Swimming at a waterfall at White Oaks Canyon Trail in Virginia

White Oak Canyon Trail: Complete Guide to Planning One of Virginia’s Best Waterfall Hikes

Last updated Aug 9, 2022 | Outdoor, Virginia

As a Virginia native, my husband and I have hiked a lot of fantastic trails in the DMV area. One of our favorites is the White Oak Canyon Trail. With 6 waterfalls to explore and plenty of swimming hole opportunities, it is easy to see why this hike consistently rates as one of the top hikes in Virginia. Here is an account of our personal hiking experience and what to expect.

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Quick Overview of Hike

EASY VERSION: HIKE TO THE LOWER WHITEOAK FALLS

Roundtrip hiking distance: 4.6 miles

Total time: ~ 2 hours 

Difficulty: moderate 

HARD VERSION: HIKE TO THE UPPER WHITEOAK FALLS 

Roundtrip hiking distance: 7 miles

Total time: ~ 3 hr. 15 min. 

Difficulty: strenuous 

* We did the hard version.

PRO TIP:

If you are really into hiking, check out the AllTrails App. I wish I had discovered this little gem earlier. For $29.99, you have access to 200,000+ trails. What I love about this app is you can download the hiking route ahead of time. You never have to worry then if you lose cell signal when you are trying to figure out … do I turn left or right? 

It also notifies you if you accidentally hike off route. This feature has saved us on several occasions. Plus, it saves all of your trails + stats (hiking distances, time completed, elevation, etc.) in a library for future reference. 

I used to print out directions to follow, but this is so much easier!

White Oak Canyon Trail Parking + Entrance Fee

Arrive early to get good parking! We always have good intentions to start a hike early, but it never happens. Getting another hour of sleep on a Saturday morning usually wins. After we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, got ready, and chowed down on an egg sandwich, we were off! 

Driving to the trailhead takes about 2 hours from the DC area. We arrived around 10:15 am, and the main parking lot was completely full.

Luckily, there is overflow parking but it will cost you $10 per car. 

Parking lot at White Oak Canyon Trail in Virginia

The main parking lot at White Oak Canyon Trail that we didn’t get to park in because we arrived too late

The entrance fee is $30, payable at the small ranger station near the boundary trailhead. The pass is good for 7 days. 

If you will be doing 2+ hikes in Shenandoah National Park, go ahead and purchase the annual pass for $55. The pass is good for unlimited entry for one year. Since we hike quite a bit, we had already purchased the annual pass. 

PRO TIPCell service is limited. Download Google offline maps to get you there and back home. We have learned the importance of this tip the hard way from previous hikes.

Ranger Station at White Oak Canyon Trail in Virginia

Ranger station at the White Oak Canyon Trailhead

White Oak Canyon Trail Map Options

MAP OF OPTION 1: White Oak Canyon Out & Back Hike

You can either do the easy version and just hike to the Lower Whiteoak Falls, or you can do the hard version and continue on to the Upper Whiteoak Falls. This is an out & back hike, so you return the way you came. 

The White Oak Canyon Trail Map in Virginia

Courtesy of National Park Service: Map of White Oak Canyon Out & Back Trail 

MAP OF OPTION 2: Cedar Run Falls Out & Back Hike (Slide + Cliff Jumping)

If you are an adrenaline junkie, you can cliff jump and go down a water slide on the Cedar Run Falls Trail. This trail intersects the Whiteoak Canyon trail.

Map of Cedar Run Falls Out and Back Trail

Courtesy of National Park Service: Map of Cedar Run Falls Out & Back Trail 

MAP OF OPTION 3: White Oak Canyon + Cedar Run Falls Trail Loop Hike

You can make this a loop hike by combining both the White Oak Canyon Trail and the Cedar Run Falls Trail. Park at the Whiteoak Canyon Parking lot and hike counterclockwise. 

Map of White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Falls Loop Trail

Courtesy of National Park Service: Map of White Oak Canyon + Cedar Run Falls Loop Trail

White Oak Canyon Step-By-Step Hiking Experience 

The first part of the hike is relatively easy. Just keep following the blue blazes. You will cross a bridge, get to a fork in the trail (keep right to stay on the White Oak Canyon Trail), and then walk across another bridge. 

Follow the blue blazes on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Follow the blue blazes on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Crossing a bridge at the start of the White Oak Canyon Trail in Virginia

Crossing the first bridge at the start of the White Oak Canyon Trail

Turn right at the first post on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Turn right at the first post to stay on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Crossing the second bridge on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Crossing the second bridge on the White Oak Canyon Trail

There are a few river crossings and some muddy sections to navigate. 

River crossings along the White Oak Canyon Trail

River crossings along the White Oak Canyon Trail

I love how the rocky trail follows the Robinson River the whole time. It’s incredibly scenic and relaxing to hear the sounds of the river. The water is super clear, where you can even see some trout hanging out near the rocks. 

