Whether you’re new to hiking or you’re hoping to get your kids to join you, Staunton has a number of hikes that are appropriate for beginners. You won’t be ready to thru-hike the A.T., but you’ll end up with strong legs and the peace of mind that comes with getting outside and breathing deeply of nature. I’ve personally done all of these hikes with my five-year-old to the tune of minimal complaining.
Montgomery Hall Park
Montgomery Hall Park is a great asset to Staunton. You can wander on the looping miles of wooded hiking trails and forget that you’re within city limits. Great for birders, you might also spot deer. This park is hilly, but the interconnected nature of the blazed trails make it possible to design a hike that suits your needs. It’s also easy to cut your hike short if it becomes too challenging for beginner (or tiny) legs. The trails are well maintained. There are no views or water features. Best for: walking with kids or leashed dogs, and birders.
Betsy Bell Wilderness
Affectionately called “mountains,” Betsy Bell and Mary Gray rise above the city of Staunton and can be spotted from the distance as you approach town. The loop hike climbs and will get your heart pumping, but it’s not challenging and is good for beginners or children. Park in the designated parking area and hike up the gravel road to start. You’ll pass two overlooks that give great overhead views of Staunton. It’s fun to try to identify landmarks from a different perspective. This is a good spot to see deer and birds.
Sherando Lake Recreation Area offers several hiking trails, but our favorite is the trail that loops the lower lake. If you hike clockwise (go left from the parking area), you will cover the more difficult portions of the trail while your legs are fresh. This section has some short, but steep, ups and downs and edges a drop off in one section. At the halfway point, you’ll come to the spillway of the dam, which offers some interest and views. The second half of the hike is on a flat, wide trail. The loop concludes at the sandy beach by the swimming area and restrooms.
North River Gorge
The North River Gorge hike requires sitting in the car for a while, but is totally worth all the “are we there yets” when you arrive. The entire loop might take experienced hikers six hours, but you can hike about a mile and get to a scenic overlook if you take the turn for the Lookout Trail noted on the hike’s web page. This is a good turnaround spot. The hike has just enough up and down to get your heart pumping, offers great views of the river, and ends at a scenic overlook high above the valley. Oh, and there’s a swinging bridge and ruins of an old spring to explore.
Augusta Springs Wetlands
Augusta Springs Wetlands is a super hike for kids, beginners, or birders out for a stroll. Originally part of a turn-of-the-century resort, all that remains now are some foundations and random-looking stonework. The main loop trail is flat, mostly board-walked, and less than a mile long, but you can add on additional, more rugged, distance if you’re feeling up to it. Educational stations along the way tell of animals you might encounter.
White Rock Falls
Hikers who aren’t ready for the steep climb to Humpback Rocks might enjoy the hike to White Rock Falls from the Slacks overlook. You’ll descend just over a mile from the parkway to a pretty waterfall. The trail continues for a longer hike, but if you retrace your steps, your total will be 2.2 miles. The hike back out is steep, but there are some bridges to stomp over (and trolls to chase you if you’re lucky).