Virginia is made up of two mountain chains – the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Allegheny Mountains, both of which offer endless opportunities for hiking, climbing, and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. Most of the state’s mountains are densely covered with ancient trees, wildflowers, and lush vegetation, not to mention an endless variety of wildlife. Some are better for experienced hikers, while others are simple enough to be mastered by newbies. Here we look at 10 Virginia mountains you shouldn’t miss.
10. Buck Ridge
All Trails describes Buck Ridge as a “10.0 kilometer moderately trafficked loop trail” that’s rated as “difficult.” So, definitely not for the fainthearted, then. But is it worth the effort? Definitely. It’s too forested to offer much by way of views, but the serenity, trickling streams, ancient trees, and sea of wildflowers all combine to create something special. To enjoy it at its most beautiful, it’s best to come from May to early June.
9. Walker Mountain
Walker Mountain is a 3,894-foot-tall, Blue Ridge peak best known for its hardwood forests of butternut hickory, sugar maples, northern white oaks, and other tree species. It’s also known for its 100-foot private lookout tower, which can be accessed for a fee of $5. Just past the tower, you’ll find the trailhead to Walker Mountain Trail, one of the peak’s most popular trails. The trail, which runs along the highest portion of the peak, is well marked and maintained, and despite some challenging sections, is as suitable for newbies as for more experienced hikers.
8. Jones Mountain
If you want to escape the hordes and enjoy some alone time in nature, Shenandoah National Park isn’t necessarily the best place to do it. As Vacation Idea notes, its proximity to several major cities, including Washington DC, makes it a hugely popular destination, which often means crowds. Fortunately, there are still several spots that come with solitude guaranteed, including the 3,482-foot-tall Jones Mountain. The trail to the peak is littered with wildflowers and colorful lichens. Best of all, it’s far enough away from the day-trippers to be wonderfully calm and quiet.
Rockytop is one of the largest and most impressive peaks in the South District of the Shenandoah National Park. It’s located in one of the wildest, least visited areas of the park, with the result that some days you’re more likely to see a bear than you are another person. The scenery is breathtaking, with jutting sandstone outcrops, talus slopes, towering cliffs, and sparking trout streams. The trail to the top of Rockytop is challenging but fun. Keep your eyes peeled for the fossilized wormholes on the talus slopes – some date back to over 500 million years ago.
6. Apple Orchard Mountain
There are no apple orchards on Apple Orchard Mountain, but you’ll soon see where it gets its name from. Over the years, the elements have shaped the forests of northern red oaks which cover its slopes to resemble an apple orchard. The summit can be reached by either the Appalachian Trail or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its slopes make for stunning hiking, with endless opportunities for wildlife spotting and dense, lush vegetation as far as the eye can see. Up near the top of the summit, there’s a very impressive waterfall to check out.
5. McAfee’s Knob
As Only in Your State notes, there’s little wonder McAfee’s Knob is one of the most photographed spots along the Appalachian Trail. Widely considered to be among the most iconic points along the trail, its panoramic views over the Catawba Valley below and North Mountain, Tinker Cliffs, and Roanoke Valley to the sides are extraordinary.
4. Hazel Mountain
If you’re new to mountain climbing, don’t start with Hazel Mountain. Not only is it incredibly isolated, but both of the trails that lead to the summit require plenty of off-trail scrambling and forcing your way through thick, thorny undergrowth. The undergrowth is less dense in winter, but even then, it’s no place for the uninitiated. if, on the other hand, you’re an experienced hiker who doesn’t mind breaking away from the beaten path, it’s a gloriously peaceful, rewarding place to spend the day – just watch out for the snakes and poison ivy.
3. Mount Rogers
The towering, 5729 foot Mount Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia, and quite possibly the most famous too. There are two main trails leading to the summit. If you’re looking for something short and easy and don’t mind sharing it with crowds of other hikers, the popular Massie Gap Trail is ideal. It’s incredibly scenic, and despite still being a fairly substantial 8-mile round trip, it’s less challenging than the 9 miles long Elk Garden Trail. Whichever trail you choose, you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts: as home to one of the last remaining Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests, it’s too densely forested to afford a great view, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in the wildlife and the lush vegetation – the rhododendron displays in May and June are particularly delightful.
2. The Peak
At just 2,925 feet high, the Peak is a long way from being the tallest mountain in Virginia. Despite its diminutive stature, it’s still hugely impressive: standing separately from the Blue Ridge’s main crest, its slopes plunge steeply to the valley below, making it seem far more towering than it really is. There aren’t any hiking trails to the top, so you’ll need to be prepared for plenty of bushwacking to make your way through the thick undergrowth. In spring, the wildflowers and lush vegetation are beautiful, but it’s equally lovely in fall.
1. Old Rag Mountain
Old Rag Mountain isn’t an easy hike, but if you want to test your endurance and your strength while still enjoying plenty of fun in the process, you’ll find to hard to beat. Located in the Shenandoah National Park, east of the Blue Ridge, the 3,268-foot-tall granite peak is a long way from being the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, as nationalparks.org writes, its rocky summit and difficult terrain (which includes large areas of bare rock) make it unique. The most popular route to the top is a 9-mile loop that takes between seven and eight hours to complete. There’s plenty of scrambling involved, making it a real adventure for both beginners and more experienced hikers.