Top 10 Secret Adventures: Virginia

New River Trail (photo: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)

Over the past three weeks we’ve been reminding you that summer won’t last forever, and encouraging you to not let the rest of the season slip by without some good adventure. Preferably, an adventure not a lot of other folks know about. A secret, if you will, one that will tantalize when you share it around the office Keurig machine after Labor Day.

To that end, we offer the fourth and final installment in our series of Top 10 Secret Adventures, spotlighting Virginia.

1. Devil’s Marbleyard, James Face Wilderness west of Lynchburg. Hiking. This is just the weirdest thing, to be hiking in the lush Blue Ridge Mountains, then suddenly encounter a mountainside atumble with boulders, some the size of a dump truck: everywhere, boulders! There’s a one-mile hike in, then a scramble up the mountain: it’s the kind of hillside that takes you back to being a frolicking kid. Plus, lots of rock exposure for stretching out in the sun. Continue up the slope to the Appalachian Trail, part of the return loop. More info here.

Devil’s Marbleyard (photo: hiking.upward.com)

2. Adventure Danville, Danville. Paddling, cycling. Danville sits on the North Carolina line, less than an hour from most of the Triangle, and offers a range of adventure options. For the casual cyclist (families, for instance), the nearly 8-mile Riverwalk Trail takes in the James River and skirts the historic downtown (be sure to save an hour or four for time travel at Lou’s Antique Mall). There’s paddling on the James, hiking and mountain biking on well-regarded trail at Angler’s Park and Dan Daniel Memorial Park, and a zip line. More info here.

3. New River Trail State Park, Max Meadows. Cycling. When most folks — 98 percent of folks — think of Virginia and long off-pavement bike rides they think of the nearly all downhill Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus — because it is nearly all downhill. Overlooked is its neighbor to the east, the New River Trail, which runs 57 miles, from Galax to Pulaski. A converted rail line, this smooth-gravel-surface trail may not be all downhill, but it doesn’t have a lot of hills, either. In fact, about 39 miles is along the New. A nice mix of scenic cycling with brushes with rural living. More info here.

4. Wintergreen Resort, Wintergreen. Hiking, mountain biking, more. People only tend to associate ski areas with skiing. OK, fair enough. But their summer alter egos can be even more adventurous. At Wintergreen, for instance, you’ll find miles of hiking trail offering views of the Blue Ridge, Shenandoah and more, and mountain biking trail for more experienced riders. At the end of the day, wash the trail off in your condo and dine in one of several mountaintop restaurants. Nothing wrong with rough fun without the roughing it. More info here.

Mountain biking at Wintergreen (photo: Wintergreen Resort)

5. Foster Falls Cave Tours, Max Meadows. Spelunking. Now we’re talking some real secret, beneath-the-surface adventure. Periodically, New River Trail State Park leads tours of the cave system near Foster Falls. “Discover the underground world of caves, as we crawl through crevasses, scale flow stone walls, hop over boulders and experience total darkness,” says the program description. “Enjoy the geology of caves and critters that call these places home. Participants will get dirty so please dress for the occasion, please bring plenty of water and wear closed toed shoes.” $10 fee. Call 276.699.6778 to find the next scheduled tour.

6. Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Mouth of Wilson. Hiking, backpacking. OK, the Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers area is, in fact, the ultimate anti-secret: has anyone with adventurous red blood within 500 miles not heard of this revered hiking playground? Still, what kind of summer would it be without paying a visit? The wide open spaces, the rock outcrops reminiscent of the Wild West, the views, the ponies — all reasons why this is one of the most popular hiking and backpacking destinations in the Southeast. More info here.

Heading toward Mount Rogers (photo: blonde coyote.com)

7. Hike the AT along the BRP and Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive. Day-hike access to the Appalachian Trail couldn’t get much easier, as the revered trail and scenic drives are intertwined for much of their journey through the state. The beauty of having a road never far from the trail: easy shuttles. And that translates into covering twice the ground than on a limiting out-and-back hike. So many options to choose from. More info here.

8. Rock Castle Gorge, Floyd. Hiking. Somewhere along the way you’ve likely heard someone gush about Rock Castle Gorge and the roughly 11-mile circuit trail that experiences notable highs and lows. You get both right off the bat, with a challenging climb that elevates you to a series of ridgeline meadows and a long, 4-mile descent back to the trailhead. Get most of your climbing out of the way up front: now that’s a well-designed circuit. More info here.

9. Day hike: Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive. Hiking. The key to hiking the Shenandoah along Skyline Drive is to find a circuit that’s not overrun, the anti-Old Rag, if you will. Several years ago, we found a 10-mile loop that offered the best of the the park without the accompanying crowds. Great views, passage through an intimate gorge, some quality time on the Appalachian Trail — it’s got it all. Learn what you need to know here.

10. Coastal paddle: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach. Paddling. Summer is about getting your boat wet; throw in some good exploring and you’ve got a summer adventure to remember. Put in at the Visitor Station and you’ve got a day’s worth of good paddling in this marshy 9,000-acre preserve, where you’re bound to see a good mix of waterfowl, and not many people. More info here.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (visitvirginiabeach.com)

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In case you missed our previous installments …

Week one: Coast, which you may read here

Week two: Piedmont, which you may read here

Last week: Mountains, which you may read here