Shenandoah National Park
South River Falls Trail
Jump to Baldface Mountain Overlook
Of the four trails I hiked in Shenandoah National Park during my one-day visit, South River Falls Trail is probably the one I should have skipped. It's a great 3.3 mile loop trail that leads to an impressive 83-foot high waterfall, and it's a worthwhile hike if you have the time. But I didn't. It also requires quite an effort, thanks to the trail's nearly 1,000-foot elevation change.
The trail leaves from the far side of the South River Picnic Area. Watch for the trailhead sign and a water fountain (for which you will be very thankful, later on). For the first half of the trail, you're going downhill. You'll cross the Appalachian Trail soon after leaving the parking lot. This will be your return route.
After a while, the trail meets up with South River. You'll find numerous tiny waterfalls, which provide a nice place to stop and relax.
After a while, you might be tempted to convince yourself that one of these small falls is the one you're looking for.
You'll know the actual falls when you see it. There's one good spot at the side of the trail for viewing the falls, but there are a few trees in the way...
... and you're not very close. A spur trail continues downhill and hooks back to the base of the falls, but the spur requires an extra one mile (round trip) of hiking. I was already getting tired at this point, and I knew I had a lot of climbing to do, just to get back to the parking area. The entire hike would probably have been more rewarding if I had continued on to the base of the falls, but I decided to start on the return trip.
At the viewpoint, you could choose to go back the way you came. It would be slightly shorter than following the return route, but perhaps slightly steeper as well.
I chose to follow the rest of the loop. Just beyond the viewing area, the first trail connects with an old jeep road, that's now traveled only by humans and horses. The jeep road makes the long climb back uphill, before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Then, a half-mile walk along the AT completes the loop.
The climb uphill was simply torturous. It was a hot day, and I had run out of water (or perhaps, in a foolish move, I hadn't taken any. I'm not sure, but I know I was very thirsty). As I rounded one curve after another on the jeep path, I hoped I would see the end of the trail. Instead, around each turn, another stretch of steep road awaited. When I finally made it back to that water fountain at the beginning of the trail, I easily sucked down a half-gallon without taking a breath.
Between South River and my next stop, Bearfence Mountain, I made only one stop to enjoy the view, at Baldface Mountain Overlook.
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