Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

South River Falls–Spectacular but Steep

Tuesday September 15, 2015                                                                Most Recent Post:
Lewis Mountain Campground                                                                A Worrisome Crash and the Heat Goes On
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia



After yesterday’s successful hike, David wants to know where we can go today.  He hasn’t seen South River Falls.  It was my first hike in Shenandoah this year although I didn’t go all the way to the bottom since I was on a timed mission to get a campsite that would be big enough for Winnona and have access to the sun for solar.  That post can be seen here.  The lighting was much better that day than today.  But I do want to see the falls from the bottom since the view from the viewpoint is pretty restricted these days.   It sounds within his range at 4.4 miles out and back.  Of course it doesn’t turn out to be that short.  It is labeled moderate rather than what we later thought it should be labeled, moderately strenuous or even strenuous.

At the trail head, we check out the map to decide whether to make it an out and back by doing the orange trail which follows the South River down stream or to make it a loop and come up the fire road.  The loop is slightly longer by about half a mile but “usually” fire roads are more gently graded.  You know already where this is going.

In map one you can see the loop trail, orange to red, stopping only at the over look before heading out the fire road.  In map 2 you can see better the gray trail that goes down to the foot of the falls and adds more mileage. The brown dotted trail is the roughest part.  But that leads to the most gorgeous spot.




So off we go DOWN, stopping to admire the root system this tree has to enable it to hold on to its place in the world.  Few people are rooted so well and non of us wanderers.



We are following the South River cutting over several times to see it and hear it better.  It has cut a beautiful dark steep canyon to flow through.





We cross tributaries flowing into the stream.  This one is actually flowing under these rocks which make a great bridge.


The trail continues down its rocky path.


The area has many downed trees as a result of it being hit pretty square on by Tropical Storm Fran in 1996.



At one point, I stop to watch some moths in the sunlight.  They fly over and land on my arm and pants leg. 








It’s a tricky trail with many switch backs but it’s really lovely as it follows the river along.




In one of our stops along the river we decide it’s a great spot for lunch with the sounds of the little cascades and the beauty of the water.  Lots of good sitting stones and even a branch as a seat for me.








Here’s the lunch view sans boots.





We’re not very far from the view point of the falls when we come upon a great old chestnut stump.  How I wish it were still a healthy tree.  These woods must have been simply magnificent when they were filled with American Chestnuts as the dominant tree in the forest.   It’s a sight none of us will ever see again.  Oh the long reaching effects of our action




I catch my first glimpse of the South River Falls as we near the viewing platform.




On my first visit, which was actually the very first hike either of us took in Shenandoah this summer,  this is as far as I hiked before turning around.  The viewing area was full of water then.  Today we can walk all the way down to the rock ledge.  On that post there is also a rant about the obstructed views which haven’t changed over the summer.  If you like rants…well a mini rant….you can read that post here.   As you can see the platform is at a distance from the falls but it would be a great view IF only….

You have to look pretty closely to see the falls behind David so the next two shots are with some zoom help.







On we go down even further only this time part of the trail is on an old fire road.  Easier walking.




But then the fire road goes off to the left and we continue on what was an old mountain road.  IT is very rocky though still nice and wide.



It seems to dead end into the river where there is a trail sign post that says if you want to see the falls, you have to climb up a ways on a very skinny, very rocky, hardly maintained trail.




We are now following the river upstream to the falls rather than downstream.



Pretty steep, pretty rough, pretty slow going.









The noise gets closer and closer.  We are watching our step, our feet.  When we look up, we both say WOW!





The pictures don’t begin to do it justice and of course this is the water flow in the fall.  It’s fabulous now, I can’t even imagine it in the spring.  How glorious that would be.








What a fantastic hidden setting and we have it all to ourselves.






David takes a seat, then takes some pictures while I scramble all around.  I just love this spot.  I can’t keep from just exclaiming over and over how marvelous it is.










I take pictures from here and from there, from every direction I can.   It’s just too wonderful.  What a magical place.   Bring your suit if you make this trip when it’s hot.






















I know, enough already.  David’s thinking that too I’m sure as he waits for me.




Ultimately of course we have to take the rocky narrow trail down to the junction of the trail out of this narrow hollow.








And there it is, at the bottom of the rocky trail, the flat before the climb out to the left.  It appears the road may have gone on across the river at one time and out of the park, as the sign posts say, but there is no indication of a way across the river now.











It’s a long, steady, steep seemingly never ending up hill climb out.



Road or no road it’s steep.



 Slow and steady, with the help of nitro, David makes it out and declares that it was totally worth the climb. It really is a simply gorgeous setting and falls.

It is a long LONG way up and out and it is not less steep taking the road out than it was coming down the trail.  When I do it again I’ll take the trail in and out since it is a bit shorter and more interesting in terms of being by the water.  But it is also more narrow with trickier footing than the road which does have rocks but is at least wide. 

The trail goes back directly to the parking lot while the road comes out on Skyline Drive a ways down from the parking lot so you have to take the AT to cut over to the parking lot or walk along the drive. That adds a half mile. 

I wonder if the trail head sign doesn’t suggest the loop in an effort to take as much traffic off the trail as it can.   Good motive.  Still I doubt that the loop even without the trip to the base of the falls is 4.4 miles.  Our 4.4 mile hike turned into 5.8 miles and over 14,000 steps.   But I agree, totally worth it and I’ll do it again in a heart beat.  Wanna come along???


  1. I would love to join you! I never tire of hikes to waterfalls.

  2. Great view of the falls! Looks like quite a hike:)

  3. Definitely I want to come along! You find such gorgeous hikes -- that waterfall is wonderful. And such a great photo of the two of you beside it. That little moth is beautiful, too.

  4. I'm with Laurel... I want to go along and love the photo of you two at the falls. It really was worth all the hard work down and up to spend time in such a magical location!!!

  5. What a gorgeous falls! I agree, totally worth it!

  6. I think that photo of you both at the falls should be on this year's Christmas card. It is a keeper, for sure! :c)

  7. Awesome hike! Why do we always have to hike down to see the waterfalls...haha! Someone needs to fix this:) It was great to see so much water this time of year. Nice that you had this beauty all to yourself:)

  8. What a lovely hike! Also love the pic of the two of you by the waterfall, good pose :)

  9. Quite a strenuous looking trail, but that bottom view of the waterfall is worth it!

  10. Whew! Sure glad you both had hiking "poles" for that one! The little moth is such a bright spot among all that green :-) I can hear you giggling with delight at this beautiful place, and imagine it was very difficult to pull yourself away. All your pics are amazing, feel like I've been there already.

    Chrome fixed the issue :-))))

  11. Using Chrome to post this - only disadvantage is the amount of memory Chrome gobbles up - about twice that of explorer. But can't post with explorer anymore for some unknown reason. Looks like a great hike and the falls are beautiful.

  12. After my "rocky" experience in May I don't think I would even consider the really rocky trails anymore. I've become such a wuss!

  13. Beautiful hike...definitely worth it to go to the bottom of the falls....must be gorgeous in spring!

  14. I love the water too, but you really are like the proverbial kid in the candy store whenever we get near water. How wonderful to never lose that thrill. That kind of joy is usually only seen in our children, or so it seems to me.


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