Best Views in Central Virginia by Christin Healey

Central Virginia has not shortage of incredible views, and you could spend years wandering about and not see them all.  If you want to see some of the best the area has to offer though, I've rounded up a few of my favorite places to soak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along with some of the info you need to make it happen.  

Humpback Rocks


This little hike in Central Virginia is a must-do for anyone visiting Charlottesville or the surrounding area.  The trailhead is located at milepost 5.8 and the hike is 2 miles roundtrip.  It's somewhat strenuous as it's all uphill, but the view from the top is worth all the effort. If you can, go for sunset or sunrise during the week as this gorgeous spot can get pretty crowded.  

Old Rag

Old Rag is somewhat of a Virginia right of passage.  At 9.1 mies roundtrip and rock scrambles for days, it's definitely one of the more challenging hikes in the area, but the 360 degree views from the top of peaks and some of the prettiest farmland around will downright take your breath away.  It's located half way between DC and Charlottesville, VA, so come prepared for some crowds.  To avoid lines at the rock scrambles, come a little before sunrise armed with a headlamp, and remember this is a fair-weather hike. Do not attempt in rain or snow. 

Spy Rock


Spy Rock is a local's hike through and though.  Nestled behind a fish hatchery in Nelson Co that I used to visit with my dad when I was younger, this spot is not in the brochures, and when you are on top of this peak, life really doesn't get any better.  Roundtrip this jaunt is 3.1 miles, and there are camping spots at the base of the summit that make for a perfect place to get a head start on the first or last rays of the day.  If you really want to experience a special spot without the crowds, you just can't beat this prime spot.  

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek just goes to show that you don't always have to climb to the top of a mountain for unbeatable views.  15 minutes from Charlottesville, Virginia, it's probably my favorite spot to watch the golden sun dip behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.  This is a paddler's dream, and you can take your kayak, SUP, or small (unmotorized) boat to the water for the perfect afternoon.  

Ravens Roost

Sometimes you don't need to look any further than one of the many overlooks that dot the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive to find all kinds of beauty.  With its distinct tree that looks like it has seen many interesting things during its time perched among the rocky outcrop, Ravens Roost is probably the best in my book for pulling over to stretch your legs and take in the view.  Find it at milepost 10.7 along the Parkway. 

Moormans River Overlook

You may have not realized it, but almost every single overlook in Shenandoah National Park faces west.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good sunset as much as the next person, but sometimes you are up early and ready to get out there. To get some golden sunshine first thing in Shenandoah, Moormans River Overlook is a true gem.  With the Blue Ridge sprawled out in front of you and the river glittering in the sunlight, it's one of the best ways I can dream up to start your day.  So head on over to milepost 92 on Skyline Drive, make a little campfire coffee, and you're on your way to a perfect Virginia day. 

McAfee Knob

It's the most photographed spot on the A.T. for good reason - this place is downright jaw-dropping.  If you aren't doing the entire A.T., the trek to get to this spot is a fairly easy 8.3 miles from the parking lot, located right outside Roanoke, VA.  My favorite way to experience this spot is to throw on a headlamp and watch the sunrise over the mountains and filter in over the valley, but it's lovely any time of day.   If you are going during the warmer months, bring a few extra snacks and be a trail angel for a day.  I promise you those thru-hikers will be eternally grateful for a piece of fresh fruit or candy bar, and you will have earned a workout and your karma points for the day. 

These seven spots are all near and dear to my heart, and I hope everyone has a chance to get out there and take in some of the beauty and soak in a little of the magic of Central Virginia. And remember: It's the South y'all - take a deep breath, have a seat, and let the world move by just a little slower. I promise you won't regret it.   

