And now for part 3 of local Virginia, Maryland, and DC area hikes. Last month we talked a little about Maryland and Virginia (BLOG POST: FAVORITE MD FAMILY HIKES! A Few of Our Favorite Family and Infant Hiking Areas in Maryland and FAVORITE VA FAMILY HIKES! A Few of Our Favorite Family and Infant Hiking Areas in Virginia) and this time around ... it's our very most favorite, Shenandoah National Park.
While the prior focused on infant and family hiking, some of the hikes below are NOT Family-Friendly. However, some of the non-family-friendly can be hacked as out-and-back treks to accommodate the family.
Considerations for Hiking Trails
Just a few considerations for planning your outdoor adventure and things to think about as your venture into the backcountry with the hikes below.
Length: These trails vary in length - from short to lengthy, there is something for everyone in this list of recommendations
Vertical Change: This is the amount of incline and decline that you have to gruel when out and about, typically we find that under 600-900 vertical ascent is doable for a family, anything beyond that needs to be tapered based on how it's spread out and where it's located
Accessibility: Facilities and cellular coverage are the first that come to mind for us. Many websites are available to show cellular coverage, Find Phone Signal With Cell Phone Coverage Maps - Gaia GPS.
Shenandoah National Park rarely has cellular coverage available. On some of the ridges, you can sometimes get signal but for all intents and purposes, you should assume you will not have cellular coverage (BLOG POST: NO CELL COVERAGE ... Make Sure to Download 'Offline Maps' - What Are They and Why Do I Need Them? and Why We Selected the Garmin InReach Satellite Communicator and Our View on the Device Capabilities).
Great Hikes for Families in Shenandoah National Park
Virginia is for Outdoor Lovers. Shenandoah National Park is for those that would love to disappear into the backcountry and never return. So, let's get started.
MAP OF TRAILS
Scattered through the North and Central District of the National Park, there are many trails to venture into the wilderness on. These are just a few of our favorites.
1 | Big Meadows in the Meadow (Family-Friendly)
By far the most family-friendly hike, this trek through the Meadow is an adventure unto itself. The Meadow is a maze of wildlife trails where the kids can find birds and bugs and the occasional wildlife. While this can be a trek, this is definitely a low-key adventure compared to the others on this list.
Length: 1-3 mi.
Ascent: 293ft (varies based on route)
Direction: Clockwise or Counterclockwise
This hike is a must ... whether you're 6 months old or 60 years of age, there is something magical and majestic about Big Meadows, like something you'd see in a Ken Burns documentary. It's the first hike that we took our new member of the family on (when she was just a few weeks old), that's how much we love this place.
2 | Dickey Ridge Loop (Family-Friendly)
We talked about this one last month a little in our post about Virginia. Located in the Northern District of the park, the Dickey Ridge trail is one of the few low vertical change trails. There is some uphill and downhill just because it's on the side of the mountain, but it pales in comparison to some of the traditional hikes that you'll find in Shenandoah.
Halfway through this particular trail, you can turn back around on the loop (you'll notice from the image, it's a figure 8). Instead of going the full route, you could stop and loop back around which would put the length closer to 1.25 mi.
Length: 3.20 mi.
Ascent: 715 ft
Direction: Clockwise or Counterclockwise
Cell: Varies, Spotty at Best
3 | Little Devils Stairs (NOT Infant/Toddler Friendly)
When someone asks me which trail to hike in Shenandoah, this is the trail I give them. This mini-rock scramble is complete with waterfalls, fire roads, and everything in between. The uniqueness of the trail will take you through the raven and up the Keyser Run River. You end up on the ridge with a fire road taking you the remaining way down. Beautiful scenery and some views of the valley.
Length: 5.19 mi.
Ascent: 1,557 ft.
The parking fills up quickly, so make sure to make your way over to the trailhead early. Definitely venture counterclockwise on this one - to avoid going down the rock scramble. If you decide that you want to add mileage onto this trip, you can follow the Piney Branch Trail across the fire road at the top of the falls. Adding Piney Branch will bring the total trek to around 10-11 miles.
4 | White Oak Canyon to Cedar Run Loop (Family-Friendly if Out-and-Back on Either trail, but NOT Full Loop)
Probably one of the most frequented trails in the park, White Oak Canyon is a gem. It's an easy hike for families during the summertime. In fact, this is a great trek for families if the kids are looking for a splash in brisk water on a hot summer day. On the Cedar Run side, there are some equally great pools to take a dip in too.
For the hikers, this trail is great for the falls that are sprinkled up and down each side of the hike. This is definitely one of the more scenic treks for those that enjoy water features.
Length: 7.49 mi.
Ascent: 2,417 ft.
This is definitely a counterclockwise trek if you intend to do the loop. On the Cedar Run side, there are some fairly steep declines towards the bottom of the trek which are significantly easier to go down rather than up.
5 | Hazel Mountain Loop (ONLY Family Friendly as Out-and-Back on Hazel River Trail, NOT Sam's Ridge Trail)
If you plan on venturing onto this one, get ready for a great trek but know it's not for the faint at heart. The trek is best clockwise if you're going to do the full loop. The first 2 miles are a grueling uphill that will get your heart pumping and cause you to remove a few layers if you're hiking in cooler weather.
*If you plan to play in the river and go out and back, counterclockwise is the way to go. You'll probably want to stop at the fork for White Rocks Trail and turn around.
**There are a number of river crossings on the Hazel River Trail. You can play frogger on rocks but will require patience and balance.
Length: 6.10 mi.
Ascent: 1,679 ft. (all in the first 2 miles)
Don't be afraid of this one, but make sure that you're physically fit to venture on this trail. This one is a beast, but it's fantastic. We love it.
6 | Piney Ridge to Piney Branch Loop (NOT Family-Friendly)
One of the best rivers in the National Park, we love the Piney Branch. It's just beautiful and scenic to hike next too. This one starts on Skyline Drive, so a gentle reminder that the end of the hike will be uphill back to the drive, but well worth it for the views.
Length: 7.82 mi.
Ascent: 1,668 ft.
We'd consider this one fairly strenuous just because the incline is on the latter half of the trek when you are headed back up to Skyline Drive. However, this one sure if beautiful, so again, don't let that dissuade you from hitting this trail.
These are just a few of the many trails that we think are family-friendly. Be careful out there, make sure you're prepared and familiarize yourself with the areas, and have fun!
Now go get outside! Happy Hiking!