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Your bike, your skis, and your boat are all welcome in Virginia. The state’s diverse landscapes and four distinct seasons mean you can pursue your passion no matter what kind of trail that entails. Virginia is home to nearly 550 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail – more than any other state. The trail traverses Shenandoah National Park and ventures through small towns dotting the mountains, where hikers are welcomed with camping and special meals.
You could hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine in less than six months, or simply follow the blazes for an afternoon. For a great day hike option on the Appalachian Trail, head west of Salem and follow the trail up to McAfee Knob – an 8-mile jaunt along an extensive line of cliffs where you’ll enjoy fantastic views of the Catawba Valley.
One of the best hikes in the East is the 7.7-mile trip to Mount Rogers, the state’s high point at 5,729 feet. Start this trek at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park and revel in the open balds, rhododendron thickets, and wild ponies looking for a handout. The tough hike up Old Rag Mountain is one to write home about – you start with a steady hike through a hardwood forest then scramble up rocks on your way to the top.
Head to the Mt. Pleasant Scenic Area west of Buena Vista for the 6.4-mile Old Hotel Trail and Cole Mountain Loop. This trail has a steady climb to open meadows and then passes a special shelter used by Appalachian Trail hikers. The views from Cole Mountain are incredible!
In Patrick County, the Rock Castle Gorge Loop is more than 11 miles long but passes old cabins and interesting rock formations, then runs along Rock Castle Creek, a wild stream full of cataracts.
The Blue Ridge Parkway covers 217 miles in Virginia and offers unparalleled opportunities for adventure and recreation. You can bike the entire road or hike along its shoulder. Motorists are treated to the same views, with frequent pullouts. Take a hike at Humpback Rocks, walk to Wigwam Falls, jump into Sherando Lake, take the side trip to Roanoke Mountain, snap a picture at Devils Backbone, and climb the observation tower at Groundhog Mountain. You can also take time out to visit the Blue Ridge Music Center and enjoy a historical interlude at Mabry Mill.
Where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends, Skyline Drive begins. This 105-mile scenic drive will lead you past deer, black bears, and wild turkeys, and there are tons to do along the way. Stop for a photo at McCormick Gap, hike the Riprap Trail, chat with the rangers at Loft Mountain, enjoy a picnic at South River, learn about the area’s geology at the Byrd Visitor Center in Big Meadows, stop for a snack at Skyland, and don’t miss the trail to Stony Man Mountain.
All those mountains can be covered in snow in winter, and the state has four downhill ski areas for you. Wintergreen has 25 trails served by five lifts accessing 129 acres and a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. Massanutten is the state’s top four-season resort – the skiing here is on 14 trails served by eight lifts accessing 1,100 vertical feet. Bryce Resort is just two hours from Washington, D.C., and offers eight trails accessed by five lifts. Omni Homestead is perfect for beginners who loves its nine trails, two lifts, and beautiful scenery. Hankering to ski in the middle of summer? You need to know about Liberty Snowflex in Lynchburg, where skiing goes on year-round using artificial slopes – the terrain park here is packed with features, and uphill access is courtesy of two lifts.
When all that snow melts it fills the state’s beautiful rivers, streams, and lakes. The New River Water Trail is 37 miles long and takes paddlers through the Appalachians – do it in one stretch or break the journey up into sections. The six-mile portion from Eggleston Springs to Pembroke is great for most beginners. For whitewater, head to the Smith River. The main action is near Martinsville and downriver, where you’ll encounter boulder gardens and Class III rapids. The James River runs 348 miles through the state – one of the best sections is the 45-mile Upper James River Water Trail. Further downstream, you can paddle the James right through downtown Richmond, where the river drops 105 feet in just seven miles. Prefer to do your paddling on lakes? Head to Philpott Lake, Buggs Island Lake, Lake Moomaw, and Lake Arrowhead. Down on the coast, kayakers will find calm backwater on the Appomattox River, inland from Assateague Island, in Back Bay, around Rocky Mount, and in Bassett’s Goose Point Park.
Surfing in Virginia is the real deal. You can surf right out your hotel’s back door when you are in Virginia Beach, or you can go the extra mile to find remote waves on Assateague Island and Croatan.
Mountain bikers will find hundreds of miles of flowy single-track and technical descents in Virginia. When you are in Damascus head to Iron Mountain, which has trails for all abilities. Flag Rock Recreation Area has 17 trails. Near Blacksburg, the trails on Round Mountain are popular with beginners while experts will want to tackle the five-mile Walker Mountain Trail, which has 2,213 vertical feet of climbing. There are great clusters of trails on Mill Mountain near Roanoke, in Walnut Creek Park near Charlottesville, and in the Quarry Trail System near Fredericksburg. Near Harrisonburg, Narrowback Mountain has a great complex of trails, with something for every ability.
Bring your gear and your sense of adventure to Virginia – you’ll love it!