If you are looking for an awesome multi-day hike in Shenandoah National Park, then this one is worth a look! The Big Meadows/Hawksbill Mountain/Rose River trail is actually a combination of short trails to create a nice 20-21 mile loop for those who are looking for a longer hike or a multi-day hike in Shenandoah. Located in Shenandoah national park, this trail combination hits all of the highlights you would want to see on one hike through the park. On this hike, you will see mountaintops, waterfalls, beautiful rivers, and amazing trees. Shenandoah National Park itself is HUGE, cover over 300 square miles of mountains, forests, and adventure. Located in Virginia, this hike is a must do for those adventurous folks passing through the area.
Shenandoah Entry Fee: $30 per car OR use your America the Beautiful: National Parks Pass
Difficulty: Beginner-Moderate (It could be difficult for beginners because of the distance and the rocks)
Recommended Maps: National Geographic # 228 Shenandoah
I honestly struggled to find information about this specific trail when I was doing research for a multi-day hike in Shenandoah, so I decided to do a specific write up so that it would be easier for future hikers to combine the trails.
This was the only thing that Eric and I had to go on besides the National Geographic map, and we found it a bit confusing.
How to get there
Enter Shenandoah National Park from State Road 33 and make a right on Skyline Drive. Follow Skyline Drive until you reach the Milam Gap Parking area. Park at Milam Gap (Mile Point 53). Make sure that you hang up your overnight parking pass!
Packing for the Hike
Keep in mind that packing for a hike depends on a couple of things: The speed you hike, how long it will take you to complete the trail, availability of water, and the season.
This trail was EXTREMELY rocky, as is most of the Appalachian Trail. Because of this, you spend a lot of time looking at the ground to avoid tripping. If you like to wear hiking boots to protect your ankles, this is a trail where they could come in handy. I hiked it in running shoes, but I relied heavily on my trekking poles to keep me stable. Because this multi-day hike in Shenandoah doesn’t have a large amount of water sources, we recommend carrying at least 2 to 3 liters of water per person, two if you aren’t using water to cook. However, make sure that you refill your bottles at every opportunity.
The following items, while obvious, are what I would recommend to bring on this trail:
- Trekking Poles
- Water filter (I love the Sawyer Squeeze because it makes filtering water SO easy)
- Hiking boots
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Bear bag (Practice hanging one before you go. Never, ever sleep with your food) Eric and I use an Ursack because it is super strong and easy to hang.
Part 1: Big Meadows
The Big Meadows section of this hike is mostly well-marked, well cleared paths through the forest. Eventually, you will begin a slow incline up into the mountains as you get to see awesome overlooks of the valley along the way.
- Start at the Milam Gap Parking Area and hike north on the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) to Ridge Rd (1.1 miles)
- Hike until you cross Tanner’s Ridge Road be on the lookout for a small service road after it: (.6 miles)
- Split left and go to Lewis Falls (1.7 miles) (Water Source) OR follow the AT toward Big Meadows (.9 miles). Both will continue on the trail.
- You will pass the Big Meadows campground and lodge which will be located on your left. This is your best spot for camping until after you summit Hawksbill Mountain.
- Continue on the Big Meadows trail to Fisher’s Gap (1.5 miles). This section is a slow uphill incline with beautiful views of the Shenandoah Valley.
- Continue toward Spitler Knoll which ends up side by side with Skyline Drive (1.3 miles)
- Hike Toward Rock Spring (.6 miles) There is a small camping area on your way to Salamander Rd.
- Hike .3 miles until you reach a break in the trail and you will turn right on Salamander Trail. This is when you leave the Appalachian Trail. The blazes will now be blue instead of white.
- Take Salamander Trail .8 miles up to Hawkbill Mountain (meet up with service road (gravel road) turn left and follow the path .1 miles uphill to the top of the mountain
Part 2: Hawksbill Mountain
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park at roughly 4050 feet in elevation. There are a few lookout points on the mountain as well as a small picnic area. Unfortunately when we summited the mountain, clouds rolled in and it was too foggy to see anything!
Note: There is no camping on the Hawksbill Mountain Summit
- Come back down the service road that you came up. Continue down it until, past Salamander Trail, until it ends. (.4 Miles)
- When the service trail ends, it turns into a trail that curves to your left. That trail will continue until it reaches Skyline Drive (.7 miles)
- Cross Skyline Dr. and continue on the trail for 3 miles. You will cross a stream and a river which will be important water sources for you.
- Once you have wrapped around the mountain, you will connect with Rose River trail. Turn left at the T and follow Rose River Trail down to the river.
Part 3: Rose River Trail
Rose River was my favorite section of the trail. It follows Rose River and has two large waterfalls. I had a blast stopping and taking pictures of all of the little falls and rapids along the way. We went in Winter when the trees were dead, but I’m sure it is even more beautiful during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Eric and I took a long lunch here and had a nice picnic by the river.
- Follow Rose River Trail 1.5ish miles (Pass a waterfall in the middle!)
- Rose River Trail will continue until it ends at Dark Hollows Waterfall (Important water source very little water on trail after this). There are some nice places to camp here along this trail.
- When Rose River Trail ends at the Dark Hollows Waterfall, you will see a service road that crosses over the river. Turn left and follow the service road 1 mile. Great camping spots along here.
- The service road will end up curving and splitting into two sections of trail. Follow the trail that heads right labeled Stony Mountain Trail. Go up Stony Mountain Trail. This is a very difficult uphill section with some incredibly steep inclines. It is uphill the whole time, and there are no good places to camp due to incline and fallen trees. (1.1 miles but feels longer)
- After you go over Stony Mountain, you run into Rapidan Road. Follow the the road to the right for 1.8 miles (All road walking/gravel).
- When Rapidan Road comes up to a horse trail on the left, turn and follow the horse trail 1 mile. There are a few marked camping sites here, but they are small.
- At the mile marker of the horse trail, there is a T. If you go left, you will be able to see Big Rock Falls (add 1 mile round trip to your journey). If you go right, you have about 1 mile left on your journey to return to Milam Gap Parking Area.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed this hike. We completed it in two and a half days and did about 7 miles a day. We could have easily hiked longer days, but we chose this hike as a test run for my feet after having to quit the Foothills Trail after 20 miles due to injury this summer. I highly recommend this hike to anyone in the Shenandoah area.
Read about other awesome hikes:
The Best Trail Near Gainesville, Florida: San Felasco Hammock Trail
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: The Complete Guide