While the days haven’t gotten significantly cooler quite yet in Virginia, the calendar tells us that summer is quickly drawing to a close. But the good news is that fall is just ahead – and most would agree, fall is when Virginia trail season is at its finest. Whether you want to get out of the house for the last few days of summer or you’re ready to start planning your fall adventures, the following top-rated trails and hikes are the perfect place to start.
1. Old Rag Mountain Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Madison
With 8+ miles up steep trails and more than one rock scramble, Old Rag is not for the faint of heart – or the weak of knees. And it’s one of the most dangerous hikes in Virginia. So why do it? Because its also one of the most beautiful hikes in the Southeast…
...and like most things in life, the effort is well worth it once you’re sitting on top of the world. To get to the Old Rag trailhead, follow Route 231 to the large parking area at the Old Rag Fee Station. The trailhead lies just beyond at another small parking area reserved for park staff.
2. Crabtree Falls Loop, Montebello
Crabtree Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls totaling nearly 1,2000 feet (with the highest dropping 400 feet), making them the highest vertical drop waterfalls east of the Mississippi – and one of the most popular in Virginia. Called one of Virginia’s “Must-Do Waterfall Hikes,” the trail to Crabtree Falls Trail Loop is located 6 miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27 in Nelson County.
To see the falls, an easy, paved path leads to an overlook near the parking lot, or you can take the 2.5-mile trail alongside the falls themselves, ending at an overlook of the Tye River Valley. Just be sure to enjoy the caves, scenic bridges and incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the way.
3. White Oak Canyon Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Skyland
Considered one of the best waterfall hiking trails in the Shenandoah National Park, this relatively easy trail features a series of 6 waterfalls, the highest reaching 86 feet.
The trailhead for this hike is conveniently located just off Skyline Drive at mile marker 42.6. This trail is particularly nice for families, because although it is steep in a few places, footbridges carry you over creeks and the falls themselves are perfect for a picnic.
4. Scott’s Run Nature Reserve, McLean
As one of the only nature reserves in the Fairfax County Park System, Scott’s Run is a treasure trove of natural beauty during any season and a favorite for walkers, hikers and trail runners.
The reserve’s two trailheads are located off of Georgetown Parkway just upstream from the American Legion Memorial Bridge. One runs alongside a stream and the other leads to bluffs along the Potomac River. What’s nice about these trails are the options. From gentle forest walks to steep hill and cliff hikes, Scott’s Run suits any skill level.
5. The Virginia Creeper Trail, Abingdon to Whitetop
For 34 miles, the Virginia Creeper Trail takes you through some of the most beautiful landscape Virginia has to offer. This multi-use trail is considered Virginia’s premier mountain biking trail with sections to fit any skill level.
And while you may not be up for walking the 34-miles in one day, the trail is also perfect for walking, running and horseback riding and can be accessed at many points along the way. With forests, open fields, streams and scenic bridges, the Virginia Creeper Trail is a must-do for any one. To find the best access point for you, visit www.vacreepertrail.com.
6. Cape Henry Trail, First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach
This beautiful trail runs for 7.5 miles through heavily wooded forests, paved urban segments and peaceful, quiet beaches. Located within First Landing State Park, the trail end points are at Jade Street (south of Shore Drive) and US 60 at 64th Street. Featuring asphalt, gravel and sand, the trail is ideally suited to biking, hiking, walking and running. Along the way, be sure to look for local wildlife, including ospreys, herons, foxes and deer.
7. James River Park Trails, Richmond
The James River Park system has some of the highest-rated trails for trail running in the country. In fact, in 2009, Trailrunner Magazine named Richmond one of the best trail-running towns.
For hard-core mountain bikers, Belle Isle, the Buttermilk Trail, and the North Bank Trail are ideal – and the Belle Isle 1-mile loop and Pony Pasture are perfect for beginners or families. Running for miles along the banks of the James River, these trails have easy, intermediate and advanced levels to suit walkers, hikers, bikers and runners. Find the perfect trail for you at www.jamesriverpark.org.
8. Belfast Trail to the Devil’s Marbleyard, Natural Bridge Station
Located in Jefferson National Forest off of Petites Gap Road, Devil’s Marbleyard is the site of an old rock slide that is now a series of massive boulders, some the size of trucks. The 1.5 mile hike follows Belfast Trail over creeks, past the ruins of an old Boy Scout Camp and through the James River Face Wilderness before reaching the rocks.
From here, you can keep going until the trail intersects with Gunter Ridge Trail, turn left and loop back to the trailhead – or if you’re more adventurous, keep going another few miles along the Appalachian Trail for a 3.0 mile out and back hike that leads you to some of the most amazing 360-degree views anywhere in Virginia.
9. Blue Suck Falls Trail and Tuscarora Overlook, Douthat State Park, Millboro
Douthat Park has been called one of the nation’s top 10 parks – and with trails like this, its no wonder. The Blue Suck Trail, beginning near the Douthat Park Discovery/Visitor Center, leads up a moderate incline to the falls.
Named from the Appalachian word for “whirlpool”, the “suck” at the base of the falls is small, but beautiful. To reach Tuscarora Overlook, continue on another 1.5 miles or so to Lookout Rock and the Tuscaroroa Overlook trail for breathtaking views of the mountains and Lake Douthat.
10. Birch Knob Observation Tower and Trail, Dickenson County (near Clintwood)
Located on the border of Virginia and Kentucky, the Birch Knob Observation Tower stands at 3,144 feet above sea level at the highest summit of Pine Mountain. From the top, visitors have incredible views of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee – and on a clear day, it’s even possible to see Ohio according to the Dickenson County website.
The 183-stair climb to the top begins at a point just below Birch Knob (accessed by a paved road), which also features a trailhead for the 2-mile hike down the mountain to Jenny Falls.
11. Brumley Mountain Trail to The Channels, Hayter’s Gap (near Abingdon)
The Channels (also known as the Great Channels of Virginia) are located in the Channels Natural Area Preserve at the summit of Middle Knob on Clinch Mountain. These stunning sandstone structures create craggy mazes from deep crevices worn into the stone walls of the mountain.
The Channels can be reached from Brumley Mountain Trail, a relatively moderate trail that ascends about 3 miles (one-way) to the summit. After exploring the maze-like rocks, enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains from an elevation of more than 4,200 feet.
12. Ewing Trail to White Rocks and Sand Cave, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Ewing
Located at the eastern end of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, White Rocks and Sand Cave are truly some of the state’s greatest treasures. Ewing Trail (located at the end of Route 724 in Ewing) leads up the mountain about 3.5 miles to White Rocks where you’ll have stunning views of Virginia's Powell River Valley, Powell Mountain and Clinch Mountain.
Another mile past, lies the Sand Cave, a massive rock shelter formed by wind, water and ice. TECHNICALLY, the cave is in Kentucky. But we are including it because the trail starts in Virginia and, frankly, it's beautiful. A waterfall at the cave opening adds to its beauty, but the real treat is inside. The cave’s ceiling features multi-colored striations with up to 21 colors. Before the park was created, it was said that church congregations would come to the cave to sing because of its phenomenal acoustics.
To learn more about any of these trails or find maps and specific locations, try a quick internet search or visit the
National Park Services website, the Virginia State Park website or a hiking site like Hiking Upward.
With so many beautiful trails to choose from, these are only the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). What are your favorite trails for hiking, walking, running, biking or simply enjoying nature? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!