Virginia Trails: Elevations Above

It’s no secret that Virginia has some of the most spectacular terrain on the Atlantic coast. From its western mountains and Piedmont rivers to its shorelines on the bay, Virginia offers hikers the opportunity to experience a variety of natural environments, lush with a bounty of native species, natural features and a range of challenges to fit different physical needs. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert hiker, Virginia has a trail for you.

Kate Tsagronis, a senior at the University of Mary Washington and an officer in its Outdoor Club, says one of her favorite spots to hike in Virginia is Billy Goat Trail off of the George Washington Parkway near Washington, D.C. The trail contains four sections and loops with some rock hopping and a portion of smooth trail, which make it an appropriate hike for people at varying levels. Tsagronis says it’s about a four-hour hike, “but you can break it up to offer some variety.”

Tsagronis also recommends White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park, a hike that can be both intermediate and expert in level due to its steep descents and long hike back to the top. She says, “It’s my favorite spot. There are six waterfalls throughout the hike, so it’s fun in the summer because you can take a dip.”

Also in Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag is a favorite hike of April Peterson, owner of River Rock Outfitters in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She says it never gets old, sharing, “A customer wanted to see Old Rag in a new way. He and his group hiked it before sunrise and sat at the top making coffee in a French press and watching the sun come up. He said it was one of the most breathtaking sights he had ever seen.”

Megan Henry, Peterson’s employee, is among the top 100 fastest hikers to complete the Appalachian Trail. Henry says some of her favorite spots along the trail are through Waynesboro, near Charlottesville, Virginia. She also enjoys the trails around Bluemont, Virginia. She recommends Westmoreland State Park in Montross, Virginia, as an excellent beginner level day hike, saying, “It’s the type of hike you can do with your kids.”

While mountains and forests are go-to spots for hiking, Mike Middleton of Hampton Roads Hikers reminds people that the beaches offer gorgeous vistas and miles of area to explore throughout the year. He recommends First Landing State Park, formerly Seashore State Park, for its trailhead at a beach on the bay and 50 miles of hiking trails. He says, “You could probably hike there every day and take a different route.” Also in Newport News, Virginia, Middleton reminds hikers of the Noland Trail. Perks include access to public areas, trails through the city and a manicured five-mile path around Noland Pond.

Two other excellent hikes near the Hampton Roads area are York River State Park in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Beaverdam Park in Gloucester, Virginia. York River offers trails through an estuary rich with marine life that thrives throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and Beaverdam provides nearly ten miles of hiking trails around its lake. Middleton notes False Cape State Park in the southeast corner of Virginia as a little known gem on the shore. He cautions against visiting in the heat of the summer due to bugs and snakes, but cooler weather clears this beachfront state park of pests. Middleton mentions Great Dismal Swamp for visits during the winter months when the rangers take groups out for owl calling events.

For more information, visit Hiking Upwards or Virginia is for Lovers, both of which provide trail details and reviews. Now, get moving!

Want to Go?

  1. Billy Goat Trail, C&O Canal National Historic Park: Great Falls, Virginia 703-285-2965
  2. White Oak Canyon: Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, 540-999-3500
  3. Old Rag: Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, 540-999-3500
  4. Westmoreland State Park: Montross, Virginia, 804-493-8821
  5. First Landing State Park: Virginia Beach, Virginia, 757-412-2300
  6. Noland Trail, The Mariner’s Museum and Park: Newport News, Virginia 757-596-2222
  7. False Cape State Park: Virginia Beach, Virginia 757-426-7128
  8. Dismal Swamp Canal: South Mills, North Carolina, 877-771-8333
  9. York River State Park: Williamsburg, Virginia, 757-566-3036
  10. Beaverdam Park: Gloucester, Virginia, 804-693-2355