Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Virginians residing in the center of the state are fortunate to live within a short drive of the Shenandoah National Park and a wealth of maintained hiking trails.  So to gear up for National Trails Day on June 7, we’ve rounded up seven of our favorite local Virginia hikes--listed from shortest to longest--for the adventurous soul to tackle this summer.

The view from Humpback Rock.  Photo by Matt Reilly.

Humpback Rock

    At milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at the base of the Mountain Farm Trail, sits a 19th Century interpretive farm setup—this marks the trailhead for reaching Humpback Rock.  This is a short trail of modest difficulty, roughly a quarter-mile round-trip; but the view from the large rock outcropping at the trail’s end, looking west over the Shenandoah National Park, might tie you up for the entirety of the afternoon.  If you don’t mind rising early, make the ascent before sunrise and enjoy the sun’s appearance from on high.

Whiteoak Canyon

    If waterfalls are your thing, Whiteoak Canyon is for you.  This is easily one of the Park’s most popular hikes, and it has six gorgeous waterfalls to thank.  Access the trail from the lower end off route 600 in Syria, Va. or from the Skyline Drive at milepost 42.6.

    From the bottom, the climb is very steep, and a 6-mile round-trip hike.  From the Skyline Drive, the way in is easier, but the latter half of the 7.3-mile round-trip hike is much steeper.

Crabtree Falls

    Need more waterfalls?  Crabtree falls boasts the longest vertical-drop cascades east of the Mississippi River; and the first showing of five major falls starts just 100 yards away from the parking area.  The trail is moderate in difficulty and, like any other hike, should be tackled with the appropriate footwear.  The last overlook sits about 3.5 miles in, making this a 7-mile hike.

    Access the trailhead from Crabtree Falls Highway in Montebello, Va.  A $3.00 fee is required to use the parking area. 

Mount Rogers

    Seen enough waterfalls and white oaks?  Take a break and visit a unique Virginia ecosystem reminiscent of New England and southern Canada found in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.  Mount Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak (5,726 ft.); and the trail to its summit features grassy balds with breathtaking views of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Begin your hike at Elk Garden Gap and hike 9 miles east along the white blazed Appalachian Trail to reach the summit.  Tackle the hike in June or July to enjoy a fantastic display of native flora.

Strickler Knob

    The Strickler Knob trail is not maintained and includes some sharp, rocky scrambles suitable only for those in good physical condition.  But the trail’s end rewards for its hardships with a stunning 360-degree panoramic of the Luray valley.

    This 9-mile hike is more appropriately called a “bushwhack” than a “trail.”  So consult a guide for directions.  It can be reached from the Massanutten trailhead on Crimson Hollow Road.

Old Rag Mountain

    This hike can’t be left out with its reputation as one of the Shenandoah National Park’s most popular hikes.  “Old Rag” is a strenuous, nearly 9-mile hike with a serious rock scramble near the summit.  No pets are allowed on the trail, a hiking partner is recommended, and ample water is a requirement.  Access the trail by parking in the parking area off SR 600, Nethers Road, and hiking the easy 1 mile to the trailhead.    

    Because of this trail’s popularity, it might be worth a little less sleep to arrive early before the summertime crowd.

Whitetop Mountain

    The Appalachian Trail runs through Elk Garden Gap in between Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.  Proceed west from Elk Garden Gap to reach the meadow summit of Whitetop (Virginia’s second highest peak).  Equal in length to the Mount Rogers hike, this nine-mile counterpart is a strong competitor in scenery and abundance of wildlife.
    With thousands of miles of trails veining the Old Dominion, including the longest chunk of the Appalachian Trail in a single state, it would be pretentious, and a lofty compliment, to name the aforementioned hikes as Virginia’s best.  That said, none of them lack in scenery or physical challenge.  So, lace up your boots, throw together a pack, and check these trips off your summer to-do list.  Then go find some favorites of your own!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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