Last spring, my family kept a diary of outings we took during the early days of the pandemic because, at the time, we thought we’d want to remember such an unusual period of our lives. Because, really, how long could this last, right?
We were in search of hikes and outdoors activities that wouldn’t be overly crowded. Activities a bit off the beaten path, yet still reasonably close to home and easy to get to.
Now, even as we hope that the end of the pandemic is within view, if not still stubbornly not quite within reach, we might end up making some of these same excursions again.
These hikes are family -friendly, with an occasional steep climb here and there. But we’re not talking Dragon’s Tooth or McAfee Knob levels of difficulty or crowdedness.
Happy Hollow Gardens, Roanoke CountyNow is the time to get to this park in southwest Roanoke County, where azaleas should be in bloom. The park is secluded off Mount Chestnut Road and includes two miles of trails marked by a decent climb. Or you can just walk along the flat stretches, have a picnic and marvel at the azaleas and a few blooming rhododendrons.
Blue Ridge Trail, Natural Bridge
A fairly new public trail opened near Natural Bridge State Park a couple of years ago that includes a nearly 4-mile walk through changing landscape — open fields, dense woods and a summit with a lovely view of surrounding mountains. Our best memory from last year’s hike was spying a bear cub running along a hillside. Parking is available just north of Natural Bridge on U.S. 11 in the area that used to house “Foamhenge,” the quirky model of Stonehenge created by Rockbridge County artist Mark Cline.
Wildwood Park, Radford
This gem of a park has been one of my family’s favorite New River Valley spots for more than 20 years. Burrowed in the middle of Radford, Wildwood was once the main public park that was home to the swimming pool back in the days of segregation. After the pool closed in the 1960s, the park, which is located in a narrow draw along a creek called Connelly’s Run, went to seed and became a fantastic natural area. Latticed with wooded trails and the popular Riverway bike path, Wildwood Park is one of the best places to see native wildflowers all spring.
Green Hill Park trails, Roanoke County
Most Roanoke Valley residents familiar with Green Hill park, just west of Salem, probably know it as a beautiful, wide-open space to picnic, run, fly kites and play baseball and softball. The hillsides above the flat fields, though, provide nice little hikes along interlocking trails that are mostly flat but include short climbs to some pretty views.
New River Trail, Foster Falls
The New River Trail isn’t secluded, and it can get busy with bicyclists, runners and hikers, but at 57 miles in length, the trail does provide many places to slow down and see the river that gives the path its name. Foster Falls in Wythe County is a wonderful spot to camp, canoe, ride horses or just hang out for a spell. When the weather and the water warm up, tubing is the thing to do in the New River. A 30-minute walk to Shot Tower State Park, where ammunition was made for settlers in the early 1800s, is a worthy side trip.