Off the Beaten Paths: Hikes for T.A.C.O. Week
Christina recently challenged her blog readers to come up with a list of sites in their town that are off the beaten path. Meanwhile, September 24th – September 30th is Take a Child Outside Week (HT Ryan Somma). Being in beautiful southwest Virginia, there is no shortage of great places outside to take a child. The Huckleberry Trail, the Caboose Park, Pandapas Pond and the Virginia Tech Duck Pond are all very popular. BUT– I can also recommend some outings that are a little less crowded, a little closer to nature, and still child friendly.
So here are Five Off the Beaten Path Places to Take a Child Outside. To help illustrate the outings, there are pictures of one of my favorite hiking partners, little Penn.
Falls Ridge Preserve
In 2005 when the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club took a group hike over to Falls Ridge Preserve, some of members never even knew the preserve existed. This is particularly surprising because this hike has a lot to offer. There is a giant grassy field to run around in. There is a waterfall! There are the remains of an old furnace! There are CAVES! And…. you can see it all with almost no elevation gain (There is a hill to go up to the top of the falls, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t wanna).
|Falls Ridge Preserve
Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want
Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.
Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road. There is plenty of parking.
Directions from Blacksburg, VA
As for off the beaten path, a hiker from Blue Ridge Country described Barney’s Wall as “the region’s best-kept-secret stunning views“. It is indeed stunning and very often secluded. And here’s the kicker– it is a very easy hike!
For an added treat, I suggest packing in milk and cookies.
P.S. If you are your child are still thirsting for more scenery, keep driving down VA-714 to the Butt Mountain Overlook and the old fire tower.
Keffer Oak is one of the largest blazed trees on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail and it isn’t that far from Blacksburg. You know the tree is impressive when it makes it in a book called Remarkable Trees of Virginia. Estimated at over 300 years old, the Keffer Oak is 18 feet in circumference. To a small child, it seems even bigger! From the VA-630 trailhead, it is only 0.6 miles to tree. There is a hill, but an easy one. If the tree is not enough, next to the tree is a stile, which Penn loved to climb. It was like a mini jungle gym in the middle of the woods!
Penn at Keffer Oak, 4 years of age
On the drive to the tree, be sure to take a detour on VA-601 to see the historic covered bridge!
|Appalachian Trail – Keffer Oak
Length: 1.2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: There is a brief hill near the beginning of the trail, but nothing too scary.
Driving and Parking: The roads are all paved and there is a small gravel parking lot at the VA-630 trailhead.
Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Wind Rocks is another contender for your child’s first Appalachian Trail hike! From the parking lot, there is not even a half mile walk to the overlook. Of course you have to drive to the trailhead, but along the way, you can stop at Mountain Lake to explore the dry lake bed or marvel at the life size chess and checkers set. Your child will also get exposed to Civil War history, when you pass by “Mini-Ball Hill” where soldiers, weary from climbing the steep mountains, abandoned their ammunition to lighten their load.
In this area, you hear a lot about Smith Mountain Lake and you hear a lot about Claytor Lake. But have you ever heard of Gatewood Lake in Pulaski? Unlike the other two lakes, Gatewood Lake does not permit gas motors. The result? A very peaceful and quiet lake experience where you can really concentrate on nature. There are number of easy hiking trails that run along the lake and if you yearn to be even closer to the water, they rent kid-friendly paddle boats!