Hiking Cedar Run & White Oak Canyon Loop Trail
In early October my husband and I went on a 7.9-mile hike that features some of the best (and most plentiful) waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park: Cedar Run – White Oak Canyon Loop Trail. The week before, the area had received rain every day and we knew it would be a great opportunity to see the waterfalls.
We’ve been to White Oak Canyon three times and completed the loop with Cedar Run once before. In the summer months, when there is less rain, these waterfalls looks completely different. In fact, we discovered new waterfalls that didn’t exist at those times coming off some cliffs!
White Oak Canyon Trail must be one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park. The foot traffic is constant and the parking lot is large. At the entrance you will find Park Rangers checking to see if you have a pass for the park. If not, I think you have to pay an entrance fee to the park.
Note: The lovely long-exposure photos in this post were shot by my husband. You can see his Flickr page for more wide-angle nature photography.
The path starts out flat and you cross a sturdy metallic bridge that spans Robinson River with many cascades.
Last time we did the loop counter-clockwise, traversing up White Oak Canyon Trail and then down Cedar Run Trail, so this time we went the other way around. I would recommend going clockwise, as we did this time, climbing up Cedar Run Trail first. This is a better way to observe the over 30 waterfalls and cascades of Cedar Run that flow beside the 2.4-mile path.
Here is one of the many waterfalls of Cedar Run River.
You have to cross the river twice as you continue on the trail. Now, this is where it gets tricky. On a normal day, when the water flows are low, this would not be a problem at all. There are stepping stones and crossing is straightforward. This is not the case when it’s been raining all week. What makes for gorgeous, powerful waterfalls, also makes for full rivers.
Hiking Across Rivers
The rocks, which were just barely peeking out of the river and covered in slippery wetness and moss, were not an option for us, as both of us were carrying cameras. So we decided to walk through the river. Never having done this before, and seeing lots of sharp rocks on the bottom, we kept our hiking boots and socks on.
The water went up to our knees. It was cold, but not freezing. Squishing out of the river, our boots leaking water all over, we sat down and tried to dry out the shoes and socks. We probably sat there for ten minutes attempting this. It was no good. This is why it is a good idea to either take off your shoes or to have an extra pair of socks or Crocs.
Proceeding along, water continued to well up from the inner soles of our boots and soak our socks. It was uncomfortable, but luckily it wasn’t too cold that day, so it was fine. Presently, we came another crossing. The second river bed also had sharp rocks, so the second time we took off the boots, but kept the socks on. This method was better, but still led to us sitting down for about 10 minutes as we wrung out our socks repeatedly and put our boots on again.
Wildflowers on the Trail
Crooked-stem Aster, Zigzag Aster, or Aster prenanthoides, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. It is a native plant that grows through most of northeastern North America. It favors wood edges, stream banks, moist meadows, and damp thickets. A tea made from the roots of the Crooked-stem Aster has been used to treat fevers and colds.We found a bunch in a rocky area next to the river.
Out of the river and as dry as we could make ourselves, we made our way up the hill. Originally we were intending to just do a shuttle hike along Cedar Run Trail, but the two river crossings were uncomfortable and time-draining, so we decided it would be better to go on the whole 7.9-mile loop.
Zigzag Goldenrod, Broadleaf Goldenrod, or Solidago flexicaulis, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to September (although we’ve also seen it in Shenandoah in October). Native to eastern North America, this wildflower grows in rich woods and thickets. These flowers attract both bees and butterflies. You can see a rushing waterfall cascade in the background of this photo.
Unfortunately, due to the rain for the past week, most of the flowers we saw (which are few as they are in autumn) were wilted or bedraggled.
Having started late, we got to the top of Cedar Run around lunch time. By then it was starting to rain lightly and we hid our cameras away and protect our bags with rain covers. The mist in the forest was lovely.
At the end of Cedar Run near Skyline Drive you turn right onto the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Trail. You then veer right again when you reach a fork onto White Oak Fire Road. The fire road is not too interesting by itself, but it was pretty in the mist.
Instead of forging ahead across the river, which is the most direct way to cross, it is much better to take a short detour when you reach the end of the fire road. You turn left and walk for a minute or two to reach a bridge to cross Robinson River.
White Oak Canyon Waterfalls
Note: The wide-angle photos below were shot by my husband. You can see his Flickr page for more wide-angle nature photography.
Since it had been raining for a full week, the river and waterfalls along White Oak Canyon were roaring and powerful.
There are five major waterfalls along this park of White Oak Canyon Trail. The first three are called “Upper White Oak Falls” and the two below are called “Lower White Oak Falls.” The White Oak Canyon Trail is rocky and can be strenuous and slippery in places.
Near the end of the trail we had to cross Robinson River again. There were no bridges there and the rocks looks relatively smooth, so we followed the drill: take off your shoes and socks, wade through the river, dry off on the other end, and put your gear back on.
We were running short on time, especially considering the river crossings, and picked up the pace for the last mile or two.
Recommended as a Strenuous Hike
This loop trail can be quite busy with people, but the scenery is well worth taking the hike (and even wading through rivers) to view. Both Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon are among our favorite trails in Shenandoah National Park.