About this Itinerary
At seven miles in length, the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail (VBRRT) may not be the longest trail you’ve ever experienced, but it provides an ideal route to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and history of this southwest region of Virginia. Cross over a covered bridge, see relics associated with the railroad that once traveled this corridor and view a diversity of wildlife that live in the dense woods that line the trail.
The appeal of the VBRRT is that it is in a quiet and isolated setting allowing trail users to really experience the surroundings with minimal interruptions. However, this also means that businesses such as shops, restaurants and hotels, are not conveniently located. For the purposes of this itinerary, we will be based in nearby Lynchburg, which offers a convenient location and many amenities.
Located about 28 miles south of the northern trailhead of the VBRRT, the town of Lynchburg is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the banks of the James River. During the Civil War, Lynchburg served as a Confederate supply base and, for four days in 1865, between the fall of Richmond and the fall of the Confederacy, was the capital of Virginia. In the 19th century, the city developed a strong economy based on manufacturing and became quite prosperous. For a period of time, Lynchburg was one of the wealthiest towns in the country per capita. This era in the town’s history is still evident today in its four historical districts, which feature nearly 500 architecturally significant buildings from the late 1800s.
In Lynchburg, stay at The Carriage House Inn B&B. Located in the Daniels Hill Historic District, it was built around 1910 and fully renovated in 2009. The property features six luxurious rooms each with a private bath, and guests enjoy such amenities as onsite massage and body treatments, wrap-around porches with comfortable chairs, gourmet breakfasts and a location that makes it easy to walk to downtown shops, restaurants and sites.
Bike rentals are available in Lynchburg at Bikes Unlimited. This full-service bike shop has two locations in town. Along the riverfront, they rent cruiser bikes by the hour (call ahead to reserve).
This is the only rental option in the area.
Before leaving for the VBRRT, stop to pick up lunch to take with you as there will be no opportunities to purchase food on or near the trail. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays year-round, shop at one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, the Lynchburg Community Market. In addition to vendors, the market features four restaurants, a bakery, a cheese shop and prepared foods. Sample fresh locally produced foods and prepare a gourmet lunch for a trailside picnic. The market is located at 1219 Main Street, about one mile from the Inn in the heart of the downtown. Another option is the Food Lion grocery store, which you will pass on the way to the VBRRT in Madison Heights, just off of US-29N.
To reach the trailhead from The Carriage House Inn, take a right on D Street and a left on Rivermont Avenue. Turn left onto VA-163 N/Fifth Street, crossing over the James River. Take a right onto VA-210 E/Old Town Connector and a left to merge onto US-29 N toward Amherst. Travel on this road for about 16 miles before turning left onto VA-151 N. Look for the trailhead parking on your right after traveling for about seven miles.
At the trailhead, you will find a visitor center located in a renovated train depot. Portable restroom facilities are available, but there are no other amenities, so plan accordingly. Stop in to the visitor center to learn about community efforts to convert this abandoned railway line into the current multi-purpose trail, and find information about the railway that once traveled through this corridor.
The trail follows the route of its namesake, the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, which followed the Tye and Piney Rivers for several miles before heading off into the mountains. It was originally built in 1915 as a temporary line to bring chestnut timber out of the Piney River area to local mills. This was curtailed during World War I, and then ultimately chestnut blight destroyed much of the remaining trees. The railroad continued offering passenger service, and then for a period of time was profitable hauling titanium dioxide, which was extracted from the river. It was eventually abandoned in the early 1980s, at which point it had been dubbed ‘the longest running commercially successful short line in America.’
Heading east on the trail you pass an evergreen and deciduous forest mixed with open land. During the intense summer heat, the trail does provide some respite from the sun, however, it is not entirely shaded. Along the way, keep your eyes open for blue jays, warblers and sparrows, as well as many other birds and small mammals that call this forest home. You will also pass by small waterfalls and cross several bridges, including a recently constructed covered bridge that crosses Naked Creek.
As you bike along, you will likely not encounter a lot of other trail users. The crushed-stone surface does lend itself to horseback riding, however, so be alert for horses. Surrounding the trail are dense sections of forest; hunting is allowed in these woods during the fall, so it’s recommended that all trail users wear brightly colored clothing during the season.
Along with wildlife, there are a few relics of the trail’s railroad past scattered along the route.
