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The Rose River Loop Hike is one of the most scenic waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park Virginia because it follows falls and cascades for more than half of it’s 4-mile distance. The moderately difficult trail descends from Skyline Drive, then parallels Rose River, offering constant water views and access. Take a quarter-mile side trip on the return to popular Dark Hollow Falls and more beautiful waterfall views.
We first tried the Rose River Loop Hike in early August 2018 and it was absolutely gorgeous. Higher than normal rainfall filled the streams, which are usually quite low in summer. This is also a heavily forested area so the Rose River Loop Hike is shady for the entire journey; a welcome break from summer sun.
Rose River Loop Hike in Shenandoah National Park
The Rose River Loop Hike begins at Fishers Gap Overlook in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District. Here is a route overview of this lovely waterfall hike:
- Cross Skyline Drive and head east on the yellow-blazed equestrian trail.
- Turn right on the blue-blazed Rose River Trail.
- The trail descends to Rose River, then parallels the stream.
- There is one rock crossing and one bridge crossing before the trail climbs steeply to a steel bridge and the Rose River Fire Road.
- Take the fire road back to your car. Or, follow the steep quarter-mile trail to Dark Hollow Falls, then double back to the fire road for your return to the lot.
The entire route is well marked and easy to follow. Click for a park map of the Big Meadows area. The Rose River Loop trail is near the top of the map.
Rose River Loop Hike Details
The trail begins across from Fishers Gap Overlook, just north of mile 50 on Skyline Drive. There are two parking areas with ample space. Park at the overlook or in the smaller lot just north of the overlook parking area.
Use the crosswalk to carefully cross Skyline Drive. People often drive too fast on Skyline, and northbound drivers are rounding a curve, so use caution even though you have the right of way. After you cross, step over the chain that blocks the Rose River Fire Road and turn left onto the yellow-blazed equestrian trail. The shady yellow-blazed trail descends gently so it’s a nice warm-up to the steeper sections ahead.
After a half-mile, easy descent, turn right on the blue-blazed Rose River Trail. The trail begins a more steep and rocky descent, and you’ll hear the stream as you hike downhill. Eventually you’ll reach the streams that you’ll hike along for the next mile-and-a-half.
At times, the stream is just a few feet from the trail. Further on, the trail climbs to a ridge but you’ll still have pretty waterfalls and cascades in sight. Rose River Falls does not stand out dramatically, but it is a little taller and wider than other cascades along the trail.
Eventually, you’ll return to stream level and a natural crossing over rocks. The rocks were under water when we crossed. Fortunately the stream was not deep and it was easy to find a route that didn’t cover our boots.
After the stream crossing, the trail curves and begins to climb. A pretty bridge crosses over a ravine, and offers more nice views of the water.
Once you cross the bridge, the Rose River Loop Hike shifts into workout mode. The trail climbs steeply for the next mile and there are many rocky sections. Many of the rocks were covered with a sheen of water during our hike and footing could be a little slippery.
Happily, views of the cascading water and pools distract from the climb. The trail is never far from the water, and there are plenty of nice pools for a swim, soak, or picnic break.
Eventually your climb will lead you back to the Rose River Fire Road and a beautiful view uphill toward Dark Hollow Falls.
Now you have a choice. You can follow the fire road back to your car, or you can make a short but steep climb to the base of Dark Hollow Falls. We took the quarter-mile trail to Dark Hollow Falls, and it was worth the extra effort. You are likely to see more family hikers here. Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
When you finish admiring Dark Hollow Falls, return back to the fire road and turn left for your return to the parking lot. The last mile of the Rose River Loop Hike is a gradual ascent back to Skyline Drive and your car.
Tips for Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
The Rose River Loop Hike is a wonderful alternative to the popular Dark Hollow Falls trail. The loop has more interesting and varied terrain, and you can see both Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls on your hike. The route is longer though, and some sections are quite steep and rocky.
Access to the trailhead is from Skyline Drive within Shenandoah National Park. Admission to the park is $30 per car, but we recommend buying a National Park Pass if you’ll make repeat visits. The $80 National Park Pass gives access to all national parks and monuments in the United States for a year. The Fishers Gap Overlook parking area is south of Skyland, and closest to the Thornton Gap Entrance. If possible, extend your hike and make it a Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park’s Central District.
What to bring on your Shenandoah waterfall hike:
- Waterproof boots are a must for the Rose River Loop Hike. The trail is rocky and can be slick when water levels are high. After storms, water run-off covers several sections of the trail so you’ll need good traction.
- Hiking poles will be welcome for the steep sections just before and after you reach Rose River. Poles will also help with balance during one rocky stream crossing.
- There are many nice swimming holes along the hike, so wear your swimsuit or quick dry shorts so you can take a dip on the way. A quick dry towel will come in handy if you decide to cool off in the stream.
- Mosquitoes and gnats are out in force in summer, so use bug wipes or spray before you hike.
- A lightweight first aid kit is always valuable even on a short hike like this one.
- We wear a whistle bracelet on Shenandoah National Park hikes in case of unexpected trouble. Bear sightings are fairly common in this part of the park, and a whistle is a handy way to encourage them to move on. Fortunately, black bears in Shenandoah are generally timid and will run off when disturbed.
- Any dogs joining you must be on a leash.
The Rose River Loop Hike in Shenandoah National Park is one of the prettiest Virginia waterfall trails we have hiked. Take your time, soak your feet in the stream, and enjoy the scenery.