Whiteoak Canyon is home to impressive waterfalls and cascades that range in height from 35 to 86 feet. No wonder it’s one of Shenandoah’s most popular waterfall hikes. The falls start as a trickle and build into a rush of water that tumbles into pools below. This definitely is a gorgeous hike with beautiful views.
This hike and Dark Hollow Falls are probably the two most popular trails in all of Shenandoah National Park.
- Distance: 4.6-mile round trip hike
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Hiking Time: ~ 3 hours 30 minutes
There are great stops along the way to let the kids play in the stream.
Whiteoak Canyon is another favorite family trail in Shenandoah National Park. There are multiple routes depending on whether you start at the top or the bottom. We always start at the top and hike down to the top of the falls. Then after a few pictures and a break, we turn back around and head back up. Be prepared for a steep hike back. This loop is approximately 4.6 miles.
Since this hike is very popular, it’s smart to head to the park early. Even though the parking lot is rather large, it does fill up quickly. Unless you hike this trail very early in the morning, expect to see substantial crowds.
The full Whiteoak Canyon Trail stretches from the parking lot on the valley floor to the Skyline Drive at the very top of the park. The full distance is approximately 4.6 miles one-way and comes with 2400 feet of elevation gain.
Yes, we have hiked the Whiteoak Canyon Falls Upper Trailhead with young kids–a baby in a carrier and a 2 1/2 year old in tow. The 2 1/2 year old made it down but had to be carried part of the way back. Now that the kids are much older, this hike is a lot easier. But, it is definitely doable with little ones especially if your kids are used to hiking.
There are two footbridges to cross before you come to the viewpoint of the upper falls.
Click HERE for a trail map.
- From the trailhead at the Whiteoak Canyon Parking Area (mile 42.6), take the Whiteoak Canyon Trail.
- Pass the junctions for the Old Rag Fire Road and the Limberlost Trail
- About 2.3 miles from the start you will come to a rocky ledge with a view of the upper falls.
- Retrace your steps to the parking lot. The return trip will be very steep!
Shenandoah National Park Tips:
When visiting Shenandoah National Park, make sure to plan for crowds. We always head to the park early. It can get very busy on nice weekends and especially on Fee Free days. We’ve had friends wait an hour or two just to get into the park. If you already have a National Park Pass, sometimes you can bypass the long lines. This has happened to us before. If you do not have a National Park Pass, you will pay $30 to enter the park. This entrance pass is good for seven consecutive days. If you decide to purchase the National Park Pass, you’ll easily recoup the $80 charge especially if you use it to visit Northern Virginia area parks like Great Falls and Prince William National Forest.
Make sure to download the free NPS Shenandoah app before heading into the park as cell service and Wi-Fi are limited. You will also want to download offline content before you arrive (available in the settings menu of the app). This will allow you to continue to use various functions of the app without cell service.
There are four entrances to Shenandoah National Park: Front Royal, Thornton Gap, Swift Run Gap, and Rockfish Gap. We use the Thornton Gap entrance to get to our favorite hikes.
Shenandoah NP Thorton Gap Location: 3655 US Highway 211 E, Luray, VA 22835 (1.5 hours from Fredericksburg.)
Hours: Shenandoah National Park is always open. However, portions of the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, the only public road through the park, are periodically closed during inclement weather. Visitors can still enter the park on foot to hike even when the Drive is closed. Current operating dates and hours can be found HERE.