About this Itinerary
In the southwestern corner of Virginia lies the premier New River Trail State Park, a 57-mile linear park between Galax and Pulaski and National Recreation Trail. The accolade this state park receives is well deserved. For 39 spectacular miles, the trail parallels its namesake, the New River, considered among the oldest rivers in the world. The New River Trail also follows the abandoned corridor of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, so some history and adventure are added to the mix, and the result is a well-maintained scenic trail highlighting two tunnels, dozens of bridges and trestles and a historical shot tower once used to make ammunition.
The rail trail is enjoyed by hikers, kayakers, anglers, horseback riders, campers and bikers, so be prepared to share—including swerving around occasional horse manure and rough patches. Also, slow down and announce your presence when encountering equestrians. You’ll find toilets, picnic tables, benches and four primitive campsites along the route. The trail is quite remote, however, so carry enough water and snacks for the entire trip, as well as all necessary supplies in case of an emergency or quick bike repair. The tunnels aren’t particularly long (less than 200 feet), but a headlamp might be useful. Virginia State Parks provides a downloadable trail guide and map.
Hybrid bikes are recommended for the trail’s crushed-stone surface and gentle grade (generally going downhill from south to north). There are multiple access points, and many recreationalists begin at Foster Falls, the park’s headquarters, riding either the southern or northern segment of the trail. The park’s Foster Falls Boat and Bike Livery rents bikes and kayaks and provides shuttle services. Bike rentals are also available in Galax at Main Street Bike and in Pulaski at Pulaski Bikes. Unless you plan to camp in the park, the best choices for overnight accommodation are at the southern prongs of the trail in Galax and Fries. We recommend taking a day for the ride and arranging for a shuttle pick-up or drop-off. Inside park boundaries you will have to pay a parking fee. Also, you’ll need a valid Virginia fishing license to fish in the state park.
Within walking distance of downtown Galax is the elegant and historical B&B, The Doctor’s Inn. Other options for overnight accommodations include cabins from New River Trail Cabin Rentals, which gets you about as close as you can be to the trailhead and still be just minutes from town. Slightly farther afield, but alongside the New River itself, is River Views Campground, roughly 5 miles from downtown Galax.
The Galax trailhead—look for the red caboose—has plenty of parking but there is a fee. From here, follow Chestnut Creek along the 12-mile section between Galax and Fries Junction. Note that the mileage markers traveling north count down beginning at the 57-mile marker. The creek affords rugged scenery from the narrow valley it carved on its way to the river. There is one tunnel on this stretch and the lovely Chestnut Creek Falls. At mile marker 38, you'll encounter the 1,089-foot Fries Junction trestle bridge crossing the New River.
Just across the bridge, you have the option of taking a beautiful excursion following the New River to Fries, an 11-mile roundtrip. This 5.5-mile spur is included in the trail's 57-mile total length. The popular New River RV Park is right off the trail in Fries and a good place for RV camping. Also, 2 miles before Fries, you can purchase drinks and snacks at the New River Side Store and Deli. Friesis a small town initially established to support a cotton mill and hydroelectric dam. The New River Railroad arrived in Fries, and by the early-1900s, the rail corridor along the banks of the New River was used for nearly a century mostly to haul coal from area mines. In 1986, the Norfolk Southern Railway donated the land for the creation of this special state park.
From Fries Junction, the rail trail follows the river north for the next 33 miles. Byllesby Dam is 2.5 miles past Fries Junction and Buck Dam is 2.5 miles farther. It is a fairly shaded and remote section. Enjoy the changing temperament of the river, from calm to fast moving, the cascading waterfalls and creeks and the opportunity to spot the wildlife that dwell in these riparian woodlands. There is an abundant variety of flora and fauna here, and each season displays its beauty in unique ways, from spring wildflowers to colorful fall foliage. On the wooded embankments thrive poplars, magnolias and oaks, also providing habitat for warblers, orioles, redstarts, vireos and many more avian fauna, especially during the migratory season.
You begin to see homes and pastures dotted here and there as you approach Ivanhoeand the Ivanhoe River Bridge (near mile marker 30). There are toilets and a parking area here but no other easily accessible amenities. The trail continues peacefully along the river, winding its way through the rural Virginia landscape. Austinville (named after Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas”) is 2.8 miles beyond Ivanhoe. You won’t see much of the community from the trail, but the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower is coming up in under 4 miles. After the trail takes you under I-77, look for the 75-foot-tall shot tower to your right. You will have to park your bike and hike up some steep stairs to get to it, but it is worth the effort. Construction of this tower began shortly after the American Revolutionary War and was completed in 1807. Built by Thomas Jackson, it was used to produce lead shot for muskets and muzzle loading shotguns and is one of just a few remaining shot towers left in the U.S.
Just beyond the tower is Foster Falls(mile marker 22), where you can purchase drinks and snacks and rent tubes, kayaks, canoes and even horses (guided-horseback tours are also available). Between here and Allisonia, the trail edges eastward to continue its serpentine-like track through a mix of woodland corridors and farm fields. Beyond Allisonia is the beautiful, 950-foot Hiwassee River Bridge (near mile marker 8). Enjoy your last few miles alongside the New River as the old rail corridor begins to climb away from the river to Draper (mile marker 4) and the trail’s end at Pulaski.
Just before trail’s end, you can connect with the Dora Trail to ride 2.5 miles west into downtown Pulaski. Look for the side trail about a mile after the I-81 overpass. The Dora Trail takes you to the historic Pulaski Train Depot, where you’ll find Pulaski Bikes. A block away is the Raymond F Ratcliffe Transportation Museum, featuring an O gauge model train display, two early-1900 fire trucks and other artifacts relating to the town’s railroad and industrial past. Two blocks north of the museum is Main Street, where you’ll find several eateries. From Pulaski, take your shuttle back to Galax and dig in to some tasty BBQ at the Galax Smokehouse.
Galax is a beautiful mountain city known as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains and capital of old-time music. Spend today enjoying all that the community has to offer. In fact, you could plan your whole trip around any number of Galax’s annual musical and artistic festivals and events, such as the Old Time Bluegrass Fiddler’s Convention, considered to be the world’s oldest and largest of its kind. The local Blue Ridge Music Center hosts a summer concert series Saturday evenings from May through September, and you can hear local musicians playing traditional music at the visitor center almost daily. Of course, good music and good food ought to go hand in hand. Check out Galax’s Smoke on the Mountain BBQ championship event and taste the smoky sweet goodness of the real BBQ pros. Enjoy the shops and restaurants in Galax’s old downtown take a walking tour. If you’re in the market for a handmade fiddle, banjo, mandolin or dulcimer, head straight to the iconic Barr’s Fiddle Shop on Main Street.