Shenandoah National Park’s Central District runs from the Thornton Gap entrance (milepost 31.5) to the Swift Run Gap entrance (milepost 65.7).
This section is the most popular, and is home to both of the park’s lodges (Skyland and Big Meadows Lodge), as well as both sit-down restaurants and four picnic areas.
Central District Hikes
Here are 15 can’t-miss picks to add to your list of hikes to check off at this scenic and historic national park. I’ll keep a lookout for you on the hiking trails.
#1: Mary’s Rock (mileposts 31.6, 33.5)
Hiking north, park at the Meadow Spring parking area at milepost 33.5. The leafy trail wows with the remains of an old stone chimney and a glistening stream.
Both routes to the top of this massive (and massively popular) rock are less than 3.5 miles. At the top, stay awhile to savor the outstanding panoramas across the valley.
#2: Little Stony Man & Stony Man (milepost 39.1)
While scenic views abound across Shenandoah National Park, it’s hard to beat the two-for-one deal you get on this 3-mile out-and-back hike.
Within the first mile, you’ll climb 190 feet to reach Little Stony Man Cliffs. It’s hard not to be awe-struck by the sweeping views from the rocky outcrops.
At Stony Man Summit, you’ll encounter more breathtaking vistas. The rocky outcrops are not challenging to navigate, but you will want to watch your step and stay fleet of feet.
#3: Passamaquoddy Loop (milepost 41.7)
The 2.5-mile Passamaquoddy Loop hike is quite popular as far as I can tell, garnering more than 130 reviews on AllTrails.com and an average rating of 4.5.
Start at the Stony Man parking area and go clockwise on this forested loop, if only because the connections between trail segments are more obvious when you go clockwise.
Keep your eyes open for a hobbit door mid-hike. More likely it’s for the electrical technicians given there are power lines above, but it looks like a hobbit door to me.
#4: Millers Head Trail (milepost 42.5)
The 1.5-mile out-and-back hike on the Millers Head Trail at Shenandoah National Park guides hikers to a former fire tower that dates back to the 1940’s.
At that time, there were seven fire towers in this national park, each manned around the clock. However, you can savor far-reaching payoff views well before the fire tower.
At the .2-mile mark, you’ll reach a very short spur trail to Bushy Top Observation Point for sensational views of Massanutten Mountain and working farms down below.
#5: Limberlost Trail (milepost 43)
The fully-accessible Limberlost Trail is located within Shenandoah National Park at milepost 43. This 1.3-mile loop is one of the most-trafficked easy hikes in the park.
This mostly flat, crushed greenstone walkway is stroller-friendly and wheelchair-accessible. With the exception of service animals, this trail does not allow pets.
More than 15 wooden benches dot the Limberlost Trail. You’ll also cross over a couple of bridges and boardwalk sections. At the .8-mile mark, you’ll see a columnar jointing.
#6: Crescent Rock (milepost 43)
The 3.3-mile out-and-back Crescent Rock hike at Shenandoah National Park is an easy one, leading hikers to sweeping views of Massanutten Mountain and the Ida Valley.
At the overlook, a placard relays the history of families that remained on the land after the national park was officially established in late-1935.
Interestingly, the Crescent Rock Overlook can be reached on foot by way of this hike or by car. Simply park in the sizeable parking lot at milepost 44.
#7: Hawksbill Summit (mileposts 45.5, 46.7)
The hike to Hawksbill Summit at Shenandoah National Park is among the most popular in the park. It’s the park’s highest point at an elevation of 4,051 feet.
There are three ways to the top, but the 2.8-mile loop that sets off from milepost 45.5 wows with a massive boulder field, as well as the rare Shenandoah Salamander.
Another popular route to the top begins at the Upper Hawksbill parking area at milepost 46.7. This hike begins from a higher elevation point, but you will still feel the burn.
#8: Rose River Falls (milepost 49.5)
Not every waterfall hike comes with a dreamy swimming hole, which makes the 3.9-mile loop hike to 67-foot-tall Rose River Falls an easy one to love.
This hike begins at milepost 49.5 at Shenandoah National Park. This loop can be done in either direction, but counter-clockwise leads to Cave Cemetery at the .5-mile mark.
In a few more steps, you’ll reach a glorious waterfall and a spur trail to Dark Hollow Falls. Continue walking parallel alongside Hogcamp Branch to Rose River Falls.
#9: Lewis Falls (milepost 51)
Lewis Falls may not be the tallest waterfall at Shenandoah National Park, but at 81 feet, it’s still pretty impressive.
It’s actually the fourth tallest waterfall in the park, though Overall Run Falls, which claims the honor as being the park’s tallest, is only 12 feet taller than Lewis Falls.
The 3.2-mile Lewis Spring Falls Trail (loop), which leads to Lewis Falls, is also notable for its sizeable parking lot, proximity to restrooms and ample picnic area.
#10: Rapidan Camp (milepost 52.8)
President Hoover frequented Rapidan Camp (also known as Camp Hoover) during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1932. He loved to go fishing on the Rapidan River.
At the end of his term, Hoover donated the 164-acre retreat to the National Park Service for incorporation into the soon-to-be-established Shenandoah National Park.
Today, a 4.2-mile out-and-back hike on the Mill Prong Trail leads to this national historic landmark, including three restored cabins.
#11: Bearfence Rock Scramble (milepost 56.4)
Reaching the summit of Bearfence Mountain (3,485 feet) by way of the Bearfence Loop Trail at Shenandoah National Park is a feat worthy of a spot on any hiker’s bucket list.
On a clear day, the mountains seem to go on forever (and ever). The far-reaching 360-degree payoff views after a hike of less than .45-mile are beyond tremendous.
The short distance of this rocky hike can be deceptive. Prepare to use your hands, feet and arms, even knees to reach the top. However, it’s well worth every ounce of effort.
#12: Pocosin Trail (milepost 59.5)
An easy 2.5-mile hike on the Pocosin Trail in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park quickly guides visitors to Pocosin Cabin.
Pocosin Cabin is one of six primitive cabins maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). The cabin was erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1937.
Shortly, you will reach the ruins of the Upper Pocosin Mission, which served the local mountain community in the days before the national park was established.
#13: South River Falls (milepost 62.8)
At 83 feet tall, South River Falls is the third tallest waterfall at Shenandoah National Park. It’s a real beauty too and well worth the overall elevation gain of 1,299 feet.
Tackle this hike as an out-and-back on the South River Falls Trail or as a loop by way of the South River Fire Road. The out-and-back route is shorter, but not by much.
It’s a beautiful forested hike with a generous reward when you reach the falls. There are plenty of rocks to sit on too to enjoy a snack or re-fuel before the return hike.
#14: Old Rag (boundary trailhead)
In 2019, Outside magazine named this 9.4-mile loop hike among the 25 best hikes in the world. Not even just in Virginia or in the United States. The whole world.
Meanwhile, Insider gave Old Rag top honors as the most scenic hike in Virginia. Honestly, the accolades for Old Rag go on and on.
The hike to the top of Old Rag is a magnet for hikers, so do this one mid-week or in winter (or both) if you can. Get there early, too. The parking lot fills very quickly.
#15: Whiteoak Canyon (boundary trailhead)
The 2.9-mile out-and-back hike on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail to Lower Whiteoak Falls from the boundary trailhead is so beautiful, so refreshing. So popular, too.
Cross over creeks and stroll across bridges as you walk the trail alongside the rolling Robinson River. Take in the burbles and babbles of the flowing cascades.
For a longer hike, try the 8.8-mile loop hike that goes up to Upper Whiteoak Falls before the hike descends on more rocky terrain along the Cedar Run Trail.