New River Trail: 57 miles of bike trail less than 3 hours away
The physical therapist hesitated, then issued his edict. “Maybe. If it’s a short hike. And if the trail doesn’t have a lot of rocks.” He hesitated again, “I dunno ... .”
“What a bike ride?” I asked.
It was Marcy’s first meeting with a PT to deal with a nagging case of planter fasciitis. She’d been hobbled off and on by the annoying muscle irritation; her most recent flair-up courtesy of a walk-to-run program. We were at Cary Orthopaedic’s Performance Therapy unit — because past experience revealed they were just as interested as we were in getting us moving again as soon as possible. PT Kevin Raymond was on board with that, he just wanted to make sure Marcy didn’t go out too fast.
“Biking is good,” he answered with enthusiasm.
Our plan for the weekend had called for a hike in the mountains to take in the peaking fall color. Maybe one of the more remote trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe something along the lines of Elk Knob or Three Tops. Something that wouldn’t be crawling with leaf peepers; thus, something a little more rugged. And, thus again, less friendly to a case of planter fasciitis. I had to switch gears and come up with a day trip on a bike where we could avoid cars, hopefully avoid crowds and, if it wasn’t asking too much, get some great, colorful scenery. With surprising ease, it hit me: New River Trail State Park in Virginia.
Day trip: Our house in Cary is located not far off I-40; New River is located just off I-77, it’s all four-lane (or more) divided highway in between. Three hours of speed-limit driving (provided you keep a coffee can in the car and avoid stopping). From Charlotte it’s only a two-hour drive and from the Triad, an hour or less. A minimal investment considering the payoff.
Avoid cars: New River Trail State Park is a 57-mile long linear park that follows abandoned Norfolk Southern rail line from Galax north along the New to Pulaski. You’ll encounter hikers, joggers, horses and other cyclists, but you won’t see any motorized vehicles on this rails-to-trails project. (There are, however, occasional road crossings where you may see a car.) The surface is a friendly, finely crushed gravel that’s smooth and foot- and tire-friendly. And because it’s atop an old rail line, it’s a relatively level grade: no punishing climbs for your quads to remind you of what a slacker you’ve been.
Avoid crowds: We went up this past Saturday. It was cloudless, cool (upper 60s), and the color, albeit somewhat muted this year, was at its peak. In short, perfect conditions. While we didn’t have the trail to ourselves, we weren’t constantly dodging people, either. Just enough fellow explorers for some good conversations — and to bum a tube from if a tire went flat.
Great, colorful, scenery: I’ll let the photos speak to that. Enjoy the slide show.
New River Trail State Park
Length: 57 miles.
Width: 80 feet, on average.
Access: You can access the trail at it’s southern end in Galax, at it’s northern end in Pulaski, and at several points in between. To minimize car time, pick the trail up at its mid-point, at Foster Falls, located just off I-77 about 20 minutes north of the North Carolina state line. The trail north from Foster Falls (toward Pulaski) is flatter; the trail south to Galax has more climbs. Trail maps — there are two, for the north and south ends — are available at Foster Falls.
Fee: There’s a $3 per car fee.
More info: Go here.