7 Beautiful Virginia Hikes
Need some exercise and a change of scenery? Head to these wide open spaces.
Editor’s Note: At press time, most of the parks in this story remained open for day-use activities, although some were modifying operations, including closing certain trailhead parking lots in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Be sure to check park websites for status updates before you head out.
Trails lend themselves well to metaphors. They provide terrific lessons about trusting a winding path, even if you’re not sure where it leads, and staying in the moment, putting one foot in front of the other. At the end of a rocky, uphill climb, there is often a beautiful view that was worth every hard step to get there. Walking in the woods might be the original form of #selfcare.
Rich in history and natural beauty, Virginia boasts numerous places to hike, from Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the many state parks that encompass mountain, lake and river experiences. We’ve chosen seven beautiful spots for hiking within about a two-hour drive of Arlington, and we hope you’ll use them as jumping-off points to discover other outdoor opportunities around the state. Be sure to check websites and alerts before you go to verify that trails and parks are open, and take all necessary safety precautions. Then lace up. The woods are waiting.
Lake Anna State Park
The constant lapping sound of the water against Lake Anna’s shoreline is hypnotic and peaceful. Marine biologist Wallace Nichols, author of the 2014 book Blue Mind, has said that the sight and sound of water releases neurochemicals that increase blood flow to the brain and heart, among other benefits. Located in Spotsylvania County, Lake Anna State Park offers hikers both woodsy shade and solitude, as well as lake views that can induce that much-needed serene feeling.
Situated on the site of an early-19th-century gold mine, Lake Anna is a reservoir that was created as a cooling facility for Dominion Energy’s North Anna Power Station. The lake is one of the largest in the state, stretching 17.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, with some 200 miles of shoreline. It has both a private side and a public side—the state park. Here, a dozen interconnected trails range from a short quarter-mile leg-stretcher to ones that are 2 to 3 miles long, although hikers can easily combine different trails to extend the experience. Several hikes, such as the Railroad Ford and Big Woods trails, offer glittering glimpses of the lake, with places to pause at a waterfront bench and allow the neurochemicals to do their job.
Lake Anna is ideal for hikers who want to add on other recreational activities such as boating, fishing, swimming or horseback riding. Both tent and cabin camping are available, and a visitor center features exhibits on the site’s gold mining history. The park also runs popular gold panning programs and tours of the Goodwin Gold Mine site, where ruins and trenches can still be seen.