How does the New River Trail in Virginia measure up? It travels 57 miles ... and on average is only 80 feet! Like a gerrymandered congressional district, the rails-to-trail state park snakes its way through four southwest Virginia counties and connects the town of Pulaski with the city of Galax - and another branch leads to the town of Fries. You can start the morning breakfasting and shopping in one of these quaint Southern towns, and then hit the trail for a day of horseback riding, biking, hiking, fishing and boating.
Travel time and distance vary, depending where you access the trail. The closest and easiest to get to from Charlotte is Foster Falls; this access point is at Milepost 24, roughly the midway point along the trail. From Charlotte, it is about 120 miles, a two-hour drive, one way.
To see and do
Diverse activities and points of interest are found along the trail.
The Foster Falls access area provides a good example of the diversity. You'll find a visitor center housed in a renovated 1886 railroad depot. Close by is a vintage Norfolk and Western caboose, and just down the hill stand the remnants of a 19th-century iron furnace. Foster Falls also features a picnic area, campground and two boat launches.
The Foster Falls Horse Livery is located here, and you can sign up for guided horseback rides along a section of the trail. Blue Cat on the New is a convenient local outfitter that arranges for bike, kayak and canoe rentals, guided fishing trips, and campsite and teepee rentals.
A little more than a mile southwest from Foster Falls on the trail is a shot tower, a relic from the early 1800s that is easily seen from Interstate 77 North before crossing the New River. A little farther along the trail, after passing through an old train tunnel, is Austinville, at Milepost 28.8. A few hundred feet off the trail is a monument to Stephen Austin: The "Father of Texas" was born and raised nearby. About 6.5 miles southwest of Foster Falls, at Milepost 30.3, is the Ivanhoe River Bridge crossing the New River; at Milepost 34.7 is Buck Dam.
Much of the trail's appeal is that even though it follows the New River through the rolling hills of southern Virginia, it follows the old Norfolk and Western railroad bed: It's almost completely flat, making it easy for all to enjoy.