10 Best Hikes in Southwest Virginia

Virginia Cascades
Virginia Cascades Merritt Boyd
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Southwest Virginia has built a reputation as one of the top hiking meccas on the east coast. Towns such as Abingdon, tucked amid the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, serve as an excellent starting point for any trip to the region, with easy access to both cultural amenities and outdoor adventure. You’ll find craft breweries, bluegrass venues, farm-to-table restaurants, old-world bakeries, and artisan coffee shops in addition to the phenomenal trails. To help you discover what the area has to offer, here are 10 of the best hiking trails in Southwest Virginia (though, one could argue, this list could be much larger).

Grayson Highlands.
Grayson Highlands. Julie Slater/Virginia State Parks

1. Virginia Creeper Trail

This 34-mile rail trail runs from Whitetop Mountain on the North Carolina/Virginia border to Abingdon, Virginia, and is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. One can expect to see pastoral countryside views filled with turn of the century farm houses, white plank-board churches, and the remnants of a bygone railroad culture along the route. At the same time one can take a look around and immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of the mountains and creek that the VCT runs through. You’ll hit a town every 8 miles on the VCT, with Abingdon and Damascus being the main hubs making logistics easy.

2. Iron Mountain Trail

Once a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail before they rerouted it slightly south in 1972, the IMT is just as heavenly as ever, albeit a bit less trafficked. This 24-mile ridge hike is filled with all the makings of a Tolkien landscape. Every hue of green is found along the trail from the dark, forest-green pine trees to the electric neon-green moss clinging to the rocks that litter the hillside. Expect typical Appalachian topography with a fair amount of elevation.  Rhodo-tunnels, creek-crossings, and rock gardens are all present. There are plenty of side trails to go explore off the IMT, making it a great destination for a backpacking trip. Damascus, Virginia, is the gateway town.

3. Appalachian Trail-Pine Mountain Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands.
Grayson Highlands. Virginia State Parks

Let me start off by saying that Grayson Highlands State Park is a must visit for any hiker. And I mean any hiker, not just someone looking to explore Southwest Virginia. This place is something special and every one of the trails offer amazingly beautiful and diverse scenery that will deliver soul-cleansing serenity to all those that explore them. The AT- Pine Mountain Trail loop embodies all that is great about GHSP—wide-open vistas reminiscent of big-sky country out west, wild ponies, and rocky outcroppings that resemble a Mongolian steppe. Thickets of rhododendron, mountainside creeks and waterfalls, and beautiful wildflowers in season are all par for the course here.

4. The Channels Trail

Channels Trail.
Channels Trail. Dan Grogan

Located near Elk Garden, Virginia, on top of Clinch Mountain lies one of the most unique and unknown hiking trails in the state. Although one gets 360-degree views and the standard Appalachian mountain fare on the The Channels Trail, the highlight of the trial is undoubtedly navigating the maze-like rock corridor system. This portion of the TCT is part cave and part slot-canyon with rocks reaching nearly 50 feet high and forming tight corridors and slots for more than 50 yards. You’ll enjoy exploring this “rock fort,” which makes a perfect mid-hike excursion and lunch spot.

5. New River Trail

The New River Trail State Park is a 57-mile trail/park that parallels the New River for most of its way and crosses through four counties and the city of Galax, Virginia. Once a rail line, this converted trail is mostly flat and perfect for families and folks looking for an easy excursion. Hiking, picnicking, biking, and fishing are all popular activities on the NRT.

6. Seven Sisters Trail

The Seven Sisters Trail is right off of Route 52, also known as Virginia’s Scenic Byway, between Bland and Wytheville, Virginia. This 5-mile “ridge” is named for the seven mini-peaks that you will go up and down as you hike along the SST. Rocks, rhodos, creek crossings, pine trees, and moss make up the scenery along the way. You’ll find a few places to soak up long-range views of the surrounding Big Walker Mountain. It is important to note that this trail is not a loop and requires walking back from either terminus (the Route 52 trailhead or Stony Fork Campground trailhead) or shuttling vehicles.

7. Crystal Springs Trail Loop

This trail is part of the Crystal Springs Recreation Area that is managed by the town of Wytheville. This 1,800-acre area hosts more than 20 miles of trails that butt up against the 7,500-acre Big Survey Wildlife Management Area, which is slated to have quite a bit more mileage of trail in the near future. The CST loop is a 2.1-mile moderate hike that is great for anyone. It is obvious that the town takes care of the trail system evident by the great signage, well-built lean-tos and bridges, and well-maintained trail. Creeks, pine tree groves, rhodo-tunnels, wooden bridges, and picnic lean-to shelters, make up the ambience of this great local trail.

8. Chestnut Ridge, Appalachian Trail

The Chestnut Ridge section of the Appalachian Trail that is located near Burkes Garden, Virginia, is one of the best-kept secrets among the state’s hikers in the know. This portion of the AT offers remarkable mountain meadows and excellent long-range views of Virginia’s highest peak, Mt. Rogers. In season, the wildflowers are unbelievably gorgeous and a good enough reason alone to hike the trail.

9. High Points Trail

This 2.1-mile, point-to-point hike located in the Big Survey Wildlife Management Area takes you to a large rock overlook that affords great views of the surrounding mountains. Expect fairly steep uphill hiking through a dense forest filled with various plants and fungi scattered on the ground.

10. Cascades National Recreation Trail

Cascades adventure.
Cascades adventure. Merritt Boyd

Located near Pembroke, Virginia, the Cascades National Recreation Trail is a 4-mile loop that works its way alongside the aptly-named Little Stony Creek until it deposits you at the base of a breathtaking 66-foot high waterfall. The trail work is ingenious and is in perfect harmony with the natural setting. Expect lots of rock steps that have been carved into the bedrock and numerous wooden bridges that allow you to cross the creek and get close to the waterfall and feel its spray. The return hike is much easier as it follows a mostly flat grade in the forest.

Originally written for AbingdonVA.

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