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The Great Outside by Christin Healey

I get it, Outside is where the bugs are. It's where it can be too cold or too hot, where you can't press a button for your morning cup of coffee, where you can't turn a handle for a 10 minute hot shower, and where (gasp!) you may not be able to get online. Americans, on average, spend over 90% of our lives in the Great Indoors.  From the morning routine, to the gym, to the office, to the restaurants; we barely have a chance in our day-to-day to feel the sunshine warm our face, or the wind blow over our skin.  

Luckily, there is a change in the air.  A growing number of us are discovering that finding time to get out there, to wander and explore this amazing planet, to live with less and experience more, to hear the wind rustling through the trees, the leaves crunching under your feet, and the simplicity of a moment of silence, save the distant sounds of birds calling in the distance, can truly be life changing.  And the best part of it all is just how simple it can be to get outside.  

Epic adventures in far away and remote corners of the world are incredible, no question about it, but to appreciate all the wonders of this world, sometimes it's as close as your own backyard.  In the past few weeks, I traded in my passport for my car keys, hiking poles, and some of my favorite gear, and hit all my favorite spots in my own backyard.  So, from paddling sessions with some of my favorite people, to pre & post work sunrise/sunsets, to venturing a little further into the Blue Ridge on the weekends, here are some of my favorite spots almost right outside my front door.

Surrounded by rolling farmland, Peaceful views of the Blue Ridge, and grassy banks bathed in sunlight, there are few places I would rather take in the last few moments of the day than Beaver Creek. Admittedly it's getting pretty chilly here in Central Virginia, but luckily I have a few adventurous humans in my life that are totally up for some cold weather kayaking, sunset watching, and frozen pond exploring.  With promises of hot chocolate and snuggly blankets, my friend Meredith and her son Tam met up with me and my trusty adventure pups for our little micro adventure that, while decidedly chilly, beats "Netflix and chill" any day of the week. Below are some of my favorites from our winter paddling outing. 

Spy Rock is a true local's hike through and through, and with only 1.5 fairly easy mies to one of the best views east of the Mississippi, it's been top of my list of places to take those new to hiking, or simply a spot to head to when you want a pretty high effort to reward ratio.  So, a few Sundays ago, I grabbed a few more adventures (and dexterous!) ladies and we headed out for a lazy Sunday stroll - complete with growlers full of frosty summit rewards - and headed to the trailhead at the Montebello Fish Hatchery.  As sometimes happens, mother nature had other plans, and the top was so windy we could barely stand, let alone relax and take it all in.  One celebratory handstand and we were scrambling back down to the safety of the woods.  It was short, but every bit as sweet :)

If you are anything like me, once you have mastered exploring your own backyard adventures, your thoughts start to drift to loftier getting out a little longer, venturing a little further into the unknown, and climbing those far away peaks that dance around your dreams.  The next few adventures you will find yourself further away from the crowds, testing your limits a little more, and reaping all the rewards that come with a journey into the backcountry. 

A few weeks ago I headed to Mcafee's Knob for sunrise.  In the warmer months on the weekends this place is an absolute zoo.  It's one of the most iconic spots on the AT, and with thu-hikers and day hikers flocking to this photogenic rocky outcrop to get their shot, I stay away completely during peak season.  A pre-dawn hike during the week in the winter is a completely different story.  You are almost certain to find yourself blissfully alone, with plenty of space at the backcountry campsites.  If you are camping, the summit is an easy 1.5 miles from the tent site, or from the parking lot, 4.1 miles each way. If you are new to hiking in the dark, this is a perfect beginner trail as it's well marked and close to the parking lot.  Bonus: the view of the sunrise from the top will have you hooked on sunrise hikes from day one. It was a bluster morning, but watching the sun fill the valley and light up the Blue Ridge is something you won't soon forget. 


Next up is one of my very favorite backcountry hikes in all of Virginia. With the trailhead right off of Skyline Drive, and the most perfect camping site on the most picturesque rocky outcrop, it's one of those hidden gems that holds a special place in my heart.  This 9.5 mile trail that begins at Two Mile Run Overlook is the perfect combination of challenging elevation gain and peaceful strolls through the woods, with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge on the summit to reward your efforts. I have never seen another soul on this one, so it's the perfect spot to simply unplug and just ponder life.  

