Best Hikes in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests (VA)


The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in western Virginia, and small parts of West Virginia and Kentucky contain nearly 1.8 million acres; one of the largest blocks of public land in the eastern United States. In addition to the best hikes in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests described below, the area contains 325 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Official Website.

StateVirginia, West Virginia, Kentucky
Nearest Metro AreaRoanoake, VA
Area Size1,790,933 acres
EstablishedMay 16, 1918
Hiking Trails1,925 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

(*** = Best hikes in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests)

Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob*** – 7.6 miles out and back

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots along the entire Appalachian Trail so it is no wonder why this quick but steep day hike section is extremely popular. Beginning from the parking lot where the AT crosses VA-311, the trail climbs steadily over 1000′ in elevation gain on its way to the peak where awesome rock formations and an amazing view awaits.

Big Schloss from Wolf Gap Trail*** – 4.5 miles out and back

Hikers will quickly find themselves in a steep uphill ascent over the first 0.5 mile but then it flattens out with some more gradual grades. There are amazing views along the way as the trail rides the border of Virginia and West Virginia. There are some cool rock formations with more great views towards the top of Big Schloss peak.

Brumley Mountain Trail – 6.0 miles out and back

This hike leads to the Great Channels of Virginia, a 400 million year old sandstone outcropping that forms a maze of channels. The hike itself isn’t too challenging and is a great option for families as children will love exploring the maze-like rock formations of the Channels.

Buzzard Rock Trail – 7.8 miles out and back

Parking is limited at the trailhead of this popular hike so plan to arrive early. The trail climbs gradually upwards to the northern-most point, then turns south again more steeply up along the center of the ridge. Along the ridge, the trail becomes very narrow and rocky, with many difficult sections. Hikers have the option of turning around at intersection with Massanutten Trail or continuing on.

Cascades Trail – 4.0 mile loop

Cascades Trail is a 4-mile loop trail that leads to Cascades Falls, a 66-foot powerful waterfall that drops into in a large, rocky pool. The lower portion of the trail has been designated a “National Recreation Trail.” It travels alongside scenic Little Stony Creek for two miles. Many sections of this scenic this trail are carved directly into existing rock. There are numerous stone steps, walls and walkways. Several bridges allow hikers to get even closer to the creek and be surrounded by the sounds and sprays of falling water. The upper portion of the trail is an easier walk as it climbs steadily through the forest above the creek. It is less rocky and the trail is wider than the lower trail. Many hikers take the lower trail up to the falls and return by the upper trail.

Crabtree Falls Trail*** – 5.4 mile out and back

This moderate 2.7 mile trail wanders through the mountainside offering scenic views of 5 major cascades falling a total distance of 1200 feet. Overlooks allow hikers to enjoy the beauty of the valley. The first overlook is universally accessible, and is only a short distance along a paved trail.

Dragon’s Tooth Trail – 4.6 mile out and back

Dragons Tooth is a spectacular rock formation located on top of Cove Mountain. The 2.3 mile trail leading to Dragons Tooth is a gradual uphill climb for the first mile until it joins the Appalachian Trail and begins to climb steeply. This part of the hike is strenuous and requires rock scrambling near the top. You’ll need your hands and feet to climb the last rocky sections to reach “The Tooth,” a 35-foot rock spire. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a jumble of rugged rock outcroppings and panoramic views. Allow plenty of time and daylight to do this challenging hike. Many hikers will take six hours or more to complete the hike.

Humpback Rocks Loop*** – 4.0 mile loop

Popular loop that provides amazing views of surrounding valleys. The initial 0.8 mile climb to Humpback Rock is steep but worth it. After soaking in the sights, use the connector trail to get to the AT before looping back downhill to the trailhead. Parking at the trailhead can be busy during weekends in the summer so plan accordingly.

Sharp Top Trail – 3.1 miles out and back

Short but steep trail as you ascend over 1200′ in 1.5 miles to the top of Sharp Top Mountain. The 360 views from the top are outstanding! 

Spy Rock via AT – 6.2 miles out and back

The Spy Rock Trail (Forest Trail #732) is a 0.17-mile spur trail accessed from the Appalachian Trail. This out-and-back trail features outstanding scenic vistas from it’s terminus at Spy Rock, a large rock outcropping with views overlooking forested valleys and mountains including “the Religious Range,” the Priest, the Fryar, Little Fryar, and even Mount Pleasant. Access to the trail requires a minimum 6.5-mile round-trip hike which includes a steady uphill grade, sections of very steep trail and rocky terrain and sections of gravel road. 

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