Winter is a great time to enjoy hiking in Virginia. There’s no better place on the East Coast to hike your own hike than the Appalachian Trail. Thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail each year, but only about one in four completes the hike.
Many more enjoy day hikes or shorter sections hikes on the AT. About 550 miles of the AT are in Virginia. The trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia and ends at Katahdin, Maine. The AT has become a very popular hiking destination since the release of the movie “A Walk in the Woods,” based on travel writer Bill Bryson’s 1998 memoir.
McAfee Knob is the most photographed site and one of the most popular day hikes on the Appalachian Trail. Located near Roanoke off Route 311, McAfee Knob has an almost 270-degree panorama of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the west, Tinker Cliffs to the north and the Roanoke Valley to the east. Start early in the morning and allow plenty of time. Hiking Upward suggests allowing at least four hours for the 8.3 mile hike.
A short distance from the McAfee Knob parking area, you’ll find the Dragons Tooth parking area, located just past Catawba Grocery on Route 311. Dragons Tooth is a spectacular rock formation located on top of Cove Mountain. The 2.3 mile trail leading to Dragons Tooth climbs uphill gradually for the first mile. One the trail joins the Appalachian Trail, the climb is much steeper. Dragons Tooth is rated as a strenuous hike, with rock scrambling near the top. The last rocky sections require using your hands and feet to scramble to “The Tooth”, a 35-foot rock spire. At the top, enjoy a jumble of rugged rock outcroppings and panoramic views. Allow plenty of time and daylight to do this challenging hike. Many hikers will take six hours or more to complete the hike.
If you like rock scrambles, you’ll love hiking Devil’s Marbleyard, located in the Jefferson National Forest near Natural Bridge. Hiking Upward suggests 5.5 hours for the 8.3 mile hike. The lure of this trail is the boulder field, with some as big as cars. Even if you decide not to scramble to the top, it’s fun to watch other hikers climb.
If you like waterfalls, you’ll love hiking Crabtree Falls, located in Nelson County. Plan to spend half a day hiking Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi. Bring your camera for photos, but stay on the trail. Climbing onto the slick rocks has resulted in a number of deaths.
One of the premiere hikes in the U.S. brings you to the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia at 5,729 feet. Begin the 9-mile hike at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, located in Southwest Virginia. You’ll enjoy the sights along the way and may even see some wild ponies.
High Bridge Trail State Park, with the main trailhead located near Farmville, includes 31 miles of multi-purpose trails suitable for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Built on a former rail bed, the park’s centerpiece is the majestic High Bridge, which is more than 2,400 feet long and 125 feet above the Appomattox River. High Bridge is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and among the longest in the United States.
One of our family’s favorite Virginia State Park hikes is the Turtle Island Trail, a 1.4-mile lakeside trail located at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. One of 13 trails ranging from less than a mile to over three miles at the park, the Turtle Island Trail is one of the prettiest.
Winter hiking is great at the rest of of the Virginia State Parks too. With 189 dedicated hiking trails and more than 200 mixed-use hiking, biking and equestrian trails, find your favorite hike at a park close to you.
The Blue Ridge Parkway abounds with hiking destinations; however, winter weather often means road closures along the Parkway. Check the National Park Service Blue Ridge Parkway road closure website before you head out, then enjoy a winter drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stop for a hike along the way.
The 469-mile Parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. With over 360 miles of hiking trails along the Parkway, it’s easy to find just the right hike. These popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes, listed from north to south, include easy family-friendly hikes, short moderate hikes and strenuous day hikes.
Farm Museum Trail is an easy .25 mile self-guided trail from the Humpback Visitor Center at MP 5.9.
Humpback Rocks Trail is a favorite strenuous hike on the north end of the Parkway at MP 6.0. The 2.0 mile trail takes you to spectacular views from the Humpback Rocks at the top.
White Rock Falls Trail is a moderate .9 mile trail following a stream to a small falls at MP 20.0.
Yankee Horse is a moderate .2 mile trail to a logging railroad display and small waterfall at MP 34.4.
Indian Gap is a moderate .3 mile trail to a huge Indian Rocks display and a seasonal rhododendron display at MP 47.5.
Otter Lake Trail is a moderate .8 mile trail around Otter Lake at MP 63.1.
James River Trail is an easy .2 mile self-guided trail to a display with canal locks at MP 63.6.
Thunder Ridge Trail is an easy .1 mile trail to a great view of Arnold Valley at MP 74.7.
Apple Orchard Falls Trail is a strenuous 1.2 mile National Recreation Trail starting at Sunset Field Overlook and leading to Apple Orchard Falls at MP 78.4.
Fallingwater Cascades Trail is a moderate 1.6 mile National Recreation Trail to a waterfall at MP 83.1.
