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.
Pit toilets at South River picnic area near the trailhead.
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
Look for Oxalis europea, yellow wood sorrel, and the less frequently spotted, Euphorbia corolata, flowering spurge.