Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

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Sprawling almost 200,000 acres across the Northern Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains and with over 500 miles of hiking trails, Shenandoah National Park draws visitors and adventurers from all over the country. The park is known for its beautiful overlooks and popular campgrounds along the iconic Skyline Drive and boasts endless wilderness to explore and trails to hike. Whether you want to start hiking, have already started but are still a beginner, have moderate durability and experience, or are an advanced hiker and backpacker, there is a hike for you in Shenandoah National Park.

Ideally, you’d have months or years to explore these vast woods. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of the three hikes for each difficulty rating of easy, moderate, and strenuous for you to try. If you only have a limited amount of time in the park, check out my Unforgettable 3-Days In Shenandoah National Park Itinerary to ensure you hit the highlights.

Here are the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for beginner to advanced hikers.

Before you leave for your hike, here are a few things to remember:
  • Please be aware that all these hikes require an entrance fee into Shenandoah National Park, even if the trailhead is not on Skyline Drive. If you plan to visit the park more than once a year, I highly recommend you purchase a Yearly Pass so you can save money in the long run. This pass can be purchased at any park entrance or contact station.
  • Don’t forget to brush up on the 7 Leave No Trace Principles
  • Some of these hikes have other trailheads or starting points. The information and trailhead below are what I’ve done.
  • Last but not least, don’t forget to bring the Ten Essentials. I’ve linked all the things I bring and wear on day hikes if you are interested: click here.

Easy Hikes In Shenandoah National Park for:

An easy hike is defined as a trail with little to no elevation gain and suitable for the general population who enjoys walking.

1. Little Stony Man Cliffs

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: Central District
Hike Length: 1.6 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 340 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on the AT portion of the trail
Get Directions: click here

This easy hike in Shenandoah National Park with a big payoff is one of the most popular destinations for beginner hikers or those that want high rewards with little effort. Stony Man is a rock outcropping on the edge of the mountain that can be seen from an overlook on Skyline Drive and then hiked to just a few miles down the road. 

Park in the Stony Man parking lot at MM 41.7 and follow the white-blazed Appalachian Trail to a fork in the trail, where you’ll take the blue-blazed Stony Man trail to the summit. Enjoy the stunning views down into Shenandoah Valley and watch the sun to set behind the mountains in the distance.

2. Lower Whiteoak Falls via whiteoak Canyon Trail

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: Central District (Park Boundary)
Hike Length: 2 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

Whether it’s the middle of the sweltering summer and you’re looking to cool off, peak fall and you’re on the hunt for autumn colors, or the dead of winter and you want to see a frozen waterfall, this hike is a must-do! Be sure to enter “Lower Whiteoak Falls Parking Area” into your GPS before hitting the road – this hike is NOT to be confused with the Upper Whiteoak Falls! 

Once you park, follow Whiteoak Canyon Trail until veering right onto Cedar Run Trail. Walk this trail until you reach the falls. The trail continues all the way up to Skyline Drive which is a very strenuous hike, so retrace your steps to return to your car. Please note that the free parking lot fills quickly on weekends (especially during the summer) and overflow parking is privately owned and fees are charged.

3. Blackrock Summit

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: South District
Hike Length: 1 mile roundtrip
Elevation gain: 175 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

Hike up to a jumble of boulders sitting atop the mountain with stunning views down into the valley. Park at the Blackrock parking lot at MM 84.4 and follow the white-blazed Appalachian Trail up until you reach the summit spur trail. You can retrace your steps or, to complete the loop, you can continue on the Appalachian Trail until you reach an intersection with Blackrock Hut Road-Trayfoot Mountain Trail. This trail will take you back to the parking lot.

Moderate Hikes in Shenandoah National Park:

A moderate hike is defined as a trail suitable for a beginner hiker with some elevation gain and steeper sections.

1. Bearfence

Region: Central District
Hike Length: 1.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 311 feet
Dogs allowed: No
Get Directions: click here

This hike is a rollercoaster but one of the coolest experiences you’ll have in the park. What makes this hike moderate is the rock scramble you have to complete to reach the summit. Park in the Bearfence parking lot at MM 56.4 and cross the road to the trailhead. Continue straight up the hill until you reach the rock scramble. Follow the blue blazes up the cliffs until you reach the summit. 

The 360 degree views let you peer down into the Shenandoah Valley as well as into the valley behind the mountain. The summit is perfect for sunrise or sunset. Once you’ve soaked in the sights, continue on the rock scramble until you hop off the last rock and hit flat ground. Follow the trail until you reach a fork, at which point you’ll turn right onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail until it intersects with Bearfence Loop Trail, when you’ll turn left to return to your car.

2. Mary’s Rock

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: Central District
Hike Length: 3.7 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 1210 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

This trail is a bit more challenging but no less rewarding. The trail cuts along the hills and mountains until you reach the summit with rock formations to scramble across for fun and stunning views down into the Shenandoah Valley. This hike is great during the summer but is also a hidden gem in the winter, especially when it snows and Skyline Drive is closed. 

The trailhead is located in the back left corner of the Panorama parking lot, which is right next to the Thornton Gap Entrance Station. The gates to close Skyline Drive are right after the parking lot entrance, so the stretch of road between the station and the parking lot is not usually closed even if the rest of Skyline Drive is (except for if snow is still on that section of road). Once you begin the hike, simply follow the trail all the way up to the summit. It can be windy up top so hold onto your hat! Retrace your steps to return to your car.

3. Hawksbill Summit

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: Central District
Hike Length: 1.7 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 690 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

Standing at 4,050 feet above sea level, the Hawksbill summit is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. Beginning at the Hawksbill Gap parking lot at MM 45.5, follow the path up directly to the summit. There is a stone viewing platform and rocks to scramble over for fun as you look down into the Shenandoah Valley. Retrace your steps to return to your car having just stood on the highest spot in the park.

Strenuous Hikes in Shenandoah National Park:

A strenuous hike is defined as a trail that provides a significant challenge to the hiker and can include steep elevation gain, difficult trails, or rock scrambles.

1. Old Rag

Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park for Beginner to Advanced Hikers

Region: Central District (Park Boundary)
Hike Length: 9.1 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2350 feet
Dogs allowed: No
Get Directions: click here

There’s a reason this is the most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park. With steep elevation gain, difficult rock scrambles, and stunning 360 degree views, people who complete this hike wear the accomplishment like a badge of honor. If you plan to do this hike from March 1 to November 30, you need a permit / day-use ticket from Recreation.gov for the Saddle Trail, Ridge Trail, and Ridge Access Trail – those are the trails that make up the usual Old Rag hike. But you won’t need a ticket to hike Old Rag from December 1 to February 28. Backpacking is a common practice at this location but camping is not permitted past 2800 feet above sea level.

To begin the hike, route your GPS to Old Rag Parking and follow the trail up the mountain. There are several sections of steep inclines and switchbacks, steep or narrow rock scrambles, as well as false summits. The summit offers stunning 360 degree views into the valley below and is truly unforgettable. Once you’ve had your fill of the views (and taken a nap), continue on the trail to the fire road to hike back to the parking lot. You cannot retrace your steps and go back down the way you came since traffic is one-way due to the difficulty of the terrain.

2. WHiteoak Canyon Falls

Region: Central District (Park Boundary)
Hike Length: 9.5 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 2400 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

This hike will take you through the woods at the boundary of Shenandoah National Park all the way up the mountain to Skyline Drive. Park in the Lower Whiteoak Canyon Falls parking lot and follow Whiteoak Canyon Trail until veering right onto Cedar Run Trail. You will first reach the Lower Whiteoak Falls (which is an easy hike mentioned above) but you will continue on past this and take on the switchbacks and steep inclines that take you up the mountain. On the way to Skyline Drive you will pass 6 waterfalls, including the 86 foot tall Upper Whiteoak Falls. 

Once on Skyline Drive, you can walk along the road to an overlook and peer down into the valley. Retrace your steps down the mountain to return to your vehicle. Please note that the free parking lot fills quickly on weekends (especially during the summer) and overflow parking is privately owned and fees are charged. If you have time, taking a dip in the Lower Whiteoak Falls would be a great reward after a long day of hiking.

3. Riprap

Region: South District
Hike Length: 9.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2365 feet
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Get Directions: click here

This trail has a little bit of everything – stream crossings, watering holes, rock scrambles, and beautiful valley views. Park at the Riprap parking lot at MM 90 and follow the white-blazed Appalachian Trail until it intersects with Riprap Trail. Turn left on this trail and hike to Calvary Rock and Chimney Rock. Once you’ve taken in the views, continue left on Wildcat Ridge Trail and turn left when the trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail. It’s a challenging hike but very rewarding!

Whether you’re a beginner hiker looking for a nice view or refreshing dip in a waterfall, or an experienced hiker itching to take on the challenge of steep elevation gain and intense rock scrambles, the park is so vast and diverse that it will most definitely provide a hike for you. This guide summarizes the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park for beginner to advanced hikers.

Meet Sunshine
and Sancho

I’m so glad you’re here (and so is Sancho). I’m Sunshine! A Virginia-based travel enthusiast on the hunt for cozy stays, great views, unique experiences, and dog-friendly adventures. Sancho and I have spent the past 3 years exploring Virginia (and beyond) in order to share our favorite places and uncover hidden gems.

Join us on a journey to get out of our comfort zone, take the road less traveled, and explore alongside our furry family members.

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One Response

  1. I’d love to do a group hike at old tag with you sometime. Any plans for anything like this?

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