Whether you’re new to hiking with your baby or toddler, or you’re looking for a new trail to explore, the Hike it Baby community is a valuable resource for finding family hiking trails around the country. In this article, we share three kid-friendly hikes in Virginia to explore with babies and young children.
Virginia is a state rich with history and natural beauty, and there are hikes that exploit both of these while still being manageable for kids. Want to see for yourself? Hike it Baby members recommend the following three wonderful venues in Virginia for families with kids.
Cannonball Trail (Norfolk, VA)
The words “cannonball” and “trail,” when put together, may conjure up images of violence on the one hand and roughing it on the other. However, Cannonball Trail is as civilized a trail as you’ll ever have the pleasure of strolling. It forms a rough loop, with some diversions, in downtown Norfolk and is marked by round medallions in granite slabs set in the ground. The urban hiker can start anywhere, but how about starting at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church? Find the British cannonball still embedded in one of the walls and you’ll understand how the trail got its name. Other points of interest are military monuments, stately homes and even The Pagoda, a beautiful gift from Taiwan to the City of Norfolk and Commonwealth of Virginia. Allow roughly two hours to see the sights.
Cannonball Trail has become an institution (weekly for two years and counting!) among local Hike it Baby members … with some modification. The group begins at Cure Coffeehouse, a local institution in its own right, and continues along the waterfront in downtown Norfolk. This makes for some nice adult-pace walking, plus playtime for the kids at Town Point Park, so it’s a good balance for everyone. There’s even a splash pad in the summertime!
- The Reception Center on Freemason Street can provide maps and other information. Then you can go around to nearby St. Paul’s to look for the trail’s namesake.
- If you don’t start at Cure Coffeehouse (and even if you do!), then you may want to end at Cafe Stella, another popular place to relax while in the area.
- If you have time, consider taking a tour of the Battleship Wisconsin. One of four Iowa-class battleships built during the Second World War, it is now a museum ship moored in Norfolk Harbor.
The Saunders-Monticello Trail (Charlottesville, VA)
The name Monticello is instantly familiar to students of early American history. This was the home designed along neoclassical lines by Thomas Jefferson, primary writer of the Declaration of Independence and Founding Father. The Saunders-Monticello Trail is a 2-mile trail leading from the parking lot of Kemper Park and up Carter Mountain to the Visitor Center for this iconic mansion. It’s a hard-packed, well-cared-for dirt path, interspersed with bridges and boardwalks. It winds through an arboretum of native trees and shrubs, and includes overlooks and a 2-acre pond. The grade up this “little mountain” (Monticello in Italian) is an easy one – no problem at all for little walkers and families with strollers.
The walk itself is rewarding enough, but opportunities to see the home of one of America’s Founding Fathers don’t come up often. It’s the perfect chance to introduce children to some important history. In the Visitor Center, there is a small (and free) exhibit for children. For adults who need a rest, there’s a small (not free) cafe. Exploring Monticello will take much more time than walking the trail, at least three hours if done properly, so plan accordingly. Separate visits may be called for.
- Note that although dogs are allowed on leashes, unfortunately, they aren’t allowed on boardwalk portions of the Saunders-Monticello Trail.
- There are a number of other trails in the Monticello trail system. Difficulty levels vary, but there are plenty of easy trails for families with little ones.
Blackrock Summit Hike (Grottoes, VA)
Located in Shenandoah National Park, the hike to Blackrock Summit is an easy 1-mile loop with a great natural play area at the top, making for a perfect family day on the mountain. From the parking area, you will actually walk the Appalachian Trail south. It’s a gentle uphill climb, until the trail winds around a huge talus slope of giant rocks. To return, take the left fork at the trail marker for Blackrock Spur Trail, which curves around the rocky slope. Then follow Blackrock Hut Road back down to the parking area.
Independent walkers who are a little older are fine to do this entire trail on their own. Toddlers can definitely walk, and there are plenty of rocks to climb on too. The rocks are easier for small legs to do on their own from just past the intersection with Blackrock Spur Trail. Close supervision around the rocks is still a good idea, as is a carrier for very small ones.
- Don’t expect much in the way of amenities. There are no toilets and no drinking water. There are no benches, either, but the rocks are comfortable enough for sitting, snacking, resting or nursing.
- The closest toilets are at Loft Mountain Wayside, 5 miles away on Skyline Drive. The cafeteria there sells hot food and ice cream as well.
- Cell phone reception is very limited.
- Protect yourself against tick-borne diseases with repellent specifically for these parasites.
- Protect yourself against bears by making noise. The noise of children is generally enough to scare them off, but keep in mind that they could be in the area.
- For those interested in longer hikes, there are more trails in this network, some leading to swimming holes and waterfalls!
This is a pretty straightforward trail that leads to a phenomenal rock scramble with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a perfect trail to add to a camping trip because it is so short, but the payoff from the views makes it worth it to drive to for the day as well. There are a lot of gorgeous places on Skyline Drive where you can pull off and look over the valley and on to the various mountain peaks. This trail gets you very wide panoramic views without the sound of cars passing behind you, and with the feeling of accomplishment that comes from hiking to the views. The rocks are also really fun to climb, for adults and kids alike! – Stephanie Jacobson
What are your favorite hikes in Virginia for families with babies, toddlers and young children? Leave a comment below!
MORE RESOURCES FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
Virginia offers an abundance of trails for families with young children. For more family hike ideas, see:
- Hike it Baby calendar (or connect with local branches)
- Hike it Baby Family Trail Guide
- Virginia State Parks
- Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures with Babies and Toddlers – by Hike it Baby Founder Shanti Hodges
If you’re traveling through Virginia and need more information or recommendations on trails or would like to join a group hike, the nearest Hike it Baby branches are Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Hampton Roads, Harrisonburg, Prince Frederick, Richmond, Roanoke and Winchester.
- 3 Hikes for Families With Young Children in West Virginia
- 3 Scenic North Carolina Trails for Families with Young Children
- 3 Memorable Trails to Explore With Children in Maryland
Cannonball Trail review contributed by Melissa Freeman with help from Errign Siek. The Saunders-Monticello Trail review contributed by Jennifer Iyengar. Blackrock Summit review and photo contributed by Stephanie Jacobsen.