Nine Seriously Stunning Hiking Destinations in the Blue Ridge

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From the Atlantic Coast to the Appalachian Mountains, discover some seriously stunning trails with this guide to nine top hiking destinations in the Blue Ridge.

Slip on your shoes, fill up your water bottle, and head out for a day or week filled with scenic overlooks, tumbling waterfalls, and good times. Please check with locations prior to travel for local guidelines, or use this guide for future trips!

Natural Bridge State Park
Natural Bridge State Park, photo by Kelsey Johnson

Hit the Trails in Lexington, Buena Vista, & Rockbridge County, Va.

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, bring the kiddos to the Children’s Discovery Area, and stargaze on Skyline Trail.

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, Red Newt Bikes, and Journey Outdoors for all of your outdoor needs while in town. 

Après Hike

Refuel at one of the laid-back eateries, including JJ’s Meat Shack, Pink Cadillac Diner, Pure Eats, and Heliotrope Brewery. 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.

RockbridgeOutdoors.com

Eagle Rock
Sunrise views atop Eagle Rock, an easy 30 minute hike near Strasburg.

Sights Galore in Shenandoah County, Va. 

Set between two stunning mountain ranges, hit the trails of Shenandoah County, Va., and take in the views for miles around. 

At 4.4 miles roundtrip, Big Schloss is a must-visit. Known for its picturesque rock outcrop overlooking the valley, make sure to pack a snack or lunch because you’re going to want to spend some time at the top. For more options in George Washington National Forest, check out the trailheads along Crisman Hollow Road. Local favorites include Strickler Knob and Kennedy Peak, plus Story Book Trail and Lions Tail Trail are excellent options for stroller-friendly and handicap-accessible excursions. Stop into New Market to refuel with delicious food from Jackson’s Corner Cafe, Jalisco’s Mexican Restaurant, or Jon Henry General Store.

For a hike by the water, head to Seven Bends State Park where the North Fork of the Shenandoah River snakes through the valley. Eight miles of trails, plus boat access to the river, make this the perfect day-hike location. Just down the road, Muse Vineyards features its own walking trails with excellent views as you sip on a glass of wine. For dining options, Woodstock features local creations from Woodstock Brewhouse, Woodstock Café, Flour & Water, and Mary’s Botanitas.

VisitShenandoahCounty.com

High Knob Tower
Take in magnificent views from High Knob Tower. Photo by Lori Mier

A Secluded Getaway in Harrisonburg & Rockingham County, Va.

On a crisp fall morning, the first thing you notice is the silence. The absence of the sounds of civilization and human voices. You feel bathed in the utter peace and tranquility. Then, after a few miles on the trail, you notice the crunch of the leaves and twigs beneath your feet and the sounds of animals scampering in the woods. If it were a spring morning you might even see a mother bear and cubs in the distance. It is hard to believe you can be so completely immersed in wilderness only two hours from Richmond and Washington, D.C.

Bearfence Mountain
Hike Bearfence Mountain, photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Whether it’s on your bucket list to hike the Appalachian Trail or to take a romantic hike to a beautiful vista, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Va., is the perfect destination. There is plenty of room to explore, spread out, and soak up the sights in Rockingham County’s 175,000 acres of national park or national forest. The most well-known hiking spots in the area are located in Shenandoah National Park off Skyline Drive. With over 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, treat yourself to stunning overlooks from the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Use the Swift Run Gap exit to reach Harrisonburg and Rockingham County businesses and attractions.

Locals enjoy taking the Madison Run Fire Road up into the park. No entrance fee required. At 10 miles round trip, this dirt path winds along Madison Run with a gradual ascent from the fire road gate at the base of mountain to the top at Skyline Drive.

For the road less traveled, try Cliff Trail, found in the Hone Quarry Recreation Area of George Washington National Forest just outside of Harrisonburg. Although the trail is rocky and steep in some places, it’s only about a half mile long. The sweat and calf stretches are worth it when you reach the picturesque rock ledge overlook.

For gear or trail recommendations while you’re in the area, swing by Walkabout Outfitter or Appalachian Trail Outfitters for an excellent supply and friendly faces. Harrisonburg has a well-established hiking and biking community, where local shops offer not only gear they have tested and trusted, but friendly advice and shared stories. Locals are never too busy to share their favorite hike or advise you on the pros and cons of your chosen destination.

