The James River Heritage Trail in the Blackwater Creek Natural Area is one of the premier urban trails in the state, passing through lush forest as well as the heart of historic, industrial downtown Lynchburg. It offers multiple easy connections to other trails along the way and is well marked with trail and mileage signs.
The 9.5-mile trail is actually an interconnected system of shorter trails that each go by a different name: the Blackwater Creek Bikeway, the Point of Honor Trail, the Kemper Station Trail, the Riverwalk and the Percival's Island Trail.
The Blackwater Creek Bikeway begins at the Ed Page trailhead (nice facilities) on Old Langhorne Road. Take a minute to stroll through the pleasant Awareness Garden, dedicated to persons with cancer. From here, the trail follows an old railroad grade for 3 miles to Jefferson Street downtown, near where the creek flows into the James River. The trail traverses the Blackwater Creek Natural Area, and there are a few unpaved trails into the woods leading down a steep bank to the creek. Mountain bikes are permitted but should give way to foot traffic. The trails are clearly marked.
Shortly after you go under the railroad bridge, high above near mile 2, the trail branches off to the left (north) and becomes the Point of Honor Trail (1.75 miles long). To the right (south) you'll find the Kemper Station Trail, 1 mile long to the Kemper Street Station. To return to the main trail, you'll have to backtrack.
If you carry on the main Blackwater Creek Bikeway, you will go through the funky Hollins Tunnel, nearly 0.5 mile long. The tunnel bends but is well lit, and water seeps from the ceiling. If you take the Point of Honor Trail, you'll cross a spillway; use caution when water is flowing over top. If it's too high and fast, you can cross above at the road.
At mile 3 (3.75 if you take the Point of Honor Trail) the Blackwater Creek Bikeway meets up with the Riverwalk, a 1-mile segment along Jefferson Street's sidewalks to Washington Street. At Washington turn left (north), cross the tracks and continue on the trail, where it becomes the Percival's Island Trail. You will cross a spectacular refurbished railroad bridge onto the island. Stop at the overlook for views back up river toward downtown. The trail traverses the 1-mile-long island before crossing a second former rail bridge to the eastern shore of the James River. Back on the mainland the trail is surrounded by private property and signs warn you to keep to the trail to avoid trespassing.
The James River Heritage Trail continues for another 1.25 miles along the river's edge until its end less than a mile past the last trail access point located off of Fertilizer Road. When you reach the endpoint, the railroad corridor clearly continues but the trail becomes a dirt track that eventually crosses the river again after going under US 29, emerging onto Route 726/Mt. Athos Road.
To reach the Blackwater Creek Bikeway trailhead from the Lynchburg Expressway, go north on US 501 Business, which becomes Langhorne Road. Be on the lookout for a quick right turn onto Old Langhorne Road; the trailhead is on the left. To reach the Fertilizer Road trailhead from the Lynchburg Expressway, take State Route 210 east to Fertilizer Road and turn right to follow it all the way the trailhead for parking.
You can hop on the James River Heritage Trail from many other places along its route. Drop by the Lynchburg Visitors Center (216 12th Street; 800-732-5821) for detailed maps of the trail system.