In a perfect world, we’d all be able to drop everything and spend a few months hiking the Appalachian Trail. Although hiking for a couple of months might not be an option, a day hike is certainly doable. Fortunately, a two hour drive west from Richmond, VA will take you to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There aren’t a whole lot of places in this world better suited for a few moments to gather your thoughts like the Blue Ridge. Ranging from easy to challenging, Virginia is an oasis for day hikes at every skill level.
It was a recent purchase of Chippewa boots and a desire to break them in that re-ignited my interest in hiking. Actually, before the boots, it was a combination of the distant memory of a bluegrass set from Dr. Ralph Stanley at the Richmond Folk Festival a few years back (good driving-through-the-mountains music), and a flurry of outdoor photographs on my Instagram feed that really motivated me. Good old social media in the modern age is always there to remind you that you should be doing something else other than looking at your phone. Well, it worked.
Day hiking can be a fairly hassle-free endeavor. Plan ahead and dress in layers that you can remove or add. Track down a comfortable pair of boots. Stock your daypack with plenty of water, a pocketknife, and whatever other provisions you might need. Finally, set your GPS and head out to your destination.
When planning your trip, it’s important to choose a hike that’s right for your skill level. A good challenge always keeps things interesting, but lets’ let the search and rescue teams have a day off. Make sure that you can finish the trek. Here’s a brief roundup of Virginia’s best hikes to give you an idea of what’s out there.
Crabtree Falls Trail
1.7 Miles | Montebello, VA
Crabtree Falls is a great hike if you’re just getting into the activity or looking for a hike that has a great reward with little effort. Crabtree Falls is known as the highest set of waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. There are a series of five major cascades and several smaller ones that fall for a total distance of 1,200 feet. The trail remains closed to the falls for the majority of the trek with several overlook areas to take in the view of the falls, as well as the mountains.
Old Rag Mountain
8.4 Miles | Sperryville, VA
Old Rag is one of Virginia’s best and most popular hikes. The trail covers a diversity of terrains including a trek through hardwoods and traversing an unforgettable rock scramble. The rock scramble, in my opinion, is the best part of the hike. You will find yourself in some pretty tight spaces and interesting rock formations that require some skill to get through. Once you reach the summit, the view from the top is one of the best in Virginia. It takes roughly 7-8 hours to complete the circuit so plan accordingly, and make sure to pack plenty of water before heading out.
1 Mile | Lyndhurst, VA
This is a very short hike, but the trail’s steep ascent to the top of the mountain makes this a strenuous trek. Perhaps the best part of this hike is the brief rock scramble that happens at the end of the trail that gives Humpback Rocks its name. The rock outcrop appears as if they are lunging from the top of the mountain. Despite the hike’s moderate difficulty, the view from the summit overlooking the Shenandoah Valley is worth it. After the hike, stop by the Humpback Rocks visitors center to view a handful of cultural displays.
7.8 Miles | Catawba, VA
McAfee’s Knob is considered the most photographed summit along the Appalachian Trail. If your nerves are greater than mine, take a photograph on the iconic protruding rock hovering hundreds of feet above the earth below. (See a photo here.) The trek isn’t too steep and is nothing technical. The amazing 270-degree view of the Catawba valley and the city of Roanoke is fantastic.
Additional hikes: Peaks of Otter, Whiteoak Canyon, Cedar Run Loop, Mount Rogers Trail
Photographs are from recent trips to Crabtree Falls and Humpback Rocks