Dropping nearly 800 feet in just under a mile and a half, this hike descends from the picnic area at the South River Trailhead, following along the South River until it cascades through the canyon. Like most of the hikes off of Skyline Drive, this one provides a fairly strenuous climb back to the start. Keep an eye out for old stone walls that were built as dividing lines when these woods were cleared a number of years ago.
Begin this hike on the South River Falls Trail
that heads past the drinking fountain at the South River picnic area. The trail begins by descending across the white-blazed Appalachian Trail (AT) and continuing downhill along a straight, drawn-out stretch. The trail bends to the left, drops along several switchbacks, and then straightens out as the South River merges from the right (south).
Head across the tributary stream, which can be hard to spot in places, but can be heard fairly clearly. After around a third of a mile, the trail will cross another stream. Here, the edge of the falls should start to come into view as the trees thin out, revealing views of the park beyond.
Follow the trail for another hundred yards or so, and you'll arrive at a path on the right. This path dives very steeply toward the head of the falls and provides a number of slipping hazards to avoid. Stay straight on the South River Falls Trail
as it leads to an observation point down on the right, toward the falls. Look for the ledge surrounded by a constructed guard wall.
From here, you'll find the best views of the falls, out toward the gorge, and the northeast ridge of Saddleback Mountain beyond. Return to the South River picnic area and parking lot using the South River Falls Trail
, the way you came.
If you'd like to extend your hike, you can add a short loop by continuing to South River Falls Road
, and then connecting to South River Falls Trail
, where you can make your way back to your car.
Thanks to Larry W. Brown, for sharing this description. If you’re interested in learning more details about great hikes, weather, camping / lodging, wildlife, and scenic drives, check out the comprehensive Guide to Shenandoah National Park
Look for Oxalis europea, yellow wood sorrel, and the less frequently spotted, Euphorbia corolata, flowering spurge.