Screen time is on the up and up, due in large part to pandemic-prompted distance learning in school districts across the state. To offset this rise in eyeballs on screens, it’s time to get the kids outside, on a scenic hiking trail in the Shenandoah Valley.
Best Winter Hikes for Outdoor-Loving Families
Even in winter, there’s loads of active family fun to be had on our hiking trails, like scrambling rocks, skipping stones across streams and ogling frozen waterfalls. We asked Erin Gifford of to share her best winter hikes for outdoor-loving families. Here’s a sampling of regional hikes that are just right.
For Waterfall Lovers…
Fans of waterfall hikes will love the 3.9-mile loop hike to 67-foot-tall Rose River Falls in Shenandoah National Park. As a bonus, you may even reach a frozen waterfall when you arrive at the waterfall basin.
Kids will love this hike not just for the falls, but for cascading Hogcamp Branch that you hike alongside on the way to Rose River Falls. There is also Cave Cemetery, which is sure to spark curiosity about those who once called the national park home.
For a shorter hike, try the Whiteoak Canyon Trail to Lower Whiteoak Falls within Shenandoah National Park. This 2.9-mile out-and-back hike guides hikers alongside the Robinson River nearly every step of this scenic hike.
For Rock Scramblers…
Adventurous kids (and parents) will go ga-ga for the Bearfence Rock Scramble at Shenandoah National Park. It’s a short hike, but you’ll feel on top of the world as you climb to the top of Bearfence Mountain for 360-degree views.
This hike may be less than one-mile, but don’t underestimate the rock scramble. You’ll need to use your hands, feet and arms, even knees to reach the top. If you’re up for a challenge on a winter day, this one is worth every ounce of effort.
For a truly monumental rock scramble – as in, eight acres of boulders to climb up, over and around – head to Devil’s Marbleyard in Natural Bridge Station. This hike is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that adventurous families will absolutely love.
For View Seekers…
With so many hikes across the Shenandoah Valley with eye-popping panoramas, it’s a task to choose just one (or two) for families. However, the Storybook Trail in New Market is one to love. It’s also fully-accessible to all levels and abilities.
The paved .7-mile Storybook Trail is easy for strollers, but several fun rock scrambles alongside the trail allow little ones to jump off and back on the trail. Parkour, anyone? A spectacular east-facing overlook wows as a first-rate destination for sunrise hikes.
For more steps, look to the 6.2-mile out-and-back hike on the Buzzard Rock Trail near Strasburg. Enjoy rocks scrambles, rocky outcrops and beyond fabulous west-facing vistas of mountains upon mountains as you traipse along the ridgeline.
For Budding Geologists…
Got a rock hound or junior geologist in the family? Then the easy 1.9-mile loop hike around Natural Chimneys Regional Park is for you. Imposing limestone formations awe and inspire. In simpler terms, these natural chimneys are really, really cool.
Each of the chimney formations is made up of numerous layers of compacted sediment. Within some layers, fossilized sea creatures can be found. Layers vary in thickness and color due to aquatic species and changing sea water temperatures.
Another fave for junior geos is the 2.4-mile out-and-back Compton Gap hike in Shenandoah National Park. The hike leads to a columnar jointing, an out-of-this-world rock formation that wows with hexagonal patterns and geological geometry.
For State Park Fans…
Virginia is fortunate to have 39 state parks (and counting), including Seven Bends State Park in Woodstock and Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville. Both have miles of hiking trails ready to be explored by outdoor-loving families, even in winter.
The easy 1.0-mile Eagles Edge Trail at Seven Bends State Park wows with the remains of a river stone fireplace, a working apiary and views of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. There’s even a photo-worthy LOVEworks sculpture in the final steps of this hike.
At Shenandoah River State Park, it’s a snap to stitch together multiple short trails, like the .5-mile Hemlock Hollow Trail and .5-mile Overlook Trail that together guide visitors to Culler’s Overlook for far-reaching views across Massanutten Mountain.
Editor’s Tip: Did you know you can get a FREE pass to Virginia State Parks through your local library? Check out a nature backpack and go!
For even more family hikes, Go Hike Virginia features for all levels of hikers that can be enjoyed in winter and throughout the year. And if you’re looking for more winter family adventure, check out the Kids Trail Blog.