Cascades Hike

The Cascades in autumn 2020. Photo courtesy of Abbigale Evans.

As Hokies enjoy their time on campus at Virginia Tech, they shouldn’t forget about the wonders waiting for them if they choose to venture into the mountains. Several of our favorite spots are located close to Blacksburg, and if you’re willing to make the hike — pun intended — some spectacular views are waiting a few hours away as well. Before beginning your journey into the wilderness, make sure to let your roommates or close friends know where you’re going, especially if you are more experienced and tend to hike alone. Popular spots like the Appalachian Trail are generally a safe place, but you should always take precautions to make sure your daytime hike does not turn into an unexpected overnight stay. Regardless of which hike you choose to go on, any of the ones listed below are sure to take your breath away — literally and metaphorically. And above all else, make sure to bring plenty of food and water to keep your energy up!

 

Category: Nearby hikes

McAfee Knob, Catawba, Virginia

Just a little over a half an hour’s drive from campus, McAfee Knob (often referred to as “McAfee’s Knob”) is featured on the Hokie Bucket List as a must-do before you graduate — and for good reason! This hike features a beautiful panoramic view of the Catawba Valley and is one of the most popular spots on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers can opt to take the less steep (but still heart-pounding) fire road or the traditional white-blazed Appalachian Trail route, which features plenty of stairs to get your blood pumping. According to the Roanoke Outside Foundation, the hike is about 7.5 miles round trip, but most hikers agree that the pain is well worth the gain — McAfee Knob is the “most photographed site” on the Appalachian Trail. Though it’s always good to bring more water than you think you’ll need, having had our own bouts with dehydration on this trail, we recommend investing in a water bladder that can carry two or three times as much water as you usually drink, as McAfee Knob does not offer access to any natural water sources. Get an early start, too — this hike takes at least four hours, not including time spent taking pictures and enjoying a relaxing lunch at the top. And be mindful of the infamous knob — many hikers have injured themselves, some fatally, after getting too close to the edge. Want to really challenge yourself for an epic payoff? Grab a flashlight and start well before dawn so you can see the sunrise at the summit! 

Dragon’s Tooth, Catawba, Virginia

Located not far from McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth is surely not for the faint of heart. Although it may seem like a mere 4.5-mile out-and-back trail, the last three-fourths of a mile brings hikers up rocky ascents to a massive boulder jutting out from the top of the mountain. This rock is a perfect spot to sit and relax in the sunshine after the strenuous hike. Dragon's Tooth is ideal for sunrise and sunset hikes with a 360-degree view from the peak. Hikers can watch the sun paint the sky behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in fiery hues of auburn and amber. Sometimes hikers will find themselves perched atop the clouds at this lofty peak. The views along this climb may as well be from a dragon’s back with a 1,400-foot elevation gain throughout the hike. There are several small streams along the trek up to the top where hikers can dip their feet in and cool off. This hike will take just under four hours. It is also connected to McAfee Knob, and is located on the Triple Crown Loop, a 38.8-mile backpacking trail that features McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs.

Tinker Cliffs, Catawba, Virginia 

Located four miles from McAfee Knob on the Triple Crown Loop, Tinker Cliffs is a 7-mile out-and-back hike. While this hike is a little longer than the other two hikes on the Triple Crown, it does not disappoint! The summit is actually visible from McAfee Knob as a bleached white strip of rocks crowning the top of the mountain. Hikers can walk along this ledge and enjoy views every step of the way; it just takes a little effort to get there. First, hikers pass over a burbling brook on a wooden bridge leading into an open pasture. If hikers look up, they will see the summit ahead of them that they’ll soon climb. This hike also passes through private property owned by Roanoke Cement Company, which hikers can hear in the distance as they walk. Further along the trail, hikers will encounter a long set of wooden stairs molded into the dirt — so make sure your thighs are ready for a workout! 

Huckleberry Trail

The Huckleberry Trail is a pleasant option for those who want a leisurely stroll or a beautiful bike ride. This 15-mile trail is easily accessible from campus. If students continue walking past the Duck Pond and past the Corps of Cadets’ obstacle course, they will be met with a scenic stretch of the paved trail that extends by the local farms on campus. Horses and cows are usually grazing in the pastures — but don’t touch the electric fence! The trail passes below Route 460 and winds all the way to Walmart in Christiansburg. Most of the trail overlooks the mountains surrounding Blacksburg and is a relaxing place to go to watch sunsets and escape the daily humdrum of classes.

Cascades

This is one of the most popular hikes for Hokies! This hike is 3.8 miles long and winds along a mossy river. The hike ends at a 66-foot tall waterfall with a pool at the base deep enough to cool off in. The refreshing mountain water will revive you after this moderate trek. The whimsical hike features several wooden bridges crossing the river as well as a wooden deck to view the waterfall. Be careful on the slippery rocks; a twisted ankle does not bode well for students trying to make it to class on time! Even if you don’t choose to swim in the water, the spray from the falls can be just as cooling. In the winter, sometimes the waterfall freezes and forms massive icicles along the cliff face, making for a spectacular view — but in any season, the Cascades is sure to get your love for nature flowing.

Stiles Falls, Shawsville, Virginia

A relatively short 3.2-mile hike, this is a pleasant forest trek that culminates in a gorgeous waterfall. You’ll encounter a winding river with multiple required crossings throughout, so either bring an extra pair of shoes or hiking shoes that can handle a soak — we also recommend a hiking stick to help you keep your balance. Be mindful that this hike is located on the Alta Mons summer camp property of a local Methodist church, so you must sign in when you arrive and depart before sunset; due to camps, the hike won’t be accessible during the summer. This is a good hike for those who want practice with river crossings or who want waterfall views without a steep ascent. 

Bald Knob, Newport, Virginia 

Located near the Mountain Lake Lodge property where “Dirty Dancing” was filmed, this short but steep hike is just under a mile long. While a 0.8 mile trail might seem like a breeze, don’t be deceived — with a little over 400 feet of elevation gain in such a short time, your heart will be racing by the time you get to the summit! The bravest Hokies might even opt to take graduation photos at the top. This is a great pick for a quick after-class hike, though you’ll definitely want to get in a shower afterwards.

Falls Ridge Preserve, Elliston, Virginia 

Another classic waterfall hike, Falls Ridge Preserve features an 80-foot waterfall and some cool cavern-like formations to explore. The waterfall is very close to the parking lot, so it’s not a long trek to see the star of the show — however, those interested in some lovely forest views can wander the Chamberlain Trail, which takes hikers through the woods for just under three miles. The parking lot for the preserve is very small and requires driving over a tiny bridge to get there, so don’t bring your biggest car and be mindful of the time and day you’re visiting. 

 

Category: If you don’t mind a bit of a drive

Buffalo Mountain, Willis, Virginia

A little over an hour’s drive from campus, Buffalo Mountain offers unparalleled views at the summit and the opportunity to explore a unique spot where 15 rare plants can be found. At the panoramic summit of this 2.2-mile hike, find a comfortable rock to perch on and enjoy your lunch from 3,971 feet in the sky. We particularly recommend this hike in the fall for awesome views of the fall foliage. 

New River Gorge National Park, Glen Jean, West Virginia 

America’s newest national park, the spectacular sights at the New River Gorge should feature on every Hokie’s bucket list. Not only does the over 70,000-acre park offer amazing views of the gorge, but it also features the New River Gorge Bridge, described by the National Park Service as the “longest steel span (bridge) in the western hemisphere.” The hikes are, of course, incredible — we recommend the Endless Wall Trail for easy access to gorgeous overlooks and the Kaymoor Trail for a strenuous exploration of the abandoned ruins of the coal mine once located at Kaymoor. However, if you’d also like to try your hand at other types of outdoor adventures, the whitewater rafting and rock climbing opportunities in the park are world-class. The park is about an hour and a half’s drive from campus, but we recommend leaving early so you have plenty of time to explore.

Linville Falls, near Boone, North Carolina

A perfect destination for a long weekend or spring break trip, this stunning waterfall is located near many of North Carolina’s premier hiking destinations. According to Visit North Carolina, Linville Falls is “the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains” thanks to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the views certainly don’t hurt, either. There are multiple trails to choose from, ranging from the moderate one-mile Plunge Basin Trail to the easy 1.6-mile Falls Trail — and if none of these satisfy, exciting destinations like Grandfather Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain and the scenic fellow college town of Boone are all in close proximity. Keep in mind that the drive to Linville Falls is a little under three and a half hours from campus, so we recommend only attempting this hike on weekends or breaks. 

Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, Virginia

Roughly two hours from campus, Grayson Highlands State Park offers perhaps the easiest attention-grabber to prospective hikers of all ages — wild ponies! The park has all sorts of trails to choose from, but for a winter wonderland experience, we recommend going in the winter after a decent snowfall (with the proper gear, of course) and snapping photos of the ponies trudging through the snow. The view is incredible in all seasons, of course — just remember to keep 50 feet of distance from the ponies at all times, since they are wild!