Dark Hollow Falls: Three Scenic Hikes to the Falls at Shenandoah National Park

Last Updated on January 2, 2022 by Erin Gifford

I found myself back at Shenandoah National Park this week to hike to 70-foot-tall Dark Hollow Falls. With 1,700+ reviews on AllTrails, it’s a very popular hike.

This hike can also be crowded. It’s easily the most-visited of the Shenandoah National Park waterfalls, particularly given its proximity to Skyline Drive.

So, instead of tackling the 1.4-mile out-and-back hike, I completed a 6.9-mile loop that includes Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls.

This way, I only had to hike the crowded stretch once instead of twice as I would on an out-and-back hike. I also got to see Rose River Falls, which was a surprise to me.

While this hike clocked in at one mile more than what AllTrails claimed it would be, it was a great hike. As a bonus, I got to hike with fellow fab hiker, @rohdepayes.

There is also a third option that I will complete another day. It’s a loop and looks to be in the range of 4.7-miles. This route does not include Rose River Falls.

Here’s the scoop on all three hikes so you can decide which one is most ideal for you. If you hike to Dark Hollow Falls, be sure to let me know which option you chose.

#1: Dark Hollow Falls Hike. This 1.4-mile out-and-back hike begins at the dedicated parking area at milepost 50.7 on Skyline Drive.

#2: Dark Hollow Falls + Rose River Falls Loop Hike. This 6.9-mile loop hike begins at the parking area adjacent to the Big Meadows Amphitheater.

#3: Dark Hollow Falls Loop Hike. This 4.7-mile loop hike also begins at the parking area adjacent to the Big Meadows Amphitheater.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these hikes and it’s nice to be able to see the falls and also get in more or less steps, whatever you’re up for that day.

#1: Dark Hollow Falls Hike

Begin this hike from the parking area at milepost 50.7 on Skyline Drive. The lot is large enough for two dozen cars, but this lot fills very quickly, so plan to arrive early.

On the east side of the parking area, you’ll see a large trail kiosk that marks the start of the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.

The trail begins as paved, but quickly turns to a steep, rocky trail as you become enveloped by the shady forest. You’ll walk alongside water all the way to the falls.

Just before you reach the primary falls viewpoint, you will descend wooden steps then reach a fenced section of trail from which to see the upper falls.

I hiked this trail several years ago and this fence was not in place at the time. I was glad to see it, if only to keep visitors from getting too close to the falls.

You will reach the money views of the falls at the .7-mile mark. You can also continue on another .3-mile to the Rose River Fire Road for more views of the cascading falls.

The elevation gain (on the way back up) is 400+ feet for this 1.4-mile hike. Of course, it will be higher if you choose to go to the bottom for a 2.0-mile out-and-back hike.

#2: Dark Hollow Falls + Rose River Falls Loop Hike

This hike with an elevation gain of nearly 1,500 feet shares a trailhead with the 3.2-mile out-and-back hike to Lewis Falls, the fourth tallest waterfall in the park (81 feet).

The parking area is tucked away in the back of Big Meadows, adjacent to the amphitheater. The large lot can accommodate at least two dozen vehicles.

Here you’re also steps from shaded picnic grounds, a water fountain and restrooms. It’s a nice spot to relax or run around after your hike.

The trailhead is located near the center of the parking area. The trail immediately descends to an intersection with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

Turn right at the trail marker onto the Appalachian Trail for a clockwise hike. Get ready for a quick reward at the .3-mile mark. A short spur trail leads to wide-open views.

From here, the trail gently descends for nearly three miles. At times, fern fronds dominate both sides of the trail, emanating a fragrant scent as you hike on.

At the .4-mile mark, you’ll pass camp sites at the Big Meadows Campground. Then, a second wide-open view from the trail of Fishers Gap at the 1.6-mile mark.

In a few more steps, you will (carefully) cross over Skyline Drive. At the trail marker, turn left onto the blue-blazed Rose River Loop Trail.

By the 2.8-mile mark, you will be walking alongside the Rose River. There are several spots where you can step out to refreshingly cold watering holes.

Rose River Falls appears almost out of nowhere at the 3.1-mile mark. This 67-foot-tall waterfall wows with a brisk swimming hole. Ahh, relaxing.

Note that once you reach the falls you’ll need to carefully navigate a rock scramble to the waterfall basin. At the base, you can walk across on exposed rocks.

Set your gear on the far side of the swimming hole and falls. Once you’ve splished and splashed all you like at Rose River Falls, scramble back up to the top of the rocks.

Turn left to return to the blue-blazed Rose River Loop Trail. In a few more steps, you’ll rise high above the Rose River as you continue on for another .4-mile.

You will ascend for nearly three miles before the trail flattens out. You’ll cross over the Rose River at the 3.8-mile mark.

From here, it’s a delightful ascent alongside cascading Hogcamp Branch. When I hiked to Rose River Falls last summer, I walked downhill next to Hogcamp Branch.

I definitely preferred to see the flowing water as I walked up the trail. As a bonus, there are various spots to step out onto rocks to revel in the flowing cascades.

