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South River Falls

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.0 (14) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A moderately easy, out-and-back hike down to the scenic South River Falls.


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Map Key

4.6

Miles

7.4

KM

Out and Back

2,945' 898 m

High

1,976' 602 m

Low

1,165' 355 m

Up

1,165' 355 m

Down

10%

Avg Grade (5°)

26%

Max Grade (15°)

Dogs Unknown

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Family Friendly Easily accessible, starting and ending from a picnic area, and with a waterfall at the end of the hike.

Overview

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.

Need to Know

Pit toilets at South River picnic area near the trailhead.

Description

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 when there is water flowing. After around a third of a mile, the trail will cross another stream. Soon after, the edge of the falls should start to come into view on the right as the trees thin out, revealing views of the park beyond.

Follow the trail for another hundred yards or so, passing by 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, especially during the winter months, you'll find the best views of the falls, out toward the gorge, and the northeast ridge of Saddleback Mountain beyond. During the summer months one can get a glimpse of the falls through the trees at the observation point, but it's not too satisfying because of the overgrowth. At this point you have the option to turn around and return the way you came on South River Falls Trail, for a total mileage of 2.9 as reported by Larry Brown.

If you'd like to extend your hike and see the falls up close, continue past the observation point to the post at the end of South River Falls Trail and turn right on South River Falls Road. Follow the road down around to the right, arriving at a post below the falls, with the South River now on your left.

At this point you cannot yet see the falls but can reach the base of the falls by following the blue-blazed trail upstream a few hundred feet. This is a moderately difficult trail up and down stone stairs and rocks, all of which can be slippery. Please be careful, it's much more challenging than the rest of the hike. But the reward is a beautiful view of the falls from the pool at the base. Return the way you came via South River Falls Trail for total round-trip of 4.8 miles.

Optionally, add even more mileage by taking the South River Falls Road back all the way up to the AT. Turn left on the AT to return in a loop to the junction near the starting point, turning right on the South River Falls Trail towards the parking lot.

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.

Flora & Fauna

Look for Oxalis europea, yellow wood sorrel, and the less frequently spotted, Euphorbia corolata, flowering spurge.

Contacts

Shared By:

Larry W Brown with improvements by J H

Trail Ratings

  4.0 from 14 votes

#2534

Overall
  4.0 from 14 votes
5 Star
21%
4 Star
57%
3 Star
21%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
Recommended Route Rankings

#78

in Virginia

#2,534

Overall
63 Views Last Month
3,046 Since Apr 14, 2016
Intermediate/Difficult

0%
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23%
15%
62%
0%

Photos

Some of the smaller falls along the stream that parallels the South River Falls Trail.
Jun 17, 2021 near Elkton, VA
View from the base of South River Falls.
May 12, 2016 near Elkton, VA
The scenic South River.
Apr 15, 2016 near Elkton, VA
Moss on the boulders along the South River Falls Loop.
Jun 17, 2021 near Elkton, VA
One of the many scenic views of the stream that runs along the South River Trail.
Jun 17, 2021 near Elkton, VA
South river cascades.
Apr 15, 2016 near Elkton, VA

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

Update Conditions
Minor Issues 35 days ago See History
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Check-Ins

Aug 16, 2021
Ashley Robinson
May 22, 2021
Amy Hammond
Apr 10, 2021
Shawn B.
Apr 9, 2021
Christopher Masla
Oct 19, 2020
Ta Yo
Sep 20, 2020
Heather Franke
Aug 4, 2020
Shannon Berger
Jul 28, 2020
Miranda Clark
can't really see falls, nice hike through woods