We are officially residents of Tennessee, now. The kids and I have been here almost three weeks now, and I am daily longing for my RVA Hike It Baby family, and despite living almost at the foot of Lookout Mountain, every time I see a picture of the Blue Ridge Mountains I feel a huge pang of homesickness. Richmond is well over an hour from the mountains, closer to two hours for most of the places we would camp and hike, but the mountains of Virginia were my home as much as the River City was. (And we won’t even talk about how much I miss the beach!)
So as a tribute, here are five of my favorite kid-friendly trails from my home state. Some I’ve written about on this blog already, some I haven’t, but if you have kids in VA, or are just passing through, I highly recommend checking these out!
I love this trail so much that I submitted it to HIB founder Shanti Hodges’ book, Hike It Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures with Babies and Toddlers. This is a great hike for kids and parents: for one, it’s short. It’s a 1 mile loop, with minimal elevation gain, but an incredible payoff, and it connects to the Trayfoot Mountain trail, so can be made longer if you want to add mileage. The talus slope at the top makes for a great rock scramble, which is fun for older kids and provides good risk-taking for younger kids, but it can be avoided entirely for parents who aren’t comfortable letting their kids scramble up (although the views are SO worth it). It’s also part of the Trail Tracks for Kids program: at the trailhead kids can get a small pamphlet with information on some of the flora and fauna that live on the mountain, and because the ascending part of the trail follows the AT, it’s a great opportunity to talk to kids about thru-hikes and exercise their imagination by pretending they are on their own long-distance hike.
This is definitely a challenging hike for little legs–it’s only 2.8 miles to the top of the falls and back, but that comes with an elevation gain of 1,128 feet, often in the form of stairs. The falls themselves are also treacherous: there are signs at every viewpoint warning hikers not to climb out onto the rocks due to deaths that have occurred. That said–it’s a beautiful hike, and well-worth the drive to get there. The falls are the highest cascading falls east of the Mississippi (I’ve seen both 60 and 70 feet listed as the total height), and the trail affords several viewpoints on the ascent, with an observation deck to the left of the bridge that crosses the creek at the top of the falls. Once at the top, the creek provides a great place for water play, and the option to extend the hike another mile and a half along the Upper Crabtree Falls Trail. The trail in this section is wide, well-maintained, with little to no changes in elevation, making it a nice addition for your toddler who probably wants to run after being worn up the climb to the top of the falls.
As a bonus: the parking lot at the end of the upper falls trail connects to the AT via a short walk on a gravel road, allowing for a much longer hike for those looking to make it a full day, or two-day trek: going south takes you to Spy Rock, and north connects to The Priest.
A branch-favorite for HIB RVA, and also where I went on my first ever Hike It Baby hike. My favorite part of this park, is how no two experiences are the same. There are several trails that wind through the woods; many of them connect to a stream that makes for wonderful water play, one takes you through a long tunnel underneath Chippenham Parkway and to another section of creek, one to a place less maintained where kids can climb over felled trees. Because this trail is so easy, and so toddler-friendly, it’s a great place to make a regular hike, so kids can observe the changes in the seasons from week-to-week. Plus, with the park being in the city, it’s an easy place to have a picnic when you want to immerse yourself in the woods without the long drive that comes with going somewhere more remote.
Right in the middle of the city, it’s unlikely anyone from the metro area hasn’t done this hike at least once. It’s popular with cyclists, trail runners, history buffs (Belle Isle was once used as a prison during the Civil War), photographers, bird watchers, and of course, hikers. And for parents, it’s a great hike for kids of all ages. From the Tredegar parking lot, there’s a footbridge that runs half a mile across the James River, and from there, you can either take the dirt path that makes a stroller-friendly circuit around the island, or if you want to add more adventure, can explore the criss-crossing singletrack paths through the rocks and hills in the center of the island, or cross another pedestrian bridge on the southeast side to connect briefly with the Buttermilk Trail, and then rock-hop back to a ladder that brings you back to the main island. Kids love the rock hopping (although this side of the island can be impassible when the river level is too high), there are ruins of the old prison camps and old factories to explore, and plenty of places to splash, as long as you avoid the treacherous Hollywood Rapids. Belle Isle offers a great view of the city, with the sounds of the city blocked out by the rushing of RVA’s urban whitewater.
Not a single trail, but I love this park as a great day trip to get out the city and into the quiet of nature without the long drive that comes with going to the mountains. There are roughly 12 miles of trails total, ranging from very easy to semi-moderate difficulty, and covering wooded, meadow, and riverside terrain. The trails are easy for little legs to explore on their own, and there is a playground near a couple of picnic shelters for post-hike playing. Powhatan also has two campgrounds; one that has electric and water, and a primitive campground that is hike- or canoe-in only, along with three yurts. This is a fairly new park, and in our experience is still largely undiscovered; we have rarely had company on the trails. With the wide open skies of the Virginia piedmont, and the beauty of walking besides the James River, this quickly became one of our favorite day-trips.
There are so many trails in Virginia I never made it to, and so many I would love to go back and hike again. Prior to our move, I was making plans to section hike the 105 miles of the AT through Shenandoah National Park with the kids. I know that future visits back home will include checking off several of the summits I missed, and visiting old favorites with old friends. If you make it to any of these trails, I’d love to hear what you think. And comment below with your own favorite trails in the Virginia area, kid-friendly or otherwise!