Clear waters of the Robinson River on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Clear waters of the Robinson River on the White Oak Canyon Trail

An hour later, you will arrive at the Lower White Oak Falls. It is actually a set of three waterfalls. Each one creates a little swimming pool to cool off in. Some people were even using the first two sets of waterfalls as little slides to dump you into the swimming holes. 

Lower White Oak Falls in Virginia

Lower White Oak Falls in Virginia

Lower White Oak Falls on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Swimming hole at the Lower White Oak Falls on the White Oak Canyon Trail

We were super tempted to jump in, but we were on a time crunch to make it to our dinner reservation at The Inn at Little Washington later that evening. 

So, we hiked on. 

Now, from here, the hike really starts to become more challenging. Steeper, more switchbacks, and rocky. It’s 1.4 miles one-way to get from the Lower White Oak Falls to the Upper White Oak Falls. 

Hiking up to the Upper White Oak Falls

Hiking up to the Upper White Oak Falls

There are a few rocky outcroppings to take in a panoramic view. 

Rocky outcropping along the hike to Upper White Oak Falls

Rocky outcropping along the hike to Upper White Oak Falls

Before you get to the waterfalls that make up the Upper White Oak Falls, you’ll pass a few baby waterfalls. 

Hike to Upper White Oak Falls on the White Oak Canyon Trail in Virginia

A few baby waterfalls on the White Oak Canyon Trail 

You will have 3 more waterfalls to explore, which make up the Upper White Oak Falls. Unlike the Lower White Oak Falls, there are no great swimming holes created by the Upper White Oak Falls. They are beautiful nonetheless. 

Upper White Oak Falls in Virginia

Upper White Oak Falls in Virginia

About 15 minutes later, you will come across an interesting little section where you hike along what looks like a cobblestone pathway.  Reminds me of the cobblestone streets in Old Town Alexandria. 

Cobblestone pathway section of the White Oak Canyon Trail

Cobblestone pathway section of the White Oak Canyon Trail

Once you reach this signpost (see below), you are about 10 minutes away from the endpoint! Almost there.

Halfway point on the White Oak Canyon Trail

10 minutes from the endpoint when you see this sign

Hiking the last section to the Upper White Oak Falls

Hiking the last section to the last waterfall of Upper White Oak Falls

Once we reached the rocky outcropping overlooking the last waterfall, we turned back around to make the long hike back down. The end is a little anticlimactic. You can see the last waterfall in the far distance. 

Endpoint on the hike to the Upper White Oak Falls

Endpoint on the hike to the Upper White Oak Falls

Last waterfall on the Upper White Oak Falls part of the White Oak Canyon Trail

Last waterfall on the Upper White Oak Falls part of the White Oak Canyon Trail (you can see it in the far distance)

By the way, we did this hike in early July and it was HOT and humid.

When I say hot, that doesn’t mean a few sweat stains on your shirt. I was so hot that I sweated through all of my clothes that they turned a whole different color. I probably lost 5 pounds in sweat.

Strongly consider wearing a bathing suit underneath and fully take advantage of a refreshing dip those waterfalls have to offer. 

White Oak Canyon Cliff Jumping + Water Slide 

I had heard you could go cliff jumping and slide down a natural waterfall slide somewhere along White Oak Canyon. 

I never saw where this was possible. Did I miss something? 

Cliff jumping and sliding down a natural water slide is possible but not on the White Oak Canyon Trail. These two adrenaline-pumping adventures are located on the nearby Cedar Run Falls Trail.  

The top set of the main falls on Halfmile Cliff along Cedar Run Trail is known as The Slide.

Shortly after, the falls dump into a pool after passing through a narrow gorge. This is where a lot of fearless young people cliff jump. Now, some people will also use this section as a water slide, but that just seems too crazy. 

The Cedar Run Falls Trail intersects the White Oak Canyon Trail, which can be done as a loop hike. According to the National Park Service, this strenuous 8.1-mile loop trail takes around 7 hours to complete.

We did the White Oak Canyon Trail as an out and back hike. Next time we are going to check out Cedar Run Falls Trail as an out and back hike starting from the Hawksbill Gap Parking.

Refer back to the trail maps for orientation.

Foodie Stops Near the White Oak Canyon Trail

OFF THE GRID

Starving after this intense hike? You should be. Where to grab a bite? 

Check out Off the Grid. Great local cafe. The focus is on high-quality fresh ingredients from their own farm or local producers. 

They have great outdoor seating along the river. We enjoyed some fig, goat cheese, and chicken sandwiches, and cold glasses of ice tea. Definitely worth a stop. 

Lake Bohinj in Slovenia

Chowning down on a fig, goat cheese, and chicken sandwich on ciabatta roll at Off the Grid after burning off 1,700 calories according to the AllTrails app

Lake Bohinj in Slovenia

Riverside seating on picnic benches at Off the Grid in Sperryville, Virginia

COPPER FOX DISTILLERY 

What better way to celebrate an amazing day of hiking than with a great whisky cocktail! 

Copper Fox Distillery is located about 30 minutes away from the White Oak Canyon Trail as you head back to the DC area. Whisky maker, Rick Wasmund, learned all he needed to know to make fine whisky during his apprenticeship in Scotland. One distinguishing factor of this distillery is they use applewood for whisky maturation instead of peat. 

Order a whisky tasting flight and a few cocktails. Cocktails are on the smaller side, but I particularly enjoyed the Ward 8. It’s a cocktail that was created in 1898 in Boston to celebrate the election of a well-known politician, who represented the city’s eighth ward. Made of Copper Fox Original Rye, house-made Elderberry grenadine, fresh blood orange, lemon juice, Antica vermouth, and house bitters, it was incredibly refreshing. 

Premium whisky tasting  at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville Virginia

Premium whisky tasting at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia

Ward 8 cocktail made with Copper Fox Original Rye Whisky

Ward 8 cocktail made with Copper Fox Original Rye Whisky

Sit outside by the river if you can. Much more ambiance outdoors than indoors. 

THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON

If you really want to do it up, get fancy, and eat at the most timeless respected foodie restaurant in Virginia that started in 1978, then make dinner reservations at The Inn at Little Washington. One of only thirteen 3-star Michelin restaurants in the United States, this 3-hour dining experience is incredible.

And it’s all located in a little rural town in Virginia. 

The restaurant is located 37 minutes away from the White Oak Canyon Trail. Plan this one in advance and book a room at The Inn or close by. You’ll definitely have to shower after the hike for this one. 

If you haven’t seen the Amazon special The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious Documentary yet, you have to check it out.  

Carpaccio of Herb-Crusted Elysian Fields Baby Lamb Loin with Caesar Salad Ice Cream at The Inn at Little Washington Restaurant

Carpaccio of Herb-Crusted Elysian Fields Baby Lamb Loin with Caesar Salad Ice Cream at The Inn at Little Washington Restaurant

It was a whirlwind of a day, but our itinerary looked something like this: 

  • 8 am: Leave the DC area
  • 10:15: Arrive at the White Oak Canyon Trailhead
  • 10:30: Start the hike
  • 1:45 pm: End the hike
  • 2:45 pm: Lunch at Off the Grid
  • 3:30 pm: Whisky cocktails at Copper Fox Distillery
  • 4:30-8:30 pm: Check in at The White Moose Inn, shower, & happy hour drinks at the hotel
  • 8:45 pm: Dinner reservation at The Inn at Little Washington 

If interested, check out my article on everything you need to know before you dine at The Inn at Little Washington. 

What to Bring on the Hike

Z

You are going to need water. This hike is long. If you go in the summer, it will be super hot. Forget the water bottle. Go for the CamelBak.

Z

The hike is super rocky. Wear appropriate footwear. My Saucony trail runners worked out great.

Z

Strongly consider bringing trekking poles. We forgot ours, but they would have been super helpful along the rocky switchbacks.

Z

Bring snacks. You will need the energy. I always throw a few Kind bars in my CamelBak in case I start to feel lightheaded.

Z

Bring a GoPro especially if you do the Water Slide and Cliff Jumping along Cedar Run Falls. I always use my GoPro to document our hikes.  

Final Thoughts on the White Oak Canyon Trail

Virginia has some incredible unique hikes. Some of our favorites have been hiking at Grayson Highlands State Park with the wild horses and crawling around the incredible towering labyrinth of sandstone rocks called The Great Channels. I would also put the White Oak Canyon Trail right up there with the top Va hikes especially if you combine it as a loop trail with Cedar Run to take advantage of the water slide and cliff jumping. 

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Anything else you want to know about our experience hiking the White Oak Canyon Trail?

Let me know in the comments below!

2 Comments

  1. Joanna

    Hi, Nicole!
    This so was so incredibly helpful to read your synopsis of White Oak Canyon Trail! I did this trail today with my little dog (and carried her in a backpack when she got tired). I had not seen your post before I took the hike, and I really wanted to do the whole thing and see all of the falls. I made it to that little sign that said you are “halfway,” but then I got discouraged and figured there was no way I could go another half (and back!). Reading that I was only 10 minutes away from the final lookout is both encouraging (and discouraging) that I was so close! I turned back around at that point because I didn’t know what else to do. I wish I had read your blog before going on the hike. 🙂 I appreciated seeing your picture of the final lookout–it’s satifying being able see it! And all of the other pictures resonated with me. Thanks for making this blog! I’m going to start reading your blog before I take my hikes from now on. 😉

    Reply
    • Nichole

      Thank you so much for the kind comment. You didn’t miss much, so if you got to that point you definitely saw all the highlights! It is an incredibly beautiful hike. I just wish I had brought a bathing suit to cool off in the water. That summer heat is intense. We have done a lot of great hikes in Virginia, so stay tuned for more content.

      Reply

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