Pale Fire Brewing Company flight
Try a flight at Pale Fire Brewing Company, photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Après Hike

Have you gotten your fill of hiking for the day? Try fly fishing in the cool mountain waters or cycling the dedicated mountain bike terrain area with winding singletrack and high-speed free ride slopes at Massanutten Resort with a chair lift back to the top for another round and incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley. Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are designated a Bronze Level Ride Center from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

After a day outside, relax at one of eight local craft breweries or enjoy dinner from one of the charming local restaurants. Downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia’s First Culinary District, offers a variety of great meals, from delicious sandwiches for the trail at Lola’s Deli to Capital Ale House, featuring an expansive beer menu. If you’re close to the national park, be sure to stop at Old 33 Beer and Burger Grill in Elkton, and then take the short trip to Grottoes to visit Grand Caverns, the oldest continually operated show cave in the United States. Pick up a Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail passport at any local brewery and, with eight stamps, you receive a free Beerwerks shirt.

Look no further than Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for friendly people, cool small towns, and one of the best hubs for outdoor recreation.

VisitHarrisonburgVA.com | VisitRockingham.com 

Roanoke Star atop Mill Mountain
Roanoke Star atop Mill Mountain. Photo courtesy of Creative Dog Media & Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Take a Hike in Virginia’s Blue Ridge

With over 700 miles of hiking trails, including 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail, you can’t go wrong with your choice in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. From urban hikes in Roanoke, the largest city along the A.T., to remote locations in the surrounding counties, discover the best of what the area has to offer. Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge is an official Leave No Trace Community Partner, and requests that you recreate responsibly and leave a minimal impact when visiting the area by staying on designated trails and packing out all trash.

Just minutes from Downtown Roanoke, hike up Mill Mountain to the iconic Roanoke Star for views of the surrounding mountains, valley, and downtown skyline. Then head out to one of the beautiful waterfall hikes in the area, like Roaring Run Falls, Bottom Creek Gorge, or Stiles Falls, for lunch or a snack by the water.

Roaring Run Recreation Area
Family hiking in the Roaring Run Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of Sam Dean Photography & Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

The Virginia Triple Crown is a must-see while you’re in the area. Hop on the A.T. to Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs for three of the most recognizable viewpoints in Virginia. This trio features some of the best spots for a challenging hike with views of the changing leaves. For additional trails, go for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hike out to some truly remarkable places. Stand below the towering Apple Orchard Falls, or wander through the woods along the Chestnut Ridge Trail and Rock Castle Gorge. The Peaks of Otter area offers a variety of options, from strenuous climbs up Sharp Top and Flat Top to a scenic loop around Abbott Lake. 

When you’re traveling, do you prefer to stay close to the action? Explore Park, Jamison Mill Park, and Middle Creek Campground have you covered with yurts, cabins, and campsites galore, all within a short walking or driving distance to trails, ziplines, boat launches, and more. Plus, you’ll be close enough to head into town, kick back, and relax with a beer from one of the local breweries. At Big Lick Brewing Company, Parkway Brewing Company, and Twin Creeks Brewing Company, you’ll find refreshing brews and friendly people who quickly feel like old friends.

When it comes to deciding where to plan your next hiking trip, you can’t beat the trails and views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

VisitVBR.com

Ravens Roost
Stop at one of the popular overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway, such as Ravens Roost. 

Surrounded by Trails in Waynesboro, Va.

Nestled between the southernmost entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the northernmost entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway is a small mountain town with a big personality. Waynesboro, Va., is known for views of the beautiful Blue Ridge visible from the charming downtown, and pretty much everywhere in the city. 

Make Waynesboro your home base as you explore more than 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, including Blackrock Summit and Riprap Trail, as well as 50 designated trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, like Humpback Rocks, as it meanders south through Virginia. Grab a flashlight and make time to walk nearly a mile through the historic Blue Ridge Tunnel, a recently-opened trail celebrating the railroad history of the area.

This designated Appalachian Trail Community offers hikers of all skill levels many amenities, including two local outfitters—Rockfish Gap Outfitters and South River Fly Shop—plus eclectic downtown shops and great local restaurants. Spend a cozy night at the Iris Inn or Heritage Hill Bed & Breakfast before doing it all over again the next day. 

With miles of trails to explore right out the backdoor, it’s no wonder Waynesboro is a top stop for hikers from all around the region.

VisitWaynesboro.com

Sounding Knob Fire Tower
Sounding Knob Fire Tower, photo courtesy of Blue Ridge GeoGraphics

Solitude Awaits in Highland County, Va.

For those looking to really get away, journey to the soaring mountains of Highland County, the least populous county in Virginia, to experience solitude and breathtaking views.

There are ample opportunities for hiking in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, like the Shenandoah Mountain Trail. The access point is a popular mountain scenic viewing area, especially during fall, where you can walk the short interpretive trail at the Confederate Breastworks, or continue on to longer hikes into the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness, or join up with the Great Eastern Trail. Just down the road is the McDowell Battlefield Trail that follows in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers to the top of Sitlington Hill.  

Near Monterey, a 1.3 mile hike or drive takes you to the restored Sounding Knob Fire Tower where you can climb over 100 steps from sunrise to sunset for a lasting memory. You’ll be close to over 14,000 acres to explore in Highland County’s Wildlife Management Area. 

