Local author writes trio of books about hiking

By Erin Gifford 

Erin Gifford is an Ashburn-based writer who recently wrote not one, not two, but three books about hiking in and around Virginia. We thought that was interesting, so we asked Gifford to tell us how she got into hiking and how the books came to be. Plus, she’s sharing some of her favorite local hikes with Ashburn Magazine readers. 

We were all changed in ways big and small by the pandemic. For me, it unlocked a love of the outdoors that I had no idea was inside me. Ask any of my friends from college, and they would tell you I was the last person who would be interested in hiking, camping, paddling, any of that. 

Yet, barely one month into the pandemic, I was hiking rocky trails in Loudoun County, soon learning that the Appalachian Trail was just 30 minutes from my house in the Broadlands. I had no idea. 

But to be honest, what else was there to do? In spring 2020, everything shut down. Even Shenandoah National Park closed for six weeks. Soon, everyone was starting to get better acquainted with the great outdoors. 


I was working as a freelance writer, but my focus was on travel. With no one traveling, there were no travel articles to write, and I soon began to get assignments to write articles about at-home spa experiences, dog grooming essentials and how to plan virtual celebrations. It was a strange time. 

I’d written a lot about family travel, so with summer quickly approaching, it made sense to pivot from writing about where to go for fun family travel experiences (like cruises and all-inclusives) to how and where to go to get outside as a family (like state parks and campgrounds). 

I rallied my kids, and we got outside. I wanted to see what hikes and outdoor adventures that they enjoyed, then I wanted to share those with other moms.

By April 2020, I’d bought a URL at gohikevirginia.com. I started writing about hikes in Virginia, including how long they are, what you’ll see on the way and why they’re fun. I soon had an audience, too.


But first, a baby step back. I grew up in Virginia, in Fairfax County. I went to the University of Virginia and aside from a brief eight-month stint in Atlanta, I have lived nearly my entire life in Virginia. Yet, up to this point, I had seen very little of this state that I call home. 

By mid-2020, I was traveling across the state in search of hiking trails. In doing so, I found free-roaming elk, tumbling waterfalls, grassy balds, rail-trails for hiking and biking and the “Grand Canyon of the South,” a scenic five-mile gorge tucked away in Southwest Virginia.

In the past four years, I’ve driven up and down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park more times than I can count, hiking hundreds of miles of trails. I’ve visited 33 of our 42 state parks. I’ve also camped on the beach at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach and backpacked among wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park in Mouth of Wilson.


An Anglo-American author, Christopher Hitchens, once famously said, “Everyone has a book inside them.” Soon that was me as I found myself casually asking Google how to write a book proposal. I sent a proposal off to Falcon Guides in June 2020. Within a month, I had a book deal to write about the best hikes for kids and families in Virginia. 

I was soon doing more than hiking trails in Virginia. I needed to hike, map, photograph and write about each of the 52 hikes I had proposed for this book. This first book – “Hiking with Kids Virginia: 52 Great Hikes for Families” – was published in April 2022. It was very exciting. 

I still beam with motherly pride when I see two of my kids on the front cover, in a photo taken during our hike to Little Stony Man Cliffs at Shenandoah National Park in June 2020. I didn’t hike every hike in the book with my kids, but the cover allows me to hold onto this moment in time. 

From there, I wrote two more hiking guidebooks: “Hiking Coastal Trails of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia” (published in August 2022) and “Virginia Summits: 40 Best Mountain Hikes from the Shenandoah Valley to Southwest Virginia” (May 2023). 

Now, with a trilogy, or maybe a hat trick, and fresh off a winter fat biking adventure in Canada, I’m pondering my future. I’m still hiking and writing about hiking trails, but I’m back to travel writing too, and I’m always on the hunt for my next big outdoor adventure.


Northern Virginia is home to a lot of great hikes, some not as well-known as others. Here are four of my local faves, which I’ve listed from easiest to most challenging (but still manageable). 

Bears Den Overlook (1.9 miles)

This easy out-and-back hike in Bluemont takes you on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail to a rocky overlook with west-facing views. It’s perfect for sunset, but this hike is very popular, and the trail can get quite busy, especially in summer and fall. 

Wolf Trap Trail (2.5 miles)

This easy loop hike in Vienna is on the grounds of the music venue, but it is surprisingly quiet and isolated, despite being near the Dulles Toll Road. You’ll cross wooden bridges over Wolf Trap Creek and settle in on a bench for views across Wolf Trap Farm Pond. 

Difficult Run to Great Falls (5.1 miles)

This easy to moderate loop in Great Falls is one of my all-time favorite hikes, guiding hikers along the Difficult Run Trail and River Trail for plenty of water views. This hike also leads to the scenic overlooks at Great Falls Park. It’s a fantastic – and free – alternative to a start at Great Falls Park. 

Raven Rocks (5.1 miles)

This rocky hike on the Appalachian Trail in Bluemont offers one of the most beautiful panoramas in Loudoun County. The overlook is smaller than at Bears Den, but it’s a great spot to settle in on for a snack. The small parking lot can fill up very quickly, so go early on a weekday, if you can.

For more details on each of these hikes, visit gohikevirginia.com.