There wasn’t much of a winter here in Northern Virginia, but that doesn’t diminish the internal rejoice that happens whenever the season comes to an end and spring arrives in its place. The beginning of the season is when we’re most motivated to get outside and take in the improved weather and all the natural beauty in our own backyard—or a short drive away. That’s why we’ve set our sights on George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
The two forests combine for 1.8 million acres of dense, virtually untouched forests amid the Appalachian Mountains, encompassing a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. It comes as no surprise, then, that there are endless corners to explore and that it’s an attractive destination for hiking, camping, fishing and rock climbing. For those coming from NoVA, we’ve outlined three destinations that would make for a great day trip to the forests that are ideal for all of those pursuits.
Conveniently, the easiest way to take in the forests’ sweeping views is by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which will help you get to pretty much any destination within the forests. The parkway cuts and winds through the heart of the forests, and the Travel Planner app can help you discover areas of interest along the way, but here are some of our favorites:
Distance: two hours and 45 minutes
Just off the parkway’s entrance into the northern edge of the George Washington National Forest, you’ll find Humpback Rocks, the exposed rock face of Humpback Mountain. First, stop at the visitors center for trail information. There’s a nearby picnic area for a pre-hike snack and a trail around a historic farm—a log cabin and its associated outbuildings, which capture life on the land in the late 19th century. Then, you can embark on the Humpback Rocks hike, which for casual outdoorsmen is a relatively brief 3-mile path that culminates at the rocks, where you have clear views of the George Washington National Forest to the south and Shenandoah National Park to the north.
Distance: three hours
Travel a little farther south on the parkway, and you’ll land at Sherando Lake. This is a great spot for those looking for overnight camping. The recreation area is equipped with campsites (for a fee) and located between two lakes: Sherando Lake proper and Upper Sherando. Visitors can swim and fish in the main lake (only fishing is allowed in the smaller of the two), and hikers can travel along a number of trails. The Torry Ridge Trail leads to Bald Knob, the summit of Salt Pond Mountain. It’s a steep trail, but Bald Knob offers expansive views of West Virginia.
Roaring Run Furnace
Distance: three hours and 25 minutes
For those up to a longer journey south, there’s Roaring Run Furnace in Eagle Rock within Jefferson National Forest’s boundaries. An easier hike under 2 miles with little incline, the trail begins at the namesake Civil War-era iron ore furnace and follows the Roaring Run Creek to the falls of the same name. Along the way, you’ll encounter stone bridges and exposed rock face.