The memories of a walk in the woods, the smell of grass on a warm summer day, and the sounds of the salty waves crashing on the shore are seemingly little things, but they are the moments that we will carry with us for years to come. So yes, outside is where the bugs are. It's also where the adventure, the spirit of exploration, a feeling of serenity, and a sense of wonder live.  It's where you learn about yourself, form closer bonds with friends and family, and discover all the wonders that live outside those four walls in which we spend so much of our time. So get out there friends, I can't wait to hear what you find. 

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Kauai by Christin Healey

My husband and I promised on the day we said "I do" we would always go somewhere warm and away from the chaos that can come with the holidays.  For four years now we have kept that promise, and this past year it was the lovely island of Kauai, true to it's namesake, the "Garden Isle".

This little remote island in the middle of the Pacific was a dream from the start.  With enormous waves crashing against the sandy beaches, the cliffs sculpted from 5 million years of erosion that cascaded into the sea, and the lush, fragrant landscape all around, it's truly nothing short of a tropical paradise and an assault in the best possible way, of all your senses.  

Now I know pretty pictures are great and all, but let's talk adventure.  If you're here, you probably like to get out, and Kauai has no shortage of adventures to be had.  There are seemingly endless miles of trails, from the groomed and heavily treaded, to the faint hunting trails that are just begging to be blazed; get ready to trek to remote beaches or wind up on the edge of an impossibly high cliff jutting out over the ocean. Throw in snorkeling, kayaking the rivers, and of course surfing, and you could explore this island for years without running out of options. 

I could go on and on about the wonders of this place, and wander around discovering all of those wonders on a daily basis, but I'll let the images speak for themselves. Happy travels, friends!

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Adventures in iceland by Christin Healey

When I was a kid, I always had my nose in a book.  Traveling to far away, fantastical places, without moving an inch.  As an adult, I'm glad to know some of those far away, fantastical places that were always dancing around in my head actually exist.  In Iceland at least, I believe I have found a world that is the very best destinations of my imagination.  

Fields of lupine that go on forever under a midnight sun.  

Fields of lupine that go on forever under a midnight sun.  

This small island in the Arctic is an explorer's dream.  From hidden caves, volcanoes, rocky cliffside hikes, braided rivers pouring into the Atlantic, and a feeling of absolute solitude almost everywhere; you feel like you could be the first one setting foot on some of these pathways.

Oh, the waterfalls.  They range from a discrete little trickle meandering over smooth, slick rocks, to raging rivers falling off of cliffs of dizzying heights, and are undoubtedly one of the features that makes this country so very magical.  

Ahhhh, the glacial lagoon.  The first time I laid eyes on it three years ago, I was hooked.  In the distance looms Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, and in the icy pool of water are the icebergs of various sizes that fall from the massive body of the glacier.  If you watch the ice on a quiet morning, you can hear it cracking, twisting, turning.  Watch the massive icebergs roll over and turn up a smooth, glassy underbelly that has been in the icy bath for so long.  You can see seals poking their heads up, families of ducks navigating the frozen waters, and my favorite? Catching the midnight sun slowing making its way down the horizon, just to come right back because it couldn't stand to be away for too long.  

I don't have the words to adequately describe why I love Iceland so much.  It may have something to do with the warmth of the people (even in a raging blizzard), the food, the landscape that is always changing and never less than spectacular, but mostly it's the otherworldly feel of it.  The fact that 99% of the population believe in fairies and trolls, and if you go, I dare you not to be a believer.  It's a feeling of being alive, and that you truly never know what fantastical sights may be around the next bend in the road. Knowing that places like this still exist, you really can't help but see the world through the eyes of your 8 year old self.  

Until next time, Iceland.  

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