Virginia has it all. From the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia Beach and historic Richmond and everything in between, you’d be hard pressed not to find something you love in Virginia – especially if it’s hiking. Virginia has thousands of beautiful hiking trails and is a great place to hike because of it.
Filled with stunning mountain top views and even coastal marshland hikes, Virginia is a hiker’s paradise. Once you’re done touring the history of Richmond and you’re looking to go hiking in Virginia, we’ve got your list of the best hikes in Virginia. Whether you’re looking for some good backpacking trails or just a day hike, we’ll feature all types of hikes, from beginner to advanced.
Ready? Lace up those boots and let’s get into the best hiking Virginia has to offer!
The first hiking trail in Virginia truly needs no introduction because it’s one of the most famous hikes in the world. The Appalachian Trail is the longest footpath only trail in the world, extending over 2,200 miles, 500 of which run through Virginia – that’s about a fourth of the trail!
If you hike the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, you can expect to see a little bit of everything from beautiful overlooks, waterfalls, wilderness, and even historical sites. Throughout the 500 miles of trail, the elevation changes by a little over 4,000 feet and features flora and fauna throughout millions of acres of untamed forest like Virginia’s Jefferson and Washington National Forests.
Of course, no one is expected to do the 500 mile hike of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, so where are some of the best places for a day hike along the famous trail? We’ve got you covered.
Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains feature over 600 miles of hiking trails. Roanoke Valley is considered to be the “Best Trail Town” in the Blue Ridge Mountains, as claimed by the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
There are many great hikes within the Blue Ridge Mountains that you can access via the scenic Blueridge Parkway, so we’ve listed a few of our favorites below
McAfee Knob is arguably the most photographed spot on the entire Appalachian Trail. The “knob” itself of McAfee Knob is an overhang with nearly 360 degree views of seemingly never ending mountains extending towards the horizon.
Because of its popularity, this hike is often quite busy so it’s a good idea to plan accordingly and hike during a non-peak time like early morning or late afternoon. The hike runs about 7.8 miles there and back and can be reached at the Virginia 311 trailhead. The hike heads north along Catawba Mountain and heads upward towards the infamous McAfee Knob.
If you’d like to make a full day’s trip out of a hike to McAfee Knob, there are a few great attractions nearby like:
- Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail is found just outside of Roanoke in a town called Salem, which has ties with Southern Virginia’s Civil War history. The Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail is about a 10 minute drive from McAfee Knob and is a great add-on to your day.
- Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve is most beautiful in the fall when the entire area is filled with piratebush. Piratebush is a globally rare shrub and is only found in a few places throughout the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. To check out the foliage at Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve, you’ll only need to travel about half an hour by car.
- Mill Mountain is an excellent park to check out because it is home to the Roanoke Star, among other things like the Mill Mountain Zoo. The Mill Mountain Park spans across over 600 acres of land and is easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Dragon’s Tooth Trail is very close to McAfee Knob, but not nearly as trafficked. The views between the two are pretty similar and hiking along Dragon’s Tooth Trail is actually easier than hiking to McAfee Knob (and you won’t have to rock scramble).
If you are looking for a little more adventure, you can go beyond the recreation area and opt to climb the “tooth” of the Dragon’s Tooth Trail in order to see some great scenic 360 degree views.
Keeping in theme with a Dragon’s Tooth, you can also check out the Devil’s Marbleyard. This is a 3 mile hike (6 miles round trip) that has a huge rock field featuring rocks that range in size. This marbleyard is known as one of Virginia’s most unique geological features and is great for photos.
If you’re looking for a hike that is going to be a little challenging, but not too long, you should check Crabtree Falls. This is a 2.5 mile long trail with a steep incline and very rocky terrain. Once hikers have through the trail, at the base you will see Crabtree Falls, which is a waterfall over a 60-foot rock cliff.
Crabtree Falls is a loop trail making the round trip an easy one. So you can choose to either hike around the full way through or you can simply turn back around after seeing the Crabtree Falls.
Shenandoah National Park
Of the 500 miles of Appalachian Trail running through Virginia, 101 miles run through Shenandoah National Park. The hiking trail hikes along the Blue Ridge Mountains and often intersects with Skyline Drive, which is a road that cuts through the park’s recreation area. Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park is best during any month that’s not June because June is the most popular month for hikers to travel and the trails get wildly busy.
Within Shenandoah National Park are a few different Appalachian Trail hiking favorites:
Compton Gap to Compton Peak
This hike is considered to be a moderate hike lasting about 2.5 miles round trip. The most notable site on this trail is Compton’s Peak, which is a large boulder that you can climb and see some amazing 360 degree views.
Mary’s Rock is about a 4 mile round trip moderate hike. This trail features beautiful views and incredible wildflowers. The view from the rock is unobstructed, which gives hikers a clear 360-degree view of the surrounding area.
Hawksbill Loop is very similar to the Compton Peak hiking trail in its length and difficulty. The loop features the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park.
Lewis Spring Falls
The Lewis Spring Falls hiking trail is a little over 3 miles long and is considered to be a moderate hike. This beautiful trail features waterfalls and cliffs at Blackrock, which makes it a desirable hike for many tourists and locals alike.
Hikers can also hike the Blackrock trail, which climbs Blackrock and is about 2 miles round trip. From Blackrock, you can expect to see some stunning views.
Bear Den Mountain
If you’re looking for a quick and easy hike (and one that’s good for kids), then consider hiking Bear Den Mountain. The views are the best during the fall because you might be lucky enough to glimpse a bit of the hawk migration.
Old Rag Mountain
Old Rag Mountain is likely one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park and it is also quite challenging. The total length of the hike is a little under 9 miles.
About ¾ of the way to the top of Old Rag Mountain, you will encounter some rock scrambling (more rock than trail, which makes it a little less sturdy). The descent is more gradual and a little easier to walk down, so once you make it to the top, you’ll definitely have an easier time getting back down the mountain via a fire trail. However, be mindful and only do this hike if you are fully confident in your rock scaling ability – there are a number of search and rescue missions to this trail each year. If you are confident in your rock scaling powers, the view at the top of the mountain is very much worth the climb.
This trail also has a number of false summits, so be sure to follow the signs and you’ll know you reached the top when you see the Old Rag Mountain brown elevation sign.
For a much simpler, yet equally as stunning hike than Old Rag Mountain, check out Stony Man. This is a short, easy hike that will still take you through some of the best views of Shenandoah National Park. It’s also a great place to catch the sunset.
This trail does offer an “opt-up” trail, which is a little more difficult because of the elevation gain and the view at the top is quite satisfying.
White Oak Canyon
Contrary to the song, if you’d like to go chasing waterfalls, then White Oak Canyon is the place to do it. This is a great hike with lots of waterfalls, so pack your bathing suit and enjoy splashing around. The trail is very well maintained and thus, very easy to hike though it is a bit narrow and can be slippery at times.
Most hikes in Virginia offers a free parking lot, however in order to hike White Oak Canyon, you will have to pay $20 to access the parking lot. You can arrive as early as you’d like and stay as late as you want.
For waterfalls with deeper pools and swimming areas, stay towards the base of the trail, but if you are looking for a hike with a view, climb up a bit higher on the trail and you’ll find less crowded waterfalls with slightly more shallow pools.
Mary’s Rock is at the south of the Thornton Gap entrance of Shenandoah National Park. There are a few hiking trails that you can take to access Mary’s Rock and they vary in length. We’ve detailed them each below:
- If you start your hike from the Panorama Parking Area, the hike is 3.7 miles round trip and, as the name would suggest, offers a nearly 360 degree view of Mary’s Rock.
- If you start your hike from the Jewell Hollow Overlook the hike is 6 miles round trip. The hike follows the Appalachian Trail and you’ll see multiple views of both nature and historic huts.
- Starting your hike from the Buck Hollow Parking Area the hike is 9 miles long and crosses through streams quite a bit, so be sure to bring your waterproof hiking boots! This hike is a bit more secluded, but the views are definitely worth your time. You will pass by the ruins of an old homestead as well as catch some breathtaking panoramic views of the Shenandoah National Park.
- The shortest hike begins from the Meadow Spring Parking Area and is half a mile and is a great hiking option if you’re short on time or just want to hike and catch the sunset.
Which Trail Will You Hike?
As you can see, Virginia offers a vast array of hiking trail options. Whether you choose to hike along the Appalachian Trail and take a more scenic hike, or if you choose to hike through history (of which cities in Virginia like Charlottesville and Richmond are not lacking) you will not be disappointed.
Before you go, make sure that you have the appropriate footwear, especially if your hike includes wading through streams or a rock scramble – your safety is the most important thing. Be sure to bring a camera with you to capture some of the breathtaking 360 degree views that you’ll find by hiking in Virginia.
Never hike alone, if you’re backpacking make sure you have a good map, and also be mindful of hiking to see the sunset somewhere and then having to hike back in the dark.
So, there’s our list of the best hikes in Virginia. Let us know which Virginia trails you chose to hike, we can’t wait to hear all about your adventure!