South River Falls: Hike to the Third Tallest Waterfall at Shenandoah National Park

At 83 feet tall, South River Falls is the third tallest waterfall at Shenandoah National Park. It’s a beauty and well worth an overall elevation gain of 1,299 feet.

You can complete this Skyline Drive hike as an out-and-back hike on the South River Falls Trail or as a loop hike by way of the South River Fire Road. 

I opted for the loop, hiking down along the trail, then hiking back up to the parking area on the fire road. There’s no real benefit to either direction.

It’s a lovely wooded hike with a generous reward when you reach the falls. There are lots of rocks to sit on too to enjoy a snack or re-fuel before the return hike.

Trail Stats 
Length5.1 miles
DifficultyModerate
Trail TypeLoop
Elevation Gain1,299 feet
Duration2.5-3.5 hours
TerrainMostly dirt and rock trails
Dog-FriendlyYes
Fee$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)
Driving DirectionsClick Here

South River Falls Trail 

Proceed to milepost 62.8 on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District. The trailhead is located at the back of the South River Picnic Area.

The picnic area is quite large and shady with plenty of picnic tables. It’s a great spot to revel in a hike well-done once you return from South River Falls.

The trailhead is adjacent to a large trail kiosk. From here, the hiking trail descends into the forest, mostly alongside the refreshingly lovely South River.

Once you pass the trail kiosk, you will reach a four-way intersection. The blue-blazed South River Falls Trail crosses over the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

Continue straight ahead, past the concrete trail marker at the intersection. You’ll soon reach a few switchbacks and steps built into the trail to ease the decline.

By the .7-mile mark, the trail nearly rubs up against the South River as it comes up on the right. The gentle cascades are very relaxing and spectacularly scenic.

You will arrive at the waterfall overlook at the 1.4-mile mark. Here, the views are rather nice, but the falls are still quite far away. There are better views ahead.

By now, you will have descended 800 feet, so feel free to take a break at the stone observation point before proceeding on to the base of South River Falls.

You will now begin walking away from the water. At the 1.6-mile mark, the South River Falls Trail meets the yellow-blazed South River Fire Road.

Turn right here to stay on the South River Falls Trail to the tumbling falls along a mostly forested trail. You will re-approach the river near the 2.1-mile mark.

At the 2.2-mile mark, you may think you’re at the end of the trail. You can see South River Falls, but it is not close. Look right for rocky steps and a blue blaze.

South River Falls

From here the now-rocky trail narrows as you sidle alongside the South River until you arrive at the base of the falls in another .1-mile.

There are lots of rocks to take a seat on to to enjoy views of South River Falls. There’s even a lovely watering hole at the base. Refreshing.

Once you’ve finished up at the falls, re-trace your steps, but at the 3.2-mile mark, stay right to proceed along the South River Fire Road.

South River Fire Road 

As are most fire roads, the hike up is pretty meh, but easier than hiking back up by way of the South River Falls Trail. Though it would be more scenic.

At the 4.5-mile mark, keep your eyes open for a trail marker. At the trail marker, stay left for the Appalachian Trail. This narrow trail leads to the picnic area.

If you were to continue straight at the marker, you would go to the South River Overlook, which is not where you parked your car. At least as far as I know.

At the 5.0-mile mark, turn right onto the South River Falls Trail. From here, you’re just a few steps away from the picnic grounds and parking area. Also, restrooms.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the parking area, my hiking time to one of the most popular waterfalls at Shenandoah National Park was 2 hours, 15 minutes.

For post-hike snacks and sips, drive a quick 12 miles north to Big Meadows Wayside. Here you’ll find grab-and-go sandwiches, sodas and souvenirs.

Like waterfall hikes? Shenandoah National Park has more than a few, including Lewis Falls, Rose River Falls and White Oak Falls.