Chris DePolo is a “Triple Crowner” – someone who has successfully hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide. These trails encompass roughly 10,000 miles, and less than 800 people in the world have been able to complete the journey.
As an avid hiker and backpacker, Chris DePolo of Virginia discusses below the best hiking trails located within the state, which may help those looking to get started on their backpacking journey.
The state’s motto may be “Virginia is for Lovers,” but what’s more accurate is “Virginia is for Hiking.”
There’s a little bit of everything in Virginia to appease hiking and backpacking beginners, challenge even the most hardened trail veterans, and appeal to everyone in between.
Chris DePolo of Virginia says that adventurers can hike over mountains, around swamps, and backpack on the beachfront. You can go 1, 10, 50, or 100+ miles. There are great solo treks and hikes perfect for families. Some areas are remote, and many are just hours outside of Washington, D.C.
However, Chris DePolo says that the most difficult part of hiking and backpacking in Virginia is just deciding where to start. Below, he provides a few of the best options for various fitness levels to partake on their journey.
Chris DePolo says that there’s a reason why McAfee Knob is one of the most popular photo spots along the entire Appalachian Trail. It’s 8 miles of unforgettable terrain that takes a moderately challenging 4 hours to complete, making it a great day trip for backpackers, hikers, and campers.
Near Roanoke, it’s not the most remote spot to hike in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and Roanoke Valley, but it’s a great hike from April all the way through November. The reward: panoramic, breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Along with Dragons Tooth and Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob is part of what’s known as the Roanoke Trip Crown of hiking.
Chris DePolo of Virginia says that this 20-miler new Ewing has a lot to offer backpackers, from checking out a group of preserved farm buildings and cabins at the historic Hensley Settlement to soaking in the scenery of the sometimes overlooked Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.
Nestled along the Kentucky border, Ridge Trail offers caves, waterfalls, and great views of the Smoky Mountains from White Rock.
Old Rag Mountain Trail
The beloved Shenandoah National Park is home to over 500 trail miles, where there’s a wide array of wild animals, including black bears, waterfalls, and great camping sites.
Chris DePolo says that it’s tough to pick one Shenandoah trail to recommend, but Old Rag Mountain Trail is one of the most adventurous and features 360-degree views, which is hard to top.
The trails in the area are often strenuous and the rocks can be intimidating, but there are also many different approaches to hiking Old Rag. Choose wisely.
A generally easy 5.5-mile trail in the Jefferson National Forest near Buchanan is particularly popular for birdwatching and usually quiet atmosphere. Its elevation does not exceed 1,000, making it a great option for those with dogs or children.
Thunder Ridge may be the smallest wilderness in the state, but it connects with the huge James River Face Wilderness to offer two fantastic wilderness experiences in one.
Cape Henry Trail
For those wanting something closer to civilization, the Cape Henry Trail within Virginia Beach’s First Landing State Park winds its way through paved city spots and beaches along with forests over 7.5 beautiful miles.
Starting in the city and ending in the state park, Chris DePolo reports that the Cape Henry Trail includes paved areas perfect for biking and visitors can see everything from salt marshes and swamps and have the option to go fishing along the shoreline.
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
Why walk through one state when you can walk through three — plus Washington, D.C.? Potomac Heritage covers 800 miles through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania with numerous experiences along the way.
Chris DePolo says that history lovers will want to hike through Seneca Regional Park which includes the Patowmack Canal, a project originally led by George Washington.
The blooming spring wildflowers make the trail at Riverbend Park a must, as does the waterfall at Scotts Run Nature Preserve. Each individual trail is an adventure.
Blue Suck Falls Trail
Yes, it may not be the loveliest trail name, but the Blue Suck Falls Trail is in Douthat State Park, which is consistently ranked in the top 10 of all parks in America.
Close to Clifton Forge, the Blue Suck includes a somewhat challenging 3-hour hike up to the falls (disclosure: “suck” is used here to refer to the “whirlpool” of the waterfall). Continue up about 2 miles and watch the sunset on Lookout Rock at the end of Tuscarora Overlook Trail. Blue Suck is also popular with runners and mountain bikers.