Shenandoah is, in a way, my home park. I was born in the mountains that it protects and I grew up driving up and down the Skyline Drive, but I think I took it for granted and, as a kid, I was restricted to whatever the adults wanted to do, which mostly wasn’t hiking. Plus, I’m a very different sort of explorer than I was growing up, and so, I’ve promised myself I’ll be better about visiting Shenandoah this year, that I’ll hike more and explore and just do more.
When I first planned this adventure, way back in February, my aim was to see waterfalls. After some brief internet investigating, I decided to follow the advice of Hiking Upward and hike a 6.6 mile loop that started from the Brown’s Gap parking area and included part of the Appalachian Trail, the Jones Run Trail and the Doyles River Trail, which is also listed here as the Browns Gap Hike.
the APPALACHIAN TRAIL
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200 mile public footpath that follows the Appalachian Mountains from Maine all the way to Georgia. Finished in 1937, it was built by private citizens and today is managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a bunch of state agencies and thousands of volunteers. It’s a National Scenic Trail and, along it’s many miles, it winds through a total of nine states.
More than 500 miles of the A.T. goes through Virginia, including 104 miles that cuts through Shenandoah National Park. Secretly, I want to hike all of those miles, but on this particular adventure, I settled for starting my hike with 1.4 miles of the A.T, which I picked up on the other side of the Skyline Drive from the parking lot at Brown’s Gap.
The A.T. is white-blazed and easy to follow and I spent the mile and a half of my hike along the A.T. thinking that yes, this whole hiking thing is a thing I want to do more of and maybe I might even be convinced to carry a bunch of shit on my back across many, many miles just for the chance to go further and deeper into the wild.
the JONES RUN TRAIL
From the A.T., I turned left to head downhill on the blue-blazed Jones Run Trail and, after following Jones Run for a while, I hit the first set of falls after 1.6 miles, followed by the main falls in another tenth of a mile.
I can’t explain the magic of waterfalls. There’s a draw there, obviously, or people wouldn’t trek miles and miles just to catch a glimpse of one.
After the waterfalls, I followed the trail for just over half a mile as it ran alongside and then crossed Jones Run. Shortly after the crossing, I turned left and headed up-hill and away from Jones Run onto blue-blazed Doyles River Trail.
the DOYLES RIVER TRAIL
This part of the hike was probably the hardest and the steepest. It’s not crazy difficult, but I remember having to pause a few times to catch my breath. The trail takes you past both the upper and lower falls of the Doyles River, both of which were pretty pretty.
After the falls, I crossed Doyles River, soaking my feet for a third time, then hit the yellow-blazed Browns Gap fire road, which I followed for another 1.7 miles back to the parking lot. It was considerably less exciting after all the waterfalls, and I found myself wishing I’d done the hike in reverse, so I could finish on the A.T. rather than the pretty, but unexciting fire road.
I’m so, so glad I finally got to do this hike. I was on the trail for just over three hours, moving mostly quickly, but stopping often for photos. Hiking Upward and Shenandoah National Park rank the difficultly of this hike as moderately strenuous, which seems reasonable given the length of the hike, some steep sections and the rocky nature of the trail. I’d do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a solid hike in Shenandoah National Park’s southern district, called the Loft Mountain Area.
Shenandoah National Park is open year-round, although operating hours and seasons for the parks various facilities vary by season. Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and sometimes closes during inclement weather, but visitors can still enter the park on foot even then the drive is closed.