January 14, 2013
By Harry Murray
By parking at trailheads on Skyline Drive and hiking down to the upper reaches of the streams, you will usually get the best springtime dry-fly fishing. You can reach a few Shenandoah streams from outside the park boundaries and then walk upstream into the park, however, in many cases private land prevents access at the lower end. If lower stream access is not mentioned on a specific stream, there is no lower access. Please do not trespass on private land.
All stream accesses are keyed to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) maps 9, 10, and 11. In some cases the trails are lightly used and can be difficult to follow, so I strongly recommend these three detailed Shenandoah maps. They are available from murraysflyshop.com or directly from PATC at patc.net.
The milepost markers are numbered from north to south along Skyline Drive, and are clearly visible. The trailheads are marked with concrete posts on which metal bands give clear directions and distances for specific trails. There is some backcountry camping available in the park; visit nps.gov/shen for more details. Many of these streams are catch-and-release, so pay close attention to the fishing regulations booklet when you buy your Virginia license.
Many anglers believe Big Run is the finest stream in the park. There are two trails into Big Run from Skyline Drive. The easiest access is to park at Doyles River trailhead on the east side of Skyline Drive just south of Milepost 81. From the Big Run Overlook take the Big Run Loop Trail, which connects with the Big Run Portal Trail 2.2 miles down the mountain. The stream is small here, so hike down toward Rocky Mountain Run before you start fishing. The second access point is from Brown Mountain Overlook at Milepost 77. Take the Brown Mountain Trail down 0.7 mile to the Rocky Mountain Run Trail, and follow this 2.7 miles down to Big Run.
The lower park boundary provides the best access to this stream. Route 600 leads to the upper parking area. Take the White Oak Trail 0.1 mile west to the Cedar Run Trail, which is the first trail to the left after crossing a metal bridge. The trail follows the stream. This little stream gets very low in the summer, but it is excellent in the early spring.
This stream flows in and out of the park, but since the state portion is managed the same as the park stream, I'm including it here. Route 667 through Fletcher is the main access. Do not park in the two parking lots. Instead, pull over along Route 667 out of the way of private landowners. The alternate way into the Conway is by Route 662 and 615 across a sometimes rough road. Going in is not too bad, but one wet spring day I was concerned I wouldn't get back up that mountain road.
The best access is from the Naked Creek Overlook just south of Milepost 53 on the west side of Skyline Drive. From the overlook, hike down the left side of the grassy area past the treeline. Swinging left and down the mountain, you may be able to locate an old trail. Though rugged, this is one of the most beautiful areas of the park.
The top of this stream can be reached from two different trailheads along Skyline Drive. The Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail provides good access if you park at the Shaver Hollow parking area north of Milepost 38. This trail meets the Nicholson Hollow Trail 1.4 miles down the mountain. The latter trail parallels the stream to the lower park boundary.
You can also park at Stony Man Overlook between Mileposts 38 and 39. About 100 yards north is the Nicholson Hollow Trailhead. Follow this 1.8 miles down to the stream.
There is also access at the lower park boundary. Take Route 600 from Nethers to the bus parking lot for Old Rag Mountain. About .5 mile on the right take the Nicholson Hollow Trail up into the park.
The easiest access is at Pinefield Gap on Skyline Drive. Park at the gate south of Milepost 75 and walk north about 100 yards to the Appalachian Trail (AT). Take the AT east down to Pinefield Hut. From here, you must follow this drainage hollow down to the stream. Ivy Creek supports a good trout population throughout the entire drainage, even in the upper section.
Access is from Skyline Drive at the lower side of the Elkwallow Picnic Area at Milepost 24. Park in the second parking area, and take the connecting trail for less than 100 yards to the AT. The AT meets Jeremy's Run Trail in a short distance, where the former makes a sharp turn to the left. Jeremy's Run Trail follows the stream along its full length.
Gain access to the lower park boundary by parking on Route 708 and hiking up Madison Run Road. Top access is available by parking at the Brown Gap parking area at Milepost 83 on the west side of Skyline Drive, then hiking down Madison Run Road. Since the stream flow is small up high and it's about a 4-mile hike down to good water, most fly fishers start low at the park boundary.
Also known as Riprap. The best access to this stream is from the Wildcat Ridge parking area on Skyline Drive south of Milepost 92. Hike down Wildcat Ridge Trail 2.7 miles to Riprap Trail, which follows the stream. There is good fishing both above and below this point.
Another access point is from the Riprap Trail parking area at Milepost 90. A 70-foot connector trail takes you to the AT, which meets Riprap Trail in 0.4 mile. Follow Riprap Trail down to the stream. The best water is about 3 miles down the mountain from this parking area. There is also access to the lower end of the stream north of Route 612.
Access to the lower park boundary is available from Route 614, also known as Sugar Hollow Road. Park at the upper end of the reservoir and follow this road up along the stream through the park gate.
Access the top of the stream by parking at the Blackrock Gap parking lot south of Milepost 87. Walk across Skyline Drive and hike down North Fork Moormans River Road. The cover, food, and fishing are better in the upper half of this stream than in the lower half.
Lower access is good on this stream by parking on Route 661 and hiking up Paine Run Trail. Park on the north side of the stream and don't block the bus turnaround spot. At the top end, you can park at Blackrock Gap parking lot south of Milepost 87, and follow Paine Run Trail downstream. From this point it is only 3.7 miles to the lower park boundary.
This stream is accessible from the top by parking at the Piney River Ranger Station on Skyline Drive south of Milepost 22. Hike down the Range View Cabin Road to where the Piney Branch Trail leads off to the left. This trail follows the stream to the bottom of the mountain. There is also lower access from Route 600, but parking is a problem. There is room for one or two cars along Route 600 just east of 653. Please do not block any of the private roads in this area. Hike up the trail to the park boundary before you start fishing.
This stream is accessible from Skyline Drive by parking in the area for the Pocosin Cabin, halfway between Mileposts 59 and 60. Hike down Pocosin Fire Road until you come to Pocosin Hollow Trail. Take this to your left, and it leads to the stream. I've always felt the Pocosin River is one of the prettiest in the entire park. You can also access this stream at the bottom of the mountain by taking Route 667 from Route 230 through Kinderhook. Park in the wide grassy spot where Pocosin River runs into the Conway River. Hike until you reach the park before you start fishing.
The lower section of this stream holds the largest trout, and produces the best hatches in Shenandoah National Park. This section is accessible by Route 662 through Wolftown and Graves Mill. Park at the end of this road. There is a good trail all along this section of the stream.
The middle part of the stream is accessible from Criglersville using Route 649/670. There is a good parking spot where this road meets the stream, and you can easily walk downstream to the section holding the large trout, or you can fish upstream.
Top access is available by parking at the Fishers Gap parking area south of Milepost 49 and hiking down Rose River Fire Road, which follows the lower stream to the park boundary. Access the upper river by parking at Fishers Gap, but shortly after starting down the mountain on Rose River Fire Road, take the Rose River Loop Trail to the left. A half mile down the trail, take a blue-blazed trail to the right for 0.5 mile to the stream.
Top access can also be gained by parking at Dark Hollow Falls parking area and following the Dark Hollow Falls Trail down to Rose River Fire Road and then following the fire road down to the river.
There is also bottom access from Route 670 west of Syria.
This is a feeder to the Rapidan River, and it can be reached by Route 662 from Graves Mill. Stop at the parking lot at the end of the road and follow Graves Mill Trail to the Staunton River Trail.
Thornton River, North Fork
Route 612 provides access to the lower portion of this stream. This road is used by residents with homes in this area, so do not block the road. Be willing to park east of the houses and walk in. Hike up Thornton Hollow Trail into the park. There is access into the headwaters of this stream via Thornton Hollow Trail, which leaves Skyline Drive halfway between Mileposts 25 and 26. The stream is small here, but hiking down the mountain gets you onto bigger water.
White Oak Canyon Run
The many beautiful waterfalls, the inspiring scenery, and the good trout fishing all make this a stream worth visiting.
The top access is by parking at Limberlost, east of Skyline Drive at Milepost 43. Hike 0.1 mile down Old Rag Fire Road to White Oak Canyon Trail. Follow this trail to the right, and it provides stream access all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
Route 600 west of Syria also provides good access to the lower part of the stream. Park near the stream and follow White Oak Canyon Trail upstream.