Hike to Dark Hollow Falls

IT sounds like an ominous thing, Dark Hollow Falls — there should be a ghost story or something associated with it, but I couldn’t find any mention of ghosts, nor how Dark Hollow Falls got its name, although I could well imagine how shady and dark the falls would be if the leaves still fluttered from the tree branches. The Dark Hollow Falls hike is a popular out-and-back hike in the middle of Shenandoah National Park. Of the many waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, Dark Hollow Falls is the closest to Skyline Drive and the 1.4 mile hike is family friendly, despite the 440-foot elevation change. This hike is sometimes described as the “must do” waterfalls hike.

Throughout the hike, you will enjoy the sound of a stream, the Hogcamp Branch of the Rose River, tumbling down the mountainside — it only gets louder as the cascades get larger and it becomes Dark Hollow Falls, which falls 70 feet through a series of cascades down the mountain. 

The hike starts near the information sign, and with a brief paved section that leads hikers over a bridge, but it quickly turns to dirt. Overall, the trail is well maintained and there are steps in some places. Of course, due to the popularity of the trail, the area surrounding the trail is well trampled as well. When we were there, we noticed minimal trash or litter, a bonus. 

Be warned, though, that because of how the falls cascade down the mountainside, you can’t always see the entire falls unless you stand in a center spot — but there are places where you can carefully rock hop into the center and get to appreciate a portion of the falls.

About half way down you’ll encounter the first and probably grandest part of the falls — but it’ll be crowded, as this is where hikers, often families with kids, typically stop to take photos and splash around in a wading pool. 

But you’ll want to continue on down to Rose River Fire Road, allllllll the way at the bottom of the trail. Looking up, you’ll get the full impact of the 70-foot falls. Then head back up and rest and take photos at the half-way point, regaining your breath for the rest of the way back up the mountain.

Because it’s in Shenandoah National Park, because it’s so family friendly, and because it’s so close to Big Meadows, this is a very popular hike. 

Even on an early November weekday, the parking lot was full. You won’t find solitude here — if solitude at a waterfalls is your wish, head 71 miles south (taking Skyline Drive and then the Blue Ridge Parkway to the White Rock Falls Trail at the Slacks Overlook.

Formed from more than one thousand privately owned tracts of land, Shenandoah National Park started as a patchwork of forests, fields, orchards and homesteads. In 1976, Congress designated more than 40 percent of the park as National Wilderness, the highest level of Federal protection possible.

Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of Virginia. The Skyline Drive runs its length, and a vast network of trails includes a section of the long-distance Appalachian Trail. Mostly forested, the park features wetlands, waterfalls and rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag mountains.

But it almost didn’t happen. Legislation to create a national park in the Appalachian mountains was first introduced by freshman Virginia congressman Henry D. Flood in 1901, but despite the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, failed to pass. 

Two decades later, the first National Park Service (NPS) Director Stephen Mather sought proposals for a national park in the southern U.S. in his 1923 year-end report — up till then, all the national parks were in the west or in Maine. Two years later, Congress and President Calvin Coolidge authorized the NPS to acquire a minimum of 250,000 acres and a maximum of 521,000 acres to form Shenandoah National Park.

The park warns hikers to stay on the designated trail and that there have been several “tragic accidents” recently at some of the waterfalls within the park. So be cautious and stay safe. Do not climb around the rocks in the falls themselves. 

Know before you go: So I hadn’t read in alltrails.com — my go to for information about hikes — that no dogs were allowed. Not a  problem, we’d decided to leave our treeing walker coonhound home for the day since he doesn’t do car-rides well. Other hikes in Shenandoah National Park that don’t allow dogs include Fox Hollow Trail, Stony Man Trail, Limberlost Trail, Post Office Junction to Old Rag Shelter, Old Rag Ridge Trail, Old Rag Saddle Trail, Old Rag Access Trail, Ridge Access Trail, Story of the Forest Trail, Bearfence Mountain Trail and Frazier Discovery Trail.

Getting there: The parking / trail head for Dark Hollow Falls is well marked along Skyline Drive. It’s less than a mile north of Big Meadows (mile marker 51.2). It’s also GPSable on WAZE. The parking lot located at mile 50.7 on Skyline Drive.

Hours: daylight

Website: https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm

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