Do you have that itch to get outdoors, to stretch your legs in a scenic setting? Virginia can scratch that itch. Loaded with easy but rewarding hiking trails from the mountains to the sea, here in Virginia you can take friends and family on a hike of 2 miles or less and reap wonderful rewards, whether it is a mountain panorama, a crashing waterfall, historic sight, a lakeside vista or remote beach walk. After the hike enhance your experience by exploring nearby outdoor (and indoor) attractions, dining and overnighting options, whether it is camping under the stars or slipping between the sheets of a hotel, B&B or lodge. Make the most of your precious time. Spend it in Virginia.
Nearest Town: Henrico
Hike Distance: 1.6-mile loop
Why Go There: Walk the long boardwalk through wetland
What You Need to Know: Take your time here, watching for wildlife while traversing the wetlands.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.32203, -77.35486
The confluence of Ashton Creek and the Appomattox River make an ideal hike setting. Your hike first drops off a bluff using steps then cruises a boardwalk with a great wetland view. Once at Ashton Creek Marsh, a long boardwalk avails a firsthand look at this wetland. The hike then saddles alongside the Appomattox River where the trail overlooks the Appomattox River and Cobb Island standing across from it. This hike does have a few hills as it roller coasters along a river bluff.
After the Hike: Have a picnic after returning to the trailhead. Visit Petersburg National Battlefield, site of the longest siege in the Civil War. Eat at River’s Bend Grill. Check out the trails at Dutch Gap Conservation Area. Visit Henricus Fort and Indian Village.
–RICHARD P. GRAVELY, JR. NATURE PRESERVE–
Nearest Town: Martinsville
Hike Distance: 1.0-mile loop
Why Go There: Enjoy a quiet preserve along the Smith River
What You Need to Know: This park is known for its thick stands of blooming rhododendron.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.61068, -79.81743
Take a highlight-rich walk through this nature preserve along the Smith River. Enjoy a mix of natural beauty and history on the Jones Cliff Trail, which you follow for the 1.0-mile loop. The path visits stops by a pair of tobacco curing barns, reflecting the former use of the land. Cruise through woods. Take the Rhododendron Trail to the Smith River. Enjoy the river shoals amid evergreens of rhododendron and mountain laurel. Returning to the Jones Cliff Trail you will pass by the Burgess Cemetery, where the former landowners are interred. If you want to extend your hike a bit take the River View Trail for another look at the Smith River.
After the Hike: Visit the Martinsville Speedway. Do your own racing at the Martinsville Grand Prix Go-Karts. Check out the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Eat at Clarence’s Steak & Seafood House. Camp at Indian Heritage RV Park.
Nearest Town: Cripple Creek
Hike Distance: 2.0 miles in two short walks from same trailhead
Why Go There: See Raven Cliff Furnace
What You Need to Know: The national forest recreation area also features a quiet campground.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.83655, -81.06323
This two part walk combines the natural beauty of Virginia’s highlands with its primitive industrial past. The setting is majestic Raven Cliff, rising high in the clear Cripple Creek valley of the Jefferson National Forest. Enjoy two short trails from a nice picnic area and campground. Walk up pretty Cripple Creek on the Raven Cliff Furnace Trail, then reach a still-intact iron ore smelter. Backtrack to the trailhead, and join the Raven Cliff Trail. Walk an old railroad grade, gaining more stream views, and passing through a blasted bluff. Finally, descend to Cripple Creek and a ford, then backtrack to the trailhead.
After the Hike: Fish Cripple Creek for smallmouth bass. Camp at Raven Cliff Campground. Paddle the New River. Bicycle the New River Trail. Visit West Wind Farm Vineyard & Winery.
