Chessie Nature Trail

Virginia

Chessie Nature Trail Facts

States: Virginia
Counties: Rockbridge
Length: 7 miles
Trail end points: Old Buena Vista Rd./SR 631 (Lexington) and E. Midland Trail/US 60 (Buena Vista)
Trail surfaces: Dirt, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017617
Trail activities: Bike, Walking

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Chessie Nature Trail Description

The Chessie Nature Trail travels through breathtaking rural Virginia countryside, following mile markers left behind by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad that ran this route. Dont be surprised if you find yourself sharing the trail with a wide array of birds and small mammals. There are some large mammals, too. Expect to see a few cattle grazing in the meadows that border the trail. (You may also pass cattle gates, which can be tricky to get around sometimes, but they do not indicate that the trail is closed.)

The trail begins along State Route 631 in Lexington and follows the northern bank of the Maury River for the first 3.7 miles, while alternating between lush forested areas and farmland. There is a break in the trail at the river, where the former railroad bridge has been removed. To navigate around this, follow Stuartsburg Road (located right next to the trail) south for 0.5 mile before taking a right onto Old Shepard Road and reconnecting to the trail.

The final 2.5 miles meet back up with the river for the remainder of the trail. While the trail passes some farmland, the final mile hugs a steep cliff along the side of the river on your right. It is quite an impressive finale to this very pleasant walking trail.

Parking and Trail Access

To access the Lexington trailhead from the intersection of US 11 and Interstate 64 in Lexington, take US 11 south and make a left onto State Route 631. The trailhead is approximately 1 mile ahead on the right.

To access the Buena Vista trailhead from US 60 and Interstate 81 in Lexington, take US 60 east and make a left on SR 608 before Buena Vista. Follow SR 608 for approximately 0.75 mile and look for the trailhead on the left.

Chessie Nature Trail Reviews

A fun trail that is well-maintained along the Maury River outside of Lexington, VA. Easy walk from downtown LEX to access the trail. No water or restroom facilities, so plan accordingly.

The trail is beautiful! Great surface, views and access BUT in walking the first 2.5 miles from the Lexington end five times - once daily - before and after the Thanksgiving weekend my dog - leashed and kept at my side was aggressively approached,snapped at and barked at by dogs OFF leash whose owners stood by & seemed to think my dog should 'be friends' with thiers. I have a German Shepherd service animal. Come on people.The rules say leashed dogs. Share the trail with some manner's or stay off of it.

After heavy rain passed through the area a few weeks ago, I was afraid that the trail might me a mess but it was in great shape. Biked from downtown Lexington to the trailhead then out toward BV. Nice fall foliage was a bonus.

Accordion

We enjoyed this trail on a sunny and warm Spring day. Comfortable 14-mile ride round trip from Lexington to Buena Vista with many views of the river. Parking a bit limited but available. Thanks to the Friends of the Chessie Nature Trail for the new gates, which are very user friendly. Friendly also were the cows we encountered sharing the trail!

The Friends of the Chessie trail completed last week the upgrade of all gates from the Lexington side to the South River. These are four foot wide swinging metal farm gates and are placed just next to the regular wide farm vehicle gates. The new gates are pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Some new gravel has been laid in also in several places.

The Friends have also put in a new gate at the first farm after South River heading to Buena Vista and this coming week will install another at the other end of this farm.

The Friends then plan to complete installation of new gates in April finishing the trail all the way to Buena Vista. Further gravel and improvements will be made to the trail.

Parking is available in Lexington at the Jordan Point Park which has picnic tables and grills. Just walk or ride up from parking to the route 11 bridge, cross it using sidewalk, at end turn left and go about 50 feet and on left you will see a path down to the trail, turn left at bottom, go under bridge and you are on the trail.

Alternatively, there is informal parking along Old Buena Vista road which parallels the river. Parking is available midpoint at South River and also at the Buena Vista. At South River parking just follow signs to briefly detour to road, over little bridge, and then to right turn down dirt broad to regain trail heading toward Buena Vista. Improvