11 Best Hikes Shenandoah National Park (For Families)

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Are you interested in finding the best hikes Shenandoah National Park offers for family-friendly fun?

Good news! I’ve got you covered!

Situated around a 105-mile stretch of scenic mountaintop road known as Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park provides some of the most scenic hiking on the East Coast, with more than 200 miles of trails maintained by the National Park Service.

You’ll even have the opportunity to hike portions of the world-famous Appalachian Trail, which runs directly through Shenandoah National Park and provides sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.

And if you’re looking for easy hiking trails or moderate hiking trails ideal for families within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park, you’re in luck because you’ll have plenty of great hikes to choose from.

In this article, I’ll give you the scoop on all the best hikes Shenandoah National Park has for your family.

three kids standing by the Shenandoah National Park entrance signPin
My three kiddos at the North Entrance sign for Shenandoah NP

Shenandoah National Park: Background Information

What is now Shenandoah National Park was once home to Native American groups like the Iroquois and Cherokee nations.

European settlements began popping up around the Shenandoah Valley in the 18th century, eventually becoming a key gateway region to pioneers heading west.

Planning for Shenandoah National Park began in the early 20th century as the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States federal government began buying up land in the area with the goal of creating a national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, government-contracted workers constructed much of the park’s infrastructure, including Skyline Drive, Shenandoah’s main road, and the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, as well.

By 1936, Shenandoah National Park had officially opened to visitors, quickly becoming one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

Nowadays visitors from around the world travel to Shenandoah National Park, which is just 2 hours from Washington DC, to view beautiful waterfalls, stunning mountain landscapes, ample wildlife, and gorgeous autumn foliage, as well as spring blooms.

You’ll also find a pair of charming mountainside resorts inside the park, the Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

foggy shenandoah national park valley in the fallPin
a foggy Shenandoah NP in autumn

Best Hikes Shenandoah National Park: Interactive Map

Below you’ll find an interactive map that highlights each of the trail recommendations made in this article. You’ll be able to see the relative distance to hikes, as well as other park highlights like visitor centers, etc.

How to Use This Map:

Click on any of the trail recommendations marked with the bed icon in this color. A popup will open discussing the hike in greater detail.

Clicking the star next to the name of the map will save the map to your google account. To access it later on a computer or your smartphone, open google maps and select “Your Places”.

11 Best Hikes Shenandoah National Park Has For Families

Now, without further ado, it’s time to look at the 11 best family-friendly hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

These amazing hikes are categorized as easy or moderate, with the easy hikes being more appropriate for younger children and the moderate hikes more appropriate for older kids or those with some hiking experience.

view of skyline drive from above on a rocky mountain topPin

1. Hawksbill Loop Trail

Distance: 2.7 miles round trip (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Hawksbill Loop Trailhead Parking Lot on Skyline Drive

The Hawksbill Loop Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park, as it takes you to the park’s highest point, the Hawksbill Mountain Summit.

This moderate hiking path combines the Lower Hawksbill Loop Trail and the Salamander Trail to form a loop going up to Hawksbill Summit and back.

Best hikes Shenandoah National Park: Hawksbill Trailhead SignPin
Hawksbill Trailhead Sign (Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The trail does have a manageable rock scramble or two and can be relatively steep on some portions of the northern side.

I’d recommend taking the counterclockwise root, which means heading left out of the parking lot. This will allow you to bypass the steepest portions of the trail on your ascent, making it the best way to go if you’re looking to avoid sweating too much.

The Upper Hawksbill Trail is a good option if you’d prefer a shorter but steeper hike directly to Hawksbill Mountain Summit. However, the Hawksbill Loop is easier because it’s much flatter and is more scenic, too.

Hawksbill Summit, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Hawksbill Summit (Famartin,
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In fact, this 4,011-foot peak offers epic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including the nearby Little Stony Man, and is a favorite among photographers looking for snapshots of the vivid sunrises and sunsets you can witness here.

The climb up to the peak does have some semi-steep portions but should be navigable for most kids since many avid hiking families use this trail as an introductory hike for their little ones.

stony man overlook, shenandoah national parkPin
Stony Man Overlook (Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

6. Story of the Forest Trail

Distance: 1.8 miles round trip (loop)

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Behind Big Meadows Wayside (Big Meadows Visitor Road)

The Story of the Forest Trail ranks among the best places for young kids to hike in Shenandoah National Park. The easy hike is mostly flat and takes about 40 minutes to complete (on average).

