Recently, I’ve driven up and down the I-81 corridor too many times. Usually it is during the night so I can avoid the worst traffic on the busy freeway. I was doing the drive this time on a Sunday afternoon, so I thought I’d break it up with a hike in Shenandoah National Park. It was the perfect respite on a hot evening.
- name: Jones Run & Doyles River loop (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: loop
- distance: 6.92 miles (estimated due to gps malfunction – 6.6 on Hiking Upwards)
- elevation change: 1355 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:13 hours
- location: Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, VA (google map directions)
Shenandoah National Park, unlike the Jefferson & Washington National Forests in southwest Virginia, is a national park. So there are entrance fee (Shenandoah National Park) associated to access this hike. With the heavy traffic of visitors to Shenandoah, it is very much needed to up keep with infrastructure. I would also recommend to get the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for USD$80, it usually pays for itself if you visit 3 national parks.
There are two possible starting points for this hike. I started at the Browns Gap parking area, but you can also start at the Jones Run parking area.
There are also several variants you can take for this hike. First, you can hike both the Doyles River Falls Trail (3.4 miles hike starting from the Doyles River parking area at mile 81.1 – alltrails) and Jones Run Falls (4.5 mile hike from Jones Run parking lot around mile marker 84 – alltrails) trails separately as in and out hikes.
For a longer loop option of 8.3 miles (alltrails), you can skip the Browns Gap Turnpike (fire road section) with a longer walk on the Appalachian Trail and Doyles River Trail. With this option, you can also park at the Jones Run parking lot around mile marker 84.
On a hot weekend day, this was said to be one of the more popular hikes in the southern section of the Shenandoah National Park, specifically for the many swimming holes and water availability along the trail. That was also the reason I chose this hike, which doesn’t have any vistas at all. Another factor on the traffic of the trail can also depend on the time of day. When I arrive around 5:30pm on a Sunday, there were only a few cars left in the parking lot.
With the late sunset of mid-June, I knew I would have plenty of time. I started on the trail counterclockwise, mainly because it was the directions on Hiking Upwards. The hike starts by crossing the Skyline Dr and follows the Appalachian Trail (AT) southbound.
The portion on the AT starts uphills for a few steps to the highest point of the hike before flatting out, but it was just in the cover of trees the entire way. Along the way, there is a turn off toward a picnic area toward Skyline Dr to the right of the trail and a backcountry camping area to the left that a group of backpackers were already set up in (see details here from Shenandoah National Park regarding backcountry permits). They might have been AT thru-hikers, but I didn’t bother them and continued on.
These would be the last people I saw on my hike. Other than the campers, I met 2 other couples finishing the trail as I started. So, hiking at the end of the day is a nice way to have the trail to yourself.
After about 1.3 miles on the AT, I turned to the left on the blue blazed Jones Run Trail. The downhill started at about a -11.5% grade for the next half of a mile on a wide trail through the forest.
The trail flattens out briefly at the first crossing of Jones Run. The next mile or so was pretty boring as the trail resumed descending downhills at about a -8% grade through the forest.
I had been pretty disappointed up until this point as there wasn’t anything of interest but the green tunnels of Virginia and I was almost half way through the hike. I guess this is a good reason to hike the trail counterclockwise as I would rather get through the boring stuff first. If you are hiking with friends, the first part might pass faster since conversations are usually aplenty at the beginning of a hike rather than the end. I understood the sentiment I saw on the faces of the clockwise hikers that I saw when I started now, the latter portion of their hike must have been anticlimactic making it seem very long.
When the trail finally joined up with Jones Run, that’s when the cool stuff starts to appear. I was so glad to have a change in scenery, I walked a few steps in the stream itself. It’s a nice benefit of hiking in Chacos.
I returned to the trail to continue downhills as I came upon the first of many cascades and swimming holes. Though, the water here seemed a bit too opaque for my liking, Jones Run’s flow might have been on the lower end.
The next set of cascades was just under a cave or overhang of rocks, which was pretty cool.
The rock formations were definitely understated aspects of the trail here.
About 3 miles into the hike, there was an outcrop overlooking Jones Falls
before the trail zigzaged a couple of time to reach the bottom of the falls. There were many cairns piled up here, seemingly built by visitors under in this idealistic setting. I’m conflicted about non-trail marking cairns. Maybe those put these cairns up to express their emotions and peacefulness of the setting, but I felt like they go against the principles of leave no trace and more of a product of humans notion of self importance. To settle this conflict, I ran around kicking over all but the largest cairn.
There is a trail marker here as well telling me I had another 0.7 miles until I should turn on the Doyles River Trail.
That 0.7 miles was a pretty cool section with one cascade
followed by another.
The bottom of which always had a nice swimming hole. Though, some required you to bushwack off trail a bit.
Meanwhile the trail was a bit rocky at times and a bit muddy as well as it continued to drop fairly steeply. Also along the way there were some old growth trees,
and the second crossing of Jones Run.
The trail fattens out a bit after the crossing of Jones Run until the junction with the Doyles River Trail. There seems to be a trail that continues to follow the Browns River (the name of the River after the confluence of Jones Run and Doyles River) downstream here, but it might just be a game trail as it is not labeled on any of the maps or the signpost. For me, I turned left and uphills to follow the Doyles River upstream. The trail for the next mile of so until Lower Doyles Falls had an incline about 9.6% grade.
The Doyles River was running at a much swifter pace than Jones Run and it made for a nice soundtrack as the trail climbed above the river. There were plenty of swimming holes along the trail, but you had to find your way downslope to them. They also seemed cleaner than the ones of Jones Run, perhaps due to the faster moving water.
There were also looked to be an established campsite
just before a footbridge to cross a stream running into Doyles River.
The pace here can be a little slow going, not just because of the rate of elevation gain, but also because of the many cascades and swimming holes you can explore.
About 4.6 miles from the beginning of the hike and just under a mile from the junction with Jones Run Trail, the view opens up to the first view of Lower Doyles Falls.
You can get down to the streambed here
and follow it up until the falls.
Once I returned to the trail, it was another 0.3 miles to the Upper Doyles Falls. The trail ascended aggressively up on some rocks and around some boulders
before coming to a nice outlook upon the Upper Doyles Falls.
You can also hike to the bottom of the falls a little further along the trail. There are signs here that no camping is allowed here however.
The postmark here says it’s 1.2 miles to Skyline Dr, but that isn’t the parking lot I’m looking for. Rather it is the Doyles River parking lot. Shortly after the postmark, the trail crosses Doyles River and the elevation gain mellows out.
In about half a mile from Upper Doyles Falls, I come to the next junction with the Browns Gap Fire Road. I turn left and cross the bridge to follow it back to the Browns Gap Parking area.
The fire road itself is pretty boring without any views. There were some muddy areas you had to hop over and the long grass at points made me more sensitive of possible ticks. Despite uninteresting nature of the fire road, my last section was anything but uneventful.
I came to a black bear directly in my track. That makes for 2 out of 3 Shenandoah hikes that I’ve encountered a bear. The other was at Bear Church Rock and I was also by myself. After serenading it with a rendition of “Don’t eat me bear,” it ran off the trail downhills quickly.
From there, I turned the music on my phone for the rest of the hike. Along the fire trail, I also saw a couple of deers and possibly another bear or at least a smaller black furry animal scramble off the trail.
I returned Skyline Dr and my car at 8:42pm.
Just around sunset, it made for a nice rest of the drive on the Skyline as I exited the park and continued my drive.
- views: 3. For half of the trail, it was pretty boring walking in the woods. However, once the trail starts to follow Jones Run and Doyles River, it becomes much more interesting with plenty of cascades, swimming holes, rock formations, and falls. Be sure to plan for extra time to play around these features, especially during a hot day. There maybe the possibility of large crowds on this hike that may take away from your experience on this hike, but I only encountered 2 couples on their way out since I started late in the day.
- difficulty: 2. While the elevation profile isn’t bad at all, the incline at certain portions will make you breathe hard. Since the trail is also next to a stream for about half of the time, the trail does get muddy or slippery over rocks. Lastly, it’s a strange feeling having to hike downhills to start and end the day with an uphill. It may make the final climb seem more tiring.
- technical: 1. The trails in Shenandoah National Park are will signed.