Virginia’s Best Day Hikes
January 13 2013
Besides calling the beautiful state of Virginia our home, we’re constantly amazed at what you can see in a day. From our home base of Richmond, VA, you can drive one hour west to the Blue Ridge Mountains (part of America’s oldest mountain range), or two hours east to the Atlantic Ocean. Just two hours north will take you our nation’s capital and if you head south, it’s only going to get warmer. But in the winter, we’re in love with crisp day hikes through the mountains. Solo or with a friend, they’re truly amazing. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Old Rag Mountain | Madison County, VA | Shenandoah National Park | 8.4 Miles | Map
Who cares if it’s one of the most popular hikes in Virginia, it’s certainly one of the best. From ease of access to the fact that you can spot the summit from your car window miles away, it’s got it all. It’s one of the only day hikes that gives you two different routes (and two different difficulties) to get to the top. Just north of Charlottesville, this strenuous, granite-filled hike/rock scramble is usually crowded on the weekends, but still worth making the trip. The hike begins with a beautiful trek through hardwoods and then opens up around 2.5 miles in to an incredible rock scramble. From there, you’ve got 3.5 more miles of rock scramble and hand over hand climbing until you reach the summit. The top leaves you with a 360 degree view that you’ll never forget. If you go in the winter, crampons are recommended – the trail gets icy.
2. Spy Rock | Nelson County, VA | 3.1 Miles Round Trip | Map
Spy Rock was the first Virginia hike that I really fell in love with. Since, I’ve probably reached the summit 30+ times, and will go back every single chance I get. Unlike most Virginia hikes that are filled with switchbacks, Spy Rock is a straight shot to the top with minimal twists and turns. This steep hike is short, only 1.5 miles to the top, but will feel like much more than that due to the grade you’ll be hiking up. When you reach the top, you’ll come across a few campfire sites and an overall flat part of the woods. Walk about 100 yards south and you’ll quickly notice the granite rock, the size of a Walmart, sticking out of the earth. Scramble this to the top and enjoy the best panoramic, 360 degree view you’ll see in Virginia.
Spy Rock’s trail head is located about two miles west of Virginia’s famous Crabtree Falls. So if Crabtree’s parking lot is full, keep heading up the mountain for a far better view without the crowds.
3. McAfee’s Knob | Catawba, VA | 7.8 Miles | Map
McAfee’s is probably one of the most iconic summits in the state; see picture above. Yes, there really is a picture-perfect rock protruding out of and hovering hundreds of feet above the earth. Located just west of Roanoke, the hike takes you on the historic Appalachian Trail up and back with amazing views of the Catawba Valley and the city of Roanoke.
4. Mt. Rogers | Wilson Creek, VA | Jefferson National Forest | 7.7 Miles | Map
With over 5,000 feet in elevation, Mt. Rogers starts in Virginia’s famous Massie’s Gap and follows the Appalachian Trail to the open mountain bald of Wilburn Ridge and onto the heavily wooded summit. At 5,729, Mr. Rogers is the highest point in Virginia, and it certainly feels that way. Hikers have often reported seeing wild horses along the way, but we’ve yet to prove that.
5. Crabtree Falls | Nelson County, VA | George Washington National Forest | 1.6 Miles | Map
Crabtree Falls holds the highest set of waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It’s a must see for anyone who lives in the mid-Atlantic region and even offers ice climbing in the winter. Just six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27, the falls feature five major cascades for a total fall distance of over 1,200 feet. The best part about the hike is that you parallel the falls for the majority of the trek.
6. Humpback Rocks | Waybesboro, VA | George Washington National Forest | 1 Miles | Map
Like most of our choices for best day hikes in Virginia, they all end with a light rock scramble to the summit where you’ll finish with an amazing view of the valley. Humpback rock is no exception. This very strenuous and very short hike will start you just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Afton Mountain. Ease to the trailhead is excellent as the parking lot literally right off the parkway. Again, this hike is difficult, and not the best for kids or for legs new to hiking. Once you get to the top, you’ll instantly see why it’s worth it.
7. Buttermilk/Northbank Richmond Loop | Richmond, VA | James River Trail System | 6.3 Miles | Map
A 6+ mile trail right in our own back yard? One of the best parts about the city of Richmond is how it seamlessly blends the river with the city. Looping around the north and southside of the river, you will find the popular Buttermilk/Northbank trail loop. For first timers, start at the overlook at Oregon Hill. You’ll head down the steep hill to the fire road and immediately come across the start of Northbank trail. Northbank will take you along the north side of the river with some incredible views of Belle Isle along the way. Keep an eye out for mountain bikers, but they should be yielding to you. Northbank will finish with a steep incline and take you into the parking lot for Texas Beach, a popular swimming spot in the city. Continue up through the parking lot and walk west on Kansas avenue until you read more signs for the trail. This section will take you parallel to the train tracks and Maymont Park, then back up to the start of the Nickel Bridge. Cross the bridge and over onto the south side of the river where you’ll loop around under the bridge and onto the last leg of your hike, the Buttermilk trail. Buttermilk trail will now take you east along the south side of the river through some amazing gullies, bridges, and hills and onto Belle Isle where you’ll cross over the foot bridge and back to Oregon Hill.
It’s easy to get off course on this loop due to the amount of side trails and pull offs, but this map should clarify things.
8. Three Ridges Hike | Nellysford, VA | George Washington National Forest | 13.2 Mile Circuit | Map
And we finish with Three Ridges, a beautiful circuit hike in Nelson County that can be done as a day hike by serious hikers, but we recommend taking your time and splitting it into two hikes. It’s filled with panoramic views, mountain streams, climbing, and peaceful campsites. Really everything you could ask for during a weekend. It’s one of Virginia’s more popular backpacking circuits and located just 30 miles southwest of Charlottesville. Do the hike with friends and stay at one of the shelters along the way, if it’s not already taken.