When you’re done hiking for the day, satisfy your sweet tooth with a tour of
several sugar camps in the county along the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail, or order a refreshing glass of locally-made cider from Big Fish Cider.

HighlandCounty.org 

Douthat State Park
Hike more than 40 miles of trails at Douthat State Park

Find Your Trail at a Virginia State Park

From mountain top vistas to waterside perches, the trails at Virginia State Parks lead to some of the most iconic hiking spots in the region. Plan your next weekend adventure to one of these top destinations. 

In the mountains near the Virginia-West Virginia border, Douthat State Park hosts more than 40 miles of trails to waterfalls and scenic overlooks. Follow Mountain Top Trail along several ridges to a lookout, plus connect with more miles of trails in the George Washington National Forest, or hike Blue Suck Falls Trail to beautiful views of the water and whirlpool at the base. 

Surrounded by a state forest, Holliday Lake State Park offers a quiet and relaxing getaway by the water. Hike 6.5 miles around the entire lake, across a 40-foot dam, and through an old-growth forest to several overlooks on Lakeshore Trail. Or give your legs a rest and paddle the Sunfish Aquatic Trail to get up close and personal with the lake environment. 

York River State Park
York River, photo by John Gresham, courtesy of Va. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation

On Virginia’s coast, York River State Park protects a rare estuarine environment where freshwater and saltwater meet. Over 30 miles of trails lead to diverse and delicate ecosystems. 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.

Just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Philpott Reservoir, wander the trail system at Fairy Stone State Park as you search for the legendary fairy stones. Choose from a variety of options for views of the lake and surrounding mountains, creek crossings, steep inclines, and waterfalls. Little Mountain Falls Trail is an excellent choice if you want to see all of those sights on one trip.

The trails at Natural Tunnel State Park will lead you to some of Virginia’s most unique geological features. Walk Lover’s Leap Trail to view the natural tunnel, carved out over millions of years, from above or take the trail to the tunnel floor to get a sense of perspective. 

Featuring more than 90 miles of trails, it’s hard to see the same view twice at Pocahontas State Park. From paved accessible trails and forest roads to flowy singletrack, these trails were built for users of all types and abilities. But that’s not all there is to discover. With 41 parks spread throughout the commonwealth, there’s always something new to see and do at a Virginia State Park.

VirginiaStateParks.gov

Calvert Cliffs State Park
Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, Md.

Coastal Hiking in Calvert County, Md.

From sandy beaches and a cypress swamp, to towering cliffs and mature forests, the trails of Calvert County, Md., offer hikers a wide array of opportunities no matter their skill level. With the Chesapeake Bay to the east and Patuxent River to the west, encounter countless scenic spots along the way.

Discover 22 miles of public trails by the bay at the American Chestnut Land Trust either by yourself, or on a guided hike led by master naturalists through wildflower meadows, ridge tops, and stream valleys. Follow the boardwalk in Battle Creek Cypress Swamp as you listen for the sounds of the frogs and songbirds in this rare wetland habitat.

Keep an eye out for more than 600 species of fossils that can be found at Calvert Cliffs State Park on your way to epic views of the bay. Still haven’t had enough? Head out for a peaceful stroll through the woods and meadows at Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, the bay overlooks at Flag Ponds Nature Park, or the reconstructed Native American village at Jefferson Patterson Park.

At the end of the day, unwind at one of the many waterfront restaurants, or explore the Calvert County Wine & Ale Trail for some of the best craft beverages around.

ChooseCalvert.com/Hike 

Let’s ride! Photo by Heather Jackson

A Taste of Southern Hospitality in Scott County, Ky. 

In the heart of Bluegrass country, Scott County welcomes visitors from all over to experience Kentucky living at its finest. From the rolling hills of the countryside to the picturesque downtown offerings in Georgetown, discover what makes this a must-see stop. 

Hit the ground running with a visit to the Skullbuster Trails, a hiking and mountain biking system composed of multiple loops. This idyllic backwoods spot features intermediate to challenging terrain, including limestone rocks, rooty sections, hidden meadows, and lots of natural and human-made challenges with some moderate elevation change.

Keep the fun going with a paddling or fishing trip on the beautiful Elkhorn Creek. Take in the sights on horseback as you ride the trails at Whispering Woods Riding Stables, or drive one of the scenic routes along the back roads, including the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour and Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail

Head into Georgetown, located off of I-75 and I-64, for a place to eat and stay at the end of a long day outside. With 17 different hotels, 25 unique stays, and over 80 restaurants, you won’t run out of options to explore.

GeorgetownKY.com

Cover photo: House Mountain in Lexington, Va. Photo by Brent McGuirt

Places to Go, Things to See: