Last updated on March 15th, 2021 at 05:30 pm
The Blue Ridge Parkway spans over 400 miles. Many people know it for its beautiful overlooks, but if you only stop at them and don’t get on the hiking trails along the parkway, you will be missing out on a lot of the beauty.
We took a three day trip along the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to hike anywhere from three miles to as many as 14 miles each day. This post shares with you which hikes we would call hikes you don’t want to miss.
Spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes In Virginia You Don’t Want To Miss
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Our trip on the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway took place in early September, just after Labor day weekend. Jack and I both agree that we couldn’t think of a better time to hike in the area as the summer crowds were gone and Virginia was lush and green. The temperatures were perfect, too, with warm days and cool enough nights that we could boondock in our truck camper comfortably.
Our entire trip was a full week, but we spent just three days hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway. We spent the other days traveling to the parkway and home, exploring and hiking off the parkway, and taking in the scenic views offered from the overlooks along the drive.
Humpback Rocks (loop trail 3.1 miles or 1.8 miles out and back trail)
We started the Blue Ridge Parkway at its northernmost point in Virginia near Shenandoah National Park. Shortly after the beginning, we came across the Humpback Rocks trail.
You can do this trail as either a loop or an out and back. We opted to make the loop and we were glad we did. Although not the most photogenic trail, we had our first black bear sighting of the trip on the loop portion of the Humpback Rocks trail. We saw not just one bear, but three. A mama and her cubs. They were running up a hillside. Sorry, no photos as I was much too excited about this wildlife sighting on the very first hiking trail of our trip to remember to snap a picture.
No matter which way you decide to get out up to Humpback Rocks, the view will make the climb 100% worth the effort. We spent at least 30 minutes soaking up the views and we could have easily spent hours.
This trail is rated moderate by All Trails. It is all uphill to the rocks and downhill on the return to the parking lot.
Fallingwater Cascades 1.4 Miles Loop Trail
Fallingwater Cascades Trail starts at the top of the waterfall. There you are hit with the calming sound of water flowing down the rocks to the valley below. The trail then makes its descent down to the bottom of the cascades. At the bottom there is a pool of water that is perfect for wading and soaking your feet on hot days. Once you cross the creek, you make your way back up to the top of the waterfall again.
All Trails rates this trail as moderate. I think it should be noted that if you don’t like to climb up and down hills, you can still get a decent view of the waterfall by hiking out to the parking lot only to the bridge at the top.
Sharp Top 2.6 Mile Out And Back Trail
My husband and I went back and forth on whether to hike up Flat Top Mountain or Sharp Top Mountain. The picture and heading give our decision away; we chose Sharp Top. Wow! I have no idea what the views from the summit of Flat Top Mountain are, but those from Sharp Mountain’s summit were incredible.
When we were almost to the top, a deer came out of the woods and onto the trail right in front of us and stayed there for several minutes. I think that is the closest I have ever been to a deer.
We had the entire summit viewing area to ourselves as it was getting close to the end of the day. Being up there alone surrounded by such breathtaking views was surreal.
We spent quite a while taking in the views from all the different angles before making our way to Buzzards Roost.
This trail is rated difficult by All Trails, and I would agree with the rating. It starts nice and slow, and then bam! It starts going up and up and up and doesn’t stop climbing until you reach the summit. But if you are in decent shape for hiking, this trail is 100% worth the sore quads and hamstrings.
Buzzards Roost .75 miles
Do not skip the three-quarters of a mile hike from Sharp Top Mountain’s summit to Buzzards Roost. When you get to the end, the views are just as breathtaking as Sharp Top. Don’t think that the views can’t be that much different; both summit areas offer unique views. However, if you don’t like jumping from boulder to boulder, then skip Buzzards Roost as it offers an undeveloped summit. There are no human-made railings to keep you from falling or steps carved into the rocks to help you get from one viewing area to the other.
Roanoke River Trail (to Fishermen’s Trail) .70 of a mile out and back
This short trail offers beautiful views of the Roanoke River. It doesn’t take long to do, but the stairs are steep. If you have mobility issues, I would skip it. If you are a family with kids able to hike a bit but not a lot, the Roanoke River trail taken to the Fishermen’s trail down to the river would be a great doable hike.
Smart View Loop Trail 3 Miles
I said ‘wow’ on the Smart View Loop Trail so many times I lost track. The trail had very few hilly parts compared to the other trails we hiked on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. It wandered its way through woods and grassy meadows offering valley views. The meadow areas were lined with wildflowers adding to the beauty of the hike.
You will come across an old cabin along the trail, giving you an idea of how the first settlers of this area lived.
Rock Castle Gorge Loop 10.4 Miles
The Rock Castle Gorge Loop was the last hike we did on the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway before entering the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Shortly after crossing the state border we drove to Stone Mountain State Park where we spent the last two full days of our trip before heading home.
Before I describe the trail, I want to share some “do as I say and not as I do” advice. Jack and I started this 10.4-mile hike in the mid-afternoon, thinking we surely had enough time to finish it before it got dark (which was around 8 p.m.). We didn’t bring along our headlamps even though we knew we would be cutting it close on finishing it before dark. We packed one large water bottle, but not large enough for two people hiking 10 miles. Plus, we packed only two of our favorite trail bars. We ended up having to run-walk the last portion of the trail to make it back to our truck before the last of the sunlight disappeared. We arrived back to the truck super thirsty, hungry, and kicking ourselves for making newbie hiking mistakes that we should not be making this many years into hiking.
I read the All Trails description of the trail while writing the post and noticed the recommendation to allow a full day for this hike. Oh, how I wish I had read the trail’s description before attempting to do hike it with just four hours of daylight left.
This trail is difficult terrain. It is probably the hardest hike I have ever attempted, and it turns out we made it harder than it had to be by doing the loop in a hurry and in the “non” recommended direction, which made for some of the steepest hillsides I have ever hiked.
After that description, you probably wonder why it made it on our can’t miss hikes of the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway list. It is because this trail was the most beautiful trail we hiked our entire time on the parkway.
It offered so many different views, valley views, meadow views, farm views, waterfall views, river views, forest views, rock formation views, and on and on.
Hike this trail! Start it in the morning and pack a lunch, snacks, plenty of water, and maybe even dinner. Take it slow, stop and soak up the views; you won’t regret it. Oh, and read the description in All Trails before attempting so that you know which way makes for a less grueling hike.
I hope the pictures of our hikes and our stories convince you to get out there and hike the trails of the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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