Excerpt...Outdoor Virginia Ordering Information
Just lace up your boots and hit the trail. With so much outdoors variety, Virginia is a natural for hiking. The state's trails run the gamut from barely discernible footpaths to neatly manicured walkways, but you can count on hiking spots throughout the state.
At last count, there were more than 2,000 hiking trails covering more than 3,000 miles. In the west, trails often curve around mountain slopes or run along stream valleys. Those in the east may cut through marshlands or a cypress swamp. Some trails are geared to lengthy backpacking excursions, while others are designed for short day hikes. The majority are in public ownership.
The Jefferson and George Washington National Forests are laced with hundreds of miles of back country trails. Primitive camping areas have been established along some of these routes. For day hiking, short circuit trails and interpretive loops originate near developed campgrounds and visitor centers. The U.S. Forest Service's "Sportsmen's Maps" show the locations of trails, campsites, and other recreational facilities and are available from the respective forest headquarters and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwest Virginia, 123 miles of hiking trails cross alpine forests and open meadows. Six campgrounds and numerous Appalachian Trail shelters meet overnight needs for hikers.
540 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (see overview below) wind along the crest of Virginia's Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. Three sets of maps which cover the Trail's entire length are available from the Appalachian Trail Conference. These include "Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Virginia" (6 maps); "Shenandoah National Park" (3 maps); and "Central and Southern Virginia" (3 maps). These maps also show many miles of side trails.
Shenandoah National Park also offers a system of diverse trails totaling 324 miles. Day hikers may wish to begin from any one of the visitor centers or turnouts along the Skyline Drive. Long distance hikers may wish to use the "Appalachian Trail (A.T.): Shenandoah National Park" maps, which show other blazed trails in addition to the A.T.
The park's Big Blue Trail, still under development, but blazed for the entire 144-mile length, is an excellent option. It begins in Shenandoah National Park and connects with the Tuscarora Trail at the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line.
For beach lovers, an unusual hiking experience awaits at Assateague Island National Seashore. Here, the National Park Service operates primitive hike-in camping areas along 15 miles of undeveloped ocean beach. A similar opportunity is also available at False Cape State Park, just south of Virginia Beach.
Although interpretation of events surrounding the Civil War is the primary aim of the four National Battlefield Parks, day hiking opportunities in them abound. Many trails lead through woodlands and fields, as well as historic sites.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains nearly 110,000 acres in eastern Virginia for the protection of migratory waterfowl. Hikers are invited to explore these National Wildlife Refuges for an astounding look at Virginia's diverse wildlife populations. Because special arrangements may be required to enter an area, hikers should contact the refuge office prior to a trip.
A myriad of state parks and forests provide excellent opportunities for day hikers. Many are located near urban areas. A four-color booklet featuring all of Virginia's State Parks is available from the Virginia Division of State Parks, with the newest park addition being a 57-mile rails-to-trails conversion called the New River Trail State Park.
Hikers are invited to explore much of the 178,000 acres managed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "A Guide to Virginia's Wildlife Management Areas," prepared by and available for a small fee from the Department, contains good maps and descriptions of 28 wildlife areas. Be sure to check hunting season schedules before visiting these sites.
Wintergreen Resort loves hikers. They offer a large number of wildflower and nature hikes. Wintergreen has a big network of hiking trails and many educational programs associated with the surrounding landscape.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority maintains an extensive trail system, including the 44-mile Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. These trails are mapped and described in the their guidebook, "Happy Trails."
Local parks and recreation departments also provide a wide variety of hiking opportunities. They should be contacted directly for further information.
If you would like to help construct a hiking trail, maintain an existing trail, or get together with other hikers, write to the Virginia Trails Association. Through a number of local chapters and affiliated trail organizations, the Virginia Trails Association strives to promote all trail interests throughout the Commonwealth.
HITTING THE TRAIL
Hiking is probably one of the easiest outdoors activities to pursue. But there are still a few basics to cover before setting out on the trail.
Good footwear should be your first concern. Though not always necessary, a sturdy pair of hiking boots protects your ankles from turning and the soles of your feet from sharp edges. On more developed trails, tennis shoes are adequate.
Once you're laced up, consider whether you'll need the following items: a small day or fanny pack; a larger backpack; maps, directions, or a compass; water bottle(s); layered clothing; a rain jacket; a first aid kit; permits for hiking or camping; camping gear; food; and photography equipment. Your local outdoors shop and many hiking contacts below can help with other trail needs.
Make sure you're also physically prepared for the type of hiking you plan. If you're not in proper physical condition, add walking to your daily activities. Gradually increase the distance until you feel comfortable you can complete the hike(s) you plan.
