Virginia is my favorite state on the Appalachian Trail. Often criticized as being a “long green tunnel,” many thru-hikers consider this longest state on the trail tedious, but not me. With its hardwood forests, rolling hills, meadows, deep valleys, and wildflowers, it is one of the most vibrant states I hiked through.
Along with its variety, Virginia has some of the friendliest towns and people I met while hiking. I always felt welcome and at ease in the towns. Damascus, VA, was the only trail where day hikers congratulated me as I walked into town.
If I did not already have a home down south, the Virginia mountains are a location I would consider living.
Southern Virginia – Terrain on the Appalachian Trail
I will begin this section by saying, “Virginia is not flat.” There are sections that moderate, but contrary to AT myths, there are no “flat” sections in Virginia.
There were a lot of reasons to enjoy Virginia, and I will go into a little more detail below. Rolling hills, expansive views, ridge walking, lush valleys, and bald mountains are just a few reasons I enjoyed Virginia.
Virginia has terrain similar to that found in my post on Tennessee, but VA offers more moderate hiking in many sections, and since Spring was in full swing through much of the state, the lushness and wildflowers were breathtaking!
- Grayson Highlands – You will climb out of Damascus alongside the Creeper Trail, which many hikers choose to walk up. On the way to Grayson Highlands, there are beautiful views and places of interest like Mt. Rogers, but Grayson Highlands at mile 501.5 was memorable for me with the wild ponies and sweeping vistas.
- Old Schoolhouse – I enjoyed the Old Schoolhouse or Settlers Museum @ mile 543 because I enjoy history. There was also good trail magic in the Schoolhouse. This section itself was pretty, with rolling meadows and hardwood forests. This was also just before Atkins, which had a surprisingly good Mexican Restaurant at the gas station and a wonderful Alpaca Farm Hostel stay.
- Rice Field Shelter – I enjoyed hiking between Rice Field and Pine Swamp Branch Shelters. Rice Field, out of Pearisburg, VA, was memorable with its open views. This was also where I met aggressive goats several times. I hear they have been removed.
- Dragon’s Tooth – Dragon’s Tooth @ 702.3 was a highlight of southern Virginia, but keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes along Dragons Spine on the hike to the Tooth! The Tooth is fun but very popular, so get there early if possible. The climb down is a rocky scramble in parts but definitely “doable.”
- McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs – This iconic section of the trail that begins at 714.2 is another favorite of mine. The views are fantastic, and the cliff walk is fun. Try to get there for sunrise if you can.
Southern Virginia – Weather on the Appalachian Trail
Virginia was where the weather began to warm up for me, and I started hiking in shorts. I did not send my winter gear home, though, and I was glad I did not. There are still high elevations and cold temperatures at night in April and early May, especially when it rains.
I did not have much rain in Virginia, but I got there earlier in the hiking season. Trees were just starting to bud, so the views were fantastic. Wildflowers were also beginning to bloom, which was nice in the valleys and meadows.
Southern – Virginia Towns and Accommodations on the AT
Virginia has good towns and hostels with many shuttle opportunities if needed. This is one of the states where I saw many hikers slack-packing.
Virginia had some of my favorite towns. The residents were friendly, and the smaller towns were easy to walk with good resupplies.
Towns in Southern Virginia include Damascus, Troutdale, Marion, Atkins, Bland, Pearisburg, Narrows, Catawba, and Daleville. Below are the ones where I have first-hand experience or direct second-hand experience from other credible hikers I knew.
- Damascus, VA – This is a great town where Traildays happens yearly. I stayed at the Dragonfly Inn. I was able to call at the last minute and get a reasonable rate. Breakfast is complimentary at the Damascus Diner with your stay since the owner owns both. It is also across from Main Street Coffee, which has very good food and ice cream. There is a grocery store and about three restaurants. Dragonfly does not let you do Laundry, which was a disadvantage, but the rooms were super nice.
- Marion, VA – This is another popular town, and many hikers stay at the hostel (Merry Inn) associated with the outfitter. I heard a lot of good things about Coach and the hostel. A bus picks up at Partnership Shelter, and I have also hitched into Marion easily. Marion is spread out, but it is pretty easy to get a ride since locals are familiar with hikers.
