White Oak Canyon Trail: Ultimate Hiking Guide to Virginia’s Best Waterfall Hike
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
HARD VERSION: HIKE TO UPPER WHITEOAK FALLS
Roundtrip hiking distance: 7 miles
Total time: ~ 3 hr. 15 min.
* 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 $35.99, 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!
EASY VERSION: HIKE TO LOWER WHITEOAK FALLS
Roundtrip hiking distance: 4.6 miles
Total time: ~ 2 hours
White Oak Canyon 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.
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 TIP: Cell 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 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.
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.
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. P
ark at the Whiteoak Canyon Parking lot and hike counterclockwise.
Courtesy of National Park Service: Map of White Oak Canyon + Cedar Run Falls Loop Trail
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
Crossing the first bridge at the start of 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
There are a few river crossings and some muddy sections to navigate.
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, and you can even see some trout hanging out near the rocks.
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
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
There are a few rocky outcroppings to take in a panoramic view.
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.
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
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
Once you reach this signpost (see below), you are about 10 minutes away from the endpoint! Almost there.
10 minutes from the endpoint when you see this sign
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
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 Trail
OFF THE GRID
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
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 fig, goat cheese, and chicken sandwiches, and cold glasses of iced tea.
Definitely worth a stop.
COPPER FOX DISTILLERY
Premium whisky tasting at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia
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. The recipe includes Copper Fox Original Rye, house-made Elderberry grenadine, fresh blood orange, lemon juice, Antica vermouth, and house bitters
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
Carpaccio of Herb-Crusted Elysian Fields Baby Lamb Loin with Caesar Salad Ice Cream at The Inn at Little Washington Restaurant
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.
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
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.
The hike is super rocky. Wear appropriate footwear. My Saucony trail runners worked out great.
If you plan to go swimming, bring a towel. We bring our travel towel for situations like this one.
Strongly consider bringing trekking poles. We forgot ours, but they would have been super helpful along the rocky switchbacks.
Bring snacks. You will need the energy. I always throw a few Kind bars in my CamelBak in case I start to feel lightheaded.
Virginia has some incredible unique hikes.
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?
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