Head out on your favorite hike this fall or discover some new ones with this guide to 13 of the top hiking destinations in our region. When you’re done on the trail, scout out the best spots in town to grab a drink. Please check with locations prior to travel to make sure it is safe to visit or use this guide to plan future trips when we can all be together again.
Lake Hartwell Country, SC
Tucked away in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina, Lake Hartwell Country is home to sweeping vistas, powerful rivers, and refreshing lakes.
Take in the grandeur of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, or the Blue Wall, where the mountains drop a dramatic 2,000 feet in less than half a mile to the foothills below. Due to this drastic change in elevation, the area has a higher concentration of waterfalls than anywhere else in the country. Choose from a variety of hikes, ranging from easy to strenuous, to see the tumbling cascades up close.
From mountain streams and waterfalls to the peaks of nearby mountains, hike miles of trail at Table Rock State Park. Encounter wildlife and quiet mountain trails at Oconee State Park. Both parks provide additional access for fishing, paddling, and camping. Traverse the escarpment along the Foothills Trail, a 77-mile trail connecting the Table Rock and Oconee state parks. Along the way, you’ll cross through the Jocassee Gorges where streams cut these rugged gorges over thousands of years.
Delight in the views of more than 130 species of wildflowers in bloom at Nine Times Preserve. In the spring, keep your eye out for the rare Oconee Bell flowers at Devils Fork State Park. Cross the natural bridge and take in the views of the lake at Keowee-Toxaway State Park.
There are so many other spots to explore when you visit Lake Hartwell Country, including paddling Lake Jocassee, Keowee, and Hartwell, whitewater rafting the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, and driving the picturesque and winding backroads. Stop by the Chattooga River Fly Shop for gear rentals, flies, and more while you’re in the area.
Try Belle’s Bistro for a midday meal featuring delicious sandwiches and cheeses made in house. Grab a slice of artisan pizza to go from Humble Pie. Sample a little bit of everything at Pumpkintown Mountain Opry, from smoothies and local roasts to mouthwatering barbecue.
Finish up your day with a taste of the South Carolina mountains. Order a craft beer from Jocassee Valley Brewing Company or Appalachian Ale House as you snack on pub food and listen to live music. Head to Lazy Bear Winery and Victoria Valley Vineyards for a wine tasting or a bottle to go.
Find peace and adventure in the land by the Blue Wall when you getaway to Lake Hartwell Country. South Carolina is just right!
Allegany County, MD
Take a trip to the Mountain Side of Maryland where you’ll find hundreds of miles to hike
in Allegany County. Situated among the Appalachian Ridge and Valley province and Allegheny Mountains, there are plenty of places to play as 60,000 acres, or one in every four acres in the county, are public land.
Whether you’re looking for an easy day hike or an overnight backpacking experience, Green Ridge State Forest has more than 50 miles of hiking trails to explore. The trail system connects with the C&O Canal Towpath, a 184.5-mile trail from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md., and part of the National Park System. Follow the loop around Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park for beautiful views of the changing leaves. The park offers plenty of other paddling, fishing, and mountain biking opportunities, plus campsites, cabins, and yurts for an extended stay. Find additional fishing, picnicking, and camping spots at Dans Mountain
While primarily known as biking trails, the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath are also great options for hiking as the two long-distance trails meet in Cumberland, Md. There are hundreds of miles of rail trails to explore from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Washington, D.C. The nearby Potomac River offers several river access points for fishing, paddling, and floating. For a more primitive backpacking experience, the Great Eastern Trail is a 1,600-mile hiking trail stretching from Alabama to New York. Pass through Maryland by way of the C&O Canal Towpath and Green Ridge State Forest trail system before crossing into Pennsylvania.
Get Out and Play Outfitters is your one-stop shop for all things adventure in Allegany County. Sign up for canoe and kayak rentals and bike shuttles to make the most out of your trip. For all things biking, including rentals, maintenance, and transport, Cumberland Trail Connection has you covered. They also supply everything you need to brew your own beer
End your day with a refreshing drink and mountain views. Visit some of the area’s award-winning wineries, breweries, and distilleries on the Mountain Maryland Tap and Pour Craft Beverage Tour, and be sure to visit the many area restaurants, including the
open-air dining in downtown Cumberland.
Conveniently located a short drive from major East Coast cities like Pittsburgh, Pa., Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., hike all day in Allegany County, Md., this fall.
Buchanan County, VA
From the scenic mountains and lush forestland to the flowing waters, Buchanan County, Va. is the perfect fall getaway for hiking and wildlife viewing.
The Coal Canyon Trail System offers 114 miles of multi-use trails. Hikers, bikers, and UTV drivers can expect a variety of easy, moderate, and hard trails to get outside and test their skills. This system boasts a total of more than 200 connected miles of trail around the county and surrounding area for multiple full days of fun.
Straddling the Virginia-Kentucky border, you’ll find an additional 25 miles of hiking trails at Breaks Interstate Park. Referred to as the Grand Canyon of the South, take in the wonder of the Russell Fork running through the five-mile gorge. Discover other activities in the park, including mountain bike rentals, geocaching, fishing, and more.
While you’re in the area, take some time to watch the elk from one of the public wildlife viewing shelters near the Southern Gap Visitor Center. In 2012, 71 elk were reintroduced to the area after an almost 100-year absence. Today, that population has expanded to several hundred elk. The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset when these magnificent animals are the most active. Don’t forget about the Southern Gap Elk Fest, celebrating all things wildlife and mountain culture, October 14-17, 2020.
Stop by the new visitor center for interactive wildlife displays and an observation deck with panoramic views of the mountains. Additionally, several all-purpose trails start from the parking lot, giving nature lovers the chance to watch for the 220 bird species that call the county home and beautiful views of the night sky. Cabins, RV hookups, and campsites are open for those who want to stay close to the action.
The waters of Buchanan County offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Head to the Levisa River for some terrific smallmouth bass fishing from the river’s banks or Dismal Creek for stocked rainbow trout. Kayak or whitewater raft sections of the Russell Fork that feature class V rapids on the weekends of October.
Head into the town of Grundy at the end of the day for a variety of delicious dining options. This fall, immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of “Wild” Buchanan County and experience the natural wonder of the mountains.
Virginia State Parks
From the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay to the peaks and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains, discover the best hiking trails at a Virginia State Park. With 38 parks around the commonwealth, you can find a trail that fits your speed. Whether you prefer challenging mountain climbs or nature strolls perfect for the whole family, get outside this fall at a Virginia State Park.
In the southwestern corner of Virginia, Hungry Mother State Park features more than 17 miles of trails open all year for hiking and biking. As one of the original six state parks, Hungry Mother is known for its woodlands and a peaceful mountain lake. Climb through the rhododendron, ferns, and wildflowers up the switchbacks on Molly’s Knob and Vista Trail to the stunning 180-degree views at the top. Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail is a four-mile, multi-use trail offering an amazing view of Hungry Mother Lake. when you’re done on the trails, paddle the 108-acre lake or fish for bass, channel catfish, walleye, and more. Reserve a cabin, lodge, yurt, or campsite throughout the park for an overnight stay.
Head into the mountains near the Virginia-West Virginia border to Douthat State Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ranging from easy to difficult, hike more than 40 miles throughout the park to waterfalls and scenic overlooks. Most trails are also open to mountain bikers. Mountain Top Trail follows several ridges to a lookout while also connecting visitors with more miles of trails in the George Washington National Forest. Blue Suck Falls Trail offers beautiful views of the falling water and whirlpool at the base of the waterfall. Kids will enjoy the special fishing area just below the dammed section of Wilson Creek as they try their hand at catching trout before moving up to the 50-acre Douthat Lake for largemouth bass, sunfish, and crappie. Spend the night at one of the park’s cabins or campsites.
