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Discovering Virginia’s Fall Foliage on Three Great Trails in the George Washington National Forest

Upon moving to Harrisonburg from Central Pennsylvania, I sought to discover and undertake the plethora of outdoor activities and hiking trails the Shenandoah Valley has to offer, but where to begin? I soon became acquainted with the highly raved about Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive that runs through the park connecting its many trails and vistas.  Only after many weeks of living in Harrisonburg did I learn about a SECOND national park to the south and west of the city, the George Washington National Forest. And this is where the fun begins…

IMG_2218I love waterfalls, and hiking trails that follow waterfalls. After hiking a few miles in the summer sun, my faithful, four-legged companion, Malora, agrees that trails beside streams are indeed the best. There is nothing my Mexican mutt likes better then lying down in the middle of a stream and cooling off with a drink break during a challenging hike. Crabtree Falls is THEE MOST BEAUTIFUL waterfall trail to be found in the George Washington National Forest. It’s a trail of switchbacks about 2 miles up, and the hiker is afforded a different view of the falls at every turn, until at the top you find a vista and a connection to the Appalachian Trail.

If a ‘5’ indicated a tough, physically demanding trail, I would rate Crabtree Falls a 2.5 or 3. You’ll certainly want to stop and take photos of the series of falls, as they are said to be Virginia’s most impressive, and this helps break up the pace and incline of the trail. Also, this is a highly trafficked trail, due to both its beauty and accessibility, so your best bet for some solitude is early in the day, during the week.

Next up is Crabtree’s neighbor, Spy Rock. A steep hike, that ends in climbing a boulder for a 360 degree view (!) of the GW’s mountains. There is no water (streams, creeks, or falls) on this trail. Chances are good you’ll see a few AT hikers, and depending on the time of day you summit Spy Rock, you might have company up there. The trail is an in-and-out trail, just over 3 miles, and partly on a private road.  If Crabtree is a 2.5-3, I’d give Spy Rock a 3.5-4, due to steepness and the boulder climbing. The first part of the trail is pretty uneventful and quite the calf workout, but when you climb atop Spy Rock, it is completely worth the work you put in!

Here’s Malora and I approaching Spy Rock, but you need to go experience the view from the top for yourself.

spy rock

Last, but not least, is Big Schloss. While the other two trails are south of Harrisonburg, Big Schloss is north of the city on I-81. ‘Schloss’ means ‘castle’ in German, so I was sold right off the bat. I visited Big Schloss during the peak of the Shenandoah Valley’s fall foliage and it was a sight like no other.  Just the drive there was breathtaking! I would suggest starting the trail at Wolf Gap Campground. It’s another in-and-out trail, 4 miles total. The initial part of the trail has some elevation changes, but then you walk across a ridge, before ascending ‘the castle’. I’d rate this one a 2 out of 5 for difficulty. Big Schloss is right on the border of West Virginia and there are sooo many different views from the top.  Malora didn’t find the top nearly as exciting as I did.  Poor girl is a bit afraid of heights, so she’s staying down here…


Me? I wanted to see everything! I only ran into two other parties as I was hiking down, but I also enjoy going midweek. Working at a B&B keeps me very busy on weekends, so any days off happen Monday through Thursday, which is perfect for having the popular trails all to myself <3

Big SchlossFullSizeRender

How many other exciting adventure trails does the George Washington National Forest have to offer? Take a peak at their day hiking website here: Hiking Trails in the George Washington National Forest

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