Backpacking Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trails

Backpacking Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trails

Shenandoah National Park

Type: 2-day Backpacking Lollipop Loop
Distance: Overall 11.6 miles (18.7 km).  Day 1 – 5.5 miles (8.9 km).  Day 2 – 6.1 miles (9.8 km).
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,296 feet (1,005 m)
Net Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,624 feet (800 m)
Date Visited: May 12, 2018 – May 13, 2018
Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trail Map (KTNP)

I had been wanting to check out Overall Run Falls in Shenandoah National Park for some time.  At 93 feet, Overall Run Falls is the highest waterfall in the park, but you don’t hear as much about it as other waterfalls like Dark Hollow Falls or White Oak Canyon.  So on a warm spring day, we went to see for ourselves.  We planned for a one-night backpacking trip to see the falls and make a lollipop loop with Overall Run and Heiskell Hollow Trail.  Our plans changed slightly during the hike, and we returned on Beecher Ridge Trail instead of Heiskell Hollow Trail, creating an 11.6 mi lollipop.  Either way, the route has the benefit of being in the Shenandoah’s Northern District – the closest one to the DC area and our house!  The route is also near Mathews Arm Campground, where we’ve stayed plenty of times.

Our plans in place, we drove to a small parking lot near Hogback Overlook at mile marker 21 on Skyline Drive.  We managed to grab the last parking spot there.  We wanted to eat a quick lunch before starting our hike, but we were immediately swarmed by small bugs.  K was content to sit on a rock while she ate, but the bugs annoyed me so much I chose to eat in the car.

Day 1 – Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail

Once ready, we set out south on the Appalachian Trail.  We would only be on the AT for about 0.3 miles before heading onto Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.  The trees near the trailhead were still pretty bare, which was surprising since we visited in mid-May.  As the trail descended the trees became fuller and the wildflowers more scarce.

The AT was easy going, and in no time, we turned right onto Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.  We would be on this trail until it split into two separate trails, Tuscarora and Overall Run.  The sun shone, and we made good progress as we continued to descend.  I knew the next day would be a quad buster and pretty much all uphill.  There weren’t many other hikers on this trail, which was surprising considering the parking lot at Hogsback was full.

Shenandoah: Overall Run Trailhead Sign
The start of our journey
Shenandoah: Bluets on Appalachian Trail
We spotted these beautiful bluets (Houstonia caerulea) on the Appalachian Trail
Shenandoah: Near Start of Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail
Blue blaze near the start of Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.  The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes, and horse trails have yellow blazes.

We passed an intersection with Traces Trail, and more colorful wildflowers appeared.  I’ve always enjoyed hiking in the spring and seeing wildflowers like geraniums, violets, wild azalea, and orchids.  We pass over a couple small, probably intermittent, streams.  Near one stream are a few budding false hellebore wildflowers.  Suddenly, we heard something in the woods nearby.  Black bears are common here, but it turned out to be just a deer.

The trail continued until we passed Mathews Arm Trail on our left, which leads to Mathews Arm Campground.  We starting to see more hikers since the campground is so close.  In fact, Mathews Arm trailhead is closer to Overall Run Falls than Hogback Overlook parking lot is.  Soon we saw our first falls – not Overall Run Falls, but a smaller group of falls.  We decided to take a break and enjoy the views, even though many day hikers and a few backpackers were milling around too.

Pressing on, we quickly arrived at Overall Run Falls.  This is the longest waterfall in the park.  And?  It was pretty, but other waterfalls in the park are more impressive.  Perhaps it would be more eye-catching after a big rain.  Tree cover partially obstructed our view, which is already a good distance from the falls, and the base of the waterfall is hidden from view.  But don’t let that dissuade you; I still recommend checking it out.  Near the falls are several overlooks, including a picturesque view of the Massanutten Mountains to the west.

