Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overall Run Falls

Twin Falls on Overall Run
6.8 miles loop, 1800 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate, due to elevation gain and stream crossing
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required

The hike to Overall Run Falls is one of my favorites in Shenandoah. While much of the hike itself is nondescript and follows the undulating woodlands along the crest, the last segment of the trail is spectacular, featuring a steep descent into the rocky gorge of the Overall Run with two waterfalls, the pretty Twin Falls and Big Falls, the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah.

My trip to Overall Run Falls was my first trip to the North District of the park. I've always had trouble motivating myself to visit this part of the park, since it's about a two hour drive from Charlottesville, but as I was home home for winter break and Thornton Gap is the nearest entrance to home home, I figured I might finally make the journey to the North District. I hiked with my family on a fairly warm Christmas Eve.

We entered the park through the Thornton Gap entrance and stopped at Thornton Hollow and Rattlesnake Point Overlooks before reaching the trailhead, which was north a small, unmarked parking lot just south of the Hogback Overlook, at around mile 20 of the Drive.

The trail started from the Blue Ridge crest and follows the AT south to a junction with the Tuscarora-Overall Trail. We followed that trail to the right (west) and began descending from the crest. We stayed on this trail and followed it down to Twin Falls, passing through gentle wooded mountain slopes until passing the junction for the trail toward Mathews Arm.

Abruptly, the landscape changed: the gentle upper regions of the Blue Ridge ended and we began a descent down the steep side of the mountain. Not long into the descent, we came upon Twin Falls, a very pretty 29-foot tall waterfall on Overall Run and a good lunch spot.

Twin Falls
Past Twin Falls, the trail continued to drop, with Overall Run making numerous small falls to the left. As the trail switchbacked downhill, the views suddenly opened up: before us was a view of the entire hollow. A final descent put us at a rocky viewpoint high above Overall Run's gorge, with a good view of 93-foot tall Big Falls, the tallest falls in the park.

Big Falls on Overall Run
Like Twin Falls further down, Big Falls is carved into Catocin greenstone. The rocky cliffs of the Overall Run Gorge here are some of the most prominent exposed greenstone areas in the park; the uneven erosion of the greenstone makes the craggy scenery here some of the best in the park.

From the viewpoint, we also had a view out toward Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.

View down Overall Run canyon to Massanutten Mountain
While it's possible to return on the Tuscarora-Overall trail, we chose to make a loop by incorporating part of the Traces Trail into our hike. Hiking a loop instead of a round trip did not really add much, except a little mileage and a crossing of Overall Run. The woods on the fire road and near the Traces Trail were particularly pleasant, with views through the trees (in winter) of Massanutten and the Blue Ridge in the distance, but the highlight of this hike was clearly its destination, rather than the journey to get there.


  1. Nice blog! Good work!

    Those big falls are hard to photograph from above aren't they? I think I'm going back again when heavy rains fall and attempt to shoot it from the bottom up.

    1. Thanks for visiting!

      The falls would definitely be difficult to photograph once the leaves are in! Do you know of a path to the bottom of the gorge? I read that a marked path existed in the first edition of the Heatwole guide, but I didn't find it during my hike.

  2. A few of the trails mentioned in the guide are either overgrown or non-visible, especially ones that are considered as 'bushwhacking' by park officials. I went in from Thompson Hollow and it is possible to reach the bottom of these falls if you follow the stream up once you near the falls. But again, not worth all the effort if there isn't a good water flow.