The 5 Best Scenic Hikes in Virginia for Families

Not only is Virginia for lovers, but Virginia is for hikers, too. From the Atlantic Coast to the Shenandoah Valley, there are so many beautiful trails to hike in the Old Dominion, especially for families. Here are five of the best hikes in Virginia that you and your kids will enjoy and that provide amazing scenery as well.

Great Falls Park

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What’s not to love about Great Falls Park?

Situated on 800 acres overlooking the Potomac River, you can easily spend all day at the park, joining the Junior Ranger Program, visiting observation decks and trails, and having picnics on the Patowmack Canal Trail.

The park, home to a wide expanse of rapids that truly lives up to its great name, offers several easily reachable overlooks where you can catch breathtaking views of the rapids. For example, Overlook 1 has an observation deck within a ten-minute walk from the visitor center.

Great Falls Park’s terrain, combined with one-of-a-kind views, makes it one of the best hikes in Virginia to take with kids. There is nothing quite like these falls, and two of the best options for hiking it include the North River Trail, a 1.25-mile route which passes shallow pools en route to Riverbend County Park, and the River Trail Mini Loop, a 1.6-mile route covering beautiful rocky and wooded terrain.

My kids LOVED this park and assured me that they’d make great rock climbers since they had successfully traversed some of the huge rocks found in the park.

Cost: $20 per vehicle, annual pass is $35 per year.

Distance: 1.25 to 1.6 miles

Smith Mountain Lake

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Photo Credit: Chad Williams, IG account: @echadwilliams

Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Virginia and was formed as a result of the creation of Smith Mountain Dam in the 1960s. Due to numerous peninsulas extending into the lake, there are more than 500 miles of beautiful shoreline and many opportunities to see amazing vistas, including while hiking along the lake.

One of the best hiking trails for kids in the area can be found in Smith Mountain Lake Community Park, a recreational park located on a peninsula in the northern portion of the lake. This 1.9-mile loop trail begins at Picnic Point Trail as a narrow path amidst pine trees and gravel.

Among the many advantages of hiking this trail is watching the sun shimmer across the lake at various angles, the lake always within sight. An added bonus about this park is that admission is free.

Not only is hiking a great activity to do in Smith Mountain Lake, but various water activities from fishing to wake boarding are also extremely popular. The region has so much to offer and is a great place to take the family in any season.

Cost: Free

Distance: 1.9-mile loop

Stony Man Trail in Shenandoah National Park

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Photo Credit: Cameron Davidson

Another great place to take a family hike is the Stony Man Trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Depending on your pace, this gradual, uphill hike takes around 1.5 to 2 hours roundtrip.

The easiest way to begin the hike is to access it from the parking lot at mile post 41.7 on Skyline Drive. The trail also runs concurrently with the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail, which goes from Georgia to Maine. The white tree markings represent the Appalachian Trail and blue tree markings represent the Stony Man Trail.

Once at the top, you can have a seat on the rock outcroppings and take in sweeping views of the Piedmont plateau. This is also a good time to have snacks, which we did while enjoying the view.

After the hike, you can take a drive along the 106-mile Skyline Drive and stop at the many beautiful overlooks for more panoramic views. Keep in mind that there are few, if any, ways to exit Skyline Drive once you begin driving it, so you have to drive the entire length of the road or turn around and drive back the way you came in.

Cost: $30 per vehicle, good for 7 days

Distance: 1.6-mile loop

Cascade National Recreation Trail

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Photo Credit: Taryn White

Cascade Falls Trail in Pembroke, Virginia, offers one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state, if not the entire East Coast, and the dramatic four-mile loop leading to the falls consists of an Upper Trail and a Lower Trail.

The Upper Trail provides an aerial view of Little Stony Creek and is the quickest and easiest path to the falls. The Lower Trail is the originally constructed trail and the more scenic route, which seamlessly blends into its surroundings and meanders around Little Stony Creek.

For example, the Lower Trail features four bridges, stone steps and walkways, and moss-covered boulders as well as the constant sound of flowing water due to its proximity to the creek.

Since the Lower Trail takes about twice as long to hike as the Upper Trail, those with small children might consider taking the Upper Trail to the falls and taking part or all of the Lower Trail back, if feasible.

After both the Upper and Lower Trails merge, the cascading 69-foot waterfall is a welcome sight at the end of an incredibly beautiful hike.

Cost: $3 parking

Distance: 4-mile loop

Natural Bridge State Park

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Photo Credit: Taryn White

Natural Bridge State Park gets its name due to the 215-foot high natural arch formed within a limestone gorge through which the adjacent Cedar Creek once flowed. Designated a Virginia and National Historic Landmark, the park has more than six miles of hiking trails with the Cedar Creek Trail being the avenue to access the natural bridge and Lace Falls.

There are several benches where you can sit and take in the beautiful natural landmark, and toward the end of the trail, there is a Monacan Indian Exhibit depicting a traditional Native American village. However, the exhibit is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic.

The accessibility of this trail makes it easily one of the best hikes in Virginia to do with kids. On more than any other trail we’ve hiked, we saw people of all ages here.

Cost: $8 for those 13 and older; $6 for those under 13 years old.

Distance: 1.6-mile out and back

Have you taken any of these recommended best hikes in Virginia with kids? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Taryn White is an avid traveler, wellness advocate, and founder of The Trip Wish List. Having visited all 50 US states and more than 75 countries, she sees travel as transformative and has a passion for family, the outdoors, and traveling off the beaten path. To see more of her incredible journeys, follow her on Instagram!

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