Staunton and its surroundings are great places to view winter wildlife. If you’d like to stretch your legs and explore, take a quick trip to one of these cool spots. If you’re looking for something within city limits, try one of the sites in our post Winter Wildlife Hot Spots Part 1: Staunton.
Drive east on US 250 to visit the STAR Trail (Supporting Therapeutic Access to Recreation) at Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center. This ½-mile wheelchair-accessible trail circles a lake, crosses a pretty bridge, and winds through a pine grove. It also offers benches for viewing waterfowl, a gazebo, a picnic shelter, fishing, and even a fitness trail. White-tailed deer, Canada Geese, and black bears sometimes appear here.
Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway
The entrances to the Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are an easy 20-mile drive from Staunton. Both offer scenic overlooks, abundant opportunities to enjoy winter wildlife, and trailheads for hikes of varying difficulty.
Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch
The Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch commands a 180-degree vista of both the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont Region. This site is easy to access, and provides a spectacular place to watch migrating raptors, especially broad-winged, sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s hawks. The site receives the most traffic (avian and human) during the fall migration. At this time, volunteers from area bird clubs set up lawn chairs and log long hours recording data. Common winter sightings of red-tailed hawks, ravens, and vultures make this a worthwhile stop all year.
Wildlife Center of Virginia
The Wildlife Center of Virginia has been helping sick or injured wild animals for 25 years. The center holds open houses several times a year, but spots are limited so register ahead of time. The hour-long tour (for ages five and up) educates visitors about rescuing and providing medical care for sick and injured animals. Guests visit the operating rooms and meet the education animals. These animals are permanently handicapped or have imprinted upon humans and cannot return to the wild.
Twenty-five miles to the southeast of Staunton and part of the George Washington National Forest, 25-acre Sherando Lake is Augusta County’s own “Jewel of the Blue Ridge.” A bustling summer destination for swimming and camping, it becomes serene in winter. Hike the trail looping the lake and, if it’s cold enough, pack your ice skates! E-birders report common loons, Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks, and pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers in winter.
Augusta Springs Wetlands
The Augusta Springs Wetlands is part of George Washington National Forest and 16 miles southwest of Staunton. This ¾-mile all-access loop trail traverses elevated boardwalks through a wetland that was once the sight of turn-of-the century resort. As you pause to read about wildlife at the learning stations, also notice the occasional foundations (buildings, fountains, bottling plant). In winter, you might spot Canada Geese, wood ducks, mallards, ring-necked ducks, and hooded mergansers on the two large ponds. Vultures and red-shouldered hawks are also common this time of year.
Hiking trails around Braley Pond explore a hardwood forest, and some of the trees show signs of beaver teeth! Winter bird species noted here include great horned owl, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawk, belted kingfisher, and pileated woodpecker. The Forest Service built the pond for recreation in 1965. You might see ice fishermen if the water freezes.
Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Birding and Wildlife Trails showcase great spots to see wildlife across the state. The following trails are easily accessible from Staunton.