I awoke on Sunday morning in the Shenandoah National Park to find the clouds, that had blocked my view of the previous night’s meteor shower, had given way to clear blue skies. The air was crisp as I packed up my gear and headed south along the Skyline Drive. My plans for the day were to get a campsite at the Big Meadows Campground, hike to the Dark Hollow Falls, and then to the Lewis Falls.
On the way to Big Meadows I stopped at a few overlooks and then at the Little Stony Man Parking Area (around mile marker 39) to see if the trail from there looked interesting. The sign at the trailhead mapped out a four mile circuit hike to the second highest peak in the park, the Stony Man Summit at 4,010 ft.. I thought I’d check it out.
The trail to Stony Man Summit from the Stony Man Parking Area (3,215 ft.) starts with a short path leading to the Appalachian Trail. After turning left and following the AT for .4 miles you must turn right onto the Passamaquoddy Trail. In .1 miles the trail goes past the Stony Man Cliffs Overlook. This is as far as I made it. After sitting and enjoying the view for a little while, I decided that breakfast and coffee would take priority over any more hiking. I did feel a little wimpy after seeing a group of 70-somethings headed to the peak. I rationalized this by telling myself that they were fresh and didn’t hike/run the Overall Run Falls Trail and then only sleep a few hours. OK, fine, I’m just getting soft.
After getting some breakfast at the visitors center I went over to the Big Meadows Campground to get a site. In the past when I had been at the park on Sundays the campgrounds had emptied out. This particular Sunday was different. There was a line of people to get campsites. I found an empty spot, set up my tent, and headed out to my next destination; the Dark Hollow Falls.
The Dark Hollow Falls Trailhead is just north of the Byrd Visitors Center along the Skyline Drive (near mile marker 50) and about one mile from the Big Meadows Campground. The round-trip hike from the parking area is 1.5 miles (3.5 miles round-trip from the campground). The sign at the trailhead says, “This hike is short, but very steep and rocky. The return climb is challenging!” If you’re an experienced hiker you probably won’t find this trail overly challenging, but it is .75 miles uphill on the way back with the steeper section at the bottom.
Soon after embarking on the hike, I heard what I thought was someone throwing stones into the creek that runs alongside the trail. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was a black bear turning over rocks looking for food. He didn’t seem to mind my presence so, from a safe distance, I sat and watched him slowly meander up the creek, turning over each rock along the way. He didn’t seem to find much to eat, so after a while I decided to head down the trail before the bear turned his attention to me.
When I got to falls I stepped into the pool at the bottom of the 70 ft. cascading waterfall to cool off. The Dark Hollow Falls are definitely one of the sights in the park that you should check out, but if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path hike, this isn’t it. Anytime I’ve been at the falls I’ve never seen less than twenty people there. The 81 ft. tall Lewis Falls is a little less popular. It’s a little further off of the road and there’s not a clearly marked parking area and trail for it. That’s where I would head next.
I headed up the trail, snapping a few photos of the deer along the way, and back to the campground. After some lunch and a quick rest I’d be ready for my next little trek.