Virginia is for Lovers

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Humpback Rocks

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Eagle Rock - Roaring Run Falls

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Sherando Lake

Spend some time in Virginia and you will hear the names George Washington National Forest and Jefferson National Forest. But what are they? Where are they? And what can you do there?

Named for two founders of our country, the George Washington National Forest and Jefferson National Forest (GWJNF) were combined in 1995 and are now managed as one unit of the national forest system, with a whopping 1,664,110 acres in Virginia. These massive swaths of land stretch in parcels extending up the spine of the Appalachians roughly from the Tennessee state line following the northwest Virginia boundary with Kentucky and West Virginia. They are also found along the Blue Ridge from Roanoke to Waynesboro, as well a few small parcels in Kentucky and West Virginia. 

Virginia’s GWJNF has a myriad recreation opportunities – hiking, paddling, bicycling, camping, wildlife viewing, fishing, scenic driving, and more. GWJNF boasts over 2,300 miles of streams, over 40 species of trees, over 60 species of animals and over 50 endangered plant species. It is a land with around 200 recreation sites such as campgrounds and picnic areas. 

Over 2,200 miles of trails lace the GWJNF, allowing hikers, bicyclers and equestrians enough pathways for a lifetime. There are 23 federally designated wildernesses within mountainous terrain ranging from 515 feet in elevation near the Shenandoah River all the way up to Virginia’s highest point of 5,729 feet at Mount Rogers. 


  • Entering the GWJNF is generally free. There are no entry gates as such, especially with the huge tracts that comprise the forest. However, specific recreation areas such as Cascade Falls near Pembroke and campgrounds such as Elizabeth Furnace near Strasburg will either require an entrance or user fee.
  • Since the GWJNF is so big, it is broken up and managed in districts, with supervision concentrated on higher use areas. Roads course throughout the forest, but are often gravel. However, they do allow access to backwoods areas. Even at that, the vast majority of the forest is untamed game lands left to Virginia’s wild fauna and flora, accessible only by those hitting the trails on foot, bicycle or horse.
  • National Forest maps are essential for exploring throughout the forest. Your smart phone might help you get one place at a time, but to truly discover the GWJNF maps are essential. Try National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps. They have 9 individual maps covering various parcels of Virginia’s GWJNF. Pick your area, then purchase your map. 

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