Located in central Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, James River State Park provides 22 miles of hiking through quiet forests and along the river. Tye River Overlook, a trail made of smooth, crushed gravel, leads to the park’s most iconic view of the James River. River Trail parallels the river for 3.1 miles. Keep a lookout for deer, beavers, otters, and various waterfowl along the water and in the wetland. Tye River Overlook, Green Hill Pond Trail, and the fishing pier are wheelchair-accessible. Test your mountain biking skills on the well-maintained trails or float eight miles of the river. Choose from a primitive campsite, cabin, or lodge for a night near the James River.
On Virginia’s coast, York River State Park protects a rare estuarine environment where freshwater and saltwater meet. Designated a Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, hike more than 30 miles of trails to experience the diverse delicate ecosystems and marine life for yourself. Backbone Trail to Riverview Trail is a longer hike to the York River with a lookout at the end. Look for ospreys and great blue herons at one of the observation decks along Taskinas Creek Trail. Search for signs of the past at Fossil Beach and walk over marshes on Mattaponi Trail. Horseback riders of all abilities will enjoy the fields of wild flora and secluded forests along the Meh Te Kos Bridle Trail or can take on the difficult terrain on the Challenge Loop.
Plan your next hiking trip at a Virginia State Park to experience the best the commonwealth has to offer.
Scott County, VA
From mountain creek trails to sweeping high-country scenic vistas, Scott County offers a variety of hiking options in the southwestern tip of Virginia.
The county’s most popular hike, The Devil’s Bathtub, is located within the Jefferson National Forest. Choose from two different hikes—a seven-mile round trip along Devil’s Fork Loop or the two-mile trek to the Bathtub. Be prepared with the right shoes for 13 creek crossings and slippery rocks.
A hike to Little Stony Falls is a photographer’s dream. With three waterfalls, this 2.8-mile trail follows Little Stony Creek through a 400-foot deep and 1,700-foot wide gorge featuring large outcrops, rock ledges, and boulders. The highlight of the trip is the 27-foot waterfall at the top, offering the perfect swimming hole or spot to cast a line for trophy trout.
At 19 miles, the Chief Benge Scout Trail creates the perfect tour of the High Knob land formation. Starting at the High Knob Lookout Tower near Norton and ending at the Hanging Rock Recreation Area, the trail passes everything from sweeping 360-degree vistas of five states to rugged mountain stream gorges, waterfalls, two high elevation lakes, and dense hardwood forests.
You’ll find seven trails of varying lengths and difficulty at Natural Tunnel State Park. The most popular, Lover’s Leap, is only .36 miles and provides hikers the opportunity to gaze down to the that was naturally-carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. Additionally, the park offers great camping sites and four primitive yurts.
The entire family will enjoy an outing to Creation Kingdom Zoo, an interactive habitat for rare and endangered species. This fall, kids will also enjoy a trip to the Punkin’ Patch for a stroll through the corn maze or ride on the hay wagon.
Grab a bite to eat at one of the county’s many iconic restaurants, such as the Hob Nob, Campus Drive-in, Teddy’s, ChuBeez, or Front Porch Store and Deli. No trip to Scott County is complete without a visit to The Family Bakery for the world’s best cupcakes.
For an overnight stay, check out Appalachian Mountain Cabins, Estilville Bed & Breakfast, Roberts Mills Suites, Boone Pointe Cabins, or Happy Trails Cottage. Or pitch a tent along the Clinch River at SomeThing Squatchy or Camp Clinch.
WanderLove is calling you to Scott County, Va.
Rockingham County, VA
Between the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountains, Rockingham, Va. rests just minutes from the George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park. Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, you’ll find plenty to do just two hours from Washington, D.C. Whether you’re planning for a day, weekend, or week-long trip, immerse yourself in the outdoors, cultural amenities, inviting small towns, historical attractions, and farm-to-table dining opportunities that abound in Rockingham County.
