You likely already know that Virginia is for Lovers, but how about hikers? As it turns out, the state’s varied topography -- ranging from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean -- makes it a perfect place for you to lace up your boots and get out there.
Here are a few of the best hikes from across the state, chosen for their moderate ease and fantastic natural payoffs.
1. Matildaville Trail, Great Falls Park
This heavily-trafficked out-and-back trail located in Great Falls Park is just about 2 miles, but it’s packed with some gorgeous views, and even a trek through ghost town ruins! The wooded dirt trail is well marked and takes you by one of the park’s famous waterfalls, as well as through the old, long-defunct town of Matildaville. In the winter, there are limited views of nearby Mather Gorge, where the Potomac River builds speed and power.
Please note that this trail is narrow and can get muddy. Hikers are asked to yield to those on horseback.
2. Whiteoak Canyon Trail, Shenandoah National Park
This is my pick for the best hike in Virginia. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Shenandoah National Park, extending across the Blue Ridge Mountains, is located northwest of Charlottesville and includes 200,000 acres divided by the Skyline Drive. This spot is well known as a hiker’s paradise, with more than 500 miles of trails.
The Whiteoak Canyon Trail is one of Shenadoah’s most popular routes, and for good reason. There are six gorgeous waterfalls along this stretch. While the entire circuit includes a 2,800-foot gain and 7 tough miles, you can easily break up the hike into less strenuous routes.
3. Hawksbill Mountain Trail, Shenandoah National Park
The 2.2-mile out-and-back Hawksbill Mountain Trail will have you standing at the top of Shenandoah National Park. The hike starts at high elevation -- 3,600 feet -- leaving just 500 more to climb to reach the craggy nose of Hawksbill Mountain. It’s the perfect spot for selfies, especially at sunset, but take care not to lose your footing!
4. Humpback Rocks Trail, Appalachian Trail
Much like Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail is a mecca of sorts for serious hikers. But there are many areas within the 2,000-mile trail -- which stretches from Maine to Georgia -- that aren’t overly strenuous and offer some beautiful natural payoffs.
Humpback Rocks in west central Virginia is a popular stop along the way. The loop trail here is nearly 4 miles, and while the first mile is fairly steep and rocky, things level out and when you reach the top, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys. Also, keep your eye out for black bears -- they are known to frequent the area. Keep a healthy distance, and you will be just fine!
5. McAfee Knob Trail, Appalachian Trail
You won’t be solo on this 8.8-mile out-and-back trail; McAfee Knob is a popular place and one of the most-photographed spots on the entire Appalachian Trail. The trek to reach it rated as moderately difficult, but the payoff is incredible. The knob is the jutted end of a tilted mountain, sticking out nearly 3,200 feet over the valley like a natural diving board. (It’s not for those with a fear of heights!) Hikers from around the world come to this Blue Ridge Mountain spot for the incredible, panoramic views.
Keep a careful eye out for the steep dropoffs; this is a place to have someone else get your photo! Allot at least 4 hours for the trip.
6. High Bridge Trail
A former railroad route, the High Bridge Trail is 31 miles long and is wide, level, and flat. Like many rails-to-trails spots, it’s made of crushed limestone and is a snap to navigate. There are 10 different spots where you can park and access the trail, allowing you to customize your trip. One thing you will not want to miss is the park’s namesake, the majestic High Bridge. It’s more than 2,400 feet long, rises 125 feet above the Appomattox River, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
7. Cascade Falls National Recreation Trail, Jefferson National Forest
For an easy hike with a stunning, watery payoff, Cascade Falls National Recreation Trail should be on your hiking bucket list. Located in Jefferson National Forest in the southwestern portion of the state, this 4-mile out-and-back trail will have you following a shaded mountain creek to an awe-inspiring 66-foot waterfall. It’s a wonderful place to picnic, and anglers often try their luck fishing for trout in the stream.
8. Fairy Stone State Park
In the mood for a treasure hunt during your hike? Then make sure you head to Fairy Stone State Park, just a few minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia. This state park’s 12 miles of wooded, easy trails will take you by Fairy Stone Lake adjoining the Philpott Reservoir and give you views of the nearby Bull Mountain. Be sure to stop at the park’s staurolite hunt site, where you can try your luck at finding what the locals call “fairy stones” -- six-sided, cross-shaped crystals found in metamorphic rock.
9. Virginia Creeper Trail
Another terrific rails-to-trails project, the Virginia Creeper Trail spans 35 miles in southwestern Virginia. Like the High Bridge Trail, it is made of crushed limestone and is easy to walk and fairly flat. It’s named both for the slow steam engines that crept into the nearby Iron Mountains and the plant that grew near the tracks.
While the route is popular with cyclists, hikers also love the trail that winds its way through all sorts of scenery, including farmlands, fields, forests, streams, and even small towns. There are 50 wooden trestles along the trail, which add to its charm. And with several trailheads and parking lots, this is also an easily customizable hike.
10. Channels Natural Area Preserve
High-elevation hardwood forests, dramatic rock outcrops, and boulder mazes etched from sandstone set the Channels Natural Area Preserve apart from other hikes on this list. Located close to the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Channels trails wind through the rock channels, but it’s a fairly steep downhill hike to reach them; boots with ankle support will be necessary.
Once you reach this labyrinth, make sure to reserve a full day to hike through it and marvel. While the area around it is small -- about 20 acres -- it’s easy to lose your bearings if you rush. Just take your time and enjoy this gorgeous natural rock formation.
11. Crabtree Falls Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway
The 2.5-mile Crabtree Falls Trail is a short but fairly strenuous loop just off the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, not too far from the North Carolina border. You’ll descend a mile through an old-stand oak and hickory forest on a rocky trail that will take you directly to its namesake. The 60-foot waterfall cascades down the cliff amidst wildflowers and ferns. On the way back, keep your eye out for wild azaleas on the switchback that gives another glimpse of the falls.
12. First Manassas Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park
For a bit of Civil War history with your hike, take the 5.2-mile First Manassas Trail that circles the spot where the first major land battle of the Civil War took place. This is an easy hike, dotted with historic markers that describe the Battle of Bull Run and its significance. You’ll see the battlefield landscape and pass the Henry house, where an elderly widow was killed by cannon fire when she refused to leave her home during the fight.
What To Know Before You Go
First, pack plenty of water -- at least a quart per hour you’re on the trails. It might seem like a lot, but the last thing you want is to get dehydrated in the middle of the woods.
Many of the aforementioned trails include majestic waterfalls. Marvel at them, but watch your step. They can get slippery and slick, and it’s downright dangerous to attempt to climb on or through them.
Last but not least, keep in mind that many of these trails are fairly remote, and cell service might not be available. Make sure someone knows where you’re headed and when they can expect you back.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. Their Terradora II Waterproof Boots would be a great fit for any of the hikes described here. They provide great ankle and arch support, keep the moisture out, and aren’t as heavy as other boots I’ve worn in the past. I did need a break-in period and had to play with the lacing a bit to ensure a custom, comfortable fit. But once that was done, it was off to the races -- and the trail! Shop KEEN’s Terradoras and other hiking shoes here.