Falls

Adam found this hike mentioned in a book called Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia.  Since we’ve had so much rain lately, we decided to take the short three mile hike to see the falls.

Dry Run is pretty after substantial rain
Dry Run is pretty after substantial rain

Christine Says…

We parked our car at the South River Overlook and made our way down the Dry Run Falls Fire Road.   The road was wet and sloppy, but still beautiful because it was lined with countless wildflowers: trillium, wild geranium, violets, hepatica, ragwort and many more I couldn’t identify.

Trillium
Trillium

The road follows a gentle downhill grade and eventually passes Lost Cliffs, an impressive rock face rising straight up from the forest floor.  A little over a mile into the hike, you start to hear the sounds of water gurgling downhill, getting louder and stronger as more run-off joins the flow.

Dry Run falls are visible from the trail, and would actually be quite pretty if there weren’t several large fallen trees obscuring the view.   To get close to the stream, you have to do a little bit of bushwhacking down the ravine.  There are a few places along the stream that are photogenic and worth the effort to climb down.

On the hike, we all found multiple ticks crawling on us.  After all was said and done, I think we ended up picking sixteen ticks off our clothing and skin.   I skipped using bug spray on this hike because our dog was hiking with us, and DEET is so toxic to them.  This was by far the most ticks I’ve ever found on myself after a hike.

We brought the dog along.
We brought the dog along.

All in all, Dry Run was a pleasant walk, but not something I would consider a “must-do” hike.  There isn’t really anything noteworthy to see along the way and the falls weren’t anything special.

Adam Says…

I was a little unimpressed by this hike.  It was something new for us, since we have done most of the Central and South SNP hikes, but it was good to get out to stretch the legs.  The fire road leads to an easy walk through the woods.  We saw a few bear  droppings through the hike, so be careful and make some noise along the trail.  Dry Run can be viewed from the trail, but you need to do some bushwhacking to get to the water for any photo opportunities.  The water was rushing hard today, but we’ve had a couple of weeks of heavy rain.  I’m not sure how heavy this is during a dry season.  The water does have several areas of falls and tumbling water if you continue on the trail.  You can also approach this hike without entering through the main gate by way of Elkton, but we wanted to do the normal hike.

Lost Cliffs
Lost Cliffs – Can you spot Adam in the shot?

A neat side-trip was to climb up Lost Cliffs.  At the end of  the large formation on your right, you will see signs of a short trail that leads you up to the rocks above.  Be careful, since most of the rocks are covered with moss and that first step is a lulu.

wookieWookie Says…

Wookie really enjoyed walking on the fire road.  It was definitely an easy and suitable trail for dogs.  There was lots of mud and standing water on the trail, so he was filthy and needed a bath when he got home.  He also came home with lots ticks crawling on him — one had already attached to his ear.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Change – insignificant  – maybe a couple hundred feet.
  • Difficulty – 1.  The trail follows a fire road and has very gentle climbs and descents.
  • Trail Conditions – 5.   The trail is well maintained.
  • Views – 0.  No views.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 2.  The falls and stream are pretty, but nothing special.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We heard a turkey and saw several kinds of salamanders.  There were also signs of bear and deer around.
  • Ease to Navigate – 5.   It would be nearly impossible to get lost.
  • Solitude – 4.  Fire roads are used infrequently in the park.  We saw only one other person – a local guy collecting mushrooms.

Directions to trailhead:

Follow Skyline Drive to mile 62.7.  Park at the South River Overlook.  Cross the drive and pick up the trail on the west side of the road.