Virginia’s mountains come alive in the spring with roaring creeks and endless wildflowers—and what better place to shake off winter’s chill than a moderate 27.8-mile lollipop loop that cruises past trout streams, ridgetop views, and a cascading waterfall?
From the trailhead at Jennings Creek (legend has it this spot, called Panther Ford, was named for a woman and child killed here by a big cat in the 18th century), hike 3.7 miles north on the Appalachian Trail. The path climbs 1,091 feet to the top of Fork Mountain, then drops slightly to the Bryant Ridge Shelter; while there aren’t many views on this section, there’s no shortage of lady’s slippers, star flowers, and orchids. On day two, head north on the AT for 7.6 miles, then turn left on the blue-blazed Apple Orchard Trail. Apple Orchard Falls, a 150-foot waterfall followed by a bubbling cascade, awaits 1 mile down the trail. Hike another 2.4 miles west, then veer east on the Cornelius Creek Trail. Follow the blue blazes 2.9 miles back to the AT; turn south and walk 1.5 miles through blooming mountain laurel and azalea to the Cornelius Creek Shelter. Finish the loop by hiking south 8.7 miles back to your car.
Info: Map: Trails Illustrated #789: Lexington, Blue Ridge Mountains. (540) 265-5100; www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj
Hike provided by the Tidewater Appalachian ClubEvent and membership info: tidewateratc.com