Being opportunistic is a good way to avoid the crowds when it comes to popular trails. It may mean getting up before sunrise, starting out late in the day, or still heading out when it’s rainy. With many of the frontcountry campgrounds still closed, certain trails are a little less crowded than normal. This included the Sherando Lake area, which is known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains and typically sees hundreds of campers a day.
- name: Sherando Lake, Torry Ridge, & White Rock Falls loop
- type: loop
- distance: 10.3 miles
- elevation change: 1867 ft
- time: 4:43 hours (4:19 hours moving)
- location: Glenwood-Pedlar Ranger District, George Washington National Forest, near Waynesboro, VA (google map directions)
We started our hike at the White Rock Falls parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, two starting points for the loop are at Sherando Lake Campgrounds (USDA; google map directions; currently closed for COVID-19 – roadside parking on VA 664, google map direction) or further along the Blue Ridge Parkway at The Slacks Overlook and Trailhead (google map directions).
Speaking of the Slacks Trailhead, a shorter 5.3 mile loop combining White Rock Falls and the Slacks Trail (alltrails). White Rock Falls is reachable as in & out hikes from both White Rock Falls (alltrails) or Slacks Overlook (alltrails) parking areas.
While on our way to the trailhead, we saw the road to Sherando Lake Campgrounds closed. However it didn’t mean the White Rock Falls parking area was any less full when we arrived at noon an a humid Saturday.
There looked like some sort of trail behind the White Rock Gap sign, but a much more pronounced trail on to the left of the main post board. Both would take us in the correct direction on the White Rock Gap Trail as we start on our loop counterclockwise. Our path passed the junction with the blue blazed Slacks Trail to the left before joining the yellow blazed White Rock Gap Trail.
The White Rock Gap Trail descends at a -11.6% grade to start for the first half mile before gradually mellowing out for the next 1.6 miles. The trail was mostly through the forest staying above North Fork Back Creek while crossing several streams. It did come down to the creek once in a while, though not as much as I’ve liked.
There were several nice established dispersed camping stops along Rock Gap Trail. Be aware of black bears should you camp here, the area from here to a bit further north into Shenandoah National Park is where I’ve had the most bear encounters hiking in Virginia. On this day, we saw a mama and cub through the forest heading uphills but too far for pictures.
About 2.5 miles on our hike, we saw Upper Sherando Lake through the forest. We also found a side trail down to the edge of the lake itself and the fire road surrounding it.
There were several fishing platforms along the fire road, though swimming is prohibited.
We followed the fireroad toward the dam and once the road curved away from the lake, we came to the junction that the White Rock Gap Trail would have actually taken us to. There was a short cut over the dam before we reached the junction, but we didn’t know it at the time.
We continued along the fireroad across a field before coming to the main paved road through the Sherando campgrounds. We took a right to continue forward.
The typically full campground was closed and as a group hanging out at Upper Sherando Lake said, definitely looked like the apocalypse based on how empty and erie it was. Typically, there was be up to 500 people at the 65 family reservation only campsites on a day like this (USDA).
We continued to follow the road to Lower Sherando Lake. At the picnic area just before the lake at the 3.5 mile mark was our next trail junction option. To continue on our loop, we continued on the Lakeside Trail to see more of the lake. I’m unsure where the Blue Loop Trail goes.
The man made lake had as good of a beach as I’d seen here in the mountains of Virginia. Swimming is allowed here at the lower lake. There were a few people that still made it in enjoying a cookout and the mostly empty beach on this day. It was too early in our hike for a swim, but I’ll get another shot later.
We followed a family of geese around the lake and coming to a fishing dock of shorts. The island in the middle of the lake can be seen from here as well.
About a third of a mile around the lake, the trail head up and away from the lake before junctioning with the Dam Trail. Turning right here would take you to the dam at the end of Lower Sherando Lake. Our hike for the day was to turn left and start on our steepest uphills of the day. The trail would climb at an average grade of 20.1% over the next 0.8 miles with the steepest portions at 27.4% grade.
Along the way, there were some eight petalled yellow flowers that I couldn’t identify.
About a quarter mile up, we came to a junction with another trail from the campgrounds. This might have been the trail that required some scrambling.
In another quarter of a mile (4.5 miles on our hike), we came to the outlook. The view wasn’t great as there were still plenty of trees blocking the view of the lake.
The trail became more rockier as we neared the top of the Torry Ridge, there were even a few steps carving into the trail here. Once we were there, we turned left at the junction.
The ridge was more narrow than flat, but not narrow enough. The trees and shrubs completely surround it preventing any view typical of the green tunnel trails here in the Virginia summer. There were some Mountain Laurels in the final stages of their flowering, but we were past their prime at the end of June. We would stay on the ridge for 2 mile with a mild overall incline.
The only viewpoint was shortly after the junction was to the northwest of Kelley Mountain and Flint Mountain.
We saw the only other person on the trail (not hanging out at the lakes) as we neared the end of our Torry Ridge section, a mountain biker. So definitely some solitude here, though this may be due to the campgrounds being closed. Also as we neared our next junction, we saw a few old electric or telephone pole along the trail. I wondered how long ago they were in use and where they went.
At the next junction, we turned off the ridge onto the Slacks Trail. The trail was a bit rocky at times as we descended for 0.7 miles at a grade of -5.4%.
We started to see more hikers the closer we got to the Slacks Overlook and we reached it by taking the right at the next unsigned junction. I don’t think this was the official trail connecting the Slacks Trail with the Overlook parking lot looking back on it. The correct junction off the Slacks Trail should be marked with a sign and would emerge behind the picnic table at the overlook.
At the Slacks Overlook, we were treated with best vista of the day so far.
Continuing on, we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway, followed it northbound for a few steps, and started down the White Rock Falls Trail.
The trail descended for the next half a mile at a -7.1% grade crossing over White Rock Creek before following it. There are several side trails to take you next to the creek.
Then came a strange junction. The trail to the left seem to dead end on a cliff that might have provided a view of White Rock Falls, however the green foliage of the trees blocked us from seeing much. So we returned to the junction and continued the other way. This brought us to a few rocky outcrops. The views here are toward the south down the White Rock Creek drainage and in the direction of Fork Mountain.
The Openstreetmap (OSM) trails here seems to have several different options here, but the official blazed trail heads up from the outcrop and then starts to loop around the ridge. Once you’ve looped around back to underneath the outcrops, there is a junction with faded yellow blazes branching off.
Not knowing exactly where the side trail lead to at the time, we decided to explore it. There seems to be an opening in the rocks that seems to provide a scramble option down from the rocks, perhaps the reason for the trail on the OSM or the former way do. The trail still continued ahead here with faded yellow blazes going under the the rocky outcrop.
After climbing over a downed tree, the trail brought us to what seemed like a hidden spring and swimming hole in the forest. The spring water here area among some of the clearest I’d seen in the Appalachian Mountains and we had it all to ourselves. The lack of people here made me thing this wasn’t the actual falls, but it was indeed the largest among the several cascades on White Rock Creek.
Being a hot summer Virginia day and 8.5 miles into our hike, I did not pass up the opportunity to cool off. The water felt freezing and refreshing. Unfortunately camping is not allow on the White Rock Trail since you can’t be 200 ft away from the creek or trail.
After spending a half hour or so at our hidden pool in the woods, we returned to the junction and continued down the trail. Over the next half mile, the trail will drop at an average of -18.6% grade with the steeps steps at -34.7%. All the while, the trail followed White Rock Creek with plenty of spots to check out the many cascades in the creek.
One of the nicer spots was a section of flat rock that Meg for our a brief nap.
Perhaps I was mistaken thinking there is one specific falls, but rather the stretch of cascades are all together what makes White Rock Falls. This naming would be similar in convention to the popular Crabtree Falls only a short distance from where we were.
At the bottom of our descent, the trail crossed White Rock Creek and we would begin our final uphill back toward our car.
The trail remained relatively flat from the first third of a mile as it left the descending White Rock Creek. Then for the final 0.8 miles, the trail curved around the mountain and begin to follow season stream uphills at roughly 7.7% grade. Finally, we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway to finish our loop
ratings (1-5; see detailed breakdown)
- views: 3. This was among one of the more enjoyable hikes we’ve recently done here in Virginia with the highlight being White Rock Creek and the private waterfall and swimming hole. We did arrive at the hidden spot late in the day around 4pm and the traffic in the area may have been lower with the Sherando Lake Campgrounds closed. Nonetheless, there were plenty of cascades and pools along White Rock Creek where you could find our own spot to enjoy. There were a few vistas both on the on the White Rock Falls Trail and the Torry Ridge Trail, but they are mediocre and don’t have the openness that can make a Virginia vista great. Lastly, Sherando Lake was pretty enjoyable and the lower lake would allow for a nice swim in warmer waters and some beach time. However, I would imagine it being much business typically.
- difficulty: 2. There was one big uphill for our hike with some rocky terrain.
- technical: 1. The trail was generally well signed, though there are some knowledge of the area to explore the different cascades along White Rock Creek. There are no scrambling features.