Virginia is for Hiking Lovers
RICHMOND Va. - Virginia is a hiker's paradise - whether it's a walk through coastal marshes or a rugged jaunt along the famed Appalachian Trail, Virginia has a footpath for everyone. Trails for all abilities offer stunning views, flowing cascades, rhododendron and large hemlock trees. Below are highlights of Virginia's trails, with so many more at Virginia.org/outdoors.
Virginia proudly holds more miles of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail than any other state. Approximately one-fourth of the trail, or 550 miles, runs through the state, offering hikers plenty of opportunities for day hikes or extended backcountry adventures.
Old Growth Forest
One of the largest remaining tracts of virgin forest in the eastern United States sits in Virginia's Ramsey's Draft Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest. The unspoiled area on the eastern side of Shenandoah Mountain is the perfect place for backpackers to have the ultimate wild experience, all the while surrounded by virgin hardwood and hemlock forests.
Top of Virginia
Virginia's highest point, 5,729-foot Mount Rogers, is located in the Grayson Highlands area of southwestern Virginia. The mountainous region features alpine like topography with panoramic views of some of Appalachia's highest peaks. With plenty of open country to explore, as well as the opportunity to spot wild ponies, it's no surprise this is one of most popular backpacking areas in Virginia. A variety of trails can be accessed at Grayson Highlands State Park and the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
The gorgeous 2,600 acres surrounding the famous Mountain Lake Hotel - the filming site of Dirty Dancing - features 22 miles of trails maintained by the Mountain Lake Conservancy. Hike to notable overlooks like Bald Knob for amazing expansive views of the nearby New River Valley.
Located just 35 miles south of Washington, D.C., the 15,000-acre park is the largest piedmont forest in the national park system and a much-appreciated natural getaway for hikers in Northern Virginia. The park offers 37 miles of trails to explore - from creek side strolls to heavily forested backcountry rambles.
Just 15 miles upstream from the nation's capital, the Potomac River gets wild and crazy as it gathers speed and plunges over a series of 20-foot drops. These cascades result in one of the most spectacular waterfall settings in the country. It's surrounded by an 800-acre mini national park with 15 miles of trails running through the scenic, craggy banks of the Potomac. Try the five-mile loop hike connecting the Difficult Run, Swamp, Ridge and River Trails - a scenic jaunt that includes rocky shoreline and overlook views.
One of Virginia's most amazing natural wonders to explore is the Peak of Otter. Located at milepost 86 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Peaks of Otter includes three mountains situated in a triangular pattern- Sharp Top (3,865 feet), Flat Top (4,004 feet), and Harkening Hill (3,375 feet) with scenic Abbott Lake in the middle. Hikers can explore the Peaks on a variety of trails for all abilities. There's a short but steep, 1.5 mile route to the summit of Sharp Top, which offers stunning panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, as well as the Shenandoah Valley. There's also the strenuous Harkening Hill Loop, a 3.3-mile route with some tough climbs that are rewarded with more views and a stop by Balance Rock, a large boulder balanced on a small rock. 360-Degree View Spy Rock offers one of the sweetest panoramic views in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia. The 3,980- foot rock outcrop can be accessed with a two-mile, yet moderately strenuous hike, from the Montebello Fish Hatchery in Nelson County by using the Appalachian Trail.
Located in scenic Madison County and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Graves Mountain Lodge is the perfect base for hiking the famous White Oak Canyon and Old Rag Mountain. The lodge has comfortable rooms and cabins, and serves hearty family-style meals. Other activities include fishing, swimming and good old-fashioned porch sitting.
Earn the reward of scenic Allegheny Mountain views with a steep hike on the 13-mile Fore Mountain Trail. The sustained switchbacks to the summit are moderately strenuous, but the vantage point of some of western Virginia's finest mountain country will be worth it. At the end, hikers can pick up the Middle Mountain Trail and continue another five miles to Douthat State Park, which has a vast 43-mile trail network.
Take a wooded stroll that retraces the footsteps of Daniel Boone on this 10-mile trail in Wilderness Road State Park - territory covered by the notable explorer more than two centuries ago.
Cascade Falls near Pembroke is considered one of most beautiful water falls in all of Virginia. Gushing streams cascade over rocks, culminating in a 69-foot high waterfall that tumbles into a large pool. A four-mile loop awards hikers with views while anglers will enjoy the fishing. Cascades Recreation Area, Jefferson National Forest.
One of the best hikes to pick up right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this scenic 11-mile trail is accessed at milepost 167.1. After making a quick ascent to the top of Rocky Knob (3,572 feet), tay on the ridge top for over three miles, also passing the summit of Grassy Knoll, before gradually dipping into the thick forest that holds over 200 species of wild flowers and eventually reach the cool shaded valley holding Rock Castle Creek. The rest of the trail is a seven-mile ascent back out of the gorge. The hard work is worth it, as tunnels of rhododendron and other thick mountain foliage, a splashing stream and high open meadows await.
Wild Oak National Recreation Trail
Serious backpackers will enjoy the remote settings and rugged hiking opportunities on the 26-mile Wild Oak Trail, located in the George Washington National Forest. It's a great trail to complete with a two- or- three-day overnight, as it starts at the headwaters of the North River and moves through a gorgeous variety of hardwood forests. Hikers will face plenty of steep ascents, but rewards will come with amazing vistas, like the view from 4,351-foot Little Bald Knob.
This 9.5-mile trail near the quaint college town of Lexington follows the tip of North Mountain in Rockbridge to the Longdale Recreation area. Along the way, hikers enjoy beautiful rocky cliffs with overhead views of Lake Robertson and the Lexington area.
Follow the crest of the Cumberland Mountains, which divides the state lines of Southwest Virginia and Kentucky. The rugged Pine Mountain Trail runs for 28 miles from Pound Gap to Potter's Flats in the Breaks Interstate Park and continues for another 16 miles in Kentucky.
An essential day hike destination is Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Climb this Virginia treasure with a leg-stretcher on the four-mile Crabtree Falls Trail where you'll pass five cascades that drop 1,200 feet. From the upper falls, the trail follows the creek to the scenic Crabtree Meadows. Access the trail in Nelson County, just six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27.
Nine trails total about 20 miles in First Landing State park in Virginia Beach. The most popular, the first section of the Bald Cypress Trail, is one-mile, crosses dunes and ponds, and is universally accessible. Trail walks are conducted by interpreters in-season, and trail guidebooks are available in the Trail Center.
Kiptopeke State Park, located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, offers recreational access to the Chesapeake Bay as well as an opportunity to explore unique migratory bird habitat along the Atlantic flyway. Stroll through upland hardwood forest along Baywoods Trail and look for tracks of foxes, deer and many birds. The upland Baywoods Trail and southern beach are connected by extensive boardwalks so that visitors may explore Kiptopeke's dune formation.
The Old Plantation Interpretive Trail is an easy hiking 1.2-mile loop that winds through the woods, passing the remains of several structures that once made up William Townes's Occoneechee Plantation. Along the trail, hikers will encounter the family cemetery. Behind the home was once an extensive, five-terraced garden. Although most of the original plants died long ago, the boxwoods that once lined the path have grown tall.
Walk through some of the most important wildlife habitat in the mid-Atlantic region along the trails in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The Washington Ditch Trail meanders nearly five miles to Lake Drummond, and the elevated wooden Dismal Town Boardwalk Trail is a one-mile trail through a representative portion of swamp habitats. Love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation.
Go to www.Virginia.org\outdoors or call 1-800-VISITVA to request a free copy of the 2013 Virginia is for Lovers travel guide. Stay connected with Virginia on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/VirginiaisforLovers or on Twitter at @VisitVirginia.
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