- Atkins, VA – I don’t know anyone who goes into the town of Atkins since Marion is so close. The exit at 81, where the trail crosses, is where most hikers stop. I stayed at the Relax Inn years ago, which was “simple” but clean. Everyone I spoke to about the motel on this hike reported it was in poor condition. I had a wonderful stay at the Alpaca Hostel (Long Neck Lair Alpaca Farm & Hostel), and the owner told me a new owner is renovating the Inn, so check it out in 2024. It might be better. The Mexican food at the gas station was much better than I expected and was worth the stop since it was so close to the trail.
- Bland, VA – If not for nasty weather, I would probably not have gone into Bland. I got a shuttle from Chuck, who is listed in Farout, and he took me to the Diner near Citgo before taking me to the Big Walker Motel. The room was dated but large and clean. I had almost no hot water, but the hikers in the room next to me had plenty. Hot water seemed to be a roll of the dice.
- Trent’s Grocery – I was hiking with two other hikers that side-tripped to Trent’s and said it was an okay stop. They ended up just getting some ice cream and said it was not worth the extra half mile. I knew another hiker who stayed in the room they offered and said he had a great stay. Again – it depends on who you talked to and your expectations.
- Pearisburg, VA – I got into Pearisburg very late, and the only things open were Dairy Queen and the Chinese Restaurant. I ate Chinese, and it was average. It was a buffet, though, so that was a positive. My stay at Angel’s Rest was good. I stayed in a private room with a shared bath and washed Laundry before heading out the following day. The hostel was very accommodating, considering how late I arrived. It was clean and had everything I needed. The motel was full. The town has everything you need, and the hostel is behind a grocery store and within walking distance of several restaurants.
- Daleville, VA – I stayed here twice, before and after I left the trail for a week-long vacation. Everyone stays at the Super 8. It is clean, has a hiker rate, and is close to Mexican, Barbecue, Chinese, and Kroger. All of these are within walking distance, although Kroger and Chinese are about a half mile down the road, but it is an easy walk. There is a Cracker Barrel on the other side of the interstate, but I tried to get to it and felt like I was playing Frogger, so I returned for the motel breakfast.
Virginia has some very good hostels. They are all listed in Farout, but take the comments with a grain of salt since they eliminate many of the negative comments. Your best bet is to ask other hikers.
- Grayson Highlands General Store & Inn – This hostel is not on the trail, so you will have to get a shuttle. Reviews have always been all over the page, but they are now under new ownership and supposedly offer a great stay. They also provide shuttles.
- Bear Garden Hostel – This is another hostel with good feedback from other hikers. You can see it up the road from the trail, and they are clean and offer reasonable rates and services.
- Woods Hotel Hostel – This hostel has a fantastic reputation if you are looking for a place to chill and rest. They offer great organic, vegetarian meals and snacks. I did have a couple of hikers tell me they would rather have taken a zero at Angel’s Rest in Pearisburg, where there was a town with more amenities, but other than that, I have never heard a negative word about this hostel.
- Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven – Since the motel was full, I stayed at the hostel in Pearisburg. My room was nice, and the hostel had everything I needed. It was within walking distance of the grocery store and several restaurants. They also offer shuttles.
- Four Pines Hostel – I heard a lot about Four Pines, and not much of it was positive. I heard it is a minimal party hostel with sofas and mattresses in a garage. It is currently under new management, so check out Farout in 2024. I only list this one because I heard a lot of feedback from hikers I knew.
Southern Virginia Highlights Summary – the Appalachian Trail
Virginia was a great state. Towns were generally small and walkable but had all the amenities I needed to resupply and recharge. It did seem like every town had Mexican food, though, and I began to tire of it, which I never thought possible. Fortunately, all the restaurants had good food!
Hiking was moderate, with a few easy sections thrown in, and apparently, that was all that many hikers recall! Southern Virginia was beautiful but not flat, and I loved hiking through it during early Spring.