Hiking is all part of the fun of exploring a national park. There's some thrilling anticipation when it comes to knowing the end of a trail leads to an unbelievably scenic view, and such is the case in Shenandoah National Park. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this park is home to 516 miles of hiking trails, with 101 of these miles belonging to the Appalachian Trail.
While it would take the average person months to explore them in their entirety (six months for the Appalachian Trail, specifically), we have an easier way. The park's easiest scenic hikes are often less than five miles round-trip and offer expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, all without the effort and time most trails take.
Here's why Shenandoah National Park is the perfect place for easy hikes with big payoff views.
What Can You See On A Hike Through Shenandoah National Park?
The one thing everyone wants to know is what this park is hiding. Or, more specifically, what will be revealed to a hiker along any one trail. While most trails traverse woodlands, there are some that lead to multi-tiered waterfalls - and no, not all of them are challenging to reach! This is just one more reason, by far, why Shenandoah National Park is one of the most scenic, and accessible, national parks on the east coast. Of course, densely-wooded areas surround these waterfalls, which are full of lush, green vegetation during the spring and summer months. During the fall, the woodlands burst forth with hues of oranges, reds, and yellows like one has never seen before.
As far as wildlife, there are a number of species that call the Shenandoah Valley their home. According to Hiking in the Smokys, this mountain range is home to more than 200 bird species, over 1,300 plant species, and more than 50 different mammals. Some that one might witness on the trails are:
- Black bears
- (Rarely) Cougars
Shenandoah National Park's Easiest Scenic Hikes
Now, the reason everyone is really here: the easiest, most scenic hikes in the park. It's important to remember that what makes these hikes 'easy' is their length, which is relatively short for most compared to other scenic mountain hikes. However, caution should always be exercised on the trail, and hikers should always be prepared with the essentials regardless.
Dark Hollow Falls
This trail is an incredible gem in Shenandoah National Park. The trail itself is short and brings hikers to the tallest waterfall in the park, which is an incredible sight in itself. With very few obstacles in the way on this trail, it's also rated as 'easy,' making it a great starting point for all hiking levels.
The trailhead begins at the parking lot and from there, hikers will follow the trail to the base of the waterfall.
- Total Distance: 1.4 miles round-trip
- Time: ~1-2 hours
Another unusually easy hike is that to the second-highest peak in the park. At 4,040 feet, one would be inclined to think that the hike to the summit is rated as 'difficult' with layer upon layer of rock scrambles - but it's not. Rather, it's a fairly simple hike from the Skyland parking lot with an elevation gain of only 360 feet.
The trail is usually crowded, especially during the summer and on weekends, so hikers should be prepared to allow others to pass or be patient on the way up and down.
- Total Distance: 1.5 miles round-trip
- Time: ~1 hour
Now, we're talking about some serious views. Hawksbill Mountain also happens to be the tallest mountain in the Shenandoah Valley, and while this trail flirts with the line between 'easy' and 'moderate,' it provides a good challenge for novice hikers. The trail is slightly longer than the aforementioned hikes but the payoff is worth it - and there are also two options for reaching the summit.
Option one is the Upper Hawksville Trail, the easier route which is also slightly longer, but with less of an intense elevation gain. The second option is the Lower Hawksbill Trail, which is about half the distance but includes an elevation gain of roughly 500 feet, so in the end, it might take longer depending on one's endurance.
- Total Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip for Upper Hawksbill, 1.5 miles round-trip for Lower Hawksbill
- Time: ~2-3 hours
Honorable Mention: Bearfence Mountain
The hike up to the summit of Bearfence Mountain isn't one that's overly difficult, but it does involve some rock scrambles. It will be a fun challenge for novice hikers but certainly not one that proves impossible. The hike itself is very short and provides some good technical skill practice, with views that captivate a nearly 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountain range.
- Total Distance: 1.1 miles
- Time: ~1 hour
Any one of these trails would be great for someone starting out hiking in Shenandoah National Park, but also offer the best views of any in the park, as well. For this reason, the park continues to be one of the east coast's most scenic.