At the trail’s end, find Tye River Depot, where an old weighing scale and railroad exhibit are on display. There is no water fountain or amenities here or close by (and there is no exit from the trail here). Retrace your route back along the VBRRT and stop to enjoy your picnic lunch at one of the several tables scattered along the route. Dip your toes in the river, keep your eyes open for wildlife and just savor a beautiful day on this scenic trail.
Back in Lynchburg, wander the historic downtown, stroll along the James River, or indulge in a massage at The Carriage House Inn.
Enjoy dinner in one of the most creative spaces in Lynchburg. Shoemaker’s American Grille is housed in the warehouse of a former shoe manufacturer and evidence of its former life adorns the walls in the form of whimsical shoe-themed artwork. Located in the historical Bluffwalk Center, this fine-dining restaurant focuses on fresh seafood and meats and offers a wide range of items on its menu, including favorites such as crab-stuffed trout, seafood cioppino, and shoemaker’s sirloin. Also enjoy an extensive drinks and dessert menu with such tempting treats as chocolate blackout cake.
Isabella’s Italian Trattoria is the place to go in Lynchburg for contemporary northern Italian food. This elegant restaurant partners with local farmers to bring only the freshest ingredients to the table in their dishes. Start with fried risotto balls and one of their delicious seasonal salads. Try the mussels linguine, lasagna bolognese, or spicy chicken and sausage orecchiette for an entree, and enjoy a glass of wine from their extensive menu.
For a more casual dining experience, stop by Waterstone Fire Roasted Pizza. Located along the James River, this casual dining spot serves fresh salads, hand-crafted beers brewed in-house and hand-tossed, fire roasted pizza topped with gourmet ingredients. Located in the same historical building as Shoemaker’s, the building is a destination unto itself. Waterstone’s is the ideal spot to relax and enjoy the energy of this revitalized area.
There is no shortage of attractions to explore today. In Lynchburg, visit The Old City Cemetery, also known as ‘The Gravegarden.’ Established in 1806, this is the oldest public cemetery in the state still in use. The 27-acre grounds are a public garden and feature five museums that tell some of the stories of the 17,000-plus people buried here. The grounds are free to wander in and are open from dawn to dusk. Stroll the beautifully maintained gardens to see extraordinary plantings; take a self-guided tour of the cemetery; and visit the museums to learn about the history of the cemetery, the city of Lynchburg and surrounding communities. This is one of the most popular sites in town and provides a good understanding of historical events that have taken place in the city and the individuals who made those events happen.
For more background on the history of Lynchburg and the surrounding area, visit the Lynchburg Museum. Free and open to the public seven days a week, this museum is located in the old Courthouse, dramatically perched above the city up a series of steep stairs. The museum holds an impressive collection of paintings, artifacts and documents that chronicle the history of the town and its most esteemed residents. Also visit Point of Honor. This property was built in the early 1800s and has been the home to some of the city’s most important citizens. Tour the home and learn about the property’s fascinating past from the time the land was owned by the Monacon Indians, through the Civil War, and on into the 20th century. Point of Honor is operated under the auspices of the Lynchburg Museum and is located close to The Carriage House Inn in the Daniels Hill District.
Located about a half hour from Lynchburg is the Appomattox Court House, where the Army of Northern Virginia led by General Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and effectively brought about the end of the Civil War. Today, the site is run by the National Park Service and features a museum with a number of exhibits and many original artifacts, such as the pencil used by Lee to make corrections to the surrender terms; a theater with two different documentaries; and a walking trail with notable sites highlighted.
Lynchburg is a great base from which to take advantage of numerous outdoor activities in the region. From downtown, hop on the James River Heritage Trail and bike for nine miles on a paved and hard-packed dirt rail-trail. The trail follows the James River, takes you through an abandoned rail tunnel and provides lovely views of the historical Lynchburg riverfront and the town. This hilly route cuts through some dramatic scenery as it follows an old railway line.
The area also has some fantastic spots for canoeing, kayaking, tubing and fishing. James River Reeling & Rafting in Scottsville and Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan (both about an hour away) offer guided trips for all ages (tubing is self-guided), as well as overnight camping and paddling excursions.
Hiking opportunities are also numerous. In the George Washington National Forest, located about 40 miles north, hike Crab Tree Falls/Spy Rock. Climb along a dramatic route to what is considered to be one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in the state. This hike is not overly strenuous and includes stunning views. Plan a full day and don’t forget to bring your camera!