Story and photos by Beth Rasin

The Middleburg area offers great opportunities to get outside and stretch your legs this fall.

When the humidity clears away and the temperature begins to dip into refreshing lows at night, it’s the perfect time to pull out your wool and fleece and lace up your hiking boots. Whether you want to take a gentle stroll or work up a sweat, we’ve highlighted a few of the many local options to suit your needs.

Closest To Home

Hill School Nature Trail & Polly Rowley Arboretum, Middleburg.

Cross the newly redone bridge at the southern terminus of Pendleton Street to access a walking path of just over 2 miles that winds through 137 acres of gently rolling fields, streams, wetlands and woods on the Hill School property. Right across the bridge, the school will soon be dedicating the new Polly Rowley Arboretum, with many species of trees and new signage coming.

Salamander Resort Trails, Middleburg.

You don’t have to be staying in one of the gorgeous rooms at the Salamander Resort to enjoy their miles of trails through the woods and fields on their 340-acre property. Stop by the front desk for a map of trails to enjoy on foot, bike, or horse. Afterwards, you might even want to treat yourself to a massage at their spa!

Sky Meadows State Park offers plenty of different options for getting into the woods.

Sky Meadows State Park offers plenty of different options for getting into the woods.

Local Parks

Both Franklin Park in Purcellville and Northern Fauquier Community Park in Marshall have trails that loop past ponds, playing fields and playgrounds. Marshall’s is fully paved and often used by stroller pushers and bike riders as well as walkers and joggers.

A Short Drive Away

Whitney State Forest, Warrenton.

Just 2 miles outside of downtown Warrenton on Lees Ridge Road, this 148-acre state forest offers multi-purpose trails that are ideal preparation for longer hikes or perfect if you need to run errands in town but want to sneak in a quick outdoor jaunt as well.

The full loop is 2.3 miles, but with relatively flat terrain, it’s not a challenging hike. Much of the trail is wooded, but it also passes by open meadows and farmland, including views of the historic North Wales estate. Be sure to wear shoes you don’t mind getting muddy, as parts of the path are sometimes wet.

Want a bite to eat afterwards? Check out Warrenton’s new Indian restaurant, Taj Palace, or head to Main Street for Black Bear Bistro & Brick Oven.

Blandy Experimental Farm, Boyce.

The four waking trails at Blandy range from ¾ mile to 2 miles of mostly level paths (a combination of gravel, dirt and pavement) that take you past ponds, plants and wildlife on the 700 acres that serve as a field station for the University of Virginia and also house the State Arboretum, right off Route 50.

On your way there, stop at the Locke Store in Millwood to pick up sandwiches for a picnic lunch.

Bears Den, Bluemont.

This hike just off the Appalachian Trail provides the best view per effort required. I’ve convinced even the most unenthusiastic members of the family to tackle it, and no one’s ever regretted it. Although it has a few steep sections, it’s only about 1 mile to a beautiful view of the valley. And if even that sounds too ambitious, park at the Bears Den Hostel, just ½ mile up 601 from Route 7, where you’ll walk less than ½ mile to the overlook or enjoy other short trails ($3 fee). Parking for the hike can be found where Route 7 meets 601. Can be crowded on weekends.

Bears Den offers rocks for sunbathing and a beautiful view west to Winchester.

Bears Den offers rocks for sunbathing and a beautiful view west to Winchester.

 

Ravens Rock, Bluemont.

This slightly longer hike, across the highway from Bears Den, tends to be less crowded. The views are great, and rock climbers can often be seen here. (It’s known to them as “Crescent Rock.”) Turn right onto Ravens Rock Road off Route 7 and go almost 2 miles to a gate and parking area. If you park lower down on Route 7, in the AT parking area, your hike in will be a longer, steeper 5 miles.

Heading home through Purcellville provides a good opportunity to stop at Magnolia’s At The Mill for dinner.

Sky Meadows State Park, Delaplane.

Sky Meadows in Delaplane has both hiking trails and a network of trails for horses, all of which range from less than half a mile to nearly 2.5 miles. You can connect to the Appalachian Trail and/or weave together a day’s adventure within the 1,860 acres of the park. Tour the historic buildings, and check out a new Children’s Discovery Area. Many different festivals and events throughout the year invite another reason to visit. $5 entrance fee per car (up to nine occupants).

If you work up an appetite on some of the steep climbs, head to Hunter’s Head in nearby Upperville, where in nice weather you can continue your day outdoors by dining al fresco.

Thompson Wildlife Management Area, Delaplane.

Not far from Sky Meadows, multi-use trails wind through 4,000 acres of this wildlife management area known for its spring wildflowers. The full loop hike is 8 miles, but with two parking options off Leeds Manor Road between Markham and Paris, it’s easy to make several shorter out-and-back hikes, to Lake Thompson or further. Use caution during hunting season; orange vests are recommended, and hikers must register (wildlife.virginia.org).

If you work up a thirst, you’re right around the corner from Naked Mountain Winery in Markham.

A walking path beckons at Franklin Park in Purcellville.

A walking path beckons at Franklin Park in Purcellville.

Further Afield Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

For a beautiful view of the town and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, work your way up to the top of Maryland Heights in Harpers Ferry. It’s less than an hour to Harpers Ferry from Middleburg, and if the 5-mile Maryland Heights hike sounds too ambitious, other options can be had, all of which offer historically significant highlights and many sights to see in town afterwards.

Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, Fort Valley.

If you’re up for an hour in the car, Elizabeth Furnace in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests is a lovely area without quite the traffic that the Shenandoah Park can draw during peak foliage. Signal Knob and Buzzard Rock are two of the most popular hikes here, and most activities can be accessed by parking at designated spots on Route 678. The summit at the end of the 8.2-mile Signal Knob hike was once used as a lookout by both Union and Confederate troops and still provides a view well worth the effort to see it. History buffs will especially enjoy the interpretive trails explaining the history of the furnace, which made iron and charcoal, and a swinging bridge and historic cabin are other features worth checking out.

At the risk of giving away one of my favorite spots, we never fail to visit Thumwa Thai in Front Royal at the conclusion of our hikes in this area. Although it’s not much to look at on the outside and is far from fancy inside, the food is fantastic, and on weekend evenings you can always find fellow hikers refueling. ML

For information on hikes at the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy (August Issue) and Shenandoah National Park (September issue), look for earlier editions of Middleburg Life.