Shenandoah: Small Waterfall on Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail
A small waterfall beside the trail on the way to Overall Run
Shenandoah: Wild Geraniums Near Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail
Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) near the small waterfall on Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail
Shenandoah: View West of Massanutten Mountains
Looking west at the Massanutten Mountains
Shenandoah: Overall Run Falls
Overall Run Falls may not be as spectacular as other waterfalls in Shenandoah, but it’s the highest at 93 feet

There are signs indicating that you shouldn’t camp on the falls side of the trail.  You could camp on the other side, though we didn’t notice any established campsites on that section of trail, and with all the people, I don’t think it would be particularly peaceful.  Immediately after we passed the sign saying that you could camp again on either side, we saw a couple hammock camping.  It’s possible they had a view of the falls from where they were, but it was hard to tell.  We weren’t ready to put up our tent yet, so we kept going.  We saw a few established campsites (check them out on the map below), but we planned to camp along Overall Run Trail.

Down we went, as the trail continued to descend.  Overall Run flows right next to and over the trail, so we had two easy stream crossings.  We came upon a family backpacking with two children who were taking a break on the side of the trail.  They looked exhausted from the uphill climb.  We commiserated, knowing we would ascend the next day.  We mentioned a nice established campsite that we had passed, waved goodbye, and continued on.

Day 1 – Overall Run Trail

Saying goodbye to Tuscarora Trail as it headed northwest, we continued onto Overall Run Trail.  Shenandoah’s website mentions a side trail to some cascades after Tuscarora Trail splits.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but the word “cascades” intrigued us.  So when we came to a junction – on our right was an established campsite; on our left, a social trail – we took the social trail in search of the cascades.

Shenandoah: Campsite on Overall-Tuscarora Trail
A nice campsite along the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail

The cascades, it turns out, are a series of waterfalls, slides, and swimming holes.  It was a hot, muggy, buggy, humid day and I wanted to dive in.  There were a lot of visitors, as an access trail called Thompson Hollow leads there after about 1.1 miles.  My mind wrestled with itself as I thought about taking a dip, because we probably should keep going and make camp.  On the other hand, the water was so inviting with its sparkly blue-green tint.  We settled for walking alongside the flowing water past a series of scenic pools.  In addition to being pressed for time, there were other swimmers in the pools, so we just climbed on the rocks and enjoyed the water features before hiking back onto Overall Run Trail to find a campsite.  We discussed returning to the cascades after setting up camp if we had time (we didn’t).

The nearby campsite was an option, but we wanted more privacy.  I scouted ahead of K, onto Overall/Beecher Connector Trail where I found a site, but it was already occupied.  So we located another site near the end of Overall Run Trail.  It was close enough to Overall Run that we had a good source of water, and was far enough off the trail to offer some privacy.  We set up our tent, ate dinner, then went in search of the perfect branch to hang our bear bag.  We always seem to have trouble finding a branch that’s high enough, long enough, and thick enough to support our food and scented items, but we did the best we could.  We went to sleep with heat lightning illuminating the sky.

Shenandoah: Overall Run Cascades
A glimpse of the cascades.  The tumbling water and series of pools stretches out into several sections.
Shenandoah: Overall Run Cascades Swimming Hole
Looks inviting for a swim!  Too bad we didn’t have time.
Shenandoah: Campsite Along Overall Run Trail
Our campsite along Overall Run Trail

Day 2 – Beecher Ridge Trail

Drip…drip…drip…dripdrip…dripdripdripdrip…woooshhhh!!!  Around 1am, we were awakened to the sounds of a torrential rain storm.  The forecast had said there was a small chance, but we had risked it.  Turns out, we had lost our bet with the weather.  Luckily, while there was lightning, it was far away.  I love hearing the sound of rain as I fall asleep, but I’m not a big fan of hiking in the rain.  Our tent kept us (and our gear) cozy and dry though.  It poured for the rest of the night, until around 6am.  We decided that we’d sleep for only an hour or so and then get up and go.  But we were awakened again, by more rain.  So we were lazy and decided to wait it out.

