Best Hikes for Little Adventurers in Shenandoah National Park
Summer is the ideal time to load the family into the car and set off to explore a new national park. Shenandoah National Park, for example. Yet it can also be intimidating. Not only do you have to navigate a heavily-trafficked destination with hundreds of miles of trails to choose from, but you also have the added pressure of having some kiddos tagging along.
That’s where we can help. We’ve hiked, carried kids, and crawled on enough trails to know which hikes are great for small feet, and which can cause a midday meltdown.
Hazel Falls and Cave
5.3 miles, out-and-back
This hike takes you into “Hazel Country,” a heavily settled area in pre-park days. The route traverses hill and hollow for the Hazel River, where a rock indentation forms a natural shelter beside a waterfall, all within a deep stone cathedral. All in all, it’s a good destination. The difficulty of this hike is hard to rate: the first 2.4-mile portion is a moderate stroll on old settler roads, but the last 0.3-mile trek to the cave and falls is on a steep, rough footpath. Though rugged, this section is short; all but small children should make it.
On summer weekends fellow hikers head to the glen where the falls and cave are enclosed.
2 miles, out-and-back
Take a walk into the past on this short trek. Leave Skyline Drive on the wide and easy Pocosin Fire Road, and explore the ruins of the Pocosin Mission, where a brave Episcopal minister attempted to save the souls of surrounding mountaineers. Explore the ruins of the mission and other nearby signs of habitation on a child-friendly walk. If you desire to walk a bit more, you can head down Pocosin Hollow. Descend to see many old-growth trees on your way down to a tumbling watercourse, where you’ll find a nice spot to picnic or relax. Or you can take a stroll on an adjacent parcel of the Appalachian Trail (AT), and grab a view from a rocky slope.
1.1 miles, loop
Shenandoah is known for its overlooks and vistas. Many can be accessed from Skyline Drive. But, as hikers know, the best views are earned on foot. Not everyone can tramp for miles to an overlook. However, this short loop around the summit of Blackrock is doable by just about everyone from 4 to 84.
Start at nearly 3,000 feet, then make your way up the Trayfoot Mountain Trail on a wide track, topping a hill. Meet the Appalachian Trail (AT) and follow it northbound. Open onto an incredible rock jumble. Views extend for miles in multiple directions. Kids enjoy scrambling over massive boulders to reach the summit of Blackrock. Adults can stay on the AT. After gaining views from several spots, reenter woods, working your way back to the trailhead.
For more great hikes in Shenandoah National Park, check out the new edition of Top Trails: Shenandoah by Johnny Molloy.