Bay Journal

Fall in love with these trails this autumn

  • By Kathleen Gaskell on September 08, 2017
This is one of the views along Hike #6. (Grant Blankenship)

Why be just a leaf peeper when these trails in Virginia and West Virginia offer you an opportunity to walk along the leaves themselves as well as experience views not seen from the road? Match these trails with their descriptions. Answers are on below.

Dark Hollow Falls
Loudoun Heights
Old Rag
Sharp Top Trail
Scotts Run Nature Preserve
Seneca Rocks
Signal Knob
St. Mary’s Wilderness/River Trail

1. The Washington Monument contains a stone from the mountain on this trail. Though not as steep as the DC landmark — the 1.5 mile, 1,340-feet ascent to the top, might feel like it. (There is a seasonal bus to the summit for those who are not fit for the strenuous climb.) The summit provides a 360-degree view of the Peaks of Otter area, the Piedmont, the Shenandoah Valley and Allegheny Mountains. A rocky, 5-minute spur trail leads to the Buzzard’s Roost cliff formation.

2. This 9.8-mile loop trail in the Monongahela National Forest leads to a 2,106-foot overlook with clear views of the Shenandoah and Fort valleys. These views are the basis its name: It was one of the ridges used as lookout post by both sides in the Civil War. The difficult, rocky trail is open year-round, but the views are best when the mountain laurel blooms in early summer and during the autumn color season. There is plenty of wildlife in the area and hikers are urged to exercise care during the late summer berry season when bears are about.

3. This 1.5-mile hike leads to a series of cascades dropping 70 feet over an ancient lava flow of crumbling greenstone. The falls’ rocks are home to liverworts, mosses and ferns. In the winter, these rocks are home to ice stalagmites and stalactites formed by the falling water. Deer and black bear are common sights along the trail. It is the easiest waterfall trail in Shenandoah National Park.

4. This 7.5-mile loop hike leads to an overlook on Maryland Heights near the confluence the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. It begins near hand-hewn rock steps from the 1800s, passes several historic churches in Harpers Ferry as well as Jefferson’s Rock, so named because Thomas Jefferson once declare the view from the rock was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” It soon crosses a bridge over the Shenandoah River to begin the wooded ascent to the overlook. Along the way, hikers will pass the foundation of a stone fort that straddles Maryland Heights’ crest. The unfinished Union fort ended up as a commissary and storage site for troops encamped in the area.

5. Don’t let that dramatic rock reaching up to the sky intimidate you. At the end of the roughly 1.5-mile, 1,000-foot climb to a platform atop this dramatic formation, you will be left breathless — from the view overlooking the valley — but not the hike. The trail is well-maintained with gentle climbs, switchbacks and benches along it to make this a much-easier-than-it-looks climb. Stop to read the interpretive signs about the trees and geology along the way.

6. This hike just outside of Shenandoah National Park is a strenuous 8.8-mile ascent and occasional rock scramble — with several false summits along the way to a summit offering a 360-degree view of the region, some of which is protected wilderness. The steep, 2-mile start of the trail is known for wildlife, as well as wildflowers present from spring through autumn. These plants change with the altitude and hikers are encouraged to look out for the many rare, endangered plants growing amid the higher boulders. A geologic highlight is a natural staircase formed by columnar jointing.

7. This area has a trail for everyone: gentle forest rambles as well as several steep trails leading to bluffs over the Potomac River. Hiking is especially popular in the spring, when its hardwood and hemlock forests and hillsides are covered with wildflowers, including trailing arbutus, Virginia bluebells and sessile trilliums. A geologic feature of this area’s southern section is a fault zone where rocks were created out of pieces of ocean floor that were uplifted onto the continent around 520 million to 570 million years ago.

8. This short riverside hike is in a U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Area in the George Washington National Forest close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The river is easily crossed most of the year and features a series of waterfalls, most of which feature swimming holes. Other outdoor enthusiasts take to the trail to view its wildflowers or to hook a native brook trout in one of Virginia’s best fishing waters. Those who choose to do a loop trail will be treated to excellent viewsheds at its higher elevations.



1. Sharp Top Trail, 2. Signal Knob, 3. Dark Hollow Falls, 4. Loudoun Heights, 5. Seneca Rocks, 6. Old Rag, 7. Scotts Run Nature Preserve, 8. St. Mary’s Wilderness/River Trail

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About Kathleen Gaskell

Kathleen A. Gaskell, the layout & design editor for the Bay Journal, has been involved with several environmental programs for children.

Read more articles by Kathleen Gaskell


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Jenna French on September 09, 2017:

Thank you for such a great roundup of trails in the Shenandoah Valley. We've shared this article on our website and social media. If we can ever help be a resource on other trails or things to do, please let us know. Jenna French, Director of Tourism & Business Development, Shenandoah County

Mary Millikin on September 20, 2017:

Thank you for this very interesting and helpful article!!!

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