There are several reasons to get out and hit Virginia's hiking trails during the winter months. You may be trying to stick to your New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, or you might be looking for scenic vantages without the huge crowds that usually accompany the best viewpoints. No matter your reasons, hiking is not an activity reserved for warm summer months. Travel to a few of these hiking trails to discover the beauty that Virginia has to offer year-round.
Little Stony Falls
Photo Credit: Keith Jennings, @keithjenningsphotography
Closest Cities: Coeburn & St. Paul
Large waterfalls can be found along Southwest Virginia's Little Stony Falls Trail, and in winters when they ice over, the resulting icy cascades are awe-inspiring. A 3-mile moderately difficult trail, Little Stony has a few areas where you'll have to climb over boulders and traverse tougher terrain, so make sure you've got on the proper footwear to tackle this trail.
Closest Cities: Waynesboro & Lexington
One of the tallest series of waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, Crabtree Falls is a beautiful hike all year round, but summer months find the trails more crowded. Come during the winter for gorgeous, uninterrupted views of the waterfalls. Try nearby Spy Rock or Priest Mountain for an extra hiking challenge.
Cascades National Recreation Trail
Closest City: Blacksburg
The four mile hike on Cascades National Recreation Trail is achievable for even beginner hikers, and the 66-foot waterfall (which can even freeze during the coldest parts of winter!) at the end of the trail make it worth the distance.
Closest City: Stanardsville
Off of Skyline Drive, Bearfence Trail is about a mile long ending in spectacular 360-degree views. Take the Bearfence Viewpoint route to avoid the rock scramble. Check the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive websites before arriving, as closures occur periodically during winter months.
Photo Credit: Nick Palastro, @nickpalastro
Closest Cities: Sperryville & Luray
A hiking gem in Shenandoah National Park, the Mary's Rock trail is about a 3.7-mile moderately difficult round trip hike that offers sweeping views of the western side of the park along with Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozowyk
Closest Cities: Luray & Strasburg
Big Schloss is located along the Virginia/West Virginia line in the George Washington National Forest. One of the longer hikes recommended for winter, this is the 4.4 mile sister hike to Tibbet Knob, but the summit provides wonderful views of the surrounding valleys.
Peaks of Otter
Closest Cities: Roanoke & Lynchburg
Made up of Flat Top, Shark Top, & Harkening Hill, the Peaks of Otter Trail system has six trails total. Sharp Top and Flat Top are the hardest, but have the best views at the summit with 360-degree views.
Beach and Bay Trail Loop
Closest Cities: Woodbridge & Arlington
Beach and Bay Trail Loop in Mason Neck State Park is a 2.3 mile circuit that is good for all hiking skill levels, with the trail running along the beach showcasing the coastal scenery, even in winter.
Dark Hollow Falls
Photo Credit: Ryan Thompson, @dslryan
Closest City: Luray
Another popular hike in Shenandoah National Park, Dark Hollow Falls typically is fairly crowded in the summer. Visiting during winter months allows you to see the 70-foot cascading waterfall at your own pace without the larger groups of people. In the coldest months, the waterfall has been known to freeze, creating a stunning winter scene.
Photo Credit: Nick Palastro, @nickpalastro
Closest Cities: Sperryville & Madison
Old Rag is located near the Thornton Gap entrance of Shenandoah National Park, and is one of the most well-known trails in Virginia. However, at 9.8-miles long, this trail is not for beginners and is a strenuous climb that can take the better part of a day. During summer months, the trail can be very popular, so hiking during the winter allows you a more solitary trek. Make sure to wear shoes with microspikes or some sort of additional grip, as the trail can be very icy in the winter months. In addition to intense elevation gains, the trail also has several difficult rock scrambles, making this a trail for experienced hikers.
*From March 1 – November 30, 2022, visitors to Old Rag Mountain, including hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails, will need to obtain an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance, in addition to a Park entrance pass. Find out more information on the National Park Service Old Rag day-use ticket FAQ page.*
Brown Pelican Trail
Closest Cities: Virginia Beach & Cape Charles
Located in Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Brown Pelican Trail offers amazing views of the Chesapeake Bay and the eerie concrete ships that were sunk over 65 years ago to protect the shoreline.
Roaring Run Hoop Hole Trail
Closest City: Roanoke
In Jefferson National Forest, the Roaring Run Hoop Hole Trail is a 1.2 mile hike near Eagle Rock. The trail features a waterfall and is great for all hiking skill levels. Avoid the upper loop trail, as it is more advanced and much longer.
Tobacco Heritage Trail
Closest Cities: South Hill & Lawrenceville
For those looking for a flat, easy hike, the Tobacco Heritage Trail runs more than 17 miles with several smaller segments allowing you to enjoy the surrounding landscapes and a scenic 300-foot bridge over the Meherrin River.
Stony Man Trail
Closest City: Luray
At the end of the 1.4 miles, Stony Man Trail opens to a gorgeous view of Shenandoah Valley, Luray, Massanutten, and the Allegheny Mountains on a clear day. This beginner’s trail isn’t too steep, but if you’re looking for more of a challenge, try Try Little Stony Man Loop for a 3.4 mile moderately difficult trail.
Lover’s Leap Trail
Closest City: Bristol
For a shorter hiking option, head out to Lover’s Leap Trail, a 0.4 mile hike within Natural Tunnel State Park with moderate difficulty. Afterwards, try the Tunnel Hill Trail, and if you’re lucky, you may get to see a train go through the historic tunnel.
House Mountain Hike
Photo Credit: John Henley
Closest City: Lexington
House Mountain Hike is actually two trails, consisting of Big House and Little House trail. Big House Mountain is shorter, a 1.7 mile moderate hike that can be more difficult in inclement weather, while Little House Mountain is 2.6 miles and moderate. Both hikes offer beautiful views from the summits.
Turkey Neck Trail
Closest City: Fredericksburg
Turkey Neck Trail is a 2.5 mile circuit in Westmoreland State Park that is accessible year round. Right near the Potomac River on the Maryland/Virginia border, the trail ends at the cliffs and beach with fantastic views of the waterfront.
Belle Isle Trails
Closest City: Richmond
The trails of Belle Isle in Richmond wind beside the James River, providing an easy hiking option within a populated urban center. The trail encircles the 54-acre island and is accessible by a pedestrian footbridge that runs under the Lee Bridge. Warm up afterwards with a visit to some of the nearby breweries.
Mount Rogers, Photo credit: Scott K. Brown
Check out the following trail options if you’re interested in longer, more advanced winter hikes: