Do you like to take your dog hiking? Or does your dog like to take you hiking? Either way, it is a win-win situation. And Virginia has a plethora of outdoor destinations where you and your canine companion can cavort along the trail, getting exercise and enjoying some of that scenic beauty for which Virginia is known.
Hiking with your dog has an additional advantage. Sometimes we don’t feel like exercising ourselves, but we know our pet needs exercise. Therefore, we get off the couch and take our four-legged friend for a hike. Afterwards we are always glad our dog inspired us to hike.
Here are 10 dog friendly hikes in Virginia, parks and trails where you can get your dog out of the house and back to nature, where he can take in those wonderful smells, splash in the water a little bit, and be your companion while you also get back to nature, enjoying a respite from our hurried world along a Virginia trail.
BULL RUN OCCOQUAN TRAIL
Nearest Town: Centreville
Hike Distance: 3.4-miles there-and-back
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 38.7996, -77.47313
Why Your Dog Will Like It: This natural surface path roams through creekside woods, allowing your dog to explore the forest and perhaps enjoy a little water play on Cub Run and Bull Run. There’s plenty of wildlife out here, so keep your dog leashed or a-hunting he will go.
Why You Will Like It: Bull Run Regional Park, a preserve of multiuse fun – with plenty of woods for trails — is the starting point for the Occoquan Trail, a nearly 19 mile one-way track traversing several NOVA Parks. This dog-friendly hike uses a natural surface pathway. Bridges span tributary streams. Bull Run Regional Park and the necklace of Northern Virginia Regional Parks contain historic sites within their collective 5,000 acres. You will likely run out of stamina before you run out of trail. This 3.4 mile out and back turns around at Centerville Road access, but if you keep going east the Bull Run Occoquan Trail reaches Fountainhead Reservoir and Fountainhead Regional Park. However, the easternmost 6 miles of trail are open to mountain bikes, thus are the less desired dog hiking segment.
READ MOUNTAIN PRESERVE
Nearest Town: Roanoke
Hike Distance: 5.0-mile loop
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.33481, -79.89049
Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy
Why Your Dog Will Like It: This is a real hike on singletrack mountain foot trails. Your pet will find the trailblazing fun and the rich woods chock full of attention grabbing sights, sounds and smells. The loop hike is a full workout so bring water for you and Rover (But y’all can’t share the same drinking bowl). Finally, use extra caution with your dog around the overlooks.
Why You Will Like It: This hike explores the 258-acre preserve at Read Mountain, a wooded ridge rising northeast of downtown Roanoke. Climb along a hollow then work your way up the rocky south slope, making view-filled Buzzard Rock. Travel the mountain crest then complete your loop on the aptly named Rocky Way Trail, grabbing another stellar view from the Devils Drop. The park has been around since the 1930s and is a Roanoke classic.
BEAVER LAKE TRAIL
Nearest Town: Chesterfield
Hike Distance: 2.5-mile loop
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.3878, -77.58164
Photo Credit: Big Orange Frame
Why Your Dog Will Like It: The hiker-only trail circles a wetland/lake deep in the heart of Pocahontas State Park near Richmond. A combination of woods and water will leave your dog pulling you to see what is around the next bend of the path. Attractive woodland of maple, holly, white oaks shades the path as it borders the water. Frogs will serenade you on your trek.
Why You Will Like It: Trailside scenery includes watery vistas from two observation piers, rolling woods, a wetland boardwalk and the site of an old mill along Third Branch. You can also visit the Civilian Conservation Corp Museum located at the trailhead. Beaver Lake is great for wildlife and the hike takes you both along the lake and through the hills surrounding it. An early morning or late evening visit may result in your seeing some of the critters that call Pocahontas home. The trail system here at Pocahontas is well marked and maintained, allowing you to relax and enjoy some quality time with your dog.
LITTLE ISLAND PARK
Nearest Town: Sandbridge
Hike Distance: Varies
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 36.69221, -75.92467
Photo Credit: Brian Camp, @brian_k_camp
Why Your Dog Will Like It: What hiking dog doesn’t want to trollop on the beach? The treasure trove of smells and sounds along the shore will bring your four legged friend to the heights of hiking dog-dom. However, Little Island Park has a few rules regarding dogs on the beach: Dogs are welcome to enjoy the beach anytime after Labor Day weekend and before Memorial Day weekend, or from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, dogs are allowed prior to 10 am or after 6 pm.
Why You Will Like It: Where else can you hike barefoot except the beach? Stick your toes in the sand and stride along the shore, watching the waves roll in. Even if its colder – and you have to wear shoes – a brisk stroll along the sand is good exercise.
HUNGRY MOTHER STATE PARK LAKE TRAIL LOOP
Nearest Town: Marion
Hike Distance: 5.7 miles
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 36.87014, -81.5233
Photo Credit: Brad Deel, @brad.deel
Why Your Dog Will Like It: How can your dog not like a trail that completely encircles a mountain-rimmed lake? Enjoy woods and occasional clearings, such as around the lake dam. Developed parking and grassy spots along the loop give Fido room to roam beyond the trails and with all the water nearby it is only a matter of time before your pet will tempt a swim. Just remember pets aren’t allowed at the swim beach.
Why You Will Like It: The Lake Trail explores a series of environments during this journey around Hungry Mother Lake, located at one of Virginia’s 6 original state parks. The mostly flat hike delivers scads of lake and mountain views. Parts of the path are paved, especially in developed areas, while other segments are gravel or natural surface. You can shorten the loop by doing an out-and-back or combining with other paths. After coming here you will see the superlative scenery that helped it be chosen as one of the first state parks here in the Old Dominion.
KIPTOPEKE STATE PARK
Nearest Town: Townsend
Hike Distance: 4+ miles of trails
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.16935, -75.98044
Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy
Why Your Dog Will Like It: Your dog will love gamboling on the landward trails as well as the waterfront. Kiptopeke features a little over a mile of Chesapeake Bay beach. High bluffs drop down to rolling wooded dunes then reach a sandy beach overlooking Chesapeake Bay. Fido will overlook the long stairs dropping off bluffs so he can reach the beach. Make a side trip to Taylor Pond. It is inland and is wildlife rich, making your dog pull hard on the leash while he sniffs up a storm.
Why You Will Like It: Enjoy the interface between woodland and water on the four miles of wide doubletrack trails. They combine boardwalks with standard footpaths. These trails emanate from the park picnic area, which has a playground for kids and two picnic shelters. From the trailhead, take the Baywoods Trail down to the Peregrine Boardwalk then walk along the beach beside Chesapeake Bay. While down on the beach admire the curving sand shoreline rising to maritime woods. Return to the boardwalk, rejoining the land trails to loop with the Brown Pelican Trail and the Songbird Trail.
SENECA REGIONAL PARK
Nearest Town: Great Falls
Hike Distance: Over 8 miles of trails
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 39.05156, -77.33409
Why Your Dog Will Like It: Trails here run the gamut, from narrow singletrack paths to wider gravel road-like tracks. This way if you want a relaxing stroll on uplands above the Potomac River, take the wider paths. On the other hand, for more intimate action take singletrack trails. Either way, take your dog down to the Potomac River and the Potomac Heritage Trail. It runs along the river bottom. Another recommended path is the Seneca Connector Trail, especially the part that runs along a tributary of the Potomac.
Why You Will Like It: An extensive trail network allows you to lengthen or shorten your hike on the fly, should you or your four-legged friend become tired or alternatively are energized by the scenery. Download a map prior to your hike. The bluffs and hollows deliver a little elevation change and the bottomlands along the Potomac add an additional environmental factor. It is located next to busier Riverbend Park, thus is less busy. However, the trail network here links into Riverbend Park, should you desire additional adventure.
LIBERTY HILL NATURE TRAIL
Nearest Town: Boydton
Hike Distance: 1.25 miles
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 36.59642, -78.29255
Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy
Why Your Dog Will Like It: The trail makes a loop, with much of it passing along the banks of the just-released Roanoke River, where it has been penned as John H. Kerr Reservoir down in deep Southside Virginia. The path starts below the dam then comes along the Roanoke River, where Rover can enjoy a little water play. Continuing downstream, the track overlooks Buggs Island, the name by which Kerr Reservoir also goes by “Buggs Island Lake”. Your pet will get a little exercise rising back up from the river.
Why You Will Like It: Since your dog doesn’t read (at least I don’t think so) you’ll have to explain the finer points of this human and natural history of this interpretive trail. Download the brochure before your trek and learn a little about the old plantation at Liberty Hill, and Samuel Bugg of Buggs Island plus tidbits on the local flora and fauna. Finally, soak in a view of the dam holding back Kerr Reservoir.
CHRIS GREENE LAKE PARK
Nearest Town: Charlottesville
Hike Distance: 3+ miles of trails in 4 loops
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 38.16584, -78.43865
Why Your Dog Will Like It: This park is centered on 53-acre Chris Greene Lake. For a short getaway take the Piney Forest Loop and the White Rock Loop, then you end up at a 1 acre lakeside dog romping and lake access area with a dog-specific swimming spot! For a longer hike, use the trails across the lake.
Why You Will Like It: A network of trails traverses the lakeshore as well as adjoining hills and hollows. The pathways deliver a variety of sights and scenes while allowing you to lengthen or shorten your hike. The park also has a beach access area for people and picnic shelters and tables. Added bonus: The park boasts a canoe/kayak launch in case you want to take your four legged friend on a paddle around 53-acre Chris Greene Lake.
Nearest Town: Lynchburg
Hike Distance: 2.0 mile out and back
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.41121, -79.13574
Photo Credit: Emelyn Gwynn, @lynchburgva
Why Your Dog Will Like It: Percival’s Island stands in the middle of the James River and is a designated natural area. Lynchburg’s Riverwalk Trail leads from downtown across a bridge and onto Percival’s Island. Your dog will love the immediate change from urban to wooded world, and can romp along additional trails on the island. Percival’s Island stretches for a mile downriver where another bridge leaves south for the mainland. You can continue on the Riverwalk Trail or let Fido work his way back up Percival’s Island, exploring this slice of wilderness so close to downtown Lynchburg.
Why You Will Like It: In addition to the Riverwalk Trail, this immediate part of Lynchburg is laced with trails that wander up the Ivy Creek valley, a tributary of the James River. These paths include additional paved connectors to the Riverwalk Trail as well as unpaved paths. Take special note of the Creekside Trail. It starts at Lynchburg Dog Park. That means you and your four-legged friend can play at Lynchburg Dog Park, then hike the Ivy Creek Trail!