|Cascade on Hogcamp Branch|
The Rose River Falls and Hogcamp Branch loop is one of the most delightful stream and waterfall hikes in Shenandoah. The hike features two major waterfalls: the smaller Rose River Falls and the tall, multi-tiered Dark Hollow Falls, but in my opinion, the true highlight of the hike is the portion of trail that runs between the two falls along Hogcamp Branch. This hike is normally very popular, but I've managed to avoid crazy crowds during both of my trips down to Rose River Falls. I'd encourage you to visit early or late in the day during spring, summer, or fall weekends, or come on a weekday or winter.
I first did the Rose River Falls hike as a 2.7 mile round trip from Fishers Gap over winter break of 2011, visiting the falls with high school friends. I returned to complete the loop in March. Two friends and I left Charlottesville in the early afternoon on an overcast day after a rainy morning. Clouds hovered around the 3000-foot level as we drove up US 33 toward Swift Run Gap, hiding the rounded tops of the Blue Ridge. At the entrance, we found none of the crowds from the previous week: just as sun and warmth brought crowds, rain and cold had driven them away. Driving north on Skyline Drive, we wove in and out of clouds, with occasional views into the Valley. At the Green Tunnel near Lewis Mountain, there was dense fog, which lent a dreamy feel to the woodlands, with the interconnected branches of the road-spanning canopy only just visible through the white mist.
Although few humans were keen to be out on a wet day, the deer at Big Meadows didn't mind. Spring was here: grass, flowers, shrubs were sprouting and an incredible number of deer had gathered on the grassland to graze.
|Deer browse at Big Meadows|
|Spring creeps up the ridges of Hawksbill from the Valley|
|Rose River Falls|
|The lower drop of Rose River Falls|
Past Rose River Falls, the trail continues a steep descent, veering away from the Rose River for the most part. At the end of the descent, the trail returned to the side of the cascading Rose River before reaching a flat plain at the very bottom of the hike. Here, the trail headed off to the right along Hogcamp Branch, beginning the ascent. The very beginning of the Hogcamp Branch section is not terribly remarkable, but that changed once we reached an old copper mine.
|Remnants of an old copper mine|
After passing the copper mine, we made a small stream crossing and then crossed Hogcamp Branch by a bridge. The bridge marked the beginning of one of the most special segments of stream in the park. Past the bridge, the trail hugged the creek, which tumbled continuously in numerous tiny cascades and formed multiple deep, beautiful pools.
|Cascade on Hogcamp Branch|
We took our time ascending along the stream and enjoyed each miniature waterfall. Eventually, we arrived at another bridge across Hogcamp Branch and the intersection with the Rose River Fire Road. At the bridge, a small, narrow waterfall perhaps 15-20 feet high was visible further up the gorge. I checked out that waterfall before heading up the Dark Hollow Falls Trail, which started at the bridge, and headed steeply uphill for a fifth of a mile past multiple high drops to the tallest waterfall on Hogcamp Branch, 70-foot Dark Hollow Falls.
|Dark Hollow Falls|
There is some interesting geology on Hogcamp Branch. Both Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls are formed in greenstone, which is normal and expected in Shenandoah. However, during the rock-hop, I found that the lower section of Hogcamp Branch cuts through granite. I am not sure why there is a section of granite exposed in an otherwise greenstone/Catoctin formation dominated area, but I would certainly like to know!