After the longest winter in the history of mankind, Spring is finally here. And that means it’s time to get out the hiking boots, fill up the water bottles and hit the trails.
It may seem impossible to see all of the incredible hikes, treks and trails available in Virginia’s great outdoors, but there’s no time like the present to start trying and no better place to start than these 16 awe-inspiring spots. Whether it’s a weekend on the trails, a day out with friends and family or just experiencing Virginia’s majestic beauty on your own, it’s time to get your hiking shoes on and your walking stick out, because there’s a whole lot of amazing out there, just waiting to be discovered.
Fortunately, in Virginia there’s no shortage of options for everyone from the super-fit to the family. Whether you’re a serious hiker who thinks nothing of keeping your food in bear bags or you’re leaving a Hansel and Gretel-like trail of Skittles to entice your kiddies to the top, these 16 sites will be sure to amaze you like only Virginia can.
A recording-breaking adventurer from North Wales has claimed the title of National Adventurer of the Year following his epic journey across landlocked Mongolia. Ash Dykes, 24, who is nicknamed the ‘lonely snow leopard’, last year impressively spent 78 days alone, crossing 1,500 miles of the unforgiving Gobi Desert and the vast Mongolian steppe. The prestigious awards are a celebration of the most impressive international adventure, and Ash beat 39 other competitors to take the title of Wales’ top adventurer.
Fittingly the award was presented by a Mongolian dignitary, at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow, and the prize given was a traditional Mongol bowl and framed certificate. ‘I thought it was really appropriate as I had walked across his country,’ Dykes said.
Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on earth, with just over three million inhabitants in its vast land-locked 604,000 square miles. Battling sandstorms, heat exhaustion and loneliness, Ash completed the incredible mission on foot and unsupported, which helped him secure the top award.
His ‘snow leopard’ nicknamed was given by amazed locals who learned of his solo crossing and likened him to the resilient solitary creatures who roam the Mongolian wilderness.
Which side of the Columbia River Gorge do you like best for hiking?
Flip a coin, hem and haw, pick one and change your mind . . . they are both great. Typically the Washington side better in spring, because it faces south and gets more sun.
That gives it more openings in the forest and more room for dense concentrations of wildflowers to grow, though you could say that about Tom McCall Preserve and Sevenmile Hill in Oregon, too.
So lace up your boots for primo spring hiking with great views, more sun and less noise than across the river, because Oregon is the side with the interstate highway.
Pity hikers who live in Seattle and Spokane. The best spring hikes in their state are a lot closer to Portland, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Burt Kornegay first started looking into land along Hickory Knoll Road in Macon County, NC, but dirt is finally moving on the Bartram Trail Society’s vision of routing a piece of the long-distance trail away from the road and over the Pinnacle and George Gray Mountain instead.
“This had been years in the making,” said Kornegay, who was in the midst of his 12 years as president of the Bartram Trail Society when he bought the land. “This was going on even before these tracts of land came up.”
One of the tracts in question is a 3-acre parcel that came on the market in the 1990s, just as the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society was mulling over how to reroute the trail while avoiding the pieces of private land abutting Nantahala National Forest.
But the Society would need more than 3 acres to make its vision come true. Enter a mysterious 10-acre property in the same neighborhood. Connecting two sections of national forest, acquiring it would be a coup for the project.
After a little research, they found that the last owner was Nimrod Jarrett, a notable Macon County landowner in his day. But his day ended long ago; Jarrett died in 1871. No heirs could be located, so with Melvin’s help Kornegay put in a quitclaim deed on the land, selling it to the Bartram Trail Society for a pittance. After holding onto the land for years and advertising the quitclaim deed in local newspapers, the Society was finally able to sell the property to the U.S. Forest Service and move forward with plans for trail construction.
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile walking trail extending from Boston Common through the heart of downtown and across the Charles River to the monument atop Bunker Hill in Charlestown. Marked by a red-brick line weaving through the streets, the famous trail leads past 16 colonial, Revolutionary and federal sites. Together these tell the story of the important people, places and events in Boston’s history in and around the period of the American Revolution and the struggles to secure freedom and liberty in the form of a new nation.
The starting point of the Freedom Trail is Boston Common, which dates to 1622 and is America’s oldest public park. Originally a common grazing area for cattle and sheep, the park today is a revered center of outdoor activity for urban dwellers and visitors alike.
Uphill from the Common is the Massachusetts State House; beneath its golden dome the daily business of the Commonwealth is conducted. Further along on Court Street is the Old State House, which was built in 1713 to house the colony’s government.
The Park Street Church is one of three churches on the Freedom Trail. The 217-foot steeple of the church was a landmark for early travelers approaching Boston. The Old North Church on Salem Street in the North End is where the signal lanterns were hung warning of an impending British attack on Lexington and Concord, sending Paul Revere off on his famous midnight ride. The King’s Chapel dates to 1686 and is home to the oldest pulpit in the country.
It’s one of those places you probably pass by all the time and don’t even realize it’s there. There are no road signs marking it. It’s a cheerful trail hidden and tucked away from sight.
They call it a vibrant faith adventure, and that it is. Happy words of encouragement surround you along Cleo’s Nature Trail. It’s a whimsical spot on the Snake River, hidden away in Melba, Idaho on Highway 45.
“Most people are pretty amazed. We get several visitors that say they’ve lived in this area their entire lives and they’ve gone over the bridge on the highway a million times but they’ve never been down here, and of course the first time down here they just can’t believe it,” says caretaker Bob Suchowesky.
“All this stuff was put out here little by little,” Suchowesky says. Bird houses and statues made by local artists, have a seat on a bench with Abraham Lincoln or even Einstein. Each time you visit, you will see something you did not notice before.
PISGAH FOREST, N.C., Mar. 20, 2015 – The U.S. Forest Service is temporarily closing the Graveyard Fields Area at milepost 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway to overnight camping.
This closure, issued in consultation with the N.C. Wildlife Commission, has been implemented due to human safety concerns after a bear entered a tent and removed a hiker’s backpack. No injuries were reported.
The U.S. Forest Service will monitor the area over the next few weeks to determine when to reopen the area to overnight camping. The area remains open for day use.
“In springtime bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips,” said Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen. “Black bear attacks on people are rare but when we do have encounters we do our best to break the cycle of success so the bears do not become habituated to humans – protecting both our visitors and the bears.”
Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service is requiring overnight campers to use bear canisters in the adjacent areas of Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam’s Knob and Flat Laurel Creek Areas. Numerous reports have been received of bears acquiring food from backcountry campers in this area. Use of bear canisters will reduce the bear’s success and enhance visitor safety.
Denizens of the wide-open stretches of western South Dakota and Nebraska and others parts of the High Plains should not be surprised if one of these days they see a Toyota Tacoma with Colorado plates parked on the side of a gravel road. It’ll stick out, not unlike a fanny pack at a rodeo.
But a closer inspection will show that while the driver may be an interloper, he is not an environmentalist, an animal activist, or an anti-pipeline agitator.
Nope. It’s just Steve Myers, one of those people for whom the seemingly endless vistas of the Western plains exert a peculiar tug on the soul … and the feet. “Walking forever never sounded good to me,” Myers said, “until I saw the Great Plains.”
He won’t just be out for a walk, though. At least not yet. He’s actually scouting a route for the Great Plains Trail, which is his big, wondrous dream of creating a 1,700-mile recreational trail that he finally dared to pursue five years ago when he turned 40.
Along the trail to Junipero Serra Peak in the Ventana Wilderness of South Monterey County, there is some stuff to see. Like goldfields flowering, hummingbird sage blooming and sharp cacti appropriately called Spanish sword cutting a sharp profile against the increasingly steep grade. And the massive pine needles, bird tracks and rock formations that enjoy supernatural scale. Way up top, after hours of climbing, the view zooms from San Antonio Valley to the Pacific Ocean beyond Big Sur and even reaches Santa Cruz to the north.
The sweeping panorama summons goosebumps to crowd out those from the cold – and to rival those found in the textured tree bark on the way up and back.
After rains at the end of February, Serra summit and its 5,862 feet also provide dramatic temperature changes, 4,000 vertical feet of grueling but well-marked trails and strands of icy snow dangling from prehistoric-looking pine needles.
Other striking elements await along Santa Lucia Range’s most extreme heights, including a sugar – and Coulter-pine forest. It’s a daunting 12.8-mile round trip.
In his first trip to North America, the British snow artist was invited by Banff Lake Louise Tourism to create a series of large-scale designs in snow. Beck has been making snowflakes, leaves and geometric designs with his snowshoes for the past decade, mostly in the Alps.
He stomped out a huge snowflake at Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies that took more than six hours and measured 1,476 feet from tip to tip, according to a statement. As an added touch, the outline was illuminated by LED lights.
“We were all excited to see what amazing drawings Simon could create, with Banff National Park as the backdrop, and we were more than impressed,” Kymberley Hill of the tourism agency said. “His work was spectacular and to see it framed by our natural alpine landscape of mountain peaks was incredible.”
He also made a howling wolf at Lake Louise Ski Resort and a maple leaf at Sunshine Village as part of what’s known as the #ProjectSnow art series.
Gary Gustafson leans on his ice ax to catch his breath. His legs and lungs, straining from nearly five hours of climbing and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, plead for rest before he spies the top of an antenna on the summit. Soon, the crampons of his mountaineering boots are once again digging into the icy terrain as he and a partner make the final push to the granite rooftop of New England.
“It’s kind of like Heartbreak Hill on the Boston Marathon,” says Gustafson, 58, of Conway. “(Heartbreak’s) really not much of a hill but it’s where it hits you … that makes it such a tough obstacle. That’s kind of what the summit cone is like. You can see the top and you want to just be there psychologically — but first you got to grind it out.”
The payoff is being able to stand on the summit of 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast. The peak is famous for some of the harshest weather on earth, where winds reach hurricane speeds on an average of once every three days during the winter.
Rime ice, a form of white freezing fog, clings to the windward side of nearly every building, antenna and rock on the summit, giving the place an otherworldly feel. Hikers seldom linger for long here. Most go directly to the sign that marks the summit to pose for a celebratory photo, then add an extra layer of clothing and search for a place to hunker down on the lee side of a building to fuel up for the descent.
The first rays of sunshine have burst through the clouds to melt the snow, and people and animals are emerging from a sleepy winter. While many walking and hiking trails carved through northern West Virginia are well known, such as the Panhandle Trail, Montour Trail and Mingo Creek County Park trails, others are hidden treasures.
Enlow Fork is tucked away in Greene County in State Game Lands No. 302. While walkers should be aware of regulations during hunting season, the trails are blazing with color during the spring.
In late winter, flowers begin springing up. By spring, flowers line the roadway leading up to the trail. Blue-eyed Marys and trilliums are all around, and walkers may find streams, a waterfall and birds. Crossing over a bridge into Washington County provides a new wildflower scene with Jack-in-the-pulpits.
Along one section of the trail is a long-abandoned homestead. While the owners who planted flowers there likely passed years ago, crocuses and snowdrops live on. “It’s kind of neat that this old homestead hasn’t been tended for half a century and they still pop up.”
Wildflower enthusiasts gather yearly for the Enlow Fork Wildflower Walk scheduled in 2015 for April 26.
The stereotype of the quiet, introspective mountain loner and the beach-going partier may have truth to it: These different personalities are drawn to different physical terrains, according to new research.
Researchers at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology say your choice to be on a drunken booze cruise or tucked away in the Catskills all depends on your type of personality.
In a series of three studies, researchers tested whether there is a link between personality and an aspect of physical ecology: flat terrain versus mountainous terrain. The study found that only one of the Big Five personality traits predicted terrain preference–extraversion.
Participants perceived wooded/secluded terrain to be calmer, quieter and more peaceful. In contrast, participants in the flat/open condition perceived the terrain to be more sociable, exciting and stimulating. The study found that when people want to socialize with others, they prefer the ocean far more (75%) than mountains (25%). In contrast, when they want to be alone, they choose mountains (52%) as much as the ocean (48%).
Results of the study also showed that introverts tend to live in mountainous regions, while extroverts live in open and flat regions. The researchers caution that there is no evidence mountains make people introverted, but rather, introverts tend to choose mountainous geography because of the secluded environment.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the spring opening schedule for park facilities for the 2015 season. Campgrounds and secondary roads will begin opening Friday, March 13.
The Keystone Trails Association’s second annual KTA Membership Celebration and Film Festival will feature four films about Pennsylvania trails. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, at the Wesley Center of Camp Hill United Methodist Church, Camp Hill.
The four films will include the following.
Best of Pennsylvania – 1000 Steps Hiking Trail is a humorous look at a great trail near Mount Union in Huntingdon County.
Among the best day hikes in Pennsylvania is Tiadaghton State Forest’s Golden Eagle Trail, which Scott Adams explores in his film.
North Country Trail – We Build Trails In Low Places is a tribute to the folks who maintain the national scenic trail passing through Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
In the Old Loggers Path Running Adventure, four young trail runners tackle the 27-mile loop trail in Lycoming County.
Keystone Trails Association is a federation of membership organizations and individuals dedicated to providing, preserving, protecting and promoting recreational hiking trails and hiking opportunities in Pennsylvania.
For lovers of natural beauty, there is little to beat taking a gondola up into the mountains, going for an alpine walk then stopping for lunch on the sunny terrace of a mountain hut.
That’s just one of the many hiking options in Austria. There are waymarked routes that cover everything from gentle lakeside strolls to breath-taking high-mountain challenges. You can wander along a pine-scented valley, walk across pastures to the sound of cowbells and birdsong, or take a zig-zag path down through mountainside wildflowers.
Carinthia’s Alpe-Adria-Trail is a superb choice. This 43-stage, long-distance trail connects existing paths, leading from the foot of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, through the most picturesque alpine and lake regions in Carinthia.
It takes in the point where Austria, Italy and Slovenia intersect at the Dreiländereck (‘three country corner’), then continues on towards the Adriatic. Each stage is about 13 miles long – six hours of leisurely walking – and few stages are regarded as difficult.
The Tirol region is world renowned for alpine hiking and the Adlerweg is a comprehensive network of hiking paths where the routes are designed to resemble the wings of an eagle.
One of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular trails is temporarily closed because of storm damage.
After weeks of snow and ice saturated the soil, this week’s rains washed out a portion of the Laurel Falls Trail just before the falls. A park volunteer discovered the damage on March 11, 2015.
“Our trail crews are experienced with these kinds of washouts and will work to make the necessary repairs so that the Laurel Falls Trail, one of our most popular in the park, can be safely reopened for hikers,” said Trails Program Manager Tobias Miller.
Once the damage has been evaluated and a repair plan made, the park will announce when the trail will be back open.
Dawn’s golden light caught the tops of the snowcapped Himalayas and gradually crept downward as the rising sun lit up a sweeping arc of soaring peaks, at once forbidding and starkly beautiful.
The stunning vista from the top of Poon Hill — at 10,475 feet, the highest point of a six-day trek in Nepal — was among many highlights of a “Lord of the Rings”-like adventure through lush forests, terraced fields and traditional villages nestled above plunging valleys.
Sometimes the going was tough — like hiking two hours up steep, stone steps. Other times, you walk along gently undulating woodland paths. Along the way, there are rewards: children who run to greet you (sometimes asking for money or candy), wildflowers beside the path, breathtaking views and cups of hot masala tea at cute little rest stops.
If you’re looking for a family adventure that immerses you in nature, beauty and a fascinating culture — and you’re willing to rough it some — consider trekking in Nepal.
Kids in Parks, a signature program of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, is continuing to draw national attention for its work helping to bring kids outdoors and getting them active. Kids in Parks is based in Asheville, NC.
The group received the Association of Partners for Public Lands 2015 Partnership Award for Outstanding Public Engagement at a ceremony recently in Atlanta.
“Dynamic, effective partnerships are absolutely essential to the preservation of America’s most treasured public lands and the enhancement of their visitors’ experiences,” APPL Executive Director Dan Puskar said in a statement. “This year’s awardees represent the incredible innovation and impact that is happening throughout our public lands when nonprofit organizations and land management agencies collaborate toward shared goals.”
KIP was recently awarded $921,000 from the BCBSNC Foundation to continue its work helping kids and families connect with nature and fight childhood obesity through TRACK Trail excursions. Activities outlined in brochures provided at each trail encourage children to learn about their natural surroundings and build connections to parks and public land.
In October, two young Americans set off on the most daring and foolhardy wilderness expedition since, oh, maybe Lewis and Clark.
They were trying to become the first people ever to backpack from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail in the dead of winter. Once before, in 1983, two people set out to traverse the trail in winter. They never made it. Their bodies were found a month after they fell off an icy cliff.
A winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail seemed impossible. The trail is covered by many feet of snow that time of year, and, even if the two explorers managed to find their way, they risked triggering avalanches, plunging through ice into rivers, or simply running out of food while trapped in blizzards.
“People said it was a death sentence,” Shawn Forry, one of the hikers, told Nicholas Kristof. He had estimated half-jokingly at the start that they had a 17 percent chance of succeeding.
But he spoke shortly after he and Justin Lichter reached the Mexican border, completing their 2,650-mile odyssey — and surviving frostbite, blizzards, tumbles into frozen rivers and 1,750 consecutive trail miles without encountering a single other hiker.