Big Branch Falls via Moorman’s River Trail

  • Highlights: Waterfall, stream crossing, wildlife, Shenandoah National Park
  • Distance: 7.0 miles out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,150 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Trailhead Parking: Blackrock Gap parking area, Skyline Drive mile 87.4
  • Website: Shenandoah National Park
  • Beer Pairings: Center of the Universe Brewery—Pocahoptas IPA & Slingshot Kölsch

The Hike:

This hike is a great way to escape the crowds on a busy summer weekend in Shenandoah. We hiked this trail in July and didn’t see another hiker until we reached Big Branch Falls. A shorter version of this hikes begins outside the park near the Charlottesville Reservoir and many people prefer the shorter hike to the falls. There are a few river crossings and in the spring or after a heavy rain, the river can be 12-18” high and may be difficult to cross.

This hike begins on South Fork Moorman’s River Road. Wildflowers and blackberries were in abundance along this part of the trail. At 1.1 miles, a chain gate appears on the road. This is the park boundary and the next section of the hike is on private land. Hikers are allowed to pass though but must remain on the trail.

At 1.4 miles, the trail takes a right turn—“no trespassing” signs warn hikers they must turn right here. The trail makes its first river crossing. Rocks and stones are a rustic bridge across the river. This part of the trail passes through private property and on the left is an old hunting cabin and a former school bus which has been converted in a shelter. Not the type of sight one normally sees on a national park hike.

At 2.2 miles, a gate and fence signal your return to Shenandoah National Park. The trail is now the North Fork Moorman’s River Trail. There is a second river crossing. This section of the park was heavily damaged by floods in 1995. Over 30” of rain fell in a 24-hour period. The ground was so saturated that trees, mud, rocks from the hillsides above came down like an avalanche.

At 3.5 miles, Big Branch Run appears on the right. Cross here and follow a 200-yard trail to Big Branch Falls,  a 40’ waterfall. There are several pools at the base of the falls which make nice swimming holes on a hot day. This is the most popular section of the trail. Retrace your steps to return to the parking area and your vehicle. 

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Center of the Universe Brewery in Ashland has been a favorite of ours for many years. This hike is in a remote section of Shenandoah National Park, so pack a few cans in the cooler to enjoy after the hike. Pocahoptas is a west coast-style IPA. It has 72 IBUs and it is as good as IPA gets. Slingshot Kölsch is made from Pilsner and German Munich malts. It’s the perfect beer for a hot summer day.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.