Shenandoah National Park is one of the parks thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail will cross during their journey between Georgia and Maine. However, I don’t know if the thru hiker ever really get the full Shenandoah experience if they only stick to the white blazes on the ridge following Skyline Drive and never try Blue-Blazing down on of the many hollows. While this could serve as the start of a spicy discussion of why I will probably never be a thru-hiker (JMT doesn’t count), I will save that clickbait post for another time. Instead, this post will highlight they typical Shenandoah experience with rushing cascades, crystal clear swimming holes, and rocky vistas out with views of the wide Virginian valleys. Maybe you’ll even see a black bear. All of which you’ll find on the Riprap Hollow loop.
For our hike, we started at the Riprap Trail parking lot at mile marker 90 on Skyline Drive.
Alternatively, you can also start at the Wildcat Ridge parking lot around mile marker 82 (directions to trailhead). Currently there is no public access to the hike from outside the park to the east via Wild Turkey Lane due to private landowner concerns (NPS, Riprap Trail map). This is understandable as it would be much easier to access the swimming holes in Riprap Hollow from this direction possibly leading to overcrowding and overflow of parking.
For a shorter hike, it is only an 3.4 mile in & out hike to access the vistas at Chimney Rock (alltrails).
Should you want to camp in the backcountry on this loop, all you need is a permit from the NPS and follow the regulations, which are pretty typical.
In previous years, this area was closed to camping a few times due to increased bear activity (WHSV – 2019, 2017). Black Bears are typically afraid of humans and will avoid us so bear spray is typically overkill. However it doesn’t hurt to be aware of safety recommendations (NPS). Furthermore, this serves as a remind to make sure you leave no trace (NPS) and pack out all your garbage as to prevent bears habitualizing to human food at campsites.
As a National Park, there is an entrance fee (NPS). The cost for 7 consecutive day pass is USD$30 per vehicle or USD$15 per person arriving on foot or bike. The more economical way is always getting the American the Beautiful Annual Pass that covers all national parks for USD$80.
We arrived at the Riprap trailhead just before noon on a Saturday, the parking lot was plenty full with cars spilling out onto Skyline Drive. However, we had arrived late enough that there was a couple spots for us to squeeze into.
The next junction was the start of the Riprap trail, which we took the right turn onto. The first 0.6 miles of the Riprap trail wasn’t any more interesting as we descended into a gap of sorts through the forest at roughly -11.9% grade for 0.3 miles and then -13.9% for 0.16 miles after a few flat steps. There was a dry establish camping along this section of the trail.
This is when we came to an rocky field and started up rounding the appropriately named Rocks Mountain.
After 0.2 miles at roughly 12.2% grade, we came to our first outlook of the day.
Around the outlook, there were plenty of Serviceberry or Juneberry (Amelanchier arborea, USFS) flowers blooming. These were all along the ridge here and will produce edible fruits.
The trail continues around the mountain gaining elevation for a few steps before dropping for a few for the next 0.3 miles. At the top of this incline, we found some rocks to scramble up. This was known as Calvary Rock and isn’t part of the trail.
At the top, we had another open view of out toward Staunton and the I-81 corridor.
We scrambled down and continued on our hike passing some large boulders and passing another dry established campspot.
Roughly 1.7 miles on our hike we arrived at Chimney Rocks. This was the end point for a short in & out hike for a few visitors.
There is one more outlook after another 0.4 flat miles from Chimney Rock.
Along the way, we saw some eye catching pine cones in the process of formation.
Next came the descend down into the Cold Spring Hollow. For the first mile of the descent, was at roundly -11.8% grade with a maximum of -16.5% at the beginning. The OSM shows an old trail, Rocks Mountain Trail, branching off during this portion, but the junction was not clear and it maybe overgrown and disused at this point. Around the 1 mile mark, the trail started to follow a small stream. I’m not sure at which point the creak become Meadow Run, but at least this is the tributary to it.
As we neared the water, we started seeing some Blue Flag Irises (Iris virginica, USFS).
After following the stream for another third of a mile, around the 3.6 mile mark on the day, the trail narrowed to a small canyon. We were in Riprap Hollow at this point as the stream we had followed confluenced with another to form a rushing stream, perhaps Meadow Run now. There seemed to be a little damming here with a few wooden logs to form a small pool.
At the end of the canyon was a waterfall. We thought this a great place for a snack and watch the water rush down.
We could have gotten down into the bottom of the falls, but the weather was a bit too cold still for that.
While Meadow Run continued to cascade downwards,
The trail detoured away briefly before returning to it for our first crossing.
We passed a post saying no camping in this area,
which makes sense because of the nice swimming hole we were about to arrive at. I’m guessing the no camping restriction in the section is to prevent the possible overuse of this beautiful swimming hole at roughly 3.8 miles of our hike. Again it was a bit too chilly for a dip on this day, but would be perfect for a summer Virginia day.
We would continue to follow Meadow Run for another 3 quarters of a mile at an unnoticeable decline crossing it again a few steps after the swimming hole.
A few steps further we would pass another post for no camping, perhaps marking the boundaries of the no camping zone along with the first post we saw. Supposedly, there use to be a shelter in this area, but we didn’t know to look for it (Hiking Upward).
The trail continued to follow the creek as we continued, but for a few steps be it would dip down to the creek bed and in the creek.
It was during this part we came upon a large boulder for a covering of Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia, USwildflowers).
At the 4.5 mile mark of our hike, we came to the junction for the Wildcat Ridge Trail to the right. The Riprap Trail continues straight, but now it dead ends onto private property.
The trail immediately crosses Meadow Run one last time and we start our 2.5 miles uphill toward Skyline Drive and the AT.
There is a nice established camping stop after the crossing overlooking the stream.
The Wildcat Ridge Trail has pretty constant uphill averaging out to a grade of 9.4% over its 2.5 miles with the steepest few steps at 18.6% grade. While it is mostly in the forest, the first half a mile follows a small stream crossing it a couple times.
Since it was still early in the season, we could see out through the trees, but otherwise it would have been a tunnel of green.
At roughly the 7 mile mark, we came to the junction with the AT near Wildcat Ridge Trailhead and parking lot. This is the alternative starting point for our hike.
We turned left and northbound on the AT to finish out the last 2.75 miles of our hike. The AT undulated gaining elevation here at 10% before dropping it away at 10%. As foreshadowed in my into, this wasn’t an interesting stretch and we were mostly surrounded by trees without much of a view. We powered through to the end with a podcast.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
view: 3. I love hiking along side a cascading stream. Meadow Run in Riprap Hollow is no exception with waterfalls and rock walls and swimming holes with a myriad layering green. There is also a good variety of terrain as you also has nice rocky viewpoints at Chimney Rock and some minor off trail fun scrambling up Calvary Rocks. The section along the Appalachian Trail was actually the most boring part of our hike. With that, I would say the Riprap Hollow loop is a really good representation of the Shenandoah experience.
difficulty: 2. While the uphills were never too demanding, it is just under 10 miles with over 2000 ft. of elevation change.
technical: 1. The trails here are well signed and well trafficked, so it is pretty easy to follow. There are several stream crossings, but you keep your feet dry for most of them.
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