6 Winter Hikes to Love in Shenandoah County
Guest Blogger Erin Gifford
It may be time to don a winter coat and beanie, but there’s no need to stay away from the hiking trails. In fact, there’s something magical about hiking in winter.
The air is cold and crisp. The views are more expansive as you can see straight through the leafless forest. The quiet on less-trafficked trails allow for peace in nature.
Winter can be the best time for outdoor exploration when it’s serene and you can truly embrace the trails, the forests, and the wildlife with all your senses.
Ready to hit the trails? Erin Gifford of Go Hike Virginia has pulled together six of her favorite trails to hike in Shenandoah County. All are top picks for hiking in winter.
#1: Woodstock Tower Hike
This 1.7-mile out-and-back hike to a 40-foot-tall scenic observation tower in the George Washington National Forest wows with panoramic views of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, as well as the Shenandoah Valley.
Built-in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this scenic lookout offers one of the best vantage points for far-reaching snow-covered views across Shenandoah County.
This rocky hike begins in the Little Fort Campground. It’s a healthy ascent to the tower, but once you reach the top, you’ll be glad you did. For Pokemon GO players, there’s even a PokeStop at the Woodstock Tower. It’s a win-win.
#2: Lake Laura Loop
For a refreshingly pleasant winter hike, look to the Lake Laura Trail that circumnavigates 44-acre Lake Laura at Bryce Resort in Basye. This easy 2.5-mile nature hike guides visitors around the lake, wowing with water views with every step.
Bryce Resort may be better known in winter as a go-to destination for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing, but when it’s time to take a break from the slopes, look to Lake Laura. Not a skier or boarder? The Lake Laura Trail is good for just about everyone of all abilities. It’s also a nice place for birdwatching.
In winter, you may even have this trail to yourself, so enjoy this hike to the fullest while others are schussing down the Bryce ski runs. Complete this hike counter-clockwise for the best lake views and final steps at the scenic dam.
#3: Buzzard Rock Trail
The Buzzard Rock Trail near Strasburg is one to love for views and more views. Hike to the first overlook for a 2.9-mile out-and-back trek or go longer for a 6.2-mile out-and-back hike to the second overlook.
Even if you turn around somewhere in between the two overlooks, you’ll still reap massive rewards as you walk along the rocky ridgeline. The west-facing views toward Green Mountain are particularly scenic. You’ll notice several stone fire pits and primitive campsites along the hiking trail too.
You can end the hike with an east-facing rocky outcrop that’s just right for a winter sunrise. The Buzzard Rock Trail continues on past this point if you choose to keep on, but this is a good place to stop to enjoy a second vista in the quiet of winter.
#4: Eagles Edge Trail
If you’ve yet to pay a visit to the newest state park in Virginia, winter is a fantastic time to explore Seven Bends State Park in Woodstock. Here you’ll find eight miles of hiking trails, including the 1.0-mile Eagles Edge Trail.
This easy loop hike wows with the remains of a river stone fireplace, a working apiary, and scenic views of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. There’s even a gram-worthy LOVEworks sculpture in the final steps of this relaxing hike.
Just off the trailhead, descend a wooden staircase to the river’s edge to skip stones in the slow-moving waters. Up for a second hike? The 1.7-mile Gokotta Trail begins across the main park road from the Eagles Edge Trail.
#5: Little Schloss Trail
For a more challenging hike, look to the Little Schloss Trail in the George Washington National Forest near Woodstock. This 3.5-mile out-and-back hike begins with a heart-pumping walk through the tree-laden national forest. Then, a surprise.
At the very end of this hike, an exciting rock scramble awaits and rewards with payoff views for miles. At first glance, the scramble may look intimidating, but there are plenty of rocks to grab onto as you make your way to the top of Little Schloss.
The rocks can be cold in winter, so bring a pair of gloves. The parking lot for this hike is small (maybe 10 cars can park), so keep this in mind before you set out to hike this worthwhile trail in Shenandoah County.
#6: Storybook Trail
For an easy, paved trail that rewards with one of the most beautiful vistas in all of Virginia – not just Shenandoah County – look to the .7-mile out-and-back Storybook Trail near New Market. This fully-accessible trail can be enjoyed by everyone, but several fun rock scrambles adjacent to the trail add to its playfulness.
The Storybook Trail begins with a whimsical footbridge over a small, burbling creek. From here, visitors are guided along a paved trail dotted with placards that educate on the Massanutten Mountain Range, a natural feature that got its start as the sand on the ocean floor some 400 million years ago.
In a few short steps, a spectacular overlook awaits with far-reaching Shenandoah Valley. The views are east-facing, making this a first-rate destination for a winter sunrise hike. Thankfully in winter, you don’t need to wake as early to enjoy the sunrise.
For even more local hikes, Go Hike Virginia features Shenandoah Valley hikes for all levels that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
While normally a spot companies rent out for a retreat, or families book a wedding or family reunion, Shrine Mont has six winter cottages that can be booked throughout the season. These cabins are perfectly located for anyone who wants to ski, snowboard, or tube at Bryce Resort.
Each cabin is equipped with a television and Wi-Fi for remote work or learning. You do need to bring your own blankets, pillows, and towels; sheets and bath mats are provided.
St. Andrew’s Cabin is the largest “cabin” to rent. It was built in 1941 by Shrine Mont’s founder, The Rev. Dr. Edmund Lee Woodward. The property has more of a farmhouse look, sleeping up to 20 people in five bedrooms with a wood-burning fireplace in the two living rooms and a kitchenette for making meals. Sit on the porch in a rocking chair, listening to the sounds of nature all around you and looking up at the stars above.
If you need something a bit smaller, you can book the 19th-century five-bedroom Vienna house. There is a working fireplace and a kitchenette. Best of all, this cottage is available year-round with central heat and air conditioning.