Hiking in Virginia can take you from mile high Appalachian mountains to regal Piedmont rivers on to the Atlantic Ocean. While hiking in Virginia, you will discover the state’s diverse plant and animal life as well as fascinating human history.
With such precious natural resources, Virginia hikers want to get it right, and to protect these resources so future generations can enjoy them. You can help preserve these natural resources when you visit. To that end, here are ten great destinations that offer hiking for beginners, along with helpful hiking tips and green, environmentally-friendly advice to help you tread lightly while on a Virginia hiking trail.
Hike Distance: 3.0-mile there-and-back
Nearest Town: Austinville
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.883091, -80.858408
Photo Credit: Bill Crabtree Jr.
The Beginner Hike: This hike traces a historic converted rail line that leads to a shot tower -- used in making lead rifle shot back in the 1800s -- one of only three such towers in the United States. Start at Foster Falls, a former milling community on the banks of the New River. Tour the assortment of old structures before walking the level New River Trail, astride the powerful river of the same name. Reach the shot tower, appreciating the 200-year plus year old structure before backtracking on the New River Trail to Foster Falls.
Hiking Tip: Stay on designated trails. Most hikers get truly lost when they leave the path. If you become disoriented, don’t panic––that may result in a bad decision and make your predicament worse. Retrace your steps if you can remember them or stay where you are. Rangers check the trails first when searching for lost or overdue hikers.
Green Tip: Load PDFs of park trail maps onto your smart phone, eliminating the necessity of paper maps. If you do use paper maps, please return them to where they were originally obtained so they can be reused by other hikers. This saves trees and taxpayer dollars.
Hike Distance: 3.4-mile there-and-back
Nearest Town: Marion
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.736028, -81.563250
photo credit: Michael Speed, @photosbyspeed
The Beginner Hike: This pretty waterfall hike at Mount Rogers Recreation Area starts in the wide lower valley of Rowland Creek, which becomes pinched in by rocky Chestnut Ridge. The hike then steepens and comes to Rowland Creek Falls, a 50-foot stair step cascade. Numerous rock ledges lend a cascading effect to the falls. Use care scrambling around this long, tall cataract.
Hiking Tip: Always carry food and water, whether you are going on a long or short hike. Food will give you energy, help keep you warm, and sustain you in an emergency situation until help arrives. And it is always important to stay hydrated.
Green Tip: Virginia trails are great for exercising the adage “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”.
Hike Distance: 2.3-mile loop
Nearest Town: Paris
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.99216, -77.96642
photo credit: Mark Zorger
The Beginner Hike: This hike at Sky Meadows State Park leads to fine views at a newer state park carved out of a scenic and historic Virginia farm in northern Virginia. These paths traverse a blend of woods and meadows. Moreover, the views are something to behold – vast panoramas of hills and lowlands to the east affirming your notion that Sky Meadows in not your average state park of yesteryear. Start at the visitor center, head up Piedmont Overlook Trail to North Ridge Trail to Gap Run Trail, finally joining historic Boston Mill Road back to the trailhead.
Hiking Tip: When hiking in the cold, dress in layers. Remove layers of clothing as you warm up and store them in your daypack. A toboggan and gloves help greatly. I generally wear lesser clothes, starting out a little cool, then warm up, rather than having on excessive clothing then having to shed layers immediately.
Green Tip: Stay on established trails as much as possible. If there aren’t any, stay on surfaces that will be least affected, like rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.
Hike Distance: 4.0-mile loop
Nearest Town: Berthaville
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.332, -77.14472
photo credit: Mark Zorger
The Beginner Hike: Hike to an overlook on the Potomac River at Caledon State Park, an underutilized Virginia hiking getaway that rewards those who make their way to this designated national natural landmark noted for its old growth oak and tulip trees. From the former plantation home trailhead, take the Boyds Hole Trail, then join the Potomac Overlook Trail to reach a bluff and panorama above the big waterway. Return via the Hampstead Road Trail, enjoying the big trees as well as marshes and wildflowers.
Hiking Tip: Take along your brain. A cool, calculating mind is the single most important piece of equipment you’ll ever need on the trail. Think before you act. Watch your step. Plan ahead. Avoiding accidents before they happen is the best recipe for a rewarding and relaxing trek.
Green Tip: For rest stops, get off the trail so others won’t have to hike around you. Head for resilient surfaces without vegetation if possible.
Hike Distance: 4.2-mile there-and-back
Nearest Town: Woodstock
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.92422, -78.68882
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozowyk
The Beginner Hike: This exciting adventure in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest straddles the state line with West Virginia. The ridge-running Mill Mountain Trail takes you up to Big Schloss, a massive outcrop with multiple stellar panoramas -- and a land bridge leading to the outermost outcrop, adding to the excitement.
Hiking Tip: Be careful at overlooks. Virginia’s mountains have numerous bluffs and outcrops. While these areas provide spectacular views, they are potentially hazardous. Stay back from the edge of outcrops and be absolutely sure of your footing.
