Virginia State Parks are well known for their amenities and great trails, and the Shenandoah River Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. State Park is no exception. The 1,600 acre park, which opened in 1999, has 17 trails making up 24 miles, a virtual labyrinth. The trails include a beautiful overlook of the river, as well as a pleasant field walk.
The 8.5 mile circuit hike we have mapped out here encompasses sections of the Bear Bottom Loop, Big Oak, Redtail Ridge, Shale Barrens, River, and Culler's Trails, passing 10 major intersections! But don't be concerned about getting lost, as the trail signage and tree blazing is excellent. Of note is that many trails are multiuse and are popular with mountain bikers and equestrians, so be prepared to share the trails.
Looking to make a weekend out of it? Even though we have camping rated as N/A as there is no camping on the trails, the park also has a picnic area with clean facilities, plus tent and trailer camping in designated areas.
Mile 0.0 - From the parking area at the Horse Barn enter the woods at the kiosk, then follow the trail for 75 yards to the Bear Bottom Loop Trail junction. Turn left on the blue blazed Bear Bottom Loop Trail where it slowly climbs a ridge to the intersection of the main Bear Bottom Loop in 0.8 miles.
Mile 0.9 - Turn right on the blue blazed Bear Bottom Loop Trail as it winds around the mountain for 1.9 miles to the intersection of the Big Oak Trail.
Mile 2.8 - Turn right onto the white blazed Big Oak Trail for 0.4 miles to the Shale Barrens Trail intersection.
Mile 3.2 - Stay right on the Big Oak trail for another 0.7 miles to the pink blazed Tulip Poplar Trail.
Mile 3.9 - Stay left on the white blazed Big Oak Trail for another 100 yards at which point the Big Oak trail turns right, and the red blazed Redtail Ridge Trail turns left.
Mile 4.0 - Turn left on the red blazed Redtail Ridge Trail for 0.2 miles to the out/back overlook trail. Take the short overlook trail to one of the best views of the Shenandoah River on the hike. Return to the Redtail Ridge Trail and continue for 0.4 miles passing another great view of the river through the trees. From this point it's another 0.5 miles to the intersection with the Shale Barrens Trail.
Mile 5.1 - Turn right downhill on the grey blazed Shale Barrens Trail for 0.4 miles to the Culler's Trail.
Mile 5.7 - Turn right on the dark green blazed River Trail for 0.4 miles to the next River Trail junction. Remain left on the River Trail passing a couple of nice benches before the trail turns left in 0.8 miles at a cabin and joining the Culler's Trail for 50 yards.
Mile 6.9 - Stay straight on the orange blazed Culler's Trail passing the white blazed Big Oak Trail in 0.2 miles, crossing a small creek, then arriving at a road crossing in another 0.6 miles.
Mile 7.7 - Cross the road remaining on the orange blazed Culler's Trail for the 0.8 miles back to the hike loop start point and intersection of the Bear Bottom Loop Trail.
Mile 8.5 - Turn left for the 75 yards back to the parking area.
This qualifies more as a stroll than a hike - I wouldn't put difficulty past a 2, and nearly all of it would qualify as a 1 - but it's a very serene area. I was on the trail before 9am and encountered only one other pair of hikers until I was returning to the parking lot. As others have mentioned, this route, which is cobbled together from a bunch of trails, is extremely well marked and easy to follow. My only suggestion would be to stick to the River Trail (dark green) after the cabin at the 5.7 mile instructions (also worth noting that there is currently a small pond over the trail just before the cabin, though you can pick your way off-trail around the edge) rather than staying on the orange-blazed Culler's trail. The River Trail would be more scenic and less multi-use than Culler's, which is really a gravel lane. I believe the River Trail breaks back off to the left after just a short bit on Culler's, and then rejoins Culler's just before you reach the 6.9 mile point where Culler's crosses a road.
A couple of other notes: make sure to bring exact change for parking as the booth was unmanned (currently $7 during high season and for out-of-state $5 for in-state and off-season but up-to-date info is at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/shenandoah-river), and also worth sharing that this park would be great for cyclocrossers.
