With so many great trails around the DMV and Northern Virginia, it’s sometimes hard to choose which one to do over the weekend. As we ventured into the outdoors, we have a number of favorites, many are the ones that everyone knows and is their go-to, but many of these you may have never heard of.
Hiking Trails to Venture Off Too
You might have asked yourself: Where are the best trails to hike in Virginia? or around the DMV?
How do I find lesser-known trails with great scenery in Virginia and Maryland?
Where can I go that is new scenery? Or a different hiking trail?
The following are just a few of our favorites, in order of difficulty with some details around each. Take notice of the direction that you hike the trail — that being clockwise or counterclockwise.
For example, if you go clockwise on Little Devil Stairs, you will be hiking DOWN the rock scramble and it’s pretty tricky to go down that portion of the trail. You definitely want to go counterclockwise on that one.
TrailHacking Your Adventures
We encourage you to check out some of the lesser-known hiking trails and don’t forget about our Blog on finding trails using some common apps. This is how we found all the trails listed below with the exception of Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah, however, we used OnX to piece together adding Piney Run loop to extend the trail.
There are so many trails for you to explore and so many great apps to find them. We encourage you to download the apps and check them out for yourself. But for now, let’s chat some more about the Top 5 trails that we love that you may have never heard about. And know that this list is ever-changing as we continue to seek out new places to adventure and run with Addison. Without further delay, our ‘current’ favorite lesser-known trails…
Lesser-Known Hiking Trails in Virginia and Maryland
Our Rating: Easy
Elevation Gain: 440ft
This hidden gem is located just west of Baltimore near Liberty Reservoir. The trail is relatively flat in most places, there are some ups and downs and some parts are muddy. There is forest, open fields, and trail along the train tracks for a very short distance with a great view of the South Branch of the Patapsco River. It’s stunning in so many ways and an enjoyable hike with small parking for about 4 cars near the trailhead. The start borders a bowhunting club private parcel. 2. Bull Run - Union Mill / Occoquan Trail
Our Rating: Easy
Elevation Gain: 308ft
This trail is close to Fairfax and Manassas. On the way, you might drive through the sleepy town of Clifton. This trail is great because it starts with a nice descent when you go counterclockwise. Then runs the length of Bull Run river with great views of the river, some cliffs, and great scenery. This trail will be trafficked more than any other on this map, but always seems to be ok when we’ve gone. Be careful on the return from the river back up to the parking area, the trail is tricky for the left turn and when you walk up is easy to lose the trail. The parking accommodates about 10-15 cars just outside of the gates. 3. Frederick Municipal Forest - 7 Ponds Loop
Our Rating: Not hard, not easy
Elevation Gain: 522ft
Direction: Good either way, we like to go counterclockwise
There are two loops with this trail — 7 Ponds and 9 Ponds. This one is such an amazing place, I almost barred on not sharing it (sorry). We’ve rarely seen anyone this far down the trail. You might see the occasional mountain biker, but it’s on the north end of Frederick Municipal Forest and such a great find. In the summertime, you’ll think you’re hiking in Narnia. In fact, all of the trails in the Frederick Municipal Forest are like this. The parking will accommodate 2 maybe 3 cars and there are a few ponds right off the trail that I am sure are bursting with small mouth bass and sunfish. 4. Strasburg Reservior - Ridgeline Trail
Our Rating: Intermediate, maybe harder
Elevation Gain: 814ft
Of all the trails that we’ve done in Virginia, this might just be one of our favorites - but go in the summertime or late spring when the leaves are gone. The ridge is a 3-mile long rock scramble (not vertical, but you are hiking on rocks the entire time) with plenty of opportunity to stick your foot somewhere it shouldn’t be. I lost a toenail as a result of the rocks on that ridge. The dog absolutely loved it.
NOTE: In the fall and winter when the leaves have fallen off, the views of the North Fork of the Shenandoah and valley are fairly spectacular. Be ready to get some miles in and be ready to go slower than usual on the ridge. We started later in the day on a brisk December morning and it started to get really cold towards the end since you’re really exposed on the ridge. Don’t miss this one if a 7-mile trail doesn’t deter you from getting out. 5. Little Devils Stairs to Piney Run Gap (Shenandoah National Park)
Our Rating: Hard between miles 2-4 and 6-7
Elevation Gain: 2,004ft
Use GPS on this trail, no cell coverage. There is no spot for paying for park fees, we have an annual pass.
I could spend an entire year writing about all the amazing trails in Shenandoah National Park. It is by far our favorite place to camp, hike, and fly fish. My coworkers think that one day I am going to disappear and will be found years later having set up camp in the park. It is one of my very favorite national parks and I would put it head to head with any of the other national parks. Little Devils Stairs is the next best rock scramble to Old Rag with a lot less traffic. Up the ravel (and the rock scramble) is the Keyser Run (river) with small waterfalls and running water. It’s outstanding if it has rained a little bit in recent days. Between miles 2-4 is the scramble and a decent uphill walk to get to the base of the scramble. I use the term scramble loosely, it’s steep and there are rocks.
Once at the top, you can choose to take the fire road back down to the parking lot (turn left at the graveyard if you take the fire road), which will make the loop closer to 5 miles. But if you cross over the fire road onto the loop to Piney Branch Run, you get the added benefit of following Piney Branch Run (river) down the canyon. This loop is exceptional. At about mile 5.5, you’ll need to get creative with crossing the river, some choose to run across a log and jump; others like to take off their hiking boots in the winter to cross. When you get to mile 6, you will have a quasi-grueling uphill slope to the graveyard where you will go straight down to the parking lot. This is not an easy trail in some places, so expect to exert some energy, but everything about it is worth it. Go early to get a parking spot, the lot will accommodate about 10 cars and the Sherriff will leave you a ticket if you park on the roadside. We hope that some of these are an inspiration for you to hit the trails and find new places to hike and spend time outdoors. For now, happy hiking!