George Washington and Jefferson National Forests combine to be one of the largest public forests in the eastern United States with 1,800,000 acres of space in the Appalachian Mountains. It is so big that it covers three states; Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. While these two forests are separate, they are combined because of administration reasons with the main office located in Roanoke, Virginia. The George Washington National Forest was formed in 1918, while Jefferson National Forest was established in 1936.
With so much space in three different states, of course, there are a plethora of activities to enjoy here including almost 2,200 miles of trails for hiking, biking, equestrian use, and winter activities like skiing and snowmobiling. If you are looking for water sports, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests boast 2,340 miles of streams, 82 lakes and ponds, and eight rivers. In fact, the surface water is estimated at 2.2 million-acre feet.
If you want to see some wild critters, this is the place to be with 78 species of reptiles and amphibians, 60 different types of mammals, and over 200 kinds of birds. Fishing may be the best in the country because there are more than 100 types of fish and mussels. The forest is a popular place, with about three million visitors every year and there are 50 campgrounds with 18 that can accommodate RVs. We have highlighted our top three favorites here for you.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests span over three different states including Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, with the bulk of it being in Virginia. Getting to the forest is part of the fun when you have so many scenic byways to enjoy on your drive. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a beautiful drive along Interstate 81 from the Cumberland Knob to the Shenandoah National Park. Some of the highlights include the Shenanoah Valley, Craggy Gardens, the Peaks of Otter, and East Fork Overlook.
Only 164 miles from Richmond, 167 miles from Raleigh, and 194 miles from Charlotte, this forest is close to almost everywhere in the eastern United States. From the south or east you can take Interstate 81 or 64, and from the west or north you will take Interstate 79 or 64. Many of the roads leading into the deeper woods are narrow and winding and can be a bit rugged since they are not as well maintained as county and city streets.
In some of the more modern campgrounds, like Grindsone or Stony Fork, you will find better roads that are paved, but most of the time the roads are gravel or dirt and have potholes and low hanging branches. It is best to park your RV at the campsite and walk or ride bikes to the places you want to visit, if possible.
Grindstone Campground has 87 campsites and at 3,800 feet in elevation, it stays relatively cool even in the summer. There are 60 sites with 30-amp electricity and 54 that can be reserved online. Each spacious campsite has a lantern hangar, picnic table, and a fire ring with a grill for cooking. The campground also has flush toilets, showers, and an RV dump station. Although the park does not provide bear boxes, it is important to have a bear-proof container for your food.
Bring your hiking boots because there are some great trails here for everyone including the half-mile Whispering Waters Nature Trail and the 7.5-mile Mount Rogers Trail. And the trout fishing here is outstanding so don’t forget your fishing poles. For the kids, there is a large playground, volleyball courts, and a water play area in the creek. You can also bring your pooch because pets are allowed as long as they are restrained and supervised at all times during your visit.
Deep in the heart of the forest at the foot of Big Walker Mountain, you can find Stony Fork Campground, which has 54 reservable campsites, nine of which have 30-amp electricity. The pad sizes range from 20 to 35 feet in length, so they can accommodate just about any smaller RV. Each site has a picnic table, lantern hook, fire ring with a grill for cooking, and a large cleared space. The campground does not provide bear-proof boxes for your food, but you need to have one because this is bear country.
If you want to fish, the Stony Fork Creek has some excellent trout fishing and you can also take a dip in the water if you get hot. There is also a one-mile nature trail that takes you through the forest for a nice scenic walk. For a longer hike, take the five-mile Seven Sisters Trail that takes you to the top of Little Walker Mountain. You can also bring your dog because pets are welcome as long as they are restrained and supervised while you are here.
For fishing, hiking, and camping, check out the Beartree Campground that has 90 primitive campsites with pads up to 35 feet in length for your RV or trailer. Although there are no electric or water hookups, the campground has several restrooms with running water and shower houses with warm water. Each site has a lantern hangar, picnic table, and fire ring with a grill for cooking. This is bear country and even though the park does not provide bear boxes, it is important that you keep food in a bear-proof container.
Take a nice leisurely stroll on the one-mile Beartree Lake Trail, which is popular with the swimmers. There are fishing platforms and a beach along this trail. Beartree Lake has some excellent fishing opportunities no matter what kind of fish you are looking for. Dogs and cats are welcome as long as they are restrained and supervised at all times during your stay. This is a first-come, first-served campground so make sure you get here early, especially on holidays and weekends.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have more than 1,000 miles of trails for mountain bikers. You can also use the forest roads in most areas. Some of the favorite areas to bike include the Iron Mountain Trail network in Damascus and the Pandapas Pond Trails by Blacksburg. Some of the more casual and scenic bike riding include rail trails like the trails at Beartree Campground, Sherando Lake Campground, or the Virginia Creeper Trail. So, make sure you put your bikes in the RV before heading out.
For a peaceful day on the water where you can fish, swim, and see some amazing scenery, try paddling on one of the eight rivers or over 2,000 miles of streams hidden in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The South Fork Shenandoah River and North Fork Pound River are two of the local favorites. You can also enjoy some flat water paddling at one of the many lakes including Bark Camp Lake and Lake Moomaw. Don’t forget to pack your life jackets in the camper though because they are mandatory.
Make sure you’ve packed your fishing gear in the RV because there are over 100 types of fish and other aquatic critters in the waters of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The largest and most popular lake in the forest is Lake Moomaw, which has 2,530 acres with 43 miles of shoreline. The eight rivers also provide excellent fishing opportunities for all kinds of fish. Some of the most common fish include catfish, bass, trout, and crappie.
If you are an equestrian, go ahead and hook up the horse trailer to the RV because there are over 50 equestrian trails in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The 10-mile Signal Knob Loop Trail at the Elizabeth Furnace Picnic Area is a nice challenge with an elevation gain of 2,286 feet. The Kennedy Peak Loop Trail features some gorgeous views of the entire area and has an elevation gain of 1,437 feet. No matter what trail you choose, be sure to watch out for hikers who also use these trails.
The best time to hike in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests is when the weather gets a bit cooler and the trails are not as crowded. For an easy trek, try the Roaring Run Hoop Hole Trail, which is 1.7 miles and features a waterfall and wooden walkways. The five-mile Mill Creek Loop features rugged terrain and has an elevation gain of 1,358 feet. If you are an experienced hiker and want a challenge, try the 4.1-mile Dragon’s Tooth Trail starting on Catawba Valley Drive in Catawba.
Don’t forget to pack your hunting gear in the camper. One of the most popular districts in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests for hunting is the Warm Springs Ranger District. It has five campgrounds and trails where hunting is plentiful whether you are looking for big game like bear and deer or littler critters such as squirrels and rabbits. No matter which critters you are aiming for, make sure you have your hunting license and tags with you at all times.