In George Washington National Forest, hike to the High Knob Fire Tower on the Virginia-West Virginia border for views of the valley. In Shenandoah National Park, Bearfence Mountain, Blackrock Summit, and Hightop Mountain provide a variety of trail lengths and difficulties featuring rock scrambles and panoramic vistas. Located just seven miles from the Appalachian Trail, stop by Appalachian Trail Outfitters for all of your apparel, footwear, and gear needs out in the woods.
Massanutten Resort offers outdoor recreation and relaxation opportunities around every corner. Hike Massanutten Ridge Trail for views of the mountain, resort area, and central Shenandoah Valley. Bring your mountain bike for the lift access bike park or ride the backcountry trails at the Western Slope. Explore the rest of the resort with ziplining, go-cart racing, and more. Choose from a number of lodging options to stay close to the action.
When you’re done on the trail, fish Lake Shenandoah for largemouth bass, channel catfish, and musky. Head underground at Endless Caverns and Grand Caverns for one of a kind geological formations like the Cathederal Room and the Rainbow Room.
Through the end of October, jump into some fall fun at Back Home-on the Farm, including a corn maze, pumpkin patch, and campfires. Pick out the perfect pumpkin from Every Soul Acres, plus freshly picked sunflowers.
Head into one of the seven small towns within the county for a meal and a drink at the end of the day. From biscuit mixes to some of Virginia’s finest ham, Fulks Run Grocery stocks everything you need to make a delicious dinner. Order specialty burgers and sandwiches from Cracked Pillar Pub or build your own burger at Old 33 Beer & Burger Grill.
Dive deep into Rockingham’s lore at Elkton Brewing Company where the craft beers are named for local landmarks and stories. Located on a sixth generation-owned farm, try one of the seasonal beers on tap at Cave Hill Farms Brewery.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge
This fall, visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge to take in the stunning fall colors from the soaring mountain peaks surrounding the Roanoke Valley. This metro mountain destination will keep you busy all day with more than 1,000 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and paddling.
The Virginia Triple Crown is a must-see while you’re in the area. Hike the Appalachian Trail to Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs for three of the most iconic viewpoints in Virginia. They are the perfect spots for a challenging hike with views of the changing leaves.
Explore the region by way of the Roanoke Valley Greenways. More than 30 miles of trails connect Downtown Roanoke, parks, and nearby waterways. These paved and natural surface trails are perfect for a casual walk, run, or bike ride close to town. Stop at Green Hill Park for picnic spots and access to the Roanoke River.
Discover more trails on foot or bike at Carvins Cove. Known as one of the best mountain biking trail systems in America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital, you’ll find more than 60 miles of trail, ranging in difficulty, to ride. You can also fish or paddle the 600-acre reservoir for a new perspective of the natural reserve.
With a location in Downtown Roanoke and the Valley View Mall, Walkabout Outfitters is a one-stop-shop for everything you need out on the trail. Whether you’re looking for something you forgot to pack or need tips on the best hikes in the area, these local outdoor enthusiasts have you covered. Conveniently located near Carvins Cove, Just the Right Gear Bike Shop has you covered for a day in the saddle, including gear, apparel, and advice.
Take Virginia’s Blue Ridge Stay Safe Pledge when you visit the area to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by following social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask when around others.
After time spent climbing mountains, head underground at Dixie Caverns for views of unique, towering formations. Stop into the antique store and rock shop for a souvenir to remind you of your trip.
At the end of the day, head into the City of Salem for family-friendly patio dining at El Jefe Taqueria or Mac and Bob’s. If you’re looking for craft beer and good times, stop by Olde Salem Brewing Company and Parkway Brewing Company for a taste of the mountains.
Russell County, VA
As one of the most beautiful areas in the world, discover all that the mountains of southwestern Virginia have to offer when you hike Russell County. The Cleveland Barrens, Pinnacle, and Channels natural area preserves provide a gateway to one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the country. View unique geological formations, rare species, and the Clinch River from the winding trails.
Traverse an open bald, walk past blooming wildflowers, and take in panoramic views on the Sugar Hill Loop Trail. Piece trails together to experience more natural wonders in the town of St. Paul and Bluebell Island Preserve within the larger trail system. Choose from a steep climb or a gravel service road to take in the incredible sights from the Mendota Fire Tower and Overlook. For a longer excursion, the Brumley Mountain Trail is a 14.6-mile route marked by towering boulders, slot canyons, and switchbacks through a unique landscape.
When you get off the trail, check out the local restaurants, breweries, and wineries in the nearby towns of St. Paul, Lebanon, Honaker, and the community of Castlewood. Getaway and hike all day in Russell County, Va.
Bland County, VA
Located in the mountains of southwest Virginia and surrounded by Jefferson National Forest, immerse yourself in the scenic vistas of Bland County.
Hike for a few hours or days on the Appalachian Trail as it traverses the ridges and valleys of the county. Summit Chestnut Knob for stunning views of Burke’s Garden or stop by the Brushy Mountain Outpost for a delicious meal right off the trail. The Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum is open for walking tours with short trails and picnic shelters around the village. Climb the 100-foot tower at Big Walker Lookout for views of five states, plus load up on local jams, coffee, and ice cream.
Relax at Eupepsia Wellness Resort, voted the number two health and wellness resort in the nation. Their restaurant offers lovely al fresco dining with meals made from vegetables grown on-site. Grab a delicious meal for you and your furry friend from Harners Old Country Store.
Several hostels in the area, including Lickskillet Hostel and Weary Feet Hostel, provide a place to rest after a long day of hiking. Rent a room at Big Walker Motel or a full cabin from Dismal Falls Trading Co.
Conveniently located at the interchange of Interstate 81 and 64, Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County sit at the southern gateway to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
An iconic local landmark, hike House Mountain for sweeping views of the mountains and valleys. Walk or run the Chessie Trail as it parallels the Maury River for seven miles from Lexington to Buena Vista. Hike seven miles of trails at Natural Bridge State Park and bring the kiddos to the new Children’s Discovery Area and Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.
Take the time to check off some bucket list items with a hike on the Appalachian Trail or a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Head to Walkabout Outfitter, Lex Running Shop, and Journey Outdoors for all of your outdoor needs while in town.
Refuel at one of the laid-back eateries, including JJ’s Meat Shack, Pink Cadillac Diner, Salerno Wood Fired Pizza & Taphouse, and TAPS. Follow the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail for a post-adventure craft beer or visit a vineyard or cidery. For a bit of nostalgia, catch a movie at Hull’s Drive-In through October. Check into The Georges, a restored 200-year-old inn offering designer accommodations, for a restful night’s sleep.
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) maintains more than 225,000 acres of public land on 46 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) around Virginia. More rugged and “wild” than a state park, a WMA offers excellent opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and experiencing nature.
Regardless of the type of terrain you like, there’s a WMA to suit—coastal plains, mountains, and in between. Many of them also host portions of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail (VBWT). In the coastal areas, on WMAs like Hog Island and Princess Anne, bird-watching is quite popular. The Mockhorn Island WMA is an Atlantic coastal island of over 7,000 acres of prime tidal marsh and includes a loop of the VBWT. In Fauquier County, the Thompson WMA features seven miles of the Appalachian Trail. Thompson WMA is famous for a remarkable display of large-flowered trilliums that blanket almost two square miles of forest floor in the spring, accessible via the Trillium Trail.
In southwest Virginia, spanning Smyth, Washington, Russell, and Tazewell counties, Clinch Mountain WMA is the most biologically diverse WMA in Virginia. It encompasses 25,477 acres of mountain forest along Clinch Mountain, contains Laurel Bed Lake, and spans elevations from 2,200 feet along Big Tumbling Creek to its highest point at 4,700 feet on Beartown Mountain. The naturalist can wander through mature-growth forests predominantly wooded by oak and hickory, rhododendron thickets, beaver ponds, a lake, meadows, shrublands, managed forests and prescribed burns, and even red spruce forest atop Beartown Mountain.
