Over the past year, many of us have retreated to the woods for peace and solace on Virginia’s hiking trails. Sometimes, we all went to the same trails at the same time. These five less-crowded scenic trails will allow for a much-needed escape this spring.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on November 16, 2021.
Quiet hiking trails crisscross wooded Prince William Forest Park in Triangle. Just a mile from bustling I-95, you’ll feel miles away as you meander along serene trails with hidden waterfalls and creekside views, like the Laurel Loop Trail. An easy 2.2-mile loop begins left of the visitor center, guiding visitors into the national forest. Connect with the Birch Bluff Trail to stroll alongside the calming cascades of South Fork Quantico Creek.
Shenandoah River State Park (pictured above) is less than 10 miles from Shenandoah National Park’s Front Royal entrance, yet this idyllic state park sees a fraction of the visitors. Escape the crowds—and overcrowded parking lots—on nearly 20 hiking trails, like the forested Hemlock Hollow Trail. This easy trail connects with the Overlook Trail to reach Culler’s Overlook for sweeping views across Massanutten Mountain. This hike shares a trailhead with the Bluebell Trail, a 1-mile stretch that wows with cobalt, lilac, and pale blue-colored bluebells that neatly line this trail in early spring.
Once an alternate route for the Appalachian Trail, the 250-mile-long Tuscarora Trail stretches from Pennsylvania to Virginia. There are many sections to hike along this wild and rugged long-distance trail, but a hike to love is the 2-mile out-and-back hike to Eagle Rock in Frederick County. Scenic rocky outcrops and even a bench await summit-bound hikers eager to revel in far reaching views across the George Washington National Forest.
The strenuous hike to Humpback Rocks is deservedly among the most popular hikes in the state for scenic vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For a less-trafficked hike, look left to the Jack Albright Loop, which sets off just left of the trail to Humpback Rocks. This moderate 3.8-mile loop hike along the Appalachian Trail and Jack Albright Loop stuns, first with magnificent panoramas of the Rockfish Valley from the Glass Hollow Overlook. Then, at the hike’s midpoint, a short spur trail leads to the remains of a private plane that crashed into this craggy mountain in the 1960s.
For a longer hike, look to the 8.4-mile out-and-back hike that leads to spring-fed Emerald Pond in New Market. This quiet hike, primarily along the Massanutten Trail and Bird Knob Trail, starts out steep but rewards mightily with tremendous west-facing vistas from a rocky overlook after less than 2 miles. Continue on for a playful rock scramble and then an enchanting walk through the woods en route to Emerald Pond. The curious emerald-colored water is both breathtaking and captivating.
This story originally appeared in our March 2021 issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our print magazine.