We woke up again around 9am, which is the middle of the day for some backpackers, but at least the rain had stopped again.  We quickly made oatmeal for breakfast and packed up.  Our tent left a nice dry patch where it had been.  Thankfully, we were dry, but the world around us was soaked.  And this would be the day with a lot of elevation gain, compared to the elevation loss we had the previous day.  There were fewer bugs due to the rain (at least initially), and it had gotten cooler.  But it had also become even more humid, and the bugs would be back before we knew it.

Our initial plan was to hike south on Beecher Ridge Trail, until the intersection with Heiskell Hollow Trail, where we would head east.  But since we got a later start than intended, we decided to cut off a couple miles and hike back east on Beecher Ridge Trail.  We didn’t know whether it would start storming again or not.  The sun had come out just in time for our first major incline of the trip.

Shenandoah: Campsite on Overall Run After Rain
Our campsite the morning after it rained during the night. Can you tell where our tent was?
Shenandoah: Overall Run Trail
Green tunnel along the Overall Run Trail
Shenandoah: Stream Crossing on Overall-Beecher Connector Trail
Crossing Overall Run on Overall-Beecher Connector Trail

Beecher Ridge Trail is pretty much all uphill, and it was again buggy, muggy, and humid.  Even with the uphill, we were making good time.  We stopped for a break and were immediately swarmed by gnats.  We could only stand around for a bit before we had to start moving again to get away from the bugs.  The trail was very green, narrow in some places, and almost overgrown.  Not a trail that sees a lot of use.  Since the previous day at the cascades, we hadn’t seen anyone yet.  Beecher Ridge Trail is also an area that is supposed to have a large concentration of black bears.  We didn’t see any, but we kept an eye out.

There is no rest for the incline on this trail, and it wasn’t until we reached the intersection with Matthews Arm Trail that we had any relief.  A ton of people (and thankfully, fewer insects) streamed past us on Matthews Arm Trail as we took a quick break.  This portion of trail leads to Overall Run Falls, so we weren’t surprised – in fact, the falls were probably more spectacular after the previous night’s storm.

Continuing on, we turned left on Matthew’s Arm Trail to see what we thought were black and orange butterflies dancing close to us.  As we stop and watch, we realized that they were actually birds!  They were beautiful, and we think they were American Redstarts, but it’s hard to know for sure.  They were gone before we knew it, so I couldn’t get a photo.  We continued on, and crossed Overall Run, where the rain had caused the stream to swell up and inundate the trail.  We decided it was a good spot to filter some water since I was running low.

Shenandoah: Mountain Laurel on Beecher Ridge Trail
Early flowering mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on Beecher Ridge Trail.  Mountain laurel is a widespread bush that grows on the east coast, whose flowers range from white to pink.
Shenandoah: Wild Azalea on Beecher Ridge Trail
Kristin looking at some white wild azalea (Rhododendron canescens) on Beecher Ridge Trail. We also saw some pink wild azalea nearby.
Shenandoah: Showy Orchis on Mathews Arm Trail
Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) on Mathews Arm Trail. These wildflowers are orchids and typically bloom in April to May.
Shenandoah: Overall Run Across Mathews Arm Trail
Overall Run crossing Mathews Arm Trail after a night of steady rain

The intersection with Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail came, and we had completed the main loop.  Heading right, there was – only – a very long incline over 2.4 miles to get back to our car.  I don’t mind doing the incline last in a trip, but I prefer hikes where you get the incline over with first.  We make it back to our car, which was wet and muddy from the downpour.  We were starving, so we headed to Sperryville to grab a burger at Headmaster’s Pub.  The chipotle mayo there is amazing.  I could drink it.  As we sat there gorging on burgers and fries, the sky opened up and poured.  We had finished the hike just in time!

Overall, the hike was very enjoyable and made for a nice 1-night backpacking trip.  It had some special waterfalls, inviting swimming holes, and beautiful views.  Someday we’ll make it back and do Heiskell Hollow Trail too.  But for now, we checked off somewhere I’d been wanting to see for awhile.

Shenandoah: Overall Run Appalachian Trail
Almost back to the Appalachian Trail… and our car!
Shenandoah: Burger at Headmaster's Pub in Sperryville
Enjoying a burger, beer, and some great chipotle mayo after our hike at Headmaster’s Pub.  Nice to be inside as it’s pouring down rain.
Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Topographic Trail Map

Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trails
Dates: We did this backpacking trip from May 12, 2018 to May 13, 2018
Type:
 Lollipop Loop
Total Distance: 
11.6 miles (18.7 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
3,296 feet (1,005 m)
Net Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,624 feet (800 m)

  • Day 1 (estimates depend on campsite):
    • Distance: 5.5 miles (8.9 km)
    • Overall Cumulative Gain and Loss: 371 feet (113 m) Gain, 2969 feet (905 m) Loss
    • Time: 4.5 hours hiking including occasional breaks
    • Overnight: A site along Overall Run Trail
  • Day 2 (estimates depend on campsite):
    • Distance: 6.1 miles (9.8 km)
    • Overall Cumulative Gain and Loss: 2924 feet (891 m) Gain, 327 feet (100 m) Loss
    • Time: 5 hours hiking including lunch and rest breaks

Trail Markings: Well-marked with yellow, blue, and white blazes depending on the trail type
Difficulty: Moderate, decent elevation gain but otherwise not too bad
Crowds:  Lots of people near Overall Run and Mathews Arm, otherwise only saw a few groups.
Water: Plenty of streams, waterfalls, swimming pools
Directions to Miller Creek Parking: Google Maps Directions
Trail Directions: 

  • Mile 0.0 – From the small parking lot near Hogback Overlook, head southwest on the white blazed Appalachian Trail.  The trail will ascend slightly, then descend.
  • Mile 0.4 – Turn right onto the blue blazed Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.
  • Mile 1.0 – Pass Traces Trail on your left.  Bear right to stay on Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.
  • Mile 2.6 – Pass Mathews Arm Trail on your left.  Continue straight on Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.  A small group of waterfalls is on the left after about 1,000 feet.
  • Mile 3.0 – On your left is Overall Run Falls!  Enjoy from afar.
  • Mile 4.9 – You’ve reached the end of Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.  Continue straight onto Overall Run Trail (still blue blazed).
  • Mile 5.0 – To the left, a social trail leads away from Overall Run Trail.  Check out the cascades, a series of waterfalls and swimming holes.  When you’re finished, head back out the same way to Overall Run Trail.  Continue on Overall Run Trail and look for a campsite along the next 0.6 miles.
  • Mile 5.6 – Overall Run Trail ends; turn left onto the Overall-Beecher Connector Trail.
  • Mile 6.3 – The trail runs into the yellow blazed Beecher Ridge Trail.  Yellow blazes means the trail is shared with horses.  Take the left side of Beecher Ridge Trail, which starts gaining elevation.  Beecher Ridge is supposed to have a high concentration of black bears, so stay alert and make noise!
  • Mile 8.6 – Beecher Ridge Trail ends; turn left onto Matthews Arm Trail.
  • Mile 9.0 – The loop is complete; turn right onto blue blazed Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail, which you were on the previous day.
  • Mile 10.6 – Stay left to continue on Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail.
  • Mile 11.2 – Turn left onto the white blazed Appalachian Trail.
  • Mile 11.6 – Back at the parking lot.

Highlights: Waterfalls, streams, wildlife, views

Places:
Hogsback Overlook Parking Lot | 38.7612, -78.2822
Overall Run Falls | 38.78335, -78.29449
Mathews Arm Campground | Rileyville, VA 22650
Headmaster’s Pub12018 Lee Hwy, Sperryville, VA 22740

Maps:
Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trail Map (KTNP)
Mathews Arm Area Map (NPS)

Links:
Shenandoah Overall Run and Beecher Ridge Trip Guide (NPS)
Shenandoah Backcountry Regulations (NPS)
Shenandoah Backcountry Planning (NPS)

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