In Northwest Virginia, Highland WMA is located in Highland County, which is generally regarded as having the highest average elevation of any county east of the Mississippi River. The management area offers an array of trails for hikers, 20 miles of road, and a cable suspension footbridge across the Bullpasture River at Bullpasture Gorge just north of Williamsville.
WMA lands are purchased and maintained with funds from the purchase of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and through Wildlife Restoration Funds. To access a WMA, you’ll need to have purchased one of the following: a Virginia hunting, fishing, or trapping license; a Virginia boat registration; a DWR access permit; or a DWR Restore the Wild membership. Keep in mind that some WMAs are open for hunting at certain times of the year.
Find information, including descriptions, WMA maps, facilities available, and more at VirginiaWildlife.gov/wma
Charles County, MD
Bordered by the Potomac River to the west and Patuxent River to the east with more than 20,000 acres of parkland and miles of trail to explore, Charles County, Md. is a hiker’s paradise.
Charles County has plenty of parks and outdoor recreation for you to enjoy. Experience the wonder of the marshes and coastal woodlands at Chapman State Park. This park offers a scenic vista of the Potomac, making it a great location to fish for largemouth bass, sunfish, or birdwatch in an Important Bird Area. Just down the river, Smallwood State Park offers a little bit of everything for visitors. The park has a marina, hiking trails, boat ramp, picnicking facilities, campsites, and rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War. Chapel Point State Park is another pristine park that offers more than 3,000 feet of shoreline to view the Port Tobacco River.
Experience the natural areas of Charles County on the Indian Head Rail Trail. Hikers, bikers, and nature lovers alike will enjoy passing through a variety of ecosystems on this 13-mile paved trail. Enjoy Thomas Stone National Historic Site to witness 109 species of birds within their natural habitat.
From open fields and beaches to wooded areas and steep terrain, Maxwell Hall Park has 14.2 miles of diverse trails on the Patuxent. The tranquil Port Tobacco River Park features an additional three miles of walking trails and several observation platforms to take in the local flora, fauna, and Bald Eagle’s Nest. Just down the road, take a scenic walk, and enjoy the quaint Friendship Farm Park along the Nanjemoy Creek.
For farm to table cuisine with a taste of southern Maryland, The Charles is the place to be with mouthwatering choices on-the-go or in their expansive terrace. Experience the rolling hills of the local Serenity Farm and buy fresh produce and meats. The farm offers a variety of fall activities, including hayrides, a petting zoo, face painting, hay bale maze, and a pumpkin patch.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a scoop from Landon’s Ices and Creams, serving up delicious homemade ice cream flavors like snickerdoodle and red velvet cream cheese. Or enjoy fall specialty cupcakes, including caramel apple, maple bacon, and chocolate peppermint, from Michelle’s Cakes. Then take a shopping break at the St. Charles Towne Center Mall.
Get outside and soak in the allure of Charles County, Md. with great outdoors and waterways.
Muse Vineyards, VA
Located on the bank of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, Muse Vineyards is the perfect fall getaway in Virginia. Enjoy a flight of five different wines or order a bottle as you soak up the views of the Shenandoah Valley. From the tasting room and patio to the swinging bridge and river, take the 1.8-mile self-guided tour through the vineyard.
Less than a mile down the road, discover the beauty of Seven Bends State Park. Follow the seven bends of the Shenandoah River or hike the trails up the western slope of Powell Mountain. Talus Trail connects with Massanutten Trail for an additional 70 miles of hiking in George Washington National Forest. Paddle three miles of the river or wade into the water to fish for smallmouth bass.
Reserve the Muse Vineyards Farmhouse so you won’t have to walk far when you’re ready to turn in for the night. From the screened porch to the in-ground pool, find your spot to relax and unwind in this 225-year old restored farmhouse.
Combine the award-winning wines from Muse Vineyards with the abundance of nearby hiking trails for a relaxing vacation in the mountains.
Cover photo courtesy Getty Images