The Appalachian Trail runs a whopping 2,192 miles through 14 states along the East Coast. Known as one of the famous trails that makes up the Triple Crown of Hiking – the other two being the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail – the Appalachian Trail easily holds a top spot on every hiking enthusiast’s bucket list. With such a vast expanse, it’s easy to experience parts of the trail that harness the raw beauty of mother nature, even if you’re not keen on hiking the whole thing. Those visiting Virginia will be happy to know that it’s home to 554 miles of the trail and that many of the scenic hot spots are easily accessible to beginner and intermediate hikers. Here are some of our favorites:
Smile for the Camera
Chances are you’ve seen a picture of McAfee Knob somewhere along your Instagram feed. The jutting rock cliff is a social media star and is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. With stunning panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley below, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in that magical scene in The Lion King while standing on the ledge. The best time to go is early in the morning so you can catch the sunrise light up the valley.
Hiker Snapshot: This is an 8-mile hike and takes approximately 4-6 hours.
See Wild Ponies Run
In the Appalachian high country, you’ll find the enchanting Grayson Highlands State Park, known for the hundred or so wild ponies that run free throughout the highlands. Originally brought to the park in the 1970s to control brush growth, today the ponies are an iconic part of the Appalachian Trail and are a special sight for those who roam through the park. While the ponies are docile, it’s recommended not to approach, feed, or pet them.
Hiker Snapshot: The park offers direct access to the Appalachian Trail, and there are various hikes throughout.
Tinker Cliffs is a hike for those who like to live life on the edge – literally. The sheer limestone cliffs are a 50-60 foot drop and give you wide open views of Catawba Valley and the pristine waters of Carvins Cove Reservoir. Before enduring some steep trail climbs, you’ll pass across charming wood footbridges and blooming meadows. This one of the more strenuous hikes, but the work is worth it for the uninterrupted views and sense of peace you get once you reach elevation.
Hiker Snapshot: This is a 7-mile hike and takes approximately 6 hours.
Hiker’s Home Base
Roanoke is a popular home base for hikers along the Appalachian Trail. Less than 30 minutes from McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, you’ll get all the creature comforts of home when you stay at The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, a historic gem offering sophisticated style and lush accommodations. Spend your day hiking and then grab a seat on their deep-set veranda to watch the sunset while unwinding with a well-deserved cocktail.