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South River Falls - Central SNP, Virginia


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
10.4 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
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4.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
2,300 ft
Shenandoah National Park
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Parking at the South River Picnic area (MP63). 38.38115, -78.51707

This hike can be done as a nice short 4.8 mile loop hike to see the Falls or a longer 10.6 mile circuit hike to see the Falls, 2 cemeteries, the Upper Pocosin Mission ruins, and the PATC Pocosin Cabin.

The 83' Falls, 3rd largest in SNP, are easily accessed via the South River Picnic Area (MP63). There is a walled overlook at mile 1.3 to view the Falls and for a great view of the Falls, a further walk down to the base of the Falls is encouraged.

  • Mile 0.0The trail begins near the restrooms about ¾ of the way around the South River Picnic Area.
  • Mile 0.2 – Intersection with the Appalachian Trail, stay straight on the Blue-blazed South River Falls Trail.
  • Mile 1.3 – After a steep descent and a couple of creek crossings you will arrive at the South River Falls walled overlook for view of Falls. Continue on the trail to the Fire  Road Intersection.
  • Mile 1.5 – Fire Road Intersection, take right to go to base of Falls, highly recommend doing this, a little tough coming up but worth it.
  • Mile 2.2 – Continue down fire road until it ends and then follow narrow/rocky path to the base. When the water is flowing the pool at the bottom would feel good to take a swim.
  • Mile 2.9 – Return back to Intersection at Mile 1.5, tough little climb out of the Gorge, continue past intersection, staying on fire road, trail is yellow-blazed at this point
  • Mile 3.3 – Reach South River Fire Road. Decision point:

    • For short 4.8 mile loop stay straight and in 0.8 miles reach the Appalachian Trail, take a left onto the AT and in 0.5 miles reach the South River Falls Trail, take a right to reach South River Falls Picnic Area to complete hike.

    • For longer 10.5 circuit hike continue following the directions below.

Note: Over the next 1.2 miles you will cross into the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area and various Private Properties, stay on the trail and you will be fine, you will even cross a yellow road barrier. The blazes are sketchy at best on this section.

  • Mile 3.3 - Bear hard right onto the South River Falls Fire Road.
  • Mile 4.5 – Intersection with Pocosin Horse Trail, bear left.
  • Mile 4.7 – Intersection with short Spur Trail to South River Cemetery, bear right.
  • Mile 4.8South River Cemetery.
  • Mile 6.0 – Return to previous intersection and bear right continuing on the Pocosin Horse Trail, reaching the Upper Pososin Mission ruins. The Upper Pocosin Mission cemetery is to the left and the Mission to the right. The trail bears to the left and becomes the Pocosin Fire Road at this point.
  • Mile 6.8Pocosin Cabin on the left. This can be rented from PATC. Great view from the front of the cabin looking east. Return to fire road, bear left.
  • Mile 7.0 – Appalachian Trail Intersection, bear left heading South on the AT.
  • Mile 7.5 – After a couple of breath catching switchbacks reach a vista with views northward, probably best when the leaves are off the trees.
  • Mile 8.6 – Summit of Bald Face Mtn with a vista to the west, once again probably better when the leaves are off.
  • Mile 9.9 – Intersection with South River Fire Road, go through intersection, staying on the AT.
  • Mile 10.4 – Intersection with South River Falls Trail, take right to head back to Parking Area.
  • Mile 10.5 - Parking Area.
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Hiker Reviews For The South River Falls Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Steve Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, February 20, 2017
The best waterfall on Skyline Drive. I started the hike from the picnic area. Easy to the find the trail by the bathrooms. The trail was smooth and looked well traveled. It must be very popular in warm weather. When I arrived at 9am there were only two other cars in the parking lot. Granted it was February and the day started out at 38 degrees. For the most part the trail is easy. Around the falls overlook there are several cliff drop offs beside the trail, you should keep track of the kids. Past the overlook the trail widens back out and winds easily down to the base of the creek. You then climb back up for a slight bit on some rock stairs to the base of falls. The rock stairs are on a rather tame area. Well worth it. I didn't find any "steep" sections.

By: Michael B Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, December 27, 2016
This was a my wife and I's first hike. We had wonderful time. We opted for the shorter 4.5 mile hike to the base of the falls and back. We had not read much about it, and almost turned around at the fire road. We were SOOO glad not to turn around. The base of the falls was incredible, and well worth the extra mile. We even took the dog and he loved it.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 24, 2016
We took this hike on a very, very hot Sunday afternoon. I can concur with the other reviewers here. It makes no sense at all to do this hike without going all of the way to the base of the falls. There were many picnickers (sp?) at the parking lot but we didn't meet very many other hikers along the trail. One of the reasons we chose this trail as the White Oak and Rose River parking areas were packed.

Waterfall hikes are always a little tough because you're mostly hiking uphill all of the way after the payoff of the falls. Don't let the rock crawling final section deter you. With that being said, completely worth it. Like stepping into a postcard for the park. If we'd gotten there earlier we could have stayed at the base of the falls, in the pools and relaxing for a couple of hours, but we had to make it back up by dark.

I've hike most of the park from Dickey Ridge to Swift Run Gap, this is one of the best reasonably doable hikes for even older children. My youngest (11 years old) had a blast with almost no complaining on the way back up.


By: Doug T. Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 10, 2016
My family and I did the short section of this hike on Sunday afternoon. We met several other people during the hike but by no means would I have considered it crowded. It seemed that most of the people only went to the overlook and not all the way to the base of the falls. Going to the base was well worth the trip. All of the rain that has fallen this year made for a good flow over the falls. Coming back up along the fire road was a grind and somewhat boring, but overall the hike was enjoyable and well worth the effort.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 26, 2016
We started Saturday morning at the South River Entrance Station. We went north on the AT, saw South River Falls, camped on the Pocosin Horse Trail, then came back down the AT Sunday morning back to the entrance station. The falls were the highlight of the trip. The fire road detour to the base of the falls is well worth it. Don't stop when you get to the post--keep walking along the rocks to get to the base. There's a small pool there, not quite deep enough to call it a swimming hole, but a great cool-down on a Summer day I'm sure.

If you're overnighting, unless the park is unusually dry there are opportunities for water from very shallow streams along the Pocosin Horse Trail.


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