Plus, if your little ones love animals like mine, this is a great hike because many trail walkers will often see white-tailed deer bounding across meadows just a short distance away.

trailhead signs for Story of the Forest and Dark Hollow Falls trails, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Trailheads for Story of the Forest Nature Trail and the Dark Hollow Falls Trails (the small signs in the back of this shot) are right by the Harry Byrd Visitor Center and the Big Meadows Wayside (which houses a great gift shop and restaurant)

The kids can even make friends on this easy trail because the Big Meadows Campground is just down the road, making this a hugely popular hike for camping families.

In fact, you’ll never be too far from other hikers since the Story of the Forest Trail has very easy access and can be traversed at any time of year, including the winter months.

ferns in the understory along the story of the forest trail in Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
ferns in the understory along the Story of the Forest Trail

7. Lewis Spring Falls Trail

Distance: 3 miles round trip (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Adjacent to the Big Meadows Campground (next to Big Meadows Amphitheater)

Situated about halfway between Shenandoah National Park’s Swift Run Gap Entrance and Thornton Gap entrance, just off of the Big Meadows Campground area, Lewis Springs Falls Trail is another of the excellent waterfall hikes here.

The beginning of the trail is a bit rocky, with some steep portions, amounting to a total elevation gain of about 870 feet. However, most older kids or somewhat experienced hikers shouldn’t encounter any problems.

To avoid strenuous uphill climbs, I’d suggest hiking the loop counterclockwise or heading left from the trailhead. This way, you’ll be descending the trail’s steepest parts on your return trip.

As a reward for your hard work navigating rocks and occasional inclines, you’ll find a lovely mountain stream that quickly becomes a waterfall cascading over a rocky cliff face.

This trail is dog-friendly, though it does require the pups to be leashed, and is open to hikers year-round, making it a great place to catch the late autumn colors and the early spring bloom.

fawn at Big Meadows campground, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Fawn standing in trees at Big Meadows Campground (G. Edward Johnson, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

8. Lake Arrowhead Trail

Distance: 1.4 miles round trip (out & back)

Difficulty: Easy

Location: State Route 669 (Lake Arrowhead Parking Area)

While not actually located inside Shenandoah National Park, you’ll find the Lake Arrowhead Trail in the nearby town of Luray, Virginia.

This easy hike takes just over 30 minutes to complete (on average) and offers scenic vistas of Lake Arrowhead and epic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.

With only about 115 feet of elevation gain on the 1.4-mile hike, younger kids should do just fine here. However, making this hike with a stroller may be challenging as large roots crisscross portions of the trail, which is also relatively narrow at some points.

That said, this easy trail is a great place for a nice hike or a picnic lunch on the lake. You’ll also find benches dotting the periphery of the lake, where you can relax and take in the scenery while the kids go for a dip.

Make a day of it and hang out at the Lake Arrowhead Park and Recreation Area, complete with a cute, clean little beach and plenty of fresh air.

Lake Arrowhead, VirginiaPin
Lake Arrowhead Recreation area (Idawriter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

9. Pollock Knob and Timber Hollow Overlook

Distance: 3.8 miles round trip (out & back)

Difficulty: Easy

Location: To the left of Stony Man Parking Area (near Skyland Upper Loop)

Thanks to an abundance of wildflowers growing just off the trail in the spring and summer seasons, the Pollock Knob and Timber Hollow Overlook hike ranks among the most beautiful outdoor adventures in Shenandoah National Park.

Timber Hollow Overlook sign, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The whole family can join in on the fun and natural beauty because this easy trail, while somewhat long, is relatively flat with a total elevation gain of just under 680 feet spread over almost 4 miles.

You’ll notice interesting rock formations all over the place on this trail, many of which date back millions of years to when the Appalachian Mountains were much taller than they are today.

Additionally, the westward views of the Shenandoah Valley are stunning. Leashed dogs are allowed on Pollock Knob and Timber Hollow Overlook, as well.

The trailhead is just down the road from the Skyland Resort, making it a convenient hike if you happen to be staying in the quaint mountainside lodge.

Timber Hollow Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Shenandoah National Park from Virginia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Rose River Trail

Distance: 3.8 miles round trip (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Skyline Dr (near Fishers Gap)

The Rose River Trail, a piece of the larger Rose River Loop, winds its way along a serenely flowing mountain stream before meeting up with the Rose River Falls, making this one of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

The trailhead near Fisher’s Gap allows you to head out in a clockwise direction on the Rose River Loop Trail or counterclockwise on the Rose River Fire Road.

While both are good scenic hikes, I’d recommend taking the clockwise route, which will put you on the well-maintained Rose River Fire Road, the easiest portion of the trail, for the home stretch when those muscles are getting achy.

That being said, even the most difficult parts of this moderate loop trail are generally manageable, even for the little ones, and the trail is well-maintained with sound footing.

Though the elevation gain isn’t huge here, this hike can be somewhat lengthy, often taking over 2 hours to complete, so please keep that in mind.

rose river falls, shenandoah national park, virginiaPin
Rose River Falls (Shenandoah National Park from Virginia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

11. Luray Hawksbill Greenway

Distance: 3.3 miles round trip (out & back)

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Virginia Avenue in Luray, VA (Parking where Linden Ave crosses Hawksbill Creek)

A fun and, more importantly, fully paved flat route, the Luray Hawksbill Greenway is a walking path that runs right through downtown Luray, VA, a lovely little town with all the modern amenities you’ll ever need.

The path follows along a mountain stream emptying from the upper reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains and makes for a great time for young kids, mom and dad, and grandma and grandpa, too.

Stop into one of the many excellent restaurants in town and walk off the impending food coma on the path afterward. If it’s a warm day, you can even hop into the crystal-clear cold waters of the adjacent stream.

Or, if you’d prefer, bring some fishing poles along and try to catch your dinner, as many locals love to fish along the banks of this mountain water-fed stream.

This makes for a great day on your way out of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park since it’s so relaxed and, for sure, the easiest hike on this list.

Hawksbill Creek in fall, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Andrew Parlette from Elkridge,MD, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Best Hikes Shenandoah National Park That Aren’t Ideal for (Most) Kids

Many of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, and favorite hikes for hardcore hikers, are far too strenuous for young kids. However, if you happen to have teenagers who are strong hikers, you may want to try one of the more difficult trails in the park. Of course, it’s up to you.

While these are some of the best hikes Shenandoah National Park has, they should be avoided by most families:

  • Old Rag Mountain Loop: Considered by many to be one of the best hikes in the American Southeast, the Old Rag Mountain Loop is certainly not your average day hike. Instead, it spans almost 10 miles with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain and 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Multiple trails, including the well-known Saddle Trail, make up this challenging loop.
  • Mary’s Rock via Appalachian Trail North Approach: Maybe the best day hike in Shenandoah National Park for hiking enthusiasts, Mary’s Rock via Appalachian Trail North Approach provides loads of natural beauty but requires climbing severely steep and rocky trails to do so.
  • Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop: An 8.3-mile trek with over 2,300 feet of elevation gain, the Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop is a challenging hike with beautiful waterfalls and amazing views but plenty of steep, sometimes slippery climbs.
  • Bearfence Mountain Trail: While technically a moderate trail, the Bearface Mountain Trail necessitates a serious rock scramble that is likely too difficult for most kids and many adults, especially those afraid of heights, but the views are outstanding.
  • Overall Run Falls via Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail: Located about 20 miles from the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, this loop trail is often found on a list of the best hikes in Virginia because it brings you past awe-inspiring waterfalls but is long and arduous.
  • Rapidan Camp, Cat Knob, and Hazeltop Loop: A great place to view wildflowers, this loop trail spans 11.5 miles past Rapidan Camp, Cat Knob, and Hazeltop, taking most hikers almost 6 hours to complete, which means most of us would be feeling pretty sore the next day.
Old Rag Trail, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Old Rag Trail

Final Family-Friendly Shenandoah National Park Hiking Tips

  • Stop by One of the Visitor Centers: Visitor centers are great places to take in the views from an observation platform and gather information about a national park. In Shenandoah National Park, you have three options – the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, and the Loft Mountain Visitor Center.
  • Ensure Your Vehicle is in Tip-Top Shape: From north to south, Shenandoah National Park spans 105 miles, and many great hikes require a long drive. It’s important to make sure your car can carry you over those rolling hills and not strand you somewhere far from civilization.
  • Stick to Marked Trails: Some thrill-seeking hikers love backcountry hikes or getting out on the back trail for more adventure. As awesome as that may be, it brings plenty of inherent danger. For safety reasons, it’s best to stick to marked, maintained trails.
  • Be Mindful of the Elevation: The highest peak in Shenandoah National Park sits at over 4,000 feet. And while they may not seem like too much to some, it’s good to be mindful of the effects high elevation can have on your body. You may need to take more breaks and drink more water while hiking.
  • Check The National Park Website: Check park conditions on the official Shenandoah National Park website, especially in winter or the shoulder seasons, when weather conditions can force some park amenities to close.
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaPin
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park

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11 Best Hikes Shenandoah National Park for families: this guide will get your itinerary set for an epic family adventure in this US national park in Virginia! #familytravel #usnationalparksPin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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