Appalachian Trail State Profile: Virginia

At over 550 trail miles, Virginia is the longest state on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers reach the state line at mile 466, three miles before Damascus, and most will be in Virginia for a month before reaching the West Virginia border at mile 1,007. For hikers who have become accustomed to checking off state lines as milestones in their journey, Virginia can be somewhat of a buzzkill. The Virginia Blues are less attributed to the state, and more where many hikers land in their relationship to the trail. The honeymoon phase is over, but NOBO hikers have well over 1,000 miles left in their journey. It can be a lag time, but keep a good attitude and enjoy all this state has to offer. But if you change your mind-set from crossing state lines to just enjoying the varied landscape and dozens of landmarks, this state is unforgettable.

Terrain

Well, it’s not flat. Virginia’s terrain can be broken up by region, and it varies from one end to the other. Southern Virginia is challenging, characterized by long, steep climbs and descents over ridge lines. Shenandoah National Park is one of the most gentle, rolling sections of trail, and northern Virginia is filled with farmland and rolling hills. 

Highlights

Mile 469: Damascus

Known for its hiker-friendly atmosphere, the AT passes right through this charming hub. Home to the legendary hiker festival of Trail Days, during which hikers either aim for Damascus or try to get as far away as possible.

Mile 469: Mt. Rogers Outfitters

Friendly local outfitter with full-service goods, including food, fuel, and gear

Mile 469: Woodchuck Hostel

Voted one of the 2016 best hostels on the Appalachian Trail, Woodchuck is dog-friendly, runs a daily shuttle to the grocery store, and has all the amenities a dirty hiker could want.

Mile 500-504: Grayson Highlands

Grayson Highlands State Park is best known for the friendly wild ponies that roam freely within its boundaries. Lucky hikers will get close encounters with these little horses and perhaps a foal or two.

Mile 542: Settlers Museum

This open-air museum is set on 67 acres, and the AT passes right next to the one-room Lindamood School from the late 1800s.

Mile 545: The Barn Restaurant

Right off the trail in Rural Retreat, Va., this restaurant serves a 16-ounce Hiker Burger. Who could say no to that?

Mile 569: Chestnut Knob Shelter

This fully enclosed stone shelter will protect from the wind while being a prime location to view sunset and sunrise.

Mile 611: Dismal Falls

Image via

Take a lunch break at this peaceful cascading waterfall. This is a popular location for local day hikers.

Mile 678: Keffer Oak

The second-largest tree on the Appalachian Trail, second only to the Dover Oak. The Keffer Oak is 20 feet around and 300 feet tall.

Mile 701: Dragon’s Tooth

Rocky monolith just a short side trail from the AT. Intrepid hikers can climb to the top and look out over the valley.

Mile 703: Four Pines Hostel

Voted one of AT hikers’ favorite hostels two years in a row, this donation-based hostel is just over a quarter-mile from from the Newport Road crossing, in a retrofitted three-bay brick garage with bunks and showers.

Mile 709: Homeplace Restaurant

Voted one of the best restaurants on the AT, this restaurant serves homemade meals family-style. Heaping platters won’t let a hiker leave hungry at this Catawba staple.

Mile 713: McAfee Knob

One of the most iconic spots on the Appalachian Trail, this rock feature stretches out over the valley and is the  most photographed spot on the entire trail

Mile 718: Tinker Cliffs

Amazing views abound during this half-mile stretch along the edge of the cliffs. This is the third leg in the “Triple Crown” of views from this section of Virginia, preceded by Dragon’s Tooth and McAfee Knob.

Mile 785: James River Footbridge

The longest footbridge on the AT. Some hikers choose to jump from the bridge into the James River as a classic AT bucket-list challenge

Mile 824: Spy Rock

One of the best campsites in Virginia, scattered with trees and close to incredible panoramic views for an epic sunset and sunrise.

Mile 828: The Priest

A challenging ascent in the Three Ridges Wilderness. This climb brings hikers to over 4,000 feet, followed by a 3,000-foot descent to the Tye River Suspension Bridge.

Mile 863: Rockfish Gap -> Waynesboro

Just a few miles off-trail, Waynesboro is home to Stanimal’s Hostel and Ming’s, a wildly popular AYCE Chinese food buffet.

Mile 863: Rockfish Gap Outfitter

Full-service outfitter located between Rockfish Gap on the AT and Waynesboro.

Mile 864-967: Shenandoah National Park

Photo: Ken Nail

Hikers enjoy mellow terrain with numerous crossings of Skyline Drive. You won’t have to carry much food through this section if you plan to stop at Waysides where you’ll find burgers, hot meals, and the famous blackberry milkshakes. Be bear aware through here. The bears are accustomed to hikers and might be looking for a snack from your food bag. Some hikers choose to aquablaze through this section.

Mile 970: Front Royal

A larger town full of restaurants, resupply options, and a natural-foods store. Hiker-friendly Pave Mint restaurant has all the large-portion options a hiker could want.

1004: Bears Den Hostel

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Camping and bunk options, operated by the amazing Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). They sell a selection of food (including ice cream) and the stone lodge is a real stunner.

Mile 995-1008: Virginia Roller Coaster

13.5 miles of intense ascents and descents. This section is not to be underestimated, but hikers will appreciate the welcome reprieve of the Blackburn Trail Center afterward.

Mile 1012: Blackburn Trail Center

This beautiful establishment is also run by the PATC and is a low-cost place to stay for weary hikers finishing the Roller Coaster. Run seasonally by caretakers, they occasionally serve a donation-based dinner, and hikers can camp on the lovely center grounds.

See Virginia for Yourself

Video: Ashley Hill

Straight from the Thru-Hikers

Virginia has amazing sunsets and sunrises if you are willing to catch them. The state offers rolling hills and some challenging climbs. -Ashley (Savage)

Long as balls, but slightly easier than what NOBOs have become accustomed to. Were I to do it again, I’d absolutely road walk Skyline Drive. The Shennies are great, and I’d looked forward to them for weeks, but by the time I got there all I wanted to do was get through and take a zero or two with my friends in Front Royal. Also, the road is flatter and has better views. Hitting the 500-mile marker (written in pony poop) was a turning point for me. I stopped thinking about the difficulty of the trail, life off trail, and the miles left to hike and just kinda got into the swing of things. Less Virginia Blues and more Virginia Change of Perspective. -Rhys Hora

It is not flat, but it is unbelievably gorgeous. The rolling hills and green acres of old farmlands are almost too idyllic to be real. –Jessica “Ruby Cosmo”

It really is as long as everyone says. You have to divide it up into separates “states” to stay sane. We were SOBO, and did 1) Shenandoah, 2) Rockfish Gap to Pearisburg, and 3) Pearisburg to Damascus. -Keckeley “Scrunchie” Habel 

 Virginia Dispatches

Additional Info

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Thanks to Ashley (Savage), Rhys Hora, Jessica “Ruby Cosmo,”Keckeley “Scrunchie” Habel, “Turtle Traxx,” and “Soggy” for their input 

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