Shenandoah National Park highlights expansive vistas of the Virginia countryside. The main artery of the park, Skyline Drive, is dotted with scenic overlooks. But one doesn’t have to wander far to be immersed in natural gullies experience a more intimate side of the park. Leave the vast overlooks behind and get up close and personal with the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.
Accessing the Trailhead
The trailhead parking lot for Dark Hollow Falls is located at mile 50.7 on Skyline Drive, across from Big Meadows Visitor Center. Even on an off day, the parking lot can fill up quickly. But that doesn’t have to stop prospective hikers. The Visitor Center not only offers overflow parking but a short trail from the Visitor Center to the falls trailhead. Hikers do have to cross Skyline Drive to reach the falls trailhead, but with a 35 mph speed limit, it’s not too dangerous of a proposition.
Hiking Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Dark Hollow Falls trail follows the creek that feeds the falls—¾ of a mile from the trailhead parking lot to the head of the falls. Halfway down the trail, hikers get their first view of the falls from an overlook. But quickly the trail draws close to the falls and takes a parallel route alongside the tumbling water. There is no single overlook to see the complete falls. The thick canopy of trees shelters the falls from above and the steep hillside keeps the falls tumbling. There are multiple scenic points to explore the falls and experience unique views. Since the trail closely follows the descent of the falls, much of the route is steep and wet. So, while the trail itself is only a mile and a quarter, expect to spend over an hour hiking.
Make sure to have enough time. It’s a shame to rush past the many scenic views of the falls. Wet days can also make portions of the trail dangerous with slick rocks and muddy descents. It’s also a shame to have to rush the return trip. After following the steep descent down the falls, the return hike up can easily wind the average hiker.
The trail is understandably one of Shenandoah National Park’s most popular routes. There are many other hikes to scenic waterfalls in the park. But Dark Hollow Falls is one of the shortest and most accessible trails. So, expect a crowded parking lot, delays along the trail, and plenty of mud. Certain stretches of the trail include narrow stairs which slow down movement as hikers take turns using the stairs to ascend and descent the trail. On flatter stretches of the trail stray water from the falls combined with heavy foot traffic leads to occasional mud pits. As such, it pays to come prepared with water-resistant hiking shoes with heavy treads. The return trip will be far more pleasant with dry gear. But, even on a wet day, the struggle is rewarding.
Continuing the adventure
The Dark Hollow Falls trail is part of a network of trails. So hikers can include it as part of a larger hike and create a loop hike rather than just the in-out trek that is the Dark Hollow Falls trail itself. Stop by the Big Meadows Visitor Center ahead of time to get recommendations on extended hiking routes.