Build Your Outdoor Bucket List in Harrisonburg, VA

With access to the George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park as well as nineteen accessible public parks, Harrisonburg, VA is the perfect place to build your outdoor bucket list and rediscover your public lands. Ride with world-renowned cyclists, test your limits at an all-terrain park, explore one of the last remaining fire towers and walk in the footsteps of thru-hikers. Climb, trek and scramble to new heights and take in dazzling views of the night sky. 

Explore One of the Last Remaining Fire Towers

Offering panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains, High Knob Fire Tower is one of the last remaining fire towers east of the Mississippi River and the only stone tower remaining in Virginia. Climb to the top of the fire tower to enjoy 360 degree views and breathe the cool mountain air. A three mile hike leads you to this stunning wonder. 

Tip: After hiking to High Knob Fire Tower, descend Route 33 east towards Harrisonburg to fish or kayak at Switzer Lake or enjoy a secluded picnic by the riverside at Riven Rock Park

Trek, Boulder and Climb to New Heights

Trek through scenic wooded pathways to Hidden Rocks, a secluded sandstone cliff in the George Washington National Forest. Climb the crag from the ground up to reveal a stunning overlook hidden between the mountains, and take in spectacular views of the valley below. Rappel down the cliff for an invigorating experience, and then explore the waterfalls and vistas of the Hone Quarry Campground and Recreation Area. For more advanced climbing, visit the rock face at Rawley Springs or go bouldering at Second Mountain. 

Tip: Bring your own gear or climb with the help of an experienced guide, such as Wild GUYde Adventures. Consider visiting Horizons Edge Sports Campus to try Clip ‘n Climb, a challenging experience for climbers of all abilities.  

Scramble to a Stunning Mountain Summit

Venture into the backcountry in an overlanding rig, where you can traverse rocky terrain and boulder through mud holes and challenging obstacles. Climb to the summits of Flagpole Knob and Meadow Knob, where at over 4,000 feet you will be able to take in panoramic views of the George Washington National Forest, Massanutten Mountain, and Shenandoah National Park. Then, head south along the ridge towards Reddish Knob for even more incredible views. 

Tip: Have your own rig? Make Harrisonburg your basecamp and explore the area like a local! Terra Overland will work with you to plan an expedition catered to your skill level and interests. On your way to the trail, fuel up at the Friendly City Food Co-op and grab lunch at one of the city’s authentic delicatessens

Explore the World Beneath Your Feet

Pull up your coveralls, click on your headlamp and get ready to explore the world beneath your feet! The caves beneath the surface of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County boast ceilings as high as a house, and passages tight enough for the most adventurous among us to squeeze through. Journey through cave systems to find unique formations, grand cavern rooms, and rare fossils.  After your trip, emerge into the sunlight and bask in the beauty of the area’s pristine forests. 

Tip: Cave with an experienced expert like Wild GUYde Adventures. After your expedition, stop by the JMU Mineral Museum to see an extension collection of subterranean minerals from around the world, or head to Elk Run Mining Company to purchase locally crafted jewelry from gems that have been mined from beneath the earth.

Test Your Limits on the Trails

Situated in the shadows of the Alleghany and Massanutten Mountains, Harrisonburg is a Top Mountain Bike Town and IMBA Bronze Level Ride Center. Hidden within the woods of Hillandale Park, the Rocktown Trails are a system of stacked loop trails offering varying levels of difficulty. Ride through sweeping uphill climbs, sidewinding single tracks, and small drops, or test your limits at the pump track.

Tip: After a day of riding, fuel up and enjoy a refreshing craft beverage at one of the City’s five craft breweries. Brother’s Craft Brewing is host to monthly cycling and running events and socials organized by the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition

Walk in the Footsteps of Thru-Hikers

At 2,190 miles, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is one of the longest trails in the world. As a distinguished Appalachian Trail Community just minutes from the trail, Harrisonburg is a gateway for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure! Walk in the footsteps of thru-hikers, trek through ancient forests, and stop for photos at iconic vistas. Explore backcountry shelters and leaf through pages of stories written by hikers in shelter logs. The Appalachian Trail is accessible through the Swift Run Gap entrance station of Shenandoah National Park.

Tip: While you are in Harrisonburg, gear up at Walkabout Outfitter. Their friendly, experienced staff are happy to provide recommendations for day trips and weekend hikes and tips to make the most of your trip.

Take in Dazzling Views of the Night Sky

Shenandoah National Park has long been known as one of the most beautiful places to view the night sky. Bring your binoculars and a blanket to Big Meadows, where you can see the Milky Way on the darkest nights. Bundle up as you watch for shooting stars, or chat with an amateur astronomer about what they are able to see through their telescope. Stargazers can often be found searching for distant planets and faraway galaxies. Stop by one of the overlooks on Skyline Drive to view constellations on a clear and cloudless night, or drive west towards Reddish Knob for a more secluded stargazing experience. 

Tip: Consider attending a stargazing event in Shenandoah National Park. Before your visit, plan your trip to the John C. Wells Planetarium at JMU or attend a viewing with the Shenandoah Valley Stargazers. The Planetarium offers shows by reservation only. 

Ride with World Renowned Cyclists

Cycling enthusiasts flock to Harrisonburg each year to compete in a variety of cycling events, including the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, Harris Roubaix, Shenandoah Valley Century Ride, and Rockstar Challenge. The Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, a long-distance group ride, race, and festival, is hosted by Jeremiah Bishop, a pan-American gold medalist and internationally recognized cyclist. Ride with Bishop on winding dirt roads and steep climbs, bike into the George Washington National Forest over rugged mountain ranges, and back into Downtown Harrisonburg. Announce your arrival  with a Swiss Glocken bell and celebrate with other cyclists over a smorgasbord of food.

Tip: Upon your return, stop by one of the city’s friendly and knowledgeable outfitters. Shenandoah Bicycle Company, Bluestone Bike and Run, and Rocktown Bicycles are happy to get you race ready and share their favorite routes with you!

Venture into the Backcountry in an Overlanding Rig

Venture into the backcountry in an overlanding rig, where you can traverse rocky terrain and boulder through mud holes and challenging obstacles. Climb to the summit of Flagpole Knob, where at 4,190 feet you will be able to take in panoramic views of the George Washington National Forest, Massanutten Mountain, and Shenandoah National Park.

Tip: Head south along the ridge towards Reddish Knob for even more incredible views. Bring your own rig and hop on a Zoom call with a local outfitter to learn how to explore Virginia like a native. Fuel up at the Friendly City Food Co-op and grab lunch at one of the city’s authentic delicatessens. This route can also be biked or hiked. 

Watch Hundreds of Species of Birds and Butterflies

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at JMU, a public urban garden and woodland sanctuary, is Lost Shoe Loop of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail and home to hundreds of species of birds and butterflies. Listen as the sound of songbirds fills the forest canopy in the spring and cardinals, catbirds, and mockingjays fly overhead. In the summer, watch as green herons stride gracefully across the pond and pollinators float between blooming milkweed and magnolia. 

Tip: Learn from a naturalist at a birdwatching monarch tagging workshop, or take a guided walk with one of the arboretum’s resident experts. The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum hosts a variety of exciting events every year!

Places to Go, Things to See: