Did you know that Virginia's state parks are open year-round? Not many folks realize that and as such miss out on some wonderful winter hiking experiences. There are well over 500 miles of hiking trails available in the sic semper tyrannis state. So what are you waiting for? Strap on your hiking boots, load up the backpack, and get going!
Many of the parks charge a modest $2 to $3 parking fee and some offer off-season cabin rentals and camping.
Here are five of the best parks to set your sights on:
1. Fairy Stone State Park
The Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart has over 10 trails to choose from. What helps to make this park a stand out is the presence of staurolite, or fairy stones, as they are more commonly referred to. They look like miniature crosses, and if you are very lucky, you might find a few during your hike. Looking to break a sweat? Some trails to consider are Stuart's Knob, Iron Mine, Mountain View, and Little Mountain Falls.
2. Natural Tunnel State Park
The Natural Tunnel State Park is located in Duffield. It features a plethora of interesting hiking trails and a glacial formed tunnel that is 850 feet long. Other than the tunnel, what makes this an exceptional place to hike is the abundance of steep terrain, switchbacks, and spectacular views. Several moderately punishing trails of note include Lover's Leap, Tunnel Trail, and the Purchase Ridge Trail. History buffs should opt for the Carter Log Cabin Trail.
3. Grayson Highlands State Park
The Grayson Highlands State Park is located in Mouth of Wilson and features nine hiking trails, as well as two-plus miles of bridle paths. Elevations in some areas can exceed 5,000 feet. Although the park's trails are amazing, the winter winds can be severe at times, so be sure to take proper precautions. Backpacker shuttle services are available nearby should you be so inclined.
4. Shenandoah River State Park
The Shenandoah River State Park is located in Bentonville and offers winter hikers over 20 miles of trails. Switchbacks and winter wildlife are plentiful on the Bear Bottom Loop Trail. The Shale Barrens and Wildcat Ledge Trails will give your calf muscles a workout and the Redtail Ridge Trail seems to have the best views.
5. York River State Park
The York River State Park is located in Williamsburg and has roughly 25 miles of hiking trails. If you're looking for a supernatural hiking experience, try the Spurr Trail. It's said to be haunted.
Killeen Gonzalez enjoys winter sports with her family and has traveled extensively.
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