By Carol Brooks
With moderate temperatures and fewer crowds, spring is the perfect time for you and your active dog to explore Virgina’s hiking trails and dog-friendly wineries. Doing something you both enjoy can turn an ordinary day into an adventure, and your dog will likely be better-behaved and more relaxed after a brisk hike.
My suggested spring hike-and-winery combination starts at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. With over six miles of trails that take you through meadows, hills, streams, and a bit of history, it’s an interesting and uncrowded place to explore with your dog. Located between the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains in Purcellville, VA, it’s a short drive from the dog-friendly Maggie Malick Wine Caves where you and your dog can relax post-hike. If your pup still has any energy left after your hike, the winery allows dogs to run off leash, splash in the property’s four ponds, or hang out in the tasting room.
Before heading out, visit the Blue Ridge Center website for a current trail map: www.blueridgecenter.org. The original 900-acre property, privately owned by the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation, has been divided, with 600 acres going to the Old Dominion Land Conservancy as an initial step toward transferring the land to the state. Trail access may change in the future.
The Blue Ridge Center and Maggie Malick Wine Caves are both located on Harper’s Ferry Road. Going north, watch for the center’s sign on the left about 4 miles past the Maggie Malick Wine Caves sign. Turn into the driveway and follow signs to the trailhead located next to the parking area a short distance from the white Demory-Wortman House.
The suggested hike covers approximately 3 miles. You can find the referenced trails on a 2013 version of the center’s trail map. The basic route follows the historically interesting Farmstead Loop, and adds the Derry Loop to make a substantial 3-mile hike. If you want to add more mileage, use the trail map and combine loops to get your desired distance. This hike meanders past the remains of 18th and 19th-century farm buildings as well as a home whose occupants stayed through the mid-20th century. You’ll see other reminders of previous human occupation along the way, including stone walls and rock piles that date to the late 19th century.
To begin the hike, start at the marked trailhead and follow the white blazes past the Wortman Pond, where you might see wood ducks, herons, or turtles sunning themselves on a warm day. Continue on the white-blazed path along Demory Field until you arrive at a fork in the trail. Take the left fork which is the red-blazed Farmstead Loop. Follow the Farmstead Loop a short distance through the woods to a grassy opening where you will see an intersection of several trails. Take the blue-blazed Derry Loop on the left. Note: a directional sign identifies this as the “Derry Spur.” Follow this blue blazed trail through the woods as it winds to the left. When you reach a field, go left, then go left again at the next T-intersection to return to the Farmstead Loop. Several trails converge at this T-intersection. Locate the red-blazed Farmstead Loop and follow it into the woods and stay on this trail until you return to its starting point.
After a short distance on the Farmstead Loop, you’ll come to the first of several abandoned farm homes and a stone house built during the Civil War. Continue along the red-blazed trail passing the intersection of Old Bridge Trail at the Piney Run. Further along the trail, you’ll pass Boundary Marker Oak, a significantly larger tree compared to the newer growth around it. You will then come upon a cluster of farmstead ruins with many outbuildings. For more information on their history, visit the Blue Ridge Center’s website.
The farm ruins mark the halfway point of this hike. Nearby Piney Run offers a cooling reprieve if your dog likes to splash around in water. If you want to extend your hike, follow the blue-blazed Piney Run Spur to add .5 miles; otherwise, stay on the red-blazed Farmstead Loop to the right, behind the farmstead ruins. Continue uphill, and at the top of the hill take a sharp right. Go back down the hill to the starting point of the Farmstead Loop, then go left to the white-blazed trail which takes you back to the trailhead and parking lot.
If you want to follow your hike with a winery visit, drive to Maggie Malick Wine Caves just a short distance down the road. Well-behaved dogs are allowed off leash on the property and in the small underground tasting room. On busy weekends, it might be too crowded for dogs to be safely off leash inside. There is limited outdoor furniture so if you want to sit outside, consider bringing chairs.Visit their website for more information: http://www.maggiemalickwinecaves.com.
Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship
11661 Harpers Ferry Road
Purcellville, VA 20132
Trails are open every day, dawn to dusk.
Maggie Malick Wine Caves
12138 Harpers Ferry Road
Purcellville, VA 20132
Open: Monday, Thursday, Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday & Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
What To Bring
Be sure your dog has adequate tick protection. Wear sturdy waterproof shoes—the trail is muddy in areas. Bring water for you and your dog, poop bags, and blankets and towels for after-hike clean-up. Bring chairs if you want to sit outside at the winery.
Distance: 3.0 miles, 60 minutes or more
Fido Friendly Features: Off-street parking, fun dog-safe trails, water access,
Use: Hikers, runners, on-leash dogs, some horses.
Best Time to Go: Anytime. Note: Maggie Malick Wine Caves is not open every day.
Trail Etiquette: Please do not attempt to go inside the buildings, climb buildings, or remove any parts of the buildings. Keep dogs on leash at all times. Watch your step along the trail. The trail is rocky and slippery in spots. Please leave any artifacts where they are. This is a no-trash park. Please carry out your trash.
Cost: Free, but consider a donation at the box located at the trailhead. The park depends on donations, rentals, and its on-site farm to sustain it.
Rated: 2 paws (hilly in places)
Carol Brooks is co-owner of DogOn Fitness, a daily exercise service for dogs. She specializes in high-energy and overweight dogs, providing them with working walks, running, adventure hikes, and training reinforcement.