Face it, most of us live in a constant state of stress!  Commuting, extra-curricular activities, never ending e-mails, it can be too much.  We long for the ability to disconnect – truly unplug from technology, responsibility, and noise.

In 2014, scientists published research showing that group nature walks help us combat stress while boosting mental well-being.  Researchers evaluated 1,991 participants in England’s Walking for Health program and found that, [xp_academy_unique_fact]”Nature walks were associated with significantly less depression in addition to mitigating the negative effects of stressful life events and perceived stress.” (Outside Online, Sep 25, 2014)[/xp_academy_unique_fact]

We know that we will eventually have to reconnect with our regular lives and that stress isn’t ever going to go away.  Finding ways to cope with the stress is important.  Taking a hike can not only improve our physical health but also our mental well-being.  So….go take a hike!

How to get started?

Luckily, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to get involved in. Make sure you have sturdy hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can put things on or take things off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off of your knees.  If you are hiking with a baby or toddler, you may want to consider a backpack style child carrier.

We often hear our hikers say, “hike your own hike”.  Whether that means you stay on local park trails or you adventure to higher, steeper elevations, just get outside and hike!  We live in an amazing place with trails around every corner.  Below are 5 of our favorite hikes, representing all levels and for different interests and abilities.  Enjoy and explore!

EASY: Motts Reservoir, Fredericksburg, VA: Motts Reservoir has over 4.5 miles of hiking trails, nicely wooded, on over 850 acres of protected land.  The reservoir provides a nice back drop to mostly flat trails with the option of rolling slopes.  It is a great habitat for waterfowl and a host of other wildlife.  The entire family will enjoy this hike!  There is a lovely log cabin nature center on the property.  Stop by the center with your children and identify the animals, bugs, and fauna that they may see on the trail, then take a hike/scavenger hunt.  Plan on spending 2-3 hours to enjoy the sights and sounds of Motts Reservoir.

EASY/MODERATE: Red Bluff Trail, Germanna Foundation’s Siegen Forest: The Red Bluff Trail is about 3.0 miles long and provides a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of history.  Hiking through the 179-acre forest, you pass the millrace used by the original settlers, Civil War earthworks, five different types of forests, and the beautiful Rapidan River.  The trail begins at the Germanna Foundation Visitor Center and the trail is marked in half-mile intervals so you can decide how long your hike will be.  The first half of the trail is relatively flat as it follows the river and the latter half of the trail rises and falls over several 100-foot elevation changes.  In the spring, the path is carpeted by Virginia Bluebells and other spring flowers.  Trees are marked with interpretative signs that contain QR (Quick Reference) codes.  Scan these with an iPhone or Android with free software to show you the Virginia Department of Forestry web site for more complete information on the tree.

MODERATE: White Oak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park: This hike is a Virginia Classic. Start on the eastern edge of Shenandoah National Park, and hike 3.7 miles up the White Oak Canyon into the National Park. This trail follows a beautiful mountain stream complete with waterfalls and picnic spots. The trail keeps to one side of the creek, so crossings are not an issue, and the path is one of the best-maintained in the park. For a more personal experience, brave the cold and do it in the late fall or early spring for some frozen waterfalls! Once you reach the end of the trail at Skyline Drive, enjoy a lunch by one of the falls and then head back down the trail to the parking lot. This is an out-and-back for a total of 7.4 miles, and typically takes about 4 hours with a lunch break. Parking lot is 2 hours from Fredericksburg.

MODERATE/ADVANCED: Crabtree Falls, George Washington National Forest: Enjoy a beautiful walk up past the longest waterfall in Virginia: almost two miles of tumbling cascades with a trail complete with steps and railings. Continue along the dirt road until you reach the Crabtree Meadows parking area, then link up with the Appalachian Trail and head north to a commanding lookout on The Priest, the highest peak in Virginia’s Religious Range. Once you’ve had your fill on the peak, head back the way you came to the parking lot. The parking lot is 2.5 hours away from Fredericksburg, and the hike usually takes 4-5 hours including a lunch break.

ADVANCED: Signal Knob, George Washington National Forest: Take a walk through history in the Great North Mountain region of the George Washington National Forest up to Signal Knob. This peak was used as an important lookout point by both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, with spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley. Start at the parking lot on Fort Valley Road west of Front Royal, VA, and hike up the ridge past the Buzzard Rock overlook, and then on to the Knob. Have a lunch at the peak to take in the scenery, and take the southern route back along Tuscaroga Trail across the Great North Mountain ridge, until you reach the Massanutten Trail.  This trail takes you back to the parking lot. The loop is 9.9 miles, and generally takes about 5-6 hours with a lunch break. Parking Lot is 1 hour, 45 minutes from Fredericksburg.

If you need help with finding the right gear, obtaining maps, or just want to talk with other outdoor enthusiasts, then stop by River Rock Outfitter in Downtown Fredericksburg.  We not only sell gear from all the most popular brands but also has an XP Academy geared toward adventure.  Our hiking group is active almost every weekend and our in-house staff can provide you with orienteering and back packing essential tips.