–WINDSOR CASTLE PARK–
Nearest Town: Smithfield
Hike Distance: 1.8-mile loop
Why Go There: Views of tidal creek accessed via flat, manicured trails
What You Need to Know: The well-kept park offers kayak/canoe launch, picnic area, bike trail and a fishing pier
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.97687, -76.62745
Set near the confluence of Cypress Creek and Little Creek, this relatively new riverside park offer 3.8 miles of level, graveled, hiker-only trails and many other activities on a former plantation first established in 1637. A recommended loop hike leaves the main parking area, crosses Jericho Road, aiming for Cypress Creek. Reach an overlook above the marsh. Cruise through woods along Cypress Creek. After that, turn up Little Creek, crossing a long boardwalk over wetlands before closing the loop. Check out the historic buildings and the manor house post hike.
After the Hike: Hit the beach at nearby Boykin Park on the James River. Paddle your kayak from the launch at Windsor Park. Visit the Smithfield Historic District. Dine at the Taste of Smithfield Restaurant.
–LEESYLVANIA STATE PARK–
Nearest Town: Dumfries
Hike Distance: 1.6-mile loop
Why Go There: The Lee’s Woods Trail may have more history per foot than any other trail in Virginia.
What You Need to Know: Leesylvania State Park offers much to do at the trailhead. Have a picnic, walk along the river. Head out to the fishing pier to see what is biting. Launch your boat and motor or paddle the shoreline.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.59113, -77.24834
This hike travels hills above the tidal Potomac River. Pick up the Lee’s Woods Trail then leave the scenic shore to climb to Freestone Point and a Civil War battery featuring a stellar view of the river and beyond. From there, visit the site of Fairfax, a home from the early 1800s. More woodland winding leads up to the historic Henry Lee homesite, Leesylvania, dating back to before the United States was a country. Pass the Lee home garden and cemetery amid more hilly mature forest, then return to the riverside picnic area.
After the Hike: Take a scenic drive through Prince William Forest Park. Kayak the tidal Potomac River. Grab some barbeque at Smokin’ Looney BBQ.
Nearest Town: Stanardsville
Hike Distance: 2.0-mile there-and-back
Why Go There: Lesser visited highlight at Shenandoah National Park
What You Need to Know: Be watchful, trailhead is easy to miss. Many other park attractions are nearby.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.41379, -78.48932
This is a short and easy hike at Shenandoah National Park, doable by the whole family. Leave Skyline Drive on the wide and easy Pocosin Fire Road (closed to public vehicles) and explore the ruins of the Pocosin Mission, where a brave Episcopal minister attempted to save the souls of surrounding mountaineers. Explore the ruins of the mission and other nearby signs of habitation, including a cemetery. If you want to expand your hike head down Pocosin Hollow, passing many old-growth trees on your way down to a tumbling watercourse, where you’ll find a nice spot to picnic or relax. Alternatively, you can take a stroll on an adjacent parcel of the Appalachian Trail to enjoy a view from a rocky slope.
After the Hike: Hike to South River Falls or have a picnic at South River Picnic Area. Take a cruise along Skyline Drive. Overnight at Lewis Mountain Campground. Fill up at Sombrero’s Mexican Cuisine & Café in Stanardsville.
–FENWICK MINES WALK–
Nearest Town: New Castle
Hike Distance: 1.9-mile out-and-back
Why Go There: Explore a former mining community and the wildlife rich wetlands.
What You Need to Know: This is an easy walk, fun for all ages.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.57419, -80.05532
This walk explores natural and cultural history of once was a mining community. Today, a pair of all-access trails visits a pond, wetlands and remnants of the town of Fenwick. Boardwalks enhance the part traversing wetlands. You will also wander down Mill Creek Valley to a scenic waterfall. The spiller tumbles about 15 feet over stair step ledges into a surprisingly large and deep pool, bordered by a stone amphitheater, parts of which are overhanging the stream below.
After the Hike: Fish the ponds of Fenwick Mines. Have a picnic in the picnic shelter or picnic grounds. The Pines Campground, a national forest facility, is located nearby and offers tent camping sites in Barbours Creek Valley. Grab a meal at the Pine Top Restaurant or Bibos Pizzeria in New Castle.
