With over 2,200 miles of trails to trek, the GWJNF has enough pathways to keep most of us busy for years. The forest contains 325 miles of America’s most renowned path – the Appalachian Trail -- more mileage of the AT than another other national forest in the country. Other hiker trails wind through designated wildernesses and scenic areas. Some of them are specially designated national recreation trails.
Here are some sampler hikes to whet your appetite for trail trekking in Virginia’s GWJNF, with one hike in each of the 8 ranger districts.
Sampler Short Hikes
Nearest Town: Strasburg
What You Need to Know: The short walk is long on interpretive information.
GPS Coordinates: 38.92899, -78.32694
Two interconnected nature trails present a splendid overview of charcoal and iron making in 1800s Virginia, all in a gorgeous setting along Passage Creek, nestled between Massanutten and Green Mountain near Strasburg. And you get to see the iron furnace remains up close, as well as a cabin from the 1830s. Plan on adding picnicking, trout fishing and car camping to your historic hiking agenda – it is all here at Elizabeth Furnace.
CONFEDERATE BREASTWORKS INTERPRETIVE TRAIL
Nearest Town: Churchville
What You Need to Know: The interpretive trail is told through letters of a Georgia Confederate soldier.
GPS Coordinates: 38.310833, -79.38361
This half-mile interpretive path traverses the site of Confederate defenses situated atop Shenandoah Mountain. While you are here, have a meal at the nearby Mountain House Picnic Area.
BACK CREEK GORGE TRAIL
Nearest Town: Warm Springs
Distance: 1.3-miles each way
What You Need to Know: The out and back hike ends at the national forest boundary.
GPS Coordinates: 38.069278, -79.883943
This wildflower rich path begins at Blowing Springs Campground and traces an old railroad grade up the Back Creek gorge. Enjoy blue pools divided by shoals on Back Creek. After a half-mile you will reach a low waterfall. Continue upstream on the track in deep woods, passing more cascades and pools before reaching trail’s end and backtracking.
YACCRS RUN TRAIL
Nearest Town: Clifton Forge
Distance: 3.0-mile loop
What You Need to Know: Bring lunch. The hike starts at Longdale Day Use Area, with picnic tables.
GPS Coordinates: 37.79028, -79.70389
This well marked but oddly named path is good for families and novice hikers. The track shows off stream valleys and ridgetops with views. The biggest challenge may be crossing Blue Suck Run without getting your feet wet. By the time you return to the recreation area your appetite will be whetted to enjoy a trailhead picnic at the historic CCC-developed area.
CRABTREE FALLS TRAIL
Nearest Town: Vesuvius
What You Need to Know: The falls can be crowded on nice weekends, especially early summer.
GPS Coordinates: 37.843056, -79.075
Crabtree Falls might be the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, depending on how you qualify a waterfall, but there is no doubt that Crabtree Falls is the highest waterfall in Virginia. Crabtree Falls is really a name given to five major waterfalls (and several smaller ones) on Crabtree Creek, which flows into the Tye River. Within 0.5 mile, the creek drops 1,200 feet.
DRAGONS TOOTH TRAIL
Nearest Town: Salem
Distance: 2.4-miles one-way
What You Need to Know: The final climb to the tip of the Dragons Tooth is for nimble hikers only.
GPS Coordinates: 37.3787, -80.1563
This deservedly popular hike travels up Cove Mountain to a vertical stone slab providing 360-degree panoramas. Along the way, you will ascend a small stream valley then meet the Appalachian Trail. From there, the AT traverses boulder fields and upturned rock slabs that require some scrambling. Climb the Dragons Tooth for unrivaled Virginia highland vistas.
Nearest Town: Konnarock
Distance: 3.8-miles round-trip
What You Need to Know: Views start from the moment you hit the trail.
GPS Coordinates: 36.65859, -81.59455
This high country ramble start at elevated Elk Garden, then joins the AT as it climbs a field with views. Drift in and out of woods, including high elevation spruce-fir forests. Reach Deep Gap. Take a break among the yellow birches. Return via the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail for varied scenery, or backtrack on the AT.
GUEST RIVER GORGE
Nearest Town: Norton
Distance: Up to 5.9 miles one-way
What You Need to Know: Hike as far or short as you please on this lesser visited rail trail.
GPS Coordinates: 36.9238, -82.4517
Hike a railroad grade-turned-trail. First pass through the Swede Tunnel, then cross the Guest River – a Virginia State Scenic River -- on a high bridge. Continue down the cliff and bluff rimmed canyon, viewing giant streamside boulders. Side streams form waterfalls during wet weather.