by Patressa Kearns
There’s just something about waterfalls. When your soul and body need refreshing, resting beside a waterfall is just about the most perfect experience you can have. Waterfalls are feasts for the senses, and a whole lot less pricey than going to a spa. Feeling the cool mist on your face; listening to the music of water crashing against stone; smelling the ethereal aroma of fresh water, wet earth and rock; being mesmerized by the sight of white water tumbling through canyons and chutes—all these sensory delights are available to you at Shenandoah’s waterfalls.
It’s a good thing waterfalls are so invigorating, because all 11 Shenandoah falls require a hike from you in order to see them. The shortest and easiest hike to and from a waterfall is the 1.3-mile round trip Lands Run Falls hike at mile 9.2 on Skyline Drive. The longest and most challenging—and this one is quite challenging, one of the most challenging in the Park—is the 8.1-mile Cedar Run-Whiteoak Circuit starting at Hawksbill Gap, mile 45.5.
Some waterfall hikes take you to the bottom of falls, where you can actually get in the water or sit on the bank and stick your toes in. Other hikes—like the one to Overall Run Falls (at 93 feet high, the Park’s tallest waterfall) or the one to Lewis Spring Falls, in the center of the Park at Big Meadows—will take you to a scenic viewpoint, where you can look out over the falls but won’t be able to get in the water.
The 1.4-mile round trip hike to Dark Hollow Falls, just north of Big Meadows, is possibly the Park’s most popular hike of all. Though it’s a short, beautiful tromp, it is steep and by no means easy. There’s a 440-foot elevation change in the three-quarter-mile ascent—the equivalent of climbing 440 stair steps. Take your time. Stop and catch your breath often if you need to. There’s no hurry.