Eager to take that first hike of spring but need to work out winter kinks? Head to Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. The hikes descend from Skyline Drive, so you can warm up your legs on a downhill, then linger at a waterfall or stream before the ascent back to your car.
One of our favorites is an eight-mile hike that begins on the Hazel Mountain Trail, two hours from DC. Start at the Meadow Spring parking lot, milepost 33.5.
The long, gentle downhill leads to White Rocks Trail and an optional steep and rocky descent on a spur trail to a waterfall. Climb back up and continue on White Rocks Trail to the junction of Hazel River Trail; turn right and enjoy stream crossings, quiet glades, and evidence of the people who lived here in the last century--piles of fieldstone, old fencing and foundations. Daffodils and apple trees are signs of a long-ago farmer. Meet back up with the Hazel Mountain Trail and turn right for the gradual climb up to your car.
Want to stay the night? You can bunk at the park's historic Skyland Resort (milepost 41.7; opens for the season on March 29) or at Big Meadows Lodge (milepost 51.2; opens May 16).
Shenandoah National Park, 540-999-3500.
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.