White Rock Falls: A Must-Do Waterfall Hike

White Rock Falls–Mother Nature’s Finest Waterfall Hike

White Rock Falls

For many people, there’s nothing quite like taking a hike that ends with water—both the bottled kind and the kind Mother Nature provides as part of her boundless glory.

Fortunately for us, waterfall hikes are plentiful in this area, and one of the most accessible is the trail to White Rock Falls—so named for the abundant quartz rock in the area. Of the many falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Shenandoah National Park, White Rock Falls is the closest to Waynesboro.

Getting to White Rock Falls

Located at the 19-mile mark on the parkway, the trail is just across from the Slack’s Overlook parking area and can be reached in less than 30 minutes from the Iris Inn. This makes it a viable option not only for a weekend walk but also for a mid-week retreat into the woods.

White Rock Falls Sign

photo courtesy: www.comfortinthewild.com

Endurance-wise, this is a moderate hike, with fairly easy access to the falls, which are located about in the middle of the 2.5-mile trail. They are closest to the Slacks Overlook, so this is the best area from which to embark.

From the Slacks Overlook parking area, cross the road and veer to your left for about 60 yards to find the White Rock Falls trail. The trail will take you downward through rich growths of rhododendron and mountain laurel, and across a number of rustic wooden bridges that span the stream.

There are several photogenic views from the outcropping of rocks on your left. You will come to a significant switchback, which you will follow to the spur trail that leads to the upper falls, just past a rock overhang. The falls are located at about the 1.3-mile mark on the trail you are hiking.

Natural Wonders

Unlike other, more dramatic falls on the parkway, White Rock Falls boasts only a 40-ft. drop, but at the bottom of it are lovely, painting-worthy rocks and pools of water for resting and wading. Look for a side trail, which leads to perhaps the best view of the falls.

From this point, you have two options: retrace your steps on the spur back to the main

Mountain View

photo courtesy: www.comfortinthewild.com

trail and complete your hike at the Slacks Overlook or continue along the trail for another 1.6 miles until you reach White Rock Gap. If you go back the way you came, keep your eyes peeled for the Priest Mountain overlook. If you don’t bring your camera, you’ll be sorry.

If you decide to continue the trail for another 1.6 miles, you will come out on the road about a mile from where you left your car.

Along with the water, you’ll see the abundant wild blueberries that almost overrun the trail in later summer and gorgeous views. It’s a must do waterfall hike!

For more information on this and other waterfall hikes in the area, visit the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center (130 Afton Circle, Afton, VA.).

Local History

One of the more interesting pieces of history surrounding Nelson County is the short-line, narrow-gauge railroad that once served a number of quarries and mines in the area. The Nelson and Albemarle railroad operated here and was so-named for the counties it passed through.


photo courtesy: www.comfortinthewild.com

The line was purely local in nature and never extended beyond central Virginia. It started operations in 1903 and ended in 1963. Although the tracks were taken up many years ago, the ruins of some of the quarries are still visible along the former railroad line.

The western end of the line interchanged with the Southern main line at Rockfish. The eastern end had a spur that extended to Esmont, a small community that was also served by the Chesapeake and Ohio.

One business along the line was a stone quarry at Schuyler, the ruins of which still remain. Although rail service to the quarry ended many years ago, parts of the quarry were still in operation as late as 2004. The quarry and the surrounding country provided the setting for “The Waltons” television show.

Time Travel

It’s possible for hikers, bicyclists and even equestrians to take a journey back through our railroading past with a jaunt along the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail. This meandering, seven-mile trail consists of a flat, graveled surface that follows the Piney and Tye rivers.

Trekkers will see much of what people operating the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway saw many years ago—rolling hills, farms, wildlife, and the two rivers, with evidence of civilization few and far between.

The Nelson County portion of the trail begins at the depot at 3124 Patrick Henry Highway (Route 151), Piney River, Va. A PDF map of the entire trail may be viewed and downloaded. Get it here.

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