Once you hit the trail well-prepared, take care of Mother Nature. Pack out what you pack in, use only fallen dead wood for fires (if allowed), keep the water supply clean, and use biodegradable cleaning soap for you and your cooking utensils. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (the "A.T.") is one of the world's greatest hiking trails. The famed A.T. is a 2,100-mile hiking "path" along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from Maine to Georgia. It runs through 14 states and the Virginia section (534.2 miles) is the longest segment.
Many hikers set out early each spring to hike the entire length of the trail. However, other hikers enjoy the A.T. in smaller sections throughout the state. It is typically easy to plan a hike and reach the trail. There are some beautiful sections and hikes all along the state's portion of the A.T. Just look for the A.T. signs and hit the trail.
The first section of the A.T. was constructed in New Jersey in 1922. The Appalachian Mountain Club got involved, as did individuals like Benton MacKaye, Arthur Perkins, and Myron H. Avery. With the help of the Civilian Conservation Club, many hiking clubs, and thousands of other volunteers, all sections of the A.T. were finally relocated, opened, and marked for hikers and outdoors lovers in 1951.
In 1968, the National Trails Systems Act made the A.T. a linear national park and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands. The A.T. is now maintained by a variety of active local clubs and government agencies. The Appalachian Trail Conference is in constant need of volunteers.
About one-fourth of the A.T. runs through the Old Dominion. Shenandoah National Park has 100 miles of graded A.T. and many side trails. The proximity of the Skyline Drive--the trail crosses it 32 times--and connecting links make A.T. hiking convenient.
The A.T. runs roughly parallel with, but generally removed from, the Blue Ridge Parkway. It crosses the Parkway twice in one 70 mile stretch. It is then close to it, with several crossings, for a short distance in the Jefferson National Forest.
The A.T. then crosses west of the Shenandoah Valley. The portion in Southwest Virginia is great for a pretty wilderness trip, with great hiking possibilities in the Jefferson and George Washington national forests.
The highest point along the Virginia section is at Mount Rogers (5,729 feet), while the lowest point is at the Potomac River bridge (290 feet). In between, it's hiker heaven. The trail segments running through the Jefferson and Washington national forests, as well as the Shenandoah National Park, offer some of the most scenic hiking in the east.
Two of the best ways to hit the A.T. are the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive. These beautiful roadways lead to some of the prettiest and most popular sections of the trail. The A.T. actually cuts right through several visitor centers and other stops along the road.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, some great starting (and ending) points for A.T. hiking include: Humpback Rocks (milepost 6.1); James River (milepost 63.8); and Peaks of Otter (milepost 84 to 87). The A.T. also crosses or gets near the Parkway many other times. Camping is available all along the way (permits sometimes needed). Huts sit along the trail about every ten miles, but these tend to fill up quickly during hiking season.
The Skyline Drive is even more A.T. hiker-friendly, with the trail staying near the roadway for the entire length. Among many options, some popular bases include: Mathews Arm (milepost 22.2); Thornton Gap (milepost 31.5); Skyland (mileposts 41.7 and 42.5); Big Meadows (mileposts 51 and 51.2); Lewis Mountain (milepost 57.5); Swift Run Gap (milepost 65.7); Loft Mountain (milepost 79.5); and Rockfish Gap (milepost 105.4).
Virginia hikers are blessed by having the A.T. run through much of the state. It's provides the perfect reason to lace up the old hiking boots and hit the trail.
MOUNTAIN MEMORY WALKS
You don't have to book a hiking trip through the Himalayas to go trekking with a group of like-minded outdoors enthusiasts. One company in Virginia makes hiking in the Old Dominion as easy as a phone call.
Mountain Memory Walks provides all of the hiking enjoyment without any of the hassles. They have introduced many happy hikers to Virginia's trails, as well as the state's quaint accommodations, creative cooking, and friendly people.
Based in The Plains, Lucy Morison's company offers several dozen Day Walks, Weekend Get-Aways, and Six-Day Inn to Inn Excursions. On all of the walks, participants typically only carry a picnic lunch, water, and a rain jacket.
The Day Walks (typically Sunday) appeal to beginning walkers or hikers with limited time. They are led in conjunction with Fauquier County Parks and Recreation. These hikes typically depart from Warrenton and may lead to the Appalachian Trail, the Wildcat Mountain Natural Area (owned by the Nature Conservancy), or many other beautiful trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Weekend Get-Aways (typically Friday to Sunday) include: Strasburg (stay at the restored Hotel Strasburg); Page Valley (stay at the Mimslyn, a grand old Virginia inn); Bear Mountain (Virginia's Highlands and cozy cabins); Great North Mountain (Bryce Mountain's Sky Chalet); Monterey (the Highland Inn); Orkney Springs (an old spa town and hotel); Narrow Passage (the Inn at Narrow Passage); and several others.