Date of Hike: Friday, November 25, 2016
Great hike. Lots of leaves on trails. The trails are rock free for the most part and groomed. There are some sections that are not level. I encountered no hikers but several mountain bikers and horses(and horse poop). All the bikers were extremely courteous so dang I can't complain about them. I can understand the review that said no views if the leaves were on the trees, but when I made the turn on the Red Ridge Trail... WOW! The views of the river valley were picture perfect.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 17, 2016
We set out to do the 8.5-mile hike outlined here, but had to stop at the Visitors Center to use the facilities before starting out. Rather than backtrack to the Horsebarn parking area, we decided to walk using the Overlook and Campground trails, adding an additional 2.2 miles to our day for a total of 10.7.
These are the widest, best manicured, and most rock-free trails I have walked on in some time. If you are of a mind, you can easily hit 3-4 miles per hour on these trails. They are perfect for trail running or mountain biking. We saw no other hikers all day, but did see four mountain bikers, all polite and all considerate. While we saw a ton of horse poop on all the trails, we saw no equestrians. But do watch where you step.
I suggest you pick up a trail map at the contact station on your way in. It has a good bit more detail than the topo here and it rates the trail difficulty with symbols similar to those used at ski resorts. But don't believe those black diamonds these trails are not difficult for anyone who has any legs about them. There is very little elevation change in the park compared to most of the hikes around here.
I will say that I have a really good innate sense of direction and there were several points at which I could not make the directions here jibe with the map and with what I was seeing on the ground. The trails are impeccably well marked on the ground and with the river as a constant western boundary and with US340 as the eastern, there isn't any way to get lost. But there are lots of opportunities to be confused by the maze of trails as you encounter them. Consult your map early and often: this isn't a place that you want to do without a map.
The walks along the bluffs and through the woods were delightful and the view from the Overlook Trail just to the north of Culler's Overlook is really nice, better than from the overlook itself. Also wonderful was the view from the observation point where the Redtail Ridge trail turns due south along the river. Now for the not so delightful. The River Trail and Culler's Trail along the river are in bright sunlight and in the 97-degree heat, despite a dip in the river, it was a brutal traverse. There are very few access points to the river you will often be mere feet from the river but not be able to see it. Culler's Trail is a gravel road with pasture on both sides. If that's not your thing, be forewarned.
Knowing this, however, should you still decide to go down riverside on the River Trail, you will come upon a vast Cottonwood tree and an equally vast Sycamore right on the riverbank. Both have sizeable colonies of Red-Headed Woodpeckers and it is delightful to watch them sallying forth from the tops, catching bugs on the wing, and returning to the trees.
It's a beautiful place with great views of the river and the Massanuttens. The trails are easy. The crowds appear to be absent. It's probably worth the $7 (instate, weekend) entry fee, but I would avoid the river in the summer heat were I to do it again. Your mileage may vary.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 02, 2016
Overall a good hike and park. Lots of solitude. Only saw 2 hikers and five bikers (2 of which passed me 5 times), which was surprising since it was a holiday weekend. (There were a bunch of people out on the river.) The trails are exceptionally marked. I was worried with all the crisscrossing trails. It was also nice that the sign posts list the mileage also. The trails I went on are for hikers, bikers and horses. That being said, you need to watch your step.
I did a different route and started off on the river trail, however it was not a constant river view, only grassy side trails to the river bank. This area is in the sun, but the trails offers a nice view of a grassland with wild flowers and birds. The trails here are gravel and wide. I then headed up to the Shale Barrens, Redtail Bridge, Tulip Poplar, Big Oak, and finally the Bear Bottom(outer section) trails. These are nice wooded natural and easy to navigate. I saw several bird types, a small lizard, and even saw a young buck. There are some overlooks of the river. I picked this hike due to its solitude score (which it lived up to) and its stream score of 5 (which it did not live up to). Other than the Shenandoah River, I did not see any streams other than a dry stream bed. (I would have score this hike a 5 if there were some streams.)
Date of Hike: Thursday, June 02, 2016
One of my favorite hikes in that area. The trails are among the smoothest and widest I've found including in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest. Excellent trail marking. I like the mix of being in the woods and being out in the open along a field and the river. Saw deer and a black bear (on the Bear Bottom Loop segment, of course). No one else on the trail for the first 7 miles then about 6 near the end, I think more associated with the nearby campgrounds than out hiking. The overlook is great.