The state of Virginia is blessed with plentiful tracts of wild lands, places where backpackers can find large parcels of terrain laced with trails and places to trek for days, places such as Shenandoah National Park and the vast George Washington & Jefferson National Forests. These backpacking destinations present crashing waterfalls, dramatic overlooks and historic highlights – and good campsites to pitch your tent, where you can relax before a calming campfire, and escape from electronic chains that bind us to the daily grind.
A Virginia backpacking adventure can lead to destinations high and low, from the Atlantic shores of False Cape State Park to the historic highlands of Cumberland Gap National Park, and a wealth of mountainlands in between. Virginia’s unforgettable backpacking destinations lead through federally designated wildernesses and scenic areas and along the Appalachian Trail.
Here are 10 of Virginia’s unforgettable backpacking destinations. The nearest town to the backpack is listed, followed by mileages of the trip. Elevation highs and lows give you an idea of the terrain, and GPS coordinates deliver you to the trailhead. Read on, then load up – its time to go backpacking in Virginia!
1. RIDGE TRAIL AT CUMBERLAND GAP NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
Nearest Town: Ewing
Backpack Mileage: 20-mile end-to-end
Elevation Highs and Lows: 3,400 feet high point, 1,410 feet low point
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 36.60967, -83.6379
Why Backpack There: This end-to-end backpack leads past both natural and historical highlights, with views aplenty, and includes a visit to the Hensley Settlement, a collection of preserved cabins and farm buildings of a forgotten mountaintop community.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is an excellent backpacking destination, so even if you cannot arrange two cars for a shuttle, consider making a one-might loop or a two or three night trip then backtrack. The scenery is first rate and highlights are plentiful. Furthermore, once atop the main ridge, elevation changes are not strenuous.
The entirety of the Ridge Trail straddles the Virginia- Kentucky border. The Lewis Hollow Trail leads from the Virginia side up to the Ridge Trail. Along the way pass Skylight Cave, views, Indian Rock shelter, the numerous preserved buildings of the Hensley Settlement and Sand Cave with its waterfall. Top it off with a panorama from atop White Rock, where you can see the Smoky Mountains on a clear day. The Ewing Trail leads back to the lowlands.
Five designated campsites – including one with a primitive cabin – are stretched out along the Ridge Trail. However, a backcountry permit — obtained at the park visitor center — is required.
Essential Fact: Springs are located within a short distance of each designated backcountry campsite. The trailside cabin at Martins Fork can be reserved in advance.