Once you’ve graduated from the easy hiking trail options and the moderate hiking trail options, there is but one category left: difficult hiking trails options.  The top of the chain in hiking options for the true enthusiast who works hard and plays hard, big workouts with a big, visually stunning payoff when it comes to scenery.  Here are your playgrounds in Loudoun County:

#1 – Appalachian Trail/Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA.  Owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, amenities include railhead parking, blue blaze to AT, potable water, electric outlets on screened-in porch, campsites, hiker cabins (which include wood stove and bunks).  Hikers are a mere  located 1/4 mile off the Appalachian Trail in Round Hill, VA.    It is located at 34899 Appalachian Trail Rd., Round Hill, VA 20141.  (540) 338-9028.

An excerpt from Exploring the Appalachian Trail: Hikes in the Virginias by David Lillard & Gwyn Hicks (Stackpole Books):  “Following mostly along the ridge crest, this hike offers a number of excellent views of the Shenandoah Valley as it bounces up and down over often rocky terrain. The rocky footing and steep climbs make parts of this hike quite strenuous, but the panoramas that greet you at the top of each crest make the effort worthwhile, perhaps especially for photographers. There are also numerous enticing picnic spots. This hike can be partnered with a trip to Harpers Ferry for a nice weekend getaway or can be enjoyed as a great change of scenery from an extended trip to Washington, DC. so pack a lunch, load your camera, fill an extra water bottle, and get ready to climb.”

#2 – Appalachian Trail / Loudoun Heights, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.  Loudoun Heights Trail is a 6.6 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  Boasting a bit of battle history, this high ground was occupied by Confederate general John George Walker during the Battle of Harpers Ferry, September 12 through September 15, 1862.  Loudoun Heights was also the site of a night attack made on January 10, 1864, by Col. John S. Mosby’s Rangers against Major Henry A. Cole’s 1st Potomac Home Brigade Maryland Volunteer Cavalry. Mosby’s attack failed and ended a long run of engagements between Mosby’s Rangers and Cole’s Cavalry. The Battle of Loudoun Heights was a small cavalry skirmish during the American Civil War between John Mosby’s Rangers and Major Henry A. Cole’s 1st Potomac Home Brigade Maryland Cavalry on January 9, 1864, in Loudoun County, Virginia. Cole’s Cavalry successfully defended a night raid against their camp on Loudoun Heights. The fight was one of the first engagements in which Union forces held their own against Mosby’s vaunted partisans.

With Maryland Heights and C&O Canal/Weaverton Cliff, this is one of three beautiful vista hikes that start in the Harpers Ferry area. Significantly less crowded than the other two hikes, the Loudoun Heights hike also has several beautiful views of the Potomac River and Harpers Ferry.  The first mile is also steeped with history, climbing a flight of steps hand hewn in the 1800’s, passing St. Peters Roman Catholic Church, the ruins of St John’s Episcopal Church, Jefferson Rock, and Harper Cemetery. All before reaching the secondary parking area where the hike crosses the US340 bridge and Shenandoah River.