• Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    4.4 Miles

Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall

​South River Falls is my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. This 83 foot tall waterfall is a unique two-tiered waterfall. The first tier is a single fall that flows into a rock shelf before separating into two parallel falls. South River Falls is located in the Central District of Shenandoah just north of the Swift Run Gap Entrance.

 The trail head for the South River Falls Trail is located at mile marker 63 off of Skyline Drive via the South River Picnic Area.  Loop around the picnic area until you reach the Eastern corner where you will find a sign and a map marking the beginning of the 4.2-mile trail.  Over the first mile hikers will descend down a well maintain and easy to follow trail.  The trail is marked with blue blazes.  At 0.2 miles, hikers will cross the Appalachian Trail; continue straight to follow the blue blazes down the mountain toward South River Falls.  After hiking down the mountain, the trail flattens out as it follows the South River.  There are two river crossings along this part of the trail, which will give you an idea of about how much water will be in the falls.  At 1.3 miles, hikers will arrive at a stone wall overlook.  This overlook is a great spot to take some pictures from above the falls.  There are a lot of trees, so depending on the time of year, you may not be able to see all of the falls.   

To reach the bottom of the falls, continue along the trail past the overlook for 0.2 miles until you reach a fire road.  Turn right to follow the fire road 0.4 miles the rest of the way down the mountain until it ends.  Once you are at the end of the fire road, follow the blue blazes up the narrow rocky path for 0.3 miles to the base of the falls.  This is the best location to enjoy the beauty and to take pictures of the falls.  

The canyon leading to the falls runs east and west, so in the morning the sun will be shining directly on the falls, but in the evening, the sun will be setting behind the falls allowing photographers to get a sunstar through the trees above the falls.  South River can be used as a great leading line to help guide the viewer’s eye to the waterfall (for more composition tips, click here).  There is also a nice large flat rock on the right side of the falls to sit or to place a subject on. Once you are down taking your pictures and enjoying the falls, backtrack the 2.2 miles to return to the trail head.  For tips on how to photograph waterfalls with silky smooth water, click here.  

South River Falls is the 3rd tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park and is a popular hike because of the beauty of this waterfall and because it is located so close to the Swift Run Gap Entrance.  I have hiked to this waterfall on multiple occasions and have always seen other people, including the time I went during the middle of the week with 1 foot of snow on the ground.  South River Falls is at its best during the spring or after a lot of rain.  During the summer and fall, there isn't much water in the river resulting in water just trickling over the falls.  Dogs are allowed on this trail, which makes it a great hike for the whole family. 

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Water
  • Snacks
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Hiked this on a Saturday morning (starting at 7am) and didn't see a soul. It is steep descending down to the falls and in the summer there aren't really views from the stone overlook as Brandon mentioned. Continuing to the base of the falls is your best option. After exploring the base of the falls, try hiking back up the fire road, then turning left on the Appalachian Trail (traveling south on the AT) for an easier ascent back to the parking area.

8 months ago
8 months ago

This is a gorgeous waterfall after a good rainfall but when there hasn't been much rain it can be a trickle of water. This is also a great hike in the winter time.

9 months ago
9 months ago

Brandon Dewey Explorer

I am a Father, Photographer, Adventurer, and World Explorer (26 countries and counting). I'm from the Bay Area but I'm currently living outside of Richmond, Virginia.

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