The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Hiking offers opportunity to decompress while exploring nature

4 min read

The Shenandoah National Park offers many hiking trails ranging in difficulty. lorimcm / Unsplash.com

by MARCELO RUGGIERO

Staff Writer

Hiking is one form of exercise that is popular among students. Whether the length of the hike is two miles or 20 miles, hiking has several benefits for both students’ mental and physical well-being. 

Here in Fredericksburg, there are several public trails that students can venture through and explore, ranging from a short three-mile hike to one that’s almost seven miles long. For those who have cars or access to transportation, the Shenandoah Valley is not too far away and offers a vast variety of trails with different views, skill levels and distances.

The Canal Path is a 3.5-mile loop that is accessible to those who live in the Fredericksburg community, according to All Trails. The Canal Path stretches from Kenmore Park throughout downtown Fredericksburg, providing views of the Rappahannock River and the canal. The path also gives opportunities for other activities like mountain biking and fishing.

For those seeking a fairly simple, beginner-level hike, Mott’s Run Reservoir trail is ten minutes from the UMW campus. According to All Trails, it is a 4.6-mile hike and loops around a reservoir. 

Alternatively, trails like the Naysayer Trail and the Beach Trail are great for those seeking longer hikes. At 4.2 and 6.3 miles long respectively, these trails offer more uneven terrain and off-trail paths. Both trails follow a part of the Rappahannock and offer scenic views.

Students who have access to a vehicle can look past what is just in the Fredericksburg area. Shenandoah Valley National Park is located roughly an hour and a half from campus and offers more difficult trails compared to those near UMW.

The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a short hike of only 1.4 miles that offers a few waterfalls for hikers to jump into and enjoy a quick cooldown swim. Located close to Dark Hollow Falls is the Stony Man Trail. This path—also spanning only 1.6 miles—is the second-highest point in the park, providing a beautiful view of the valley from such a high peak. Although this trail is short, its difficulty comes from the 340 feet of elevation gained throughout the hike, but the view that hikers get when reaching the peak is a true reward.

A popular, all-day hike that takes between five and six hours to complete is the Cedar Run to Whiteoak Circuit. The scenic loop passes through eight waterfalls, including the 86-foot-high Whiteoak Cascades: a collection of waterfalls that fall down stages of rocks. If the water level is high enough, these parts of the cascades can be used as natural water slides. 

Junior international business major Jane Kisselev has hiked Cedar Run. 

“I loved hiking this trail,” said Kisselev. “I recently hiked it over quarantine, and it was a great way to escape from everything that was going on. In the summer all the waterfalls and wildlife were something special to look at, much better than my bedroom walls.” 

Chloe Wade, a graduate student in the education program, is also a fan of hiking. 

“I think hiking is great for mental health, especially if you have a lot of stressful things going on in your life,” said Wade. “Taking a step back and just being surrounded by nature can help you gain perspective and refocus on what is important.”

Some students also choose to hike together. Hiking can pose a challenge, as it ranges in difficulty from extremely challenging to a casual walk. However, working through the difficulties together can help strengthen the relationship between those who hike together.

“Hiking with others can be a great way to bond and build a genuine connection,” said Wade. “Over the summer, my boyfriend and I went backpacking with each other, and although it was hard, we worked together to overcome challenges. It was also just a lot of fun! Accomplishing a physical task, such as tough hikes, can feel so rewarding and help strengthen relationships.”

Closing in on the end of the semester can cause students to burn out as levels of stress and fatigue increase, but hiking outdoors can help alleviate that pressure. Physically, hiking benefits the body by keeping it active, building stronger muscles and bones, improving one’s sense of balance and improving heart health and lung capacity, according to the online guide Hiking and Fishing.

Simply being out in nature can help improve one’s mood and mental health. Doing activities outdoors, such as hiking, can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, according to researchers from Stanford University.  

Whether an expert hiker or a beginner, there are many options near Fredericksburg and the UMW campus. These locations offer many hiking and walking trails for students to explore when looking for a way to get a break from school.

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