Flat Top Trail is a moderate 4.4 mile trail leading to Flat Top Mountain, the highest of the three Peaks of Otter at MP 83.5.
Abbott Lake Trail is an easy 1.0 mile loop trail around Abbott Lake at MP 85.7 at the Peaks of Otter. The entire trail has recently been paved and is completely accessible.
There are several additional moderate trails, including Elk Run Trail (.8 mile), Johnson Farm Loop Trail (2.1 miles) and Harkening Hill Trail (3.3 miles) — all starting at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center at MP 85.9.
Sharp Top Trail is one of the most popular strenuous hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Start at MP 86.0 for the 1.5 mile hike to the top of Sharp Top Mountain, where you’ll enjoy 360-degree panoramic views.
Roanoke River Trail is an easy .35 mile trail with views of the Roanoke River at MP 114.9.
Rock Castle Gorge Trail is a strenuous 10.8 mile loop trail from the Rocky Knob Campground into the Gorge at MP 167.1.
Black Ridge Trail is a moderate 3.1 mile loop trail starting at Rocky Knob Visitor Center at MP 169.0.
Mabry Mill Trail is an easy .5 mile trail to Mabry Mill and other displays depicting rural life at MP 176.2. Although this trail is especially beautiful when blazing with fall colors, you’ll enjoy the beauty of nature in any season at Mabry Mill.
There are also many hikes available off the 105-mile Skyline Drive, which travels through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive has four entrances between Front Royal and Waynesboro. Winter weather often results in closures on the Skyline Drive. Call 540-999-3500 for real-time road closure information before you leave home so you won’t be disappointed.
You’ll receive a basic park guide when you enter the Skyline Drive. Most of the Visitor Centers are closed from late November to late March; however, the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center at Big Meadows (MP 51) is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9-4 whenever the Skyline Drive is open. There are many hiking guide books available for purchase at the Visitor Center. Add these hikes to your bucket list.
Compton Peak Trail begins at MP 10.4. The 2.0 mile hike takes you on a 605-foot climb with great views from the top.
Overall Run Trail begins at MP 21.1. The 6.4 mile hike takes you on a 1850-foot climb with views of Overall Run Falls, the tallest falls in the park.
Mary’s Rock Trail, another very popular hike in the park, begins at MP 33.5. The 2.8 mile hike takes you on a 830-foot climb with great views.
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in the park. Begin at MP 46.7 for the 2.1 mile hike which takes you on a 520-foot climb with views to the east and west.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail begins at MP 50.7. The 1.4 mile hike takes you to the closest waterfall off the Skyline Drive with a 440-foot climb.
The Frazier Discovery Trail on Loft Mountain begins at MP 79.5. The 1.3 mile trail takes you on a 455-foot climb with excellent views at the top.
Choose your distance when hiking to Doyles River Falls at MP 81.1. Enjoy a 2.6 mile hike to the upper falls or a 3.2 mile hike to the lower falls.
One of Shenandoah National Park’s favorite hikes is Old Rag Mountain — and it’s also the most dangerous hike in the park. The National Park Service website states, “Be sure you know the forecast and never attempt this hike in wet or icy conditions.” Although Old Rag can be seen from the Skyline Drive and is located within Shenandoah National Park, all hikers must use the parking area at the Old Rag Fee Station. Enjoy rock scrambles and breathtaking views on the 8.0 mile hike.
Nearly 150,000 visitors a year hike Cascade Falls, located in Cascades Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest in Pembroke. The Upper Trail offers scenic, aerial views of Little Stony Creek, while the Lower Trail runs along the banks of Little Stony as it climbs toward the main waterfall.
Great Falls Park, located along the banks of the Potomac River in McLean, has 15 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous. The Falls are spectacular to see from the three overlooks any time of year, but are especially beautiful in the winter. On the Maryland side of the Potomac, visit the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.
Solo hikers may prefer staying closer to home in the winter. The James River Heritage Trail system in Lynchburg contains multiple paved and unpaved trails, many located along Blackwater Creek. Access points include the Ed Page Entrance to the Blackwater Creek Bikeway, Hollins Mill Park, East Randolph Place, Thomson Drive and Monticello Avenue. Pick up a newly-published “Trails of Lynchburg” brochure at Lynchburg Parks & Recreation’s Miller Center or from a kiosk near the trails.
Additional trails to enjoy in Lynchburg include: the Alpine Trail at Riverside Park, Woodland Trail and Clemmons Lake Trail at Ivy Creek Park and the Bill Foot Mountain Bike & Hike Recreation Area off the Ivy Creek Greenway at Peaks View Park.
Check the Virginia Tourism Corporation website to find more hiking trails across the Commonwealth. You’ll find great winter hiking in Virginia — and you may even find a frozen waterfall or enjoy a little snow along the way.