The Inn to Inn Excursions (typically Sunday to Friday) include: Massanutten/Shenandoah (all along the Shenandoah River, with stays at Hotel Strasburg, River'd Inn, and the Inn at Narrow Passage); Orkney Springs/Mathias (Bryce's Sky Chalet, Orkney Springs Hotel, and West Virginia's Lost River State Park); Highland/Warm Springs (Monterey's Highland Inn and the Warm Springs Inn); and Plantation/Blue Ridge (Willow Grove Inn and Graves Mountain Lodge).
The groups always take time to enjoy the walks. The advantage of going with a company like Mountain Memory Walks is that they've already found the beautiful vistas, special wildflowers, waterfalls, rock formations, and much more. They cater to almost any length and pace. The trips are rated gentle, moderate, moderate plus, and moderately strenuous, but these are only a guide.
The groups generally range from six to 14 people. They typically begin with a wine and cheese reception, followed by dinner at the inn.
After breakfast each morning, hikers review maps and trail descriptions. Walks can generally vary from four to 12 miles, with lunch somewhere along the way. Hikers sometimes walk directly from inn to inn, but it's often better to be driven a short distance.
The Massanutten/Shenandoah Inn to Inn Excursion is typical of a Mountain Memory Experience. The group meets at the charming Hotel Strasburg on Sunday evening for a reception and dinner. The bedrooms are all comfortably furnished with antiques, while the tavern offers a great place to rest (or recover) for hiking.
The hikes combine the age-old weatherworn face of Massanutten Mountain with the pastoral symphony of the meadowland found in the unique area known as the "Seven Bends" of the Shenandoah River. On most days, hikers start near the river and walk to mountain trails. After ascending the mountain and walking south along the ridge, hikers enjoy a picnic lunch at a scenic point and then head back down to a new bend in the river and a comfortable night's rest.
The group spends the first two nights at the Strasburg Hotel. The first hike is along Signal Knob, where Stonewall Jackson signaled the movements of the Yankees in the Valley Campaign. After enjoying incredible views, hiker can descend back down to the river and directly to the hotel.
The next two nights are spent at the River'd Inn, near Woodstock. This inn is another example of beautifully-appointed furnishings in a comfortable setting. Guests will enjoy the various hiking possibilities in the immediate area, as well as the river and the pool.
The fourth day's walk heads across the river and right to the door of the Inn at Narrow Passage. This inn, Stonewall Jackson's headquarters, is located on the Narrow Passage River and the seventh bend of the Shenandoah River. The last day's walk heads near Signal Knob to complete the historic circuit before going back to Strasburg.
This popular hiking package is rated Moderate Plus to Moderately Strenuous. The cost starts at about $700 per person, double occupancy.
American Hiking Society
1701 18th St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
American Youth Hostels
P.O. Box 37613
Washington, DC 20013
Appalachian Trail Conference
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Assateague Island National Seashore
Virginia District Ranger
P.O. Box 38
Chincoteague, VA 23336
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
4005 Sandpiper Rd., P.O. Box 6286
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
Blue Ridge Parkway
Route 3, Box 39D
Vinton, VA 24179
Chesapeake Nature Trail
P.O. Box 942
Warsaw, VA 22572
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 62
Chincoteague, VA 23336
Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park
P.O. Box 679
Fredericksburg, VA 22404
George Washington National Forest
P.O. Box 233
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 349
Suffolk, VA 23434
Great Falls Park
P.O. Box 66
Great Falls, VA 22066
Jefferson National Forest
210 Franklin Rd. S.W., Room 954
Roanoke, VA 24001
Manassas National Battlefield Park
P.O. Box 1830
Manassas, VA 22110
Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
9502 Richmond Highway, Ste. A
Lorton, VA 22079
Mountain Memory Walks
P.O. Box 281
The Plains, VA 22171
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Route 1, Box 303
Marion, VA 24354
National Trails Council
13 West Maple St.
Alexandria, VA 22301
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
5400 Ox Road
Fairfax, VA 22039
Petersburg National Battlefield Park
P.O. Box 549
Petersburg, VA 23803
Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
1718 N Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 620
Hopewell, VA 23860
Richmond National Battlefield Park
3215 East Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23111
Shenandoah National Park
Public Affairs Office
Luray, VA 22835
(703) 999-2266 or 999-2229
730 Polk St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25286, Denver Federal Bldg.
Denver, CO 80225
Virginia Department of Forestry
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Richmond, VA 23230
Virginia Division of Tourism
1021 E. Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Virginia Division of State Parks
203 Governor Street
Richmond, VA 23210
Virginia Trails Association
13 West Maple
Alexandria, VA 22301
P.O. Box 706
Wintergreen, VA 22958