“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”
When I want to get my kids outdoors and in tune with nature, my first-choice destination is Shenandoah National Park. Towering trees, stunning waterfalls, abundant wildlife, wonderful hikes, and excellent camping options make this park an outstanding destination on the East Coast.
Shenandoah National Park hiking is perfect for families who want to be rewarded with a waterfall at the end of the hike. There are many accessible waterfall hikes in the park.
Here are three of my family's favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Dark Hollow Falls
Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park since it is only 1.4 miles round trip to see the falls. It is located at mile marker 50.7 and has a designated parking lot for Dark Hollow Falls.
The hike to the falls is downhill and quite easy. Some people may find the hike back out strenuous, but while it is uphill, my young kids did fine on this trail. My children loved this trail because it follows a stream. On the way back out we took breaks to throw rocks and play in the stream when we needed to rest little legs.
Overall Run Falls
Overall Run Falls is Shenandoah National Park hiking at its finest: beautiful scenery, well-marked trails, but not terribly crowded.
We hiked Overall Run Falls with five kids, the youngest just two years old. We needed to shorten the hike to accomodate my son's little legs so we started at the top of Mathews Arm Campground, making it at 4+-mile round-trip hike. We dropped most of the group off at the trailhead and then drove back down and parked in the amphitheater parking lot. I started my hike in the parking lot and headed back through the campground to meet everyone else.
If you cannot park in the Mathews Arm parking lot, the hike starts at the parking lot just south of Hogback Overlook (mile 21). This adds about two miles to the hike.
The first waterfall you come to is an upper falls with a 29′ cascade. When we hiked it, the waterfall was so spectacular that we thought we had reached our final destination and turned around and hiked out. We found out later that Overall Run Falls, which cascades 93 feet, is just a few minutes further down the trail, but we missed it and need to return now to see it. Don't make the same mistake we did.
Overall Run Falls is the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park, but as with all waterfalls, the amount of water varies based on how much rain has fallen recently. The hike is mostly downhill on a clearly marked trail, and it was easy enough for my 2-year-old and 4-year-old to walk most of the way. It took some encouragement get them to hike uphill on the way out, but we all made it. Plan on 2-3 hours for the hike.
We did have to cross a small stream on our way to Overall Run Falls. Some crossed on a log, others on a nicely-laid stone path. It was fun and easy for kids. In mid-October when we hiked it, the leaves were changing colors and the hike was stunning.
Rose River Falls
Rose River Falls is a moderate 2.6-mile round-trip hike. When we hiked to it in October, there was only a trickle of water in the falls, and it felt a bit anticlimatic after seeing other falls in Shenandoah. However, I've seen some amazing pictures of three and four parallel falls at Rose River when the water is plentiful.
The hike to Rose River Falls was peaceful and relaxing, and a fellow hiker saw two black bears just off the trail the day we were there. Like other waterfalls in the park, we hiked downhill first and up on the way out. I ended up carrying my young daughter all the way back up and was grateful the hike was not too long or too strenuous.
Wherever you choose to go, Shenandoah National Park hiking makes for wonderful family memories. You can also hike on sections of the Appalachian Trail in the park. For maps and more specific information about Shenandoah National Park hiking, visit the NPS website here.
Looking for a campground in Shenandoah National Park? Check out our camping guide.