Updated on May 9, 2023 by Julie McCool
These 8 epic Virginia trails offer gorgeous scenery, interesting history, and a variety of hike and bike options, all within 2 hours of Washington DC. Virginia's rich and diverse terrain offers a trail for every fitness level. Our list includes level, easy paths, and steep, challenging trails.
These epic Virginia trails range in length—from the 18-mile Mount Vernon trail to the 548 miles of Appalachian Trail in the state. However, we've suggested several short to moderate segments perfect for a quick outing, a family hike, or a full day-trip.
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Epic Virginia Trails to Hike
1. The Appalachian Trail in Virginia
More of the Appalachian Trail passes through Virginia than any other state—554 miles, or about 25%, of the famous footpath from Georgia to Maine. If you've ever driven Skyline Drive, in Shenandoah National Park, you've crossed the AT many times, even if you never left your car.
With so many miles of the pathway to choose from, it's easy to sample the AT on a short outing or on a multi-day adventure.
- Bear's Den Overlook is about a half-mile climb from the parking area on Route 7. It's a great short hike for kids and a tiny piece of the challenging “roller coaster” segment of the trail for adults. Stop at the hostel near the overlook for a map of other connecting trails. Or hike the trail north to Raven Rocks.
- The Central District of Shenandoah National Park offers several nice hikes on the AT. Little Stony Man and Stony Man Summit are beautiful rock outcroppings and viewpoints that are easy to reach from Skyline Drive. For a longer hike, follow the AT from Jewell Hollow to Mary's Rock. The moderately challenging 7-mile roundtrip features beautiful views. You'll pass the Byrd's Nest Hut and may see thru-hikers on the trail. Other short AT hikes to viewpoints include North Marshall, South Marshall, and Hogback Overlook.
- The AT also passes through Sky Meadows State Park, which offers more great hiking and views.
The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT) is a network of trails extending over 800 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. Fairfax County contributes much of its Potomac riverfront to the PHT including Seneca Park to Great Falls in the north, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon in the east. Favorite hikes on the PHT include:
- Seneca Regional Park borders the Potomac River in Northern Fairfax County. Woodland trails in the park lead to the river and a segment of the historic Patowmack Canal, spearheaded by George Washington.
- The mostly flat trail north from the Riverbend Park Visitor Center is especially beautiful when bluebells and other spring wildflowers are in bloom. Head south from the center for a rockier, but easy hike to Great Falls Park.
- The PHT follows the River Trail through Great Falls Park on a sometimes steep segment with incredible views of the falls and Mather Gorge.
- Scotts Run Nature Preserve is popular for a short hike to a nice waterfall, but it also includes a pretty and moderately challenging section of the PHT.
- Turkey Run and Potomac Overlook Parks both include trails that connect to the PHT and beautiful river views close to DC.
The Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail, also known as the Fairfax CCT, is an amazing achievement for a well-populated area like Fairfax County. Over 40 miles long, it crosses the entire county, from the Potomac River in the north to the Occoquan River in the south. On its journey, the trail passes through many of Fairfax County's best parks. We particularly like the segment along Difficult Run, from Leigh Mill Road to the Potomac River.
Here are some helpful tips for hiking the CCT with links to other trail segments.
The Bull Run – Occoquan Trail follows the Bull Run Stream Valley and Occoquan Reservoir along the western edge of Fairfax County. The trail is 18 miles long, beginning at Bull Run Regional Park in the north, and ending at Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. The trail, which is a gem in the NOVA Parks collection, offers a chance to enjoy nature and history. It meanders gently through woodlands, fields, and along the water’s edge.
For an easy hike next to Bull Run, join the trail in the quaint town of Clifton. Head in either direction to enjoy the trail as it hugs the stream then traverses the woods. At the southern end, the hike from Fountainhead Regional Park to Bull Run Marina is a nice hilly, wooded segment of the trail. Fountainhead Park is also an excellent spot for mountain biking in Northern Virginia.
Epic Virginia Trails To Bike (or Hike)
The popular Mount Vernon Trail includes 18 miles of paved trail from Theodore Roosevelt Island south to George Washington's Mount Vernon. Most of the trail is independent, but there is a street segment through downtown Alexandria. The trail is narrow and extremely popular with bikers, so pedestrians and runners need to be careful.
Most of the Mount Vernon Trail is level, with great views of the river and DC, but the southernmost mile is a steady climb. There's a beautiful boardwalk section heading south over Dyke Marsh from Belle Haven.
The Washington and Old Dominion Regional Park, aka the W&OD bike trail, is the longest and skinniest park in Virginia. The rails-to-trails conversion covers 40 miles from the small town of Purcellville to Arlington Virginia and the edge of the nation's capital.
There are many nice segments along the W&OD Trail, though it can get very busy on a warm weekend. For walking, we like the 3-mile stretch south from Hunter Mill Road. The mostly level trail passes Difficult Run and the Meadowlark Connector Trail and does not include any road crossings until you reach the town of Vienna. You can reward your efforts with a craft brew and meal at Caboose Brewing Company, which sits right next to the trail.
Unless the ground is soaked, hikers can avoid passing bikes by using the parallel, dirt and stone dust bridle trail.
7. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park (Maryland)
The C & O Canal is not in Virginia, but it's on our list because the Maryland segments include excellent trails and beautiful views across the Potomac to Virginia. The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal follows the Potomac River for 184.5 miles, all the way from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. Head to Great Falls Tavern for a half-mile walk on the boardwalks and bridges of Olmstead Island to a lovely view of the Great Falls of the Potomac.
For a more challenging hike full of rock scrambles and incredible views, hikers flock to the Billy Goat Trail. Bikers can ride on the hard-packed dirt trail that borders the canal, enjoying the shady path and views of the river.
One of the newest bike trails in Virginia traverses 52 miles of dedicated, paved trail from Richmond to Jamestown along the Route 5 corridor. Richmond is Virginia's current capital, and Jamestown was it's first, so the trail is well named. You'll find the trailhead in Richmond just outside the floodwall in Shockoe Bottom, officially mile marker 51.2 and the end of the trail. We look forward to biking this historic stretch of Virginia one day.
Whichever epic Virginia trails you choose to explore, please be alert, careful, and courteous as you share the trail. Happy hiking and biking!
Find more great hikes in our complete list: Northern Virginia Hikes and Favorite Bike Trails Near DC or browse our Hike and Bike collection.
Published in 2016, last updated in 2021.