Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls in late September
1.4 miles round trip, 440 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Trailhead on Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required

Dark Hollow Falls, a 70-foot cascade that drains Big Meadows, is the most easily accessible waterfall in the park is thus probably the most heavily visited. The waterfall is very pretty, with the Hogcamp Branch making multiple small drops on its way down to the Rose River. It was once a favorite spot of Thomas Jefferson, who wandered the Blue Ridge when he wasn't off copying European architectural styles, writing documents in the style of John Locke, being president, or founding a very cool school.

I would discourage anyone who likes solitude from hiking this trail on weekends or during the summer or fall. It is severely overused, meaning you'll have to share the short, wide, well-maintained trail with tons of families and that you'll have to wait your turn if you want to photograph the falls from nice angles. Conversely, this also makes this hike a good hike for beginners who like having company and a fairly short and easy trail.

One of my friends and I decided to use this trail as way to introduce a friend who had never been hiking before to the park. We left on an overcast September day. By the time we had gotten onto the Drive, there was no rain, but there was also no views. We stopped at the Hazeltop Ridge Overlook hoping for the clouds to clear out, but they stuck around, so we continued to the hike. The trailhead was around mile 51 of Skyline Drive, just north of Big Meadows and to the east of the Drive.

The parking lot, which could accommodate probably 20 or more cars, was mostly full. We hit the trail, which started out paved but petered out into the typical gravel/dirt/log. We descended fairly quickly to the Hogcamp Branch, which we then followed past some small greenstone outcrops to the falls. I spent a little while photographing the falls before we returned to the car and headed out.

I also did this trail back in high school with my parents and some family friends during the spring. This waterfall is very pretty and the hike is easy, but the next time I return I'll want to come midwinter or during the middle of the week, when I won't have to compete for a view of the falls.

Dark Hollow Falls in May

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