At the 4.9-mile mark, the Rose River Loop Trail intersects with the yellow-blazed Rose River Fire Road. Turn right here and a waterfall is on your left.

I assume this is the base of Dark Hollow Falls. It’s quite lovely. Just past the falls is a trail on the left that leads up to the top of Dark Hollow Falls.

Note that on this section of the hike there are lots of steps and dogs are not allowed. At the 5.0-mile mark, you’ll have your first opportunity to step out close to the falls.

However, the best is yet to come. Continue on up the trail to reach the money views of Dark Hollow Falls at the 5.1-mile mark.

This is also where it starts to get very busy and crowded. When we arrived at this spot there were at least 8-10 visitors taking in the views of the lower falls.

Once you’ve savored all the views, continue ascending the trail. In a few more steps, you’ll reach a fenced section of trail from which to see the upper falls.

I hiked this trail several years ago and this fence was not in place at the time. I was glad to see it, however, to keep visitors from getting too close to the falls.

At the 5.4-mile mark, you’ll reach a section of wooden stairs built into the trail. You will also wish the seemingly never-ending ascent was over. Soon, friends.

You will reach the dedicated parking area for the Dark Hollow Falls hike at the 5.9-mile mark. From here, carefully cross over Skyline Drive.

On the other side is the blue-blazed Story of the Forest Trail. This is a pretty basic, though mostly shaded, hike through the forest that leads to the campground.

At the 6.6-mile mark, you’ll reach the paved road through the Big Meadows Campground. Turn left, but keep your eyes open for an unmarked path on the left.

This unmarked path leads past campsites and by the campground office. From the office, cross the street then take the campground road on the left to the back.

You’ll soon see the picnic grounds, restrooms and parking area where this hike began. Stay to the left and cut across the area to complete your hike. Celebrate.

#3: Dark Hollow Falls Loop Hike

This hike also begins at the trailhead that leads to Lewis Falls, the fourth tallest waterfall in the park (81 feet).

The parking area is adjacent to the Big Meadows Amphitheater. Here you’re also steps from shaded picnic grounds, a water fountain and restrooms.

The trailhead is located near the center of the parking area. The trail immediately descends to an intersection with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

Turn right at the trail marker onto the Appalachian Trail for a clockwise hike. You’re rewarded at the .3-mile mark. A short spur trail leads to wide-open views.

From here, the trail gently descends. At times, fern fronds dominate both sides of the trail, emanating a fragrant scent as you hike on.

At the .4-mile mark, you’ll pass camp sites at the Big Meadows Campground. Then, a second wide-open view from the trail of Fishers Gap at the 1.6-mile mark.

In a few more steps, you will (carefully) cross over Skyline Drive. At the trail marker, continue straight ahead for the yellow-blazed Rose River Fire Road.

At the 2.2-mile mark, the Cave Cemetery appears on the right-hand side of the trail.

This family cemetery is one of more than 100 across this national park belonging to families who lived within the park boundaries in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Your time on the Rose River Fire Road ends at a narrow waterfall that descends from 70-foot-tall Dark Hollow Falls.

Here you’ll want to connect with the blue-blazed Dark Hollow Falls Trail that’s just to the right of the tumbling waterfall. From here it’s a steep ascent to the falls.

At the 2.5-mile mark, you will reach Dark Hollow Falls, climbing several sets of stairs on the way to the gloriously cascading falls.

This is also where it starts to get very busy and crowded. When we arrived at this spot there were at least 8-10 visitors taking in the views of the lower falls.

Once you’ve savored all the views, continue ascending the trail. In a few more steps, you’ll reach a fenced section of trail from which to see the upper falls.

At the 3.2-mile mark, you’ll reach a section of wooden stairs built into the trail. You will also wish the seemingly never-ending ascent was over.

You will reach the dedicated parking area for the Dark Hollow Falls hike at the 3.7-mile mark. From here, carefully cross over Skyline Drive.

On the other side is the blue-blazed Story of the Forest Trail. This is a pretty basic, though mostly shaded, hike through the forest that leads to the campground.

At the 4.4-mile mark, you’ll reach the paved road through the Big Meadows Campground. Turn left, but keep your eyes open for an unmarked path on the left.

This unmarked path leads past campsites and by the campground office. From the office, cross the street then take the campground road on the left to the back.

You’ll soon see the picnic grounds, restrooms and parking area where this hike began. Stay to the left and cut across the area to complete your hike. Celebrate.

Wrap-Up Notes

Certainly, there are pros and cons to each route to Dark Hollow Falls However, if I had to choose one, I would opt for the Dark Hollow Falls + Rose River Falls Loop Hike.

This hike is longer, but it also offers more serenity and solitude. The .7-mile stretch of the Dark Hollow Falls Trail attracts numerous hikers of all ages and ability levels.

We saw more hikers on that one stretch than on all other segments of this two-waterfall loop hike. I also loved stopping for the two scenic vistas early on this hike.

Post-hike, stop in Big Meadows Lodge for lunch on the outdoor terrace. The views are fantastic and the Mile-High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie is absolutely incredible.

For those who hike with dogs, it’s important to note that the Dark Hollow Falls Trail and the Story of the Forest Trail are both off-limits to pups.