Nearest Town: Bedford
Hike Distance: 1.5-mile loop
Why Go There: See attractive waterfall and grab a big view from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
What You Need to Know: Start the loop at Wilkerson Gap, at Flat Top Mountain Parking Area, not at Fallingwater Overlook.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.47294, -79.5802
This hike makes a loop to view one of the prettiest waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hike downhill into the rugged canyon of Fallingwater Creek, where boulders and woods lend a rugged aspect. Reach Fallingwater Cascade, a scenic waterfall. Climb out of the geologically rich canyon, soaking in views of mountains down the stream valley before returning to the trailhead.
After the Hike: Have a glass at Peaks of Otter Winery. Spend the night at Peaks of Otter Lodge. See the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
–BEARTREE LAKE TRAIL–
Nearest Town: Konnarock
Hike Distance: 1.0-mile loop
Why Go There: Circle around high elevation wooded lake
What You Need to Know: The Beartree Lake Trail starts on the north side of the parking area as a paved footpath. Do not confuse this with the Beartree Gap Trail, which starts on the south side of the parking area as a dirt path.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.65978, -81.68892
This wide, easy path is just one of many attractions at this Mount Rogers National Recreation Area destination. The Beartree Lake Trail encircles the mountain impoundment of Beartree Lake, elevation 3,000 feet, popular with nature lovers, summertime swimmers and year-round with anglers. Short fisherman’s paths descend to the lake while making the loop. Cross a small bridge and pass fishing docks, as well as a canoe/kayak launch. Cruise beside the swim beach—this is the more developed side of the lake. Pass a spur to the Appalachian Trail then cross over the lake dam, completing the loop.
After the Hike: Kayak around Beartree Lake. Camp at Beartree Lake Campground. Bicycle the Virginia Creeper Trail. Head into Damascus and visit Mount Rogers Outfitters, or eat at Hey Joe’s Tacos.
–LIBERTY HILL HISTORY AND NATURE TRAIL–
Nearest Town: Boydton
Hike Distance: 1.3-miles figure eight loop
Why Go There: Walk interpretive trail with overlooks of Roanoke River and Lake Kerr Dam.
What You Need to Know: This trail is located near Lake Kerr Dam, with all sorts of outdoor recreation nearby.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.59639, -78.29262
This hike starts near the dam of mighty 50,000-acre Lake Kerr, aka Buggs Island Lake. The interpretive trail with numbered signs makes a loop from the dam road down to the Roanoke River, where the waterway has been unleashed then flows around Buggs Island. Pass along a channel of the Roanoke River – Buggs Island is just across the channel. The trail then comes to an old cemetery. Later you will come along a rock outcrop once used as a picnic site by 19th century area residents. Climb past an overlook of imposing Lake Kerr Dam before returning to the trailhead.
After the Hike: After your hike, head to nearby Joseph S. J. Tanner Environmental Education Center and Forest Study Area to learn about the outdoors, plus about more outdoor fun here, such as camping and paddling on Lake Kerr. Visit the Rosemont Vineyards and Winery. Grab a sweet treat at J.B. Jones & Co. Bakery.
–MASON NECK STATE PARK–
Nearest Town: Colchester
Hike Distance: 1.3-mile loop
Why Go There: Make a loop through woods, through wetlands and past a beach.
What You Need to Know: This Virginia state park is known for its wildlife viewing.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 38.64246, -77.19906
It is hard to get lost on the well-marked and maintained Bay View Trail. It leaves the park picnic area begins a circuit. Keep along Belmont Bay, an inlet of the tidal Potomac River. Boardwalks get you across soupy sections as good vistas of Belmont Bay open. After bridging a stream you can take a spur trail to access the beach below. Walk the sand along the bay then resume the Bay View Trail. More boardwalk leads through ecologically significant wetlands. Beyond there you will enter the woods, completing the hike under canopy. If you are looking for more paths, Mason Neck State Park avails about 5 more miles of hiking trails, plus a 3 mile paved trail also open to bicycles.
After the Hike: Rent a canoe or kayak at the state park to paddle Belmont Bay. Rent a bicycle to ply the park roads and the multi-use trail. Visit nearby George Washington Distillery & Grist Mill. Get a quick meal and a cold one at Cody’s Bar & Grill. Savor some barbeque at Dixie Bones.
Nearest Town: Nassawadox
Hike Distance: 2.0-mile there-and-back to hike stop #10
Why Go There: Experience a slice of coastal Virginia with varied habitats favorable for avian life.
What You Need to Know: Until purchased by the Nature Conservancy the land had been in the hands of one family for over 300 years.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.46976, -75.83466
Explore Virginia’s Eastern Shore on the interpretive Birding & Wildlife Trail at this 1,000-acre Nature Conservancy property. Open to the public, the path leaves the trailhead on the fringe of coastal marshes, then into woods, including pine-hardwood forest. Pass by fields, wetlands then reach a pond. Watch for birds here. Ahead, the trail crosses a boardwalk. A nearby screen house makes a good wildlife blind. Your final stop leads to an observation deck with a view of marshlands dotted with wooded islands. If you want to extend your hike make the loop that skirts by a tidal creek.
After the Hike: Park your RV at Virginia Landing RV Campground or overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Exmore. Enjoy a throwback food experience at the Exmore Diner.
–PINNACLE STATE NATURAL AREA–
Nearest Town: Lebanon
Hike Distance: 2.0-mile there and back
Why Go There: To see Big Falls and the hike the suspension bridge
What You Need to Know: A short spur trail leads to Spring Falls.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.95356, -82.05475
State Natural Area is a geological and aquatic wonderment of Southwest Virginia. A hike here is well worth your time. From the trailhead you walk a long suspension bridge over Cedar Creek, a Virginia state scenic river, then follow along the creek, making for a modest walk amidst rugged geology. Big Falls is a stream-wide stair step waterfall sure to impress, more through its width than height of 12 feet. Additional trails, including the quarter-mile spur to Spring Falls, add more possibilities to this back-of-beyond hike amid impressive biodiversity.
After the Hike: Want more of the great outdoors? Head to the Great Channels of Virginia, another geologically fascinating place with knockout views. Canoe or kayak the Clinch River. Eat at the Stone Cellar in Lebanon.
–BEAR CREEK LAKE STATE PARK–
Nearest Town: Cumberland
Hike Distance: 1.8-mile loop
Why Go There: Enjoy lakeside and woodland walking at quiet state park
What You Need to Know: The park is located inside the greater 16,000-acre Cumberland State Forest
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.52692, -78.27573
I recommend the well signed and well maintained Channel Cat Loop here at Bear Creek Lake State Park, encircled in the great Cumberland State Forest. The Channel Cat Loop first cruises along Bear Creek Lake past many of the park facilities, including the fishing pier, swim beach and campground, then loops into the “back 40”, where you immerse in deep woods. In addition to walking along Bear Creek Lake you will also encounter some small streams amid the pines and hardwoods before circling back to Bear Creek Lake.
After the Hike: Bicycle the 14-mile Cumberland Multi-Use Trail or the rail trail of High Bridge State Park. Camp at Bear Creek Lake State Park. Dine at the Cumberland Restaurant in Cumberland.
–PLEASANT GROVE PARK–
Nearest Town: Fluvanna
Hike Distance: 2-mile loop
Why Go There: Explore a network of trails along the Rivanna River.
What You Need to Know: Download the park map before starting your hike for the best experience.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.85949, -78.26959
Pleasant Grove Park near Fluvanna County comprises over 800 acres along the Rivanna River. Once the farm of a local country squire, the land is now laced with over 20 miles of trails. So where to hike? I recommend starting at Trailhead Drive and making a loop with the River Anne Trail, Sandy Beach Trail, River Bluff Trail and Heritage Trail. This way you get a taste of the varied environments of the park — open fields, pine-oak forests, riverside, sandbar, uplands and wooded hillsides. Having the park trail map will help you not bite off more trail than you can chew.
After the Hike: Canoe or kayak the James River. Bike the Cumberland Multi-Use Trail in Cumberland State Forest. Visit historic Charlottesville for food, drink, and an amazing downtown scene.