Green Tip: Be a happy land steward. Pick up after others who have left trash behind so that those who come after you will enjoy a better hiking experience.
Hike Distance: 4.3-mile loop
Nearest Town: Luray
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.61575, -78.35055
photo credit: Nate Dennison
The Beginner Hike: Hike to one of the best preserved cabins at Shenandoah National Park. Leave Skyline Drive then take a pioneer-originated path down to the pretty Hughes River and the Corbin Cabin. You can even rent it for overnight lodging! Your return route makes a steady climb on the Nicholson Hollow Trail to meet the revered Appalachian Trail, of which Virginia has more miles than any other state. Roll a bit on the AT to complete the loop.
Hiking Tip: Know the symptoms of hypothermia. Shivering and forgetfulness are two common indicators of this cold-weather threat. Hypothermia can occur at higher elevations even in the summer. If symptoms arise, get the victim shelter, hot liquids, and dry clothes or a dry sleeping bag.
Green Tip: Don’t pick wildflowers or try to transplant plant or animal life from parks and preserves. Natural preserves provide a place for plants and animals to thrive.
Hike Distance: 5.0-mile out-and-back
Nearest Town: Hampton
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.082738, -76.275908
The Beginner Hike: Explore this preserved coastal marsh and beach, trekking along the shoreline of Chesapeake Bay. This is a wildlife rich area, especially for birders. The largest colony of least terns on the Atlantic coast nests here in spring. The walk is 2.5 miles one way out to a sand spit and former lighthouse site. Note: the end of the spit is off limits in summer due to nesting migratory birds.
Hiking Tip: Use trekking poles while hiking. They aid balance, exercise your upper body, help you climb and descend, as well as absorb shock.
Green Tip: Hike on open trails only. Respect trail and road closures. Ask if you are not sure. There’s usually a valid reason if a trail is closed -- storm damage, mudslides, wildlife breeding area, etc.
Hike Distance: 3.5-mile out-and-back including small loop
Nearest Town: Farmville
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.32394, -78.33708
Photo Credit: Big Orange Frame
The Beginner Hike: This cool hike on a rail-trail, part of High Bridge Trail State Park, starts near the town of Farmville, a Virginia must-visit. Leave River Road, then take the level rail-trail a mile to reach the High Bridge spanning the Appomattox River. Enjoy views from your high-up vantage point, then leave the rail trail to circle Camp Paradise earthworks, a defensive bastion during the Civil War. Backtrack to the trailhead, enjoying the High Bridge views one more time. Then head into downtown Farmville for refreshment.
Hiking Tip: When sharing the trail with equestrians or mountain bikers, adhere to the following protocol: Hikers and bicyclers yield to equestrians and bicyclers yield to hikers. That way we can all enjoy Virginia’s pathways together.
Green Tip: Leave rocks in their natural state. Rock piles and man-made pyramids distract from the natural surroundings and can mislead other hikers into thinking the rock piles are for navigation.
Hike Distance: 3.6-mile loop
Nearest Town: Coeburn
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.867554, -82.522983
The Beginner Hike: Make a circuit around this 60-acre mountain impoundment that also offers fishing, paddling, camping, and picnicking in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. Start at the main recreation area on the Lakeshore Trail, then hike along the water by Kitchen Rock to then use a long boardwalk to traverse the lake’s upper wetland. Meet and join the Chief Benge Scout Trail. Continue in deep woods, rhododendron and cross small creeks before hiking atop the lake dam to return to the trailhead.
Hiking Tip: Be especially careful when crossing streams. If you have any doubt about maintaining your balance on a footlog, ford the stream instead. When fording, use trekking poles or a stout limb for balance and face upstream as you cross. If a stream seems too deep, turn back. Whatever is on the other side is not worth risking your life.
Green Tip: Honor leash laws. Think of your fellow hikers before setting your dog free. Unleashed dogs might also chase wildlife and perhaps become lost.
Hike Distance: 3.0-mile loop
Nearest Town: Petersburg
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.867554, -82.522983
The Beginner Hike: This beautiful tract of land has a little bit of everything – river views, hills, pretty little streams, spring wildflowers and wetlands. Start just below the Lake Chesdin Dam along a state designated scenic section of the lower Appomattox River. Trek alongside the rocky, rapid-pocked river then take a 500-foot boardwalk as you circle a swamp backed by stony hills back to the trailhead.
Hiking Tip: As much as possible know your equipment, your ability, and the area where you are hiking -- then prepare accordingly. Be self-sufficient at all times. Most hiking accidents/rescues start with ill-prepared walkers overestimating their abilities. In contrast, a well-executed trip is a satisfaction to you and to others. It builds your confidence and makes you want to hit the trail again.
Green Tip: Be weatherwise. Always check the forecast before your hike. Sometimes trails can be too muddy to hike. Thunderstorms can be downright dangerous for hikers and damaging to the land. Don’t be afraid to call off your hike for another day.