Nelson County, Va., has long been the place for social distancing, even before it was fashionable. Enjoy 471 square miles of a playground with plenty of wide-open spaces, including the first 30 miles of the Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway and the mighty James River. Explore Nelson’s newest attraction and the coolest hike in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Tunnel, or enjoy fishing along the Rockfish River. Whatever your outlet, Nelson County has an adventure for you.
Rail Trails & The Blue Ridge Tunnel
When it was originally completed in 1858, the Blue Ridge Tunnel was the longest railroad tunnel in the United States. The long-anticipated tunnel restoration and rail trail opened in late 2019, seeing nearly 7,000 visitors within ten days of opening. The tunnel is part of a greenway rails-to-trail system connecting three counties as it runs through Afton Mountain under Rockfish Gap at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Directly above the tunnel is the famed Appalachian Trail.
Hikers, bikers, railroad enthusiasts, and history buffs will be amazed at the trailway through the restored tunnel. With no plans to light the tunnel, you will experience total darkness as you make your way through the mountain. Bring a headlamp and be very brave. The trip through the tunnel is about a mile long, and it’s bound to be refreshing on a hot summer day. Temperatures in the tunnel hover at 50 degrees. The trail is open from dawn to dusk, so take your time and enjoy an unforgettable adventure!
Fishing Cool Mountain Waters
There are many opportunities to fish in Nelson County. Head to the Rockfish Valley after the tunnel hike to get in some hours on the water. Named for the rockfish that swim in the river, anglers of all abilities can try their skills and luck as the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources stocks trout in designated waters from fall through spring. Parts of the Rockfish River are slow, shallow, and populated by sunfish and smallmouth. You will need a Virginia Fishing License between October 1st and June 15th.
Or travel west across the Blue Ridge to downtown Waynesboro where you can fish and hike along the South River Greenway. The paved trail, which connects the river, neighborhoods, historic districts, a mural trail, and the Virginia Main Street downtown, is the only urban fish hatchery in Virginia.
One of the county’s famous residents, television writer and producer Earl Hamner Jr., included fishing in his stories about John-Boy Walton and his siblings, who would fish for sport and for food on the hit show The Waltons.
Brews and Bites
Your next move will be to grab a bite to eat and something to drink along one of Nelson’s three craft beverage trails—Nelson 151, Nelson 29, and the Brew Ridge Trail. Craft beverages and local food make for a great time, and Nelson has all of the ingredients.
Take in all of the sights and sounds of the Blue Ridge away from the crowds when you visit Nelson County, Va.
All photos by Jack Looney