Is there anything worse than a crowded trail? Who would have thought you’d have to race to see sunrise at your favorite look-out because there might be other people who have the same idea? Allow us to help you with that.
These 15 trails are highly underrated, in our opinion, and we hope you’ll give them a go the next time you’re looking for the best places to hike in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Rare shrubbery is at home on Poor Mountain. The preserve encompasses more than 900 acres in Roanoke County and protects the piratebush, rare foliage only found in a few locations in the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Five miles of trails meander through the preserve, with a one-mile loop dedicated to viewing a nice collection of piratebush. The other four miles deal steep terrain for those who want to get their blood pumping.
“This was an awesome trail … Many places with gorgeous views of the mountains and lots of waterfall “rapid” spots to admire! Absolutely loved this trail, one of the best I’ve been on!”
- India F., AllTrails.com
Read Mountain Preserve | Bonsack
More than 200 acres comprise this preserve in Roanoke County and five miles of trails course through it. The most popular trail is the one to the summit: Buzzards Rock. A 3.8-mile out-and-back trip, the 2,350-foot peak delivers a beautiful view of north Roanoke as a payoff.
“Beautiful trail with rock climbing and straight up most of the time. The path is small and a true hiking experience. The view at the top is breathtaking!!!!”
- Pamela V., AllTrails.com
Bottom Creek Gorge | Bent Mountain
Waterfall lovers, where you at? The second highest waterfall in Virginia is found along the Bottom Creek Gorge Trail. The flora along the way is impressive with a large number of wildflowers and beautiful hardwoods. The impressive flow this stream produces makes it a fun spot for skilled kayakers to play.
“Great place. They respectfully ask for no dogs on this trail. Trails are well marked. Lots of wildlife. Great view of the falls.”
- Kim M., AllTrails.com
Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve | Rocky Mount
More than six miles of hiking are available on the 1440-acre Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve in Franklin County. Loops connect to one another to allow hikers to take in all the views atop the three-mile ridge line. Like Poor Mountain, there are rare species of plants found within this preserve.
North Mountain Trail | Catawba
If Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs sound familiar, it’s because they’re known as Virginia’s Triple Crown. North Mountain Trail is a helpful connector to those looking to backpack and conquer the Crown, though it doesn’t receive much glory - aside from mountain bikers looking for a challenging ride. Enjoy the ridge hike between Dragon’s Tooth trailhead and Tinker Cliffs trailhead at Andy Layne Trail, respectively.
Potts Mountain | New Castle
Craig County’s highest peak is Potts Mountain and it’s a popular destination for mountain bikers and off-roaders. The hidden gem here, however, is the less-than-a-mile hike out to Hanging Rock from Potts Mountain Road. Hanging Rock is located within Shawvers Run Wilderness, which is the northwestern slope of Potts Mountain, and could be called the little brother to McAfee Knob thanks to its shelf-like appearance.
Hoop Hole | Eagle Rock
Nearly a 10-mile loop near Roaring Run, Hoop Hole is a figure eight trail on Pine Mountain. The lower loop is arguably the best for scenery and a more serene pace. At 3.8 miles, the lower loop features swimming holes and beautiful foliage. Beware of mountain bikers on the trails as this is also a popular singletrack route.
Harkening Hill | Bedford
One of the three Peaks of Otter, Harkening Hill may be considered the redheaded stepchild to Sharp Top (the most traveled) and Flat Top (the highest peak), which is why it’s on our list as an underrated trail. The Johnson Farm & Harkening Hill Trail is 3.5 miles in length and really easy compared to the others among the Peaks.
“Great for a relaxing day. The .7 to the summit is legitimate the rest is very easy. Good for first timers and beginners.”
- Dan P., AllTrails.com
Waid Recreation Park | Rocky Mount
These seven miles of trails include streams and woods, so whichever type of scenery you enjoy, you’re in luck. We like the Fitness Trail, which is an easy, ADA trail that’s 2.4 miles long. You’ll get great views of the water on this one. To add a higher degree of difficulty, pick up the Calico Rock Loop Trail. It will add 1.3 miles to your hike and lead you to new heights.
Jamison Mill Park | Henry
Philpott Lake is on full display, glistening from the trails of Jamison Mill Park. More than six miles of trails connect and loop to give you many routes to choose from. Golden Shore Loop and Bob Carter Trail both offer interpretation of the area and the Jamison Mill community of the late 1800s through the 1940s.
Another fantastic view of Philpott Lake is by way of the Dogwood Glen Trail, a 4.5-mile multi-use trail that skirts alongside the lake. Be sure to yield to horses and keep an eye out for cyclists. The trail is steep in some sections and there are switchbacks to be aware of.
Rock Castle Gorge | Floyd
An 11-mile hike just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 167, Rock Castle Gorge yields fantastic spring wildflowers (200 species!), and great variety in terrain. Narrow passes between massive boulders lead to panoramic views. Most hikers recommend you tackle this one counter-clockwise. It’s rather strenuous.
“This hike has it all. Strenuous climbs, open pastures, woods, streams, views, and even an original AT shelter.”
- Gary F., AllTrails.com
Stiles Falls | Shawsville
On the grounds of Camp Alta Mons, this trail is publicly accessible whenever summer camp is not in session and weather permits. The hike leads to the 40-foot Stiles Falls and is about 1 ½ miles from the parking area. Be prepared to cross the creek and rock hop. It’s worth the effort.
“Beautiful setting, moderately challenging hike. You’re probably gonna get your feet wet in the creek crossings and take bug spray!!!!”
- Jessica M., AllTrails.com
Cove Mountain | Buchanan
Located in the Jefferson National Forest, Cove Mountain is a 7.5 mile loop that includes beautiful mountain views, a segment of the Appalachian Trail, challenging climbs, and a waterfall.
"The views along the ridge are spectacular. This is long enough and steep enough to be challenging for beginners, but definitely doable as a day hike for most folks."
- Richmonder, HikingUpward.com
Smart View Loop Trail | Floyd
Smart View Loop is a moderate 2.6-mile walk around the picnic field at Smart View Recreation Area, milepost 154.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The views are spectacular and it’s a great spot for birdwatching. Vibrantly-colored species like the scarlet tanger and cerulean warbler are frequent visitors.
“It includes meadows with split rail fences, a couple bridges over streams and a pretty walk through the forest. There is also a late nineteenth century cabin with 'a right smart view.' You can shorten the hike by using a connector trail.”
- Scott D., AllTrails.com
Map of Locations
Get off the well-worn paths and discover something new for yourself. Seek beauty and tranquility where the crowds aren’t, and feel free to share a snippet of it on social media. We watch the #BlueRidgeDay hashtag and would love to see what you see. Hike on!