By Molly Pinson Simoneau
Now that summer is in full swing, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stay inside watching the Real Housewives of wherever or playing the latest first-person shooter game. Instead, it’s time to hit the trails, and Loudoun County has plenty of hiking trails nearby. Here are two of my favorite spots that are perfect for getting some exercise, some peace and quiet, and to observe the local wildlife:
The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES), is an excellent place for beginners to take an easy hike. With a diverse landscape which features young forests, meadows, ponds and streams, BRCES is a great area for wildlife spotting, so pack your binoculars. History buffs will love poking around the old homesteads scattered throughout the property. The center boasts 14 trails which add up to 9 miles, of which you can wander as much or as little as you like. There are plenty of picnic spots at BRCES as well. Take route 9 west past Hillsboro and turn right on Harpers Ferry Rd. Keep an eye out for the small sign for BRCES on the left at 11661 Harpers Ferry Road. The Center is open from dawn ‘til dusk and there is parking available by the information kiosk.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, a hike out and back to Raven’s Rocks should fit the bill. Head west on route 7 past Round Hill and Bluemont. Just beyond the top of the mountain, turn right on Pine Road where you’ll see the trailhead on your immediate right. This is the famous Appalachian Trail which passes through Loudoun County on its way from the mountains of North Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. You’ll need sturdy, supportive shoes for the rocky terrain on this 5.5 mile hike. Several steep climbs add difficulty to this trek, but it’s worth it to see the view from Raven’s Rocks. As you head north, following the trail’s famous white blazes, you’ll wander through thick, shady, old-growth forest filled with granite boulders and mountain laurel. Be sure to listen in the hollows for the sound of a hidden stream flowing under the rocks right below your feet! This is a fun hike for families with children who can walk several miles on their own. Have them keep their eyes out for frogs and small reptiles that like to hang out near the streams. Hit the trail before 9:00 a.m. to beat the heat and the crowds.
Here are a few tips before you head out: Bring a small backpack with some snacks that have both carbohydrates and protein: a slice of whole wheat bread topped with peanut butter and folded in half is a personal favorite. Pack more water than you think you’ll need, especially in the hot summer months. For a hike around 5 miles, one liter of water per person is about right.
A light first-aid kit with bandages, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen, and an antihistamine to treat insect stings or poison ivy (leaf of three—let it be!) is also a must. For safety, you should always hike with a companion, or tell someone at home where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.
Wear light, synthetic fabrics in the hot weather, along with a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap for sun protection.
I hope to see you out on the trail this summer.