Virginia's Blue Ridge is Open for Business!

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George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

Outdoor Recreation in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests in Virginia's Blue Ridge

More than 2,300 miles of streams and 2,200 miles of trails spread across more than 1.8 million acres make the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests an outdoor lovers paradise.

Managed collectively as one by the U.S. Forest Service, the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests are a combination of several public land areas with designations dating from 1918 to 1995.

Today, this protected collection spreads across western Virginia from the Blue Ridge into West Virginia and Kentucky. Nearly 140,000 acres are designated wilderness areas.

The following are some of the best outdoor adventures you can find in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests in Virginia's Blue Ridge.

Before You Go - We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace - a helpful set of guidelines to ensure you enjoy the outdoors while minimizing your impact on the trails and natural environment around you.

Let's all work together to do our part to ensure Virginia's Blue Ridge stays beautiful for generations to come.

NOTE: Many areas of the national forest are remote and will have limited cell service, facilities, and can be very isolated. Please plan accordingly and recreate responsibly.

The National Geographic Illustrated Maps are excellent resources to help you plan trips in the national forest. We recommend purchasing the Covington, Alleghany Highlands Map #788 and Lexington & Blue Ridge Mountains Map #789

Leave No Trace 7 Principles >

Hiking Trails

Apple Orchard Falls near Roanoke, VA

Stretch your legs along popular hiking trails like those of Apple Orchard Falls Trail leading to a 200-foot-tall waterfall (Blue Ridge Parkway - Milepost 78), the Belfast Trail to a mountainside boulder field called Devils Marbleyard (Natural Bridge Station), and Roaring Run Trail (Eagle Rock) to the 19th century iron ore furnace and the beautiful waterfall (pictured above).

Notable Hiking Trails in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

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Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest near Roanoke, Virginia

Pedal your way through remote forests on trails like Dragon’s Back atop the spine of North Mountain off Route 311, or the 50+ looping miles of tricky terrain in the Arcadia area (pictured above) of Botetourt County, a system of trails formally known as the Glenwood Horse Trail but referred to by locals by many other names.

These areas will feature some of the most epic, scenic, and challenging backcountry riding you'll find in the Southeast.

Notable Mountain Biking in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

Bikepacking - The incredible 270 mile RockStar Trail Route between Roanoke and Harrisonburg features some phenomenal trail riding through the national forest. RockStar Trail Route Info >

Gravel Routes - The following Ride With GPS routes were created by the team at Cardinal Bicycle and they showcase some of the amazing gravel biking opportunities in the national forests.

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Father and son fishing in a creek in Botetourt County

Cold streams are hot spots for trout, and those of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are perfect for such fishing. North Creek and Jennings Creek in Arcadia are stocked with several species of trout while nearby Middle Creek is wild trout waters.

A portion of North Creek is also considered special regulation with catch-and-release the only permissible fishing allowed.

Please remember to obtain the necessary Virginia freshwater fishing license and follow all regulations. 

Notable Fishing in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

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A kayaker moving along James River near Roanoke, Virginia

You'll find wonderful creeks and streams for floating and paddling through the national forests in Virginia's Blue Ridge. The majority of the waterways are ideal for easy, relaxing trips on the water, such as Craig Creek, but you can also expect to find more moderate areas with Class I-III rapids in areas like Catawba Creek & Barbours Creek.

The James River also makes its way through the national forest in Botetourt County and is an exceptional spot for paddling, with 59 miles officially designated as Virginia Scenic River.

Notable Areas for Paddling in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

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Tent Camping in Jefferson National Forest near Roanoke, Virginia

Camping in the national forest is one of the best ways to experience the outdoors in Virginia's Blue Ridge.

For the more advanced & experienced adventurer, go totally primitive as you haul in your own potable water and gather your own fell wood for a contained fire. Dispersed camping is permitted throughout GWJNF with the exception of a few areas, particularly near any water source. Please strictly adhere to the U.S. Forest Service's Dispersed Camping Guidelines >

For those who aren’t quite ready to forego the comfort of water and vault toilets, consider North Creek Campground or The Pines Campground.

For more amenities, Middle Creek Campground in Buchanan offers electricity and full hook-up, as well as family friendly activities.

Campgrounds & Campsites in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

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National Forest Recreation Areas

Cascade Falls in Cascade Recreation area near Roanoke, VA.

Explore more developed areas within the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests by checking out some of the designated Recreation Areas & Day Use Areas within the region.

Visit the Roaring Run Recreation Area in Botetourt County to see the ruins of the 19th-century iron ore furnace, hike and bike the trails, and discover its waterfall, too.

The Cascades Recreation Area is perfect for picnics and portraits. The trail leads to and around an incredible waterfall - Cascade Falls - one of the most popular waterfalls in Western Virginia.

Fenwick Mines (pictured above) is a great spot to enjoy with the entire family, featuring a 1-mile wheelchair-accessible trail that winds through wetlands, ponds, and forest habitats.

Hike or bike the trails of Pandapas Pond or fish the pond itself. If you have a horse, trail riding is also permitted. Pack a picnic and water for a trip to Longdale near Covington, which features awesome trails for mountain biking and gorgeous views.

Craig Creek Recreation Area is a day use area that offers sites for overnight camping. It's also one of the best areas in the national forest for paddling, fishing, and swimming.

Recreation Areas in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests in Virginia's Blue Ridge

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In addition to the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, there are many other amazing outdoor experiences you'll find in Virginia's Blue Ridge, including hiking on the Appalachian Trail, exploring local Virginia State Parks, and water sports at Smith Mountain Lake.

Visit our Outdoor Adventures section for additional information and don't forget to subscribe to our e-newsletter and follow us on social media for more resources to help you plan your next visit.

Roanoke Valley Spotlight

These guidelines are a great way to protect nature when you spend time on the trails and outside.

VBR Cheers Trail Passport

Extend your visit with an overnight stay in Virginia's Blue Ridge.