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Celebrating Spring: Outing Club’s Top Five Hikes Spring Term and Alumni Weekend reunions are the perfect times to experience the outdoors that hug Washington and Lee.

Very few places rival Lexington and the greater Rockbridge County area when the spring buds begin adding pops of color to the landscape. Whether you are a Washington and Lee University alum returning to campus for a class reunion or a student celebrating the end of Winter Term finals, W&L’s Outing Club has numerous nearby hiking recommendations ranging from easy to difficult. We asked the Outing Club staff to provide favorite hikes for each mood — because minimal exertion to a picturesque sunrise spot requires a different mindset than scrambling a boulder field. In addition, we asked student leaders and outdoor “frequent fliers” why certain hikes in the area have captured their hearts.

Best Intro to Bouldering

Devil’s Marbleyard
Difficulty Level: Moderate

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A moderate 1-mile hike along Belfast Creek delivers you to the base of Devil’s Marbleyard: a field of car-sized boulders just asking to be scrambled over. Think “adult jungle gym” in a natural setting. You can choose to work your way over the boulder field or hike the 2-mile trail alongside it that leads to the Appalachian Trial.

“It’s just so uniquely beautiful,” said Kierstyn Wise ’24, an Outing Club key student staff. “It’s not like anything else in the area. If you haven’t been yet, you have to see it; it’s just a huge field of rocks that you get to climb. It’s the closest thing to a playground you can get as an adult. The drive there is also so fun.”

Best Lex Homecoming

House Mountain (Little or Big)
Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult

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Hike 2 miles up an old Jeep trail to the House Mountain Saddle, then decide which trail you’ll take: left to Big House Mountain, involving some steep switchbacks and a rewarding view at the top, or right to Little House Mountain, taking you up a longer but easier trail to an equally breathtaking view in the opposite direction back toward Lexington. You can’t go wrong either way.

Best Lunch with a View

Viewing Rock in Goshen
Difficulty Level: Moderate

After 4 miles through the beautiful woods in Goshen, find yourself atop an aptly named rock overlooking Lake Merriweather. Your hard work hiking up the mountain is immediately rewarded with a panoramic view of the George Washington National Forest. Pack a lunch that will inevitably taste better as you look out over Goshen Wilderness.

Best Sunrise Spot

Cole Mountain
Difficulty Level: Easy

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The Outing Club’s classic sunrise hike is up Cole Mountain, an approximately 6-mile loop that intersects with part of the Appalachian Trail. Located about 40 minutes from Lexington, you’ll walk through the woods on some wide switchbacks up to a wide-open field on top of a ridge with a splendid view. Great for lunch or a sunrise if you’re up for a headlamp-lit hike up the mountain to catch the early rays of dawn.

Best View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Bluff Mountain
Difficulty Level: Moderate

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Right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and part of the Appalachian Trial (AT), this hike is a fun jaunt up some switchbacks to the summit of Bluff Mountain, overlooking Lexington and Buena Vista. It’s said that with binoculars, you can see Old George standing atop Washington Hall along the Colonnade. The Outing Club frequently advertises this trip as “Bluff Mountain & BBQ,” and stopping at JJ’s Meat Shak in Buena Vista on your way back to Lexington for dinner is a worthwhile end to the day’s adventure.


Back Campus
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

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In 2020, W&L revamped the trail system on the more than 300 acres of the university’s “back campus.” Starting behind the Liberty Hall ruins and the Richard L. Duchossois Tennis Center, the back campus trail system includes several well-marked trail options for any outdoor escape — whether strolling on foot or pedaling on a bike. You don’t even have to leave W&L’s campus to be immersed in nature.

Personal Gems

Emmie McElroy ’23, Blue Bike and Outing Club specialist: Petites Gap

“Petites Gap is one of my favorites; not too many people do that, and it’s a big bowl hike [around a valley]. It runs into the top ridge of Devil’s Marbleyard, but it’s a little bit south on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Natural Bridge. It’s a really cool view. I would say a moderate hike: rolling elevation; over some rocks. You get to circle a whole bowl and see down in it.”

Leah Green, visiting assistant professor of writing and environmental studies: Apple Orchard Falls

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“I love it because it is off the beaten path (a real hidden treasure). In the spring, it offers the most extraordinary array of wildflowers (we often see trillium, Solomon’s seal, bleeding heart, wild geranium and more). I also love it because it follows a such a beautiful stream — all the way to a waterfall where we sit to do our creative writing [for my Spring Term Eco-writing class]. By the time we get to the waterfall, we are exhausted but also fully inspired by the landscape and the correlating eco-texts we’ve read and discussed along the hike.”

James Dick, W&L’s director of outdoor education: Brushy Hills

“Brushy Hills is a 10-minute drive from Lexington. You could walk, run, bike ride there for anywhere from a half hour to two hours without repeating trails. There’s a website now [that includes a map], and the folks who volunteer there have developed good maps at the trailhead. It’s a little jam.”

Abby Gilbert, assistant director of internships with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty: McAfee’s Knob and North Mountain

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“McAfee’s Knob near Roanoke is one of my favorites in the area. It’s on the AT and is a longer hike, around seven or eight miles. But it’s not too steep, and you feel like you’ve really done something. And, of course, the views are incredible. I also love the North Mountain Trail that begins on the ridgeline and continues across the top for a gorgeous, super dog-friendly trek. Since you do most of the climbing in the car, it’s a great sunrise spot, especially if you want to bring coffee and breakfast to enjoy as the sun comes up. It’s also perfect for biking or trail running.”