Last Updated on January 2, 2022 by Erin Gifford
I recently hiked the Whiteoak Canyon Trail to Lower Whiteoak Falls from the boundary trailhead just outside Shenandoah National Park. This may be my new favorite hike.
The out-and-back hike is just 2.9 miles, but it’s so beautiful, so refreshing. Apparently so popular too given the large overflow parking lot I spied on my way home ($10/car).
I tackled this moderate hike on a Friday morning, so the trail wasn’t terribly busy (yet), though there were at least 15 cars in the main lot when I arrived.
From this trailhead, you can access the Whiteoak Canyon Trail and Cedar Run Trail, both of which are quite well-liked among park-goers. This trailhead must be hopping on weekends.
|Elevation Gain||417 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt & rock trails|
|Fee||$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
You can access both the Whiteoak Canyon Trail and Cedar Run Trail from Skyline Drive inside the park. However – and this is a big, however – for this particular hike, you must access the trail from the boundary trailhead.
Okay, what’s that? A boundary trailhead is a trailhead located on private property. Often, just steps away from the park boundary.
The link above to driving directions will take you to the boundary trailhead for the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. However – another big, however – I suggest that you print out this map of the Whiteoak Canyon Area with written directions.
If you have AT&T, you will have no cell service (zero, none). Worse, even once you reach Sperryville (if you go back that way, rather than via Madison), you still won’t have cell service.
You won’t be able to map your way back home from your phone. You’ll have to rely on the written directions (in reverse, of course). Just a heads up.
Once you arrive at the parking area, you’ll note that it’s quite large. It’s much bigger than the parking lots for most park trails, maybe with the exception of Mary’s Rock (Panorama).
Still, given there’s a large overflow lot. It must not be big enough, at least not on weekends.
To the left of the trailhead is a ranger station. Here you show your annual park pass or pay the entry fee. You will receive a receipt to place on your dashboard to show you’ve paid.
The First Steps
The blue-blazed hike begins simply enough, on the typical hiking trail of dirt and rocks. In less than .1-mile you will reach a metal bridge to cross over babbling Cedar Run into Shenandoah National Park (from private property).
At the .15-mile mark, you will reach a fork in the trail. Veer right for the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. The trail on the left is the Cedar Run Trail.
In a few more steps, you will reach the first of two uncomplicated water crossings on this trail. Then, the second of two bridges, this time crossing over the Robinson River, a tributary of the Rapidan River in Madison County, Virginia.
Just past the .5-mile mark, there’s an easy rock scramble that takes you close to the edge of the cascading crystal-clear water.
Much of the hike is adjacent to the rolling river, so it’s very relaxing to take in the babbles and burbles of the flowing water.
There are several spots along the hike where the trail goes right up against the water. These are perfect spots to stop and take off your shoes or skip a few stones.
At the .75-mile mark, you’ll see a concrete trail marker on the right, then the hiking trail moderately ascends.
In a few more steps, you’ll see a double blue blaze and the trail does a steep zig to the right. But first, some flat rocks and calm waters for a nice snack break.
Post-snack, you can tackle the rocky switchback in the trail. It’s not long, leveling off quickly then descending before reaching a field of giant rocks.
It’s a must to go up, over, around, in between these massive rocks. Just because it’s fun.
At the 1.4-mile mark, you’ll reach another water crossing, then some stone steps that take you up and to the right on the trail. In a few more steps, you have arrived at Lower Falls.
From here, the Whiteoak Canyon Trail continues on to Upper Falls, but for now, this is the endpoint. Do not continue on up the steep steps and on the trail that then goes to the right.
There are a variety of routes to scramble down to the basin of Lower Falls. The Whiteoak Canyon swimming hole is beyond popular in summer months.
Since this is an out-and-back hike, simply re-trace your steps to return to the parking area.
There’s not much of a shorter option, unless you want to skip Lower Whiteoak Falls. However, it’s easy to add on steps to see and explore more. A must on especially beautiful days.
I didn’t hike on to Upper Whiteoak Falls, but if I had to eyeball it, I’d say it’s another .8-mile or so past Lower Whiteoak Falls (one-way). So, the total hiking length would be 4.5 miles.
From the parking area, it took me 90 minutes to complete this hike. It’s beautiful, especially in fall. If you like hikes to Shenandoah waterfalls, this hike is one to love.
The town of Sperryville is a 30-minute drive from the trailhead. It’s the closest town if you want to grab a post-hike bite.
Burgers N Things is a popular spot for burgers, subs and milkshakes. There’s plenty of outdoor seating too so you can further enjoy the day.