Shenandoah National Park
Tackle this challenging 28-mile loop midweek in late fall to avoid the throngs that flock to Old Rag Mountain and its 360-degee views: Start at Corbin Cabin, a pioneer relic circa 1909, and descend Nicholson Hollow Trail, scramble over ledges to Old Rag's summit via the Ridge Trail, then descend via Old Rag fire road. The Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails treat you to more challenging terrain through two steep, wild gorges with nine waterfalls before heading north on the AT.
Contact: Shenandoah National Park, (540) 999-3500; www.nps.gov/shen.
A quarter of the AT traverses Virginia, from the high peaks of the southern reaches to the gentle hills and dense woodlands of the north. The wide skies and secluded camping in Sky Meadows State Park, near Front Royal, make for great stargazing, and easy trails access a little-traveled segment of the AT for long ridgeline hikes with sweeping horse-country views.
Contact: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, (703) 242-0693; www.patc.net.
Connect any number of side trails with the AT for weekend loops where you'll pad through deep southern Appalachian red spruce and Fraser fir forests, then burst into sunny, grassy meadows. Don't miss the Lewis Fork and Cliffside Trails up to the balds along Pine Mountain Trail, then continue on the AT to the spectacular rocky openings and 100-mile vistas on Wilburn Ridge.
Contact: Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, Jefferson National Forest, (540) 783-5196; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/gwj.