A few months back, my friend Prem suggested we hike one of the local trails here in Virginia. As two expats from countries where walking is a common way to get from one place to another, we were both keen to get away from the hermetically sealed environment of our cars and out into nature.
Our requirements were simple, a moderate day hike that had spectacular views and little human traffic. This second requirement was actually a tougher task as Virginia is home to some of the best hiking trails on the east coast of the United States and as a result, you can find yourself queueing up on portions of the most popular ones. After some research we decided upon a trail called Raven Rocks in the most northwesterly part of Virginia, bordering the West Virginia state line.
Hiking trails in Virginia
So on an early Sunday morning at the start of autumn, Prem and I took the hour long drive out to Raven Rocks. At around 9am we pulled in a tiny layby adjacent to the trail entrance. Apart from our car there were only two others in the layby. This was fortunate as the area could only accommodate four at maximum. There was little to indicate this was an official trail except for a notice board with trail guidelines and a collection of walking sticks fashioned from tree branches thoughtfully left behind by other hikers.
The trail began at a steep incline, disappearing upwards into a forest of hardwood trees. Here and there through the canopy of leaves you could see a yellow trail marker indicating which way to walk. We grabbed two of the sticks that had been left and began our gradual ascent to the summit.
Raven Rocks hiking trail
Raven Rocks is renowned as having one of the best views in the area. The summit peaks out at a ledge which overlooks the Winchester Valley, offering those who make it, an unspoiled vista of the surrounding countryside. The trek is a little strenuous though with rough terrain (sturdy boots are essential to prevent bruised soles) and a vertical gain of 1,530 feet means the trail can be daunting for first time hikers.
A country workout
After about an hour into the climb, the sun had risen fully and we were grateful that two thirds of the hike is through forestry. Even in autumn, Virginia can get decidedly hot and by mid-morning the air had significantly warmed. By 11 am we had scrambled over boulders and rock formations and slowly wound our way within a quarter mile of the top. Despite the cool shade of the trees, the rocky trail had given us a workout the equivalent of a heavy session at the gym. It continuously directed us upwards in a winding path and occasionally we found ourselves deviating from the path, forced to do so by a felled tree or giant stone. Shortly after passing the sign indicating we had crossed over into the state of West Virginia, we made it to the top. We stepped out of the cool shadowy world of the forest onto a rocky ledge and into blazing sunshine. Below our feet, the valley fell away to afford a sweeping view for miles and the scrambling over rocks was quickly forgotten as we absorbed the scenery.
Although we had seen very few people on the trail, the ledge at which we now found ourselves had a scattering of about 25 people indicating the trail was more popular than I realized. Here and there people were sitting on rocks or with their legs dangling over the ledge, enjoying the same view. Brief conversations were being had but mostly , everyone was just enjoying the view and the stillness that comes with being away from the business of the nearby towns.
The Appalachian Trail
Shortly after we ate I noticed some hikers hitching up giant packs and heading off in the opposite direction. That was when I remembered the trail was part of the famous Appalachian Trail, a 2,000 plus mile footpath that led from Georgia to the Maine. If we had so desired, we could literally follow the path and keep walking all the way through New England and up to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. I watched with envious eyes as those hikers made their way back onto the trail with nothing more to do than walk through hundreds of miles of wilderness on the east coast.
Thirty minutes later we made our descent back to the car and to civilization. Now we knew what to expect, we were able to move across the obstacles a lot quicker and were back at the car within 90 minutes.
Hiking in D.C
Raven Rocks is the perfect trail for the weekend hiker in the D.C. Metro area and for those who want epic views without having to drive for more than an hour. The trail, although at times challenging, is still moderate enough for the beginner to complete and the excellent trail markers make it easy to stay on the right path. Overall, it is a great way to spend a morning and one of the few trails I have walked where you can experience a small portion of the Appalachian wilderness and still be back in the city for lunch.
Want to stay comfy while you’re out exploring? Check out Globosurf’s guide to the best hiking insoles here: https://www.globosurfer.com/best-hiking-insoles/
Guest post by writer and photographer Barrie Homer – an old friend of Ladies what…travel’s Keri. More of Barrie’s art can be found at http://eight23photography.com/.