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New River Trail State Park, Virginia

New River Trail State Park is a rails-to-trails success story. When Norfolk Southern donated a right-of-way, Virginia developed it into a multiuse pathway. Descending at a 1% grade for 57 miles from Galax to Pulaski (including a spur to Fries), it’s almost always within sight of the river, passing by farmland and natural meadows, into lush forests and rural landscapes, through two tunnels and over more than 30 bridges and trestles, and close to small communities dating from the railroad’s heyday.

Photo by Virginia DCR
Photo by Virginia DCR

Never far from civilization, yet with long stretches of detachment from the humanized world, it’s a great pathway to introduce someone to the joys of outdoor recreation, without subjecting them to the rigors, and fear, of a harsh or isolated terrain. Road crossings are frequent if the need for help should arise, and campgrounds, restrooms and water are available at a number of sites. The river invites you to tarry and take a dip, fish, or canoe (a concessionaire rents canoes and bicycles at Foster Falls, about mid-point along the trail.) The historic aspects of the railroad are an added bonus, as is the opportunity to visit Shot Tower, an 1807 ammunition facility.

I can’t think of a better place for a weekend family outing. Stay at Fiddlers Roost Cabins in Galax on Friday night, enjoy a leisurely hike or ride and pitch a tent in one of the trailside campgrounds on Saturday, and relax at trail’s end on Sunday with a hot or cold beverage from Coffee Buy the Book in Pulaski.

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