Visit Shenandoah National Park and plan an overnight trip on these classic 1-2 night circuits.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of the most coveted National Parks east of the Mississippi River. The park is long and narrow and dissected by Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic roadway that mostly follows the ridgeline and boasts countless trailheads. Motorists and cyclists frequent the road for its beauty, and the iconic Appalachian Trail even passes through the heart of the park. According to Wikipedia, “almost 40% of the land area has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.” These six overnight circuits should top your list during your next visit.
Most of these routes are best hiked between May and October when the park’s facilities are open and the temperatures are warmer. In the winter months, the routes that begin on Skyline Drive are dependent on weather conditions. The road may close due to ice, snow, or even fog. The routes that do not begin on Skyline Drive are accessible year-round, but you may still encounter ice and snow at higher elevations. Also worth noting, most trails in Shenandoah National Park are dog friendly, though there are a few exceptions – Old Rag Mountain being one. If they are not dog friendly, it is stated in the description.
The two shortest loops to make the list are Riprap Hollow and White Rocks/Hazel Falls. Both routes offer their own unique features, Riprap showcasing amazing mountainside views, the other offering a short trip to a waterfall and cave. These are popular day hikes on the weekend, so consider an overnight during the weekdays to avoid the crowds. Both could be considered beginner-friendly circuits, but are still challenging nonetheless. The remainder of the routes on this list are considered challenging and recommended for more seasoned backpackers.
If you’re looking for a quiet summer swimming hole, check out the Overall Run/Heiskell Hollow/Weedlewood Circuit or Big Run/Doyles River/Frazier Circuit. The first includes the largest waterfall in the Shenandoahs–93-foot Overall Run Falls—and the latter includes some of the best trout fishing in the region. If fishing is your thing this loop is another option that tours Piney Branch, Thornton River, and returns via the Appalachian Trail. It is one of the more versatile two-night trips you will find. It also includes Hogback Mountain, a summit known for its impressive views.
Arguably the most challenging hike on this to-do list is this circuit, tours Whiteoak Canyon, Nicholson Hollow, and Old Rag. All extremely popular destinations during the summer, this one-night loop lets you hit both early in the day – avoiding most of the traffic. The park service even considers Old Rag as “one of Shenandoah’s premier experiences!” You can also visit Old Rag as a challenging 9-mile day hike, seen here.