Adventure Us: New River Trail State Park
The mountains of southwest Virginia hold many treasures, and one of the most amazing is the New River. This river, unique in its geology, geography, and scenic beauty, winds its way north from its source in the corner of North Carolina. On its way to the Ohio River via West Virginia, it cuts a path through the mountainous Virginia panhandle.
And the Virginia state park system has provided an excellent way to enjoy a long stretch of its beauty: the New River Trail State Park. This park, a 58 mile long trail that follows the path of an old railroad, is one of the country’s most celebrated “rail trails”. Following the New River for 39 miles, the trail crosses the river on old trestle bridges, passes through old tunnels, and provides stunning views of the river.
The park can be explored from many locations and offers many options for recreation and outdoor enjoyment. One of the best places to start is at Foster Falls, where you can experience every aspect of the park.
In the 1880s, Foster Falls was the location of an iron ore furnace around which a village sprung up. Several original structures are still visible, including a few old wooden buildings, a mill, and the stone furnace itself where the iron was smelted. Bits of iron slag can still be found around the furnace. The iron was then hauled away on the Norfolk & Western railroad line to faraway industrial cities; reminders of the old railroad also abound, including the restored train depot and the old N&W caboose. Most impressive of all, the old Foster Falls Hotel – once a headquarters for the mining company and a center of the community – still stands. After the iron operations ceased, the building was used as a girls’ school and orphanage for several decades before falling vacant. Today, the building is in the process of being renovated for use as a park lodge.
Foster Falls offers a variety of outdoor fun. Guided horseback trail rides are offered during the summer months, and there is also an arena for riding. Bikes can be rented during the warmer months. You can also rent canoes or kayaks to fully enjoy the river – Foster Falls itself is an adventuresome Class III-IV rapid. Fishing is spectacular – many record catches have come from the New River. Down the gravel road from the entrance, a large playground complex with picnic shelters offers opportunities for family fun, and for enjoying the beauty of the river.
Up and down the rail trail, there are beautiful sights and opportunities for fun. One of the most family friendly trail choices would be the quick 2.5 mile trip to the historic Shot Tower, then back to Foster Falls. Down the wide, level trail, along with beautiful views of the river, you’ll see the spot of the old Jackson Ferry, a major river crossing since colonial times, and the Shot Tower itself, a unique piece of early American history.
If you want to make a weekend out of it, explore the tent camping options at Millrace Campground.
All in all, the New River Trail is a remote treasure full of beauty with recreation options to suit every type of family!
Name: New River Trail State Park, 116 Orphanage Dr., Max Meadows, VA 24360
Time from Roanoke: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Activity Options: Hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, picnicking, history, camping
Nearby Food: pack a picnic!
Nearby Attractions: Shot Tower State Park