Get your explorer on in Shenandoah National Park, Harpers Ferry and George Washington National Forest.
By Katie Bowles
National Park Week runs through April 27–what better way to celebrate our nation’s landmarks than by spending some time outside? These three getaway spots offer hikes for people of all skill levels, whether you’re a novice hiker or an orienteering fanatic. Forget the traffic and people of the city and immerse yourself in nature at one of these flora-filled locales.
Shenandoah National Park
This nearby national park is just 75 miles from Northern Virginia, but climb to one of the park’s many summits and you’ll feel like you’re in an entirely different world. Shenandoah was just added to the list of “America the Beautiful” special edition quarters, but why only see the park when counting your change? Hike up to the top of Little Stony Man in the park and see the view featured on the quarter in person.
Looking for a more intense workout? Head to the park’s most popular hiking spot, Old Rag Mountain. This circuit hike is only nine miles, but don’t let the relatively low mileage fool you–a large chunk of the hike includes a rock scramble that necessitates decent upper body strength as well as endurance to continue the ascent. But make it to the top and you’re in for a treat: the rocky summit has a 360-degree view of the valleys below, granting hikers an immense feeling of accomplishment at having made it to the top.
After getting sweaty, head down the mountain to nearby Luray and cool off with some local ice cream. Flotzie’s Soft Serve is a longstanding tradition in the town, drawing in tourists from the nearby Luray Caverns and locals alike for delicious dairy treats. Make sure to ask about Flotzie’s flavor of the week while you’re there.
Looking for a nearby hotel? Stay in Luray and crash at the historic Mimslyn Inn, a mansion near the center of town. Rooms start at $135/night. Or if you’re itching to get back on the mountain, stay at the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park, which is within walking distance to many of the Park’s hiking trails. Rooms start at $104/night.
Find directions to Shenandoah National Park here. Entry to the park is $15/vehicle or $8/person (for up to seven days), and annual passes are available.
Flotzie’s Soft Serve: 1034B U.S. 211, Luray, 22835
Mimslyn Inn: 401 W Main St, Luray, 22835
Skyland Resort: milepost 41.7 of the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Like your hiking with a side of history? Head to Harpers Ferry, just 50 miles away from Fairfax. This small town offers Civil War-era artifacts along with plenty of opportunities to hike around. Check out the Maryland Heights hike in the park, which can be tailored to suit any difficulty level–follow the trail to Overlook Cliff and look out over the entire town and the Potomac River.
On a nice day you may see some rock climbers as well. After getting your fill of hiking, head down to the town and take the walking path along the river to the footbridge and be able to say that you’ve walked from West Virginia to Maryland–the bridge is split by the state line. Wander into the town and see the John Brown Wax Museum, an institution that commemorates John Brown’s famous raid on Harpers Ferry with wax figures.
If you want to see the river as well, consider taking a paddleboard tour of the Potomac, recently featured in our travel section. Hungry from all that walking and paddling? Head a little further into town to Canal House Cafe, a restaurant that serves local food in a historic house. Keep an eye out for the owners while you’re there–co-owner Laura Dimbylow is from NoVA (Loudoun County, to be exact).
After getting your fill at the Cafe, spend the night at historic The Town’s Inn, within walking distance of the trails. Rates start at $120/night. Or, continue your outdoor experience by camping at the Harpers Ferry/Civil War Battlefields KOA campground, beginning at just $33/night for a tent campsite. Cabins are also available for those who don’t want to rough it quite that much.
Find directions to Harpers Ferry here. Entry to the park is $5/person on foot or bicycle, $10/vehicle.
John Brown Wax Museum: 168 High St., Harpers Ferry, WV 25425. Entry is $7/person for adults.
Canal House Cafe: 1226 W Washington St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
The Town’s Inn: 179 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Harpers Ferry/Civil War Battlefields KOA: 343 Campground Road, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
George Washington National Forest
George Washington National Forest, which is spread throughout Virginia and into West Virginia and Kentucky, is a great hiking destination for those who want solitude. There are over 1,000 miles of trails, and off-trail hiking, or bushwhacking, is permitted in most parts of the forest as well. The Duncan Knob hike on Middle Mountain in the Forest is similar to Old Rag in that it’s about nine miles and includes a rock scramble, but different in that you can spend all day on the mountain and potentially not run into any other hikers–a rarity on more popular hikes. Just as with Old Rag, Duncan Knob requires upper body strength as well as the fortitude needed to hike uphill for a fair amount of time.
After getting a workout in on Duncan Knob, head to nearby Harrisonburg and cool off with another local ice cream shop, Kline’s Dairy Bar. Kline’s has two locations in Harrisonburg–check the website before you go to see what flavor specials each one has. Need a place to stay after satisfying your sweet tooth? There are many campgrounds throughout the National Forest, or you could treat yourself and stay in downtown Harrisonburg’s Joshua Wilton House, an over one century-old Victorian house that has been converted into a bed and breakfast and restaurant. Room rates start at $85/night.
Find directions to George Washington National Forest here. Most of the trails are free to access, however some recreational areas charge a nominal fee.
Kline’s Dairy Bar: 2425 South Main St., Harrisonburg, 22801 and 58 East Wolfe St., Harrisonburg, 22802
Joshua Wilton House: 412 South Main St., Harrisonburg, 22801
Travel Deals and Steals
The Mimslyn Inn is offering a “Virginia is for Lovers” special through April 30: For $189.95, enjoy a room for two, champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries upon arrival, local wine tasting, dinner and breakfast.
Harpers Ferry/Civil War Battlefields KOA campground is offering a “Spring BOGO” deal through May 8–buy one night, get a second night free (requires a three-night minimum stay).
Always make sure to bring enough water while hiking, especially as the weather gets warmer. One person generally goes through two liters of water on an eight to 15 mile day hike–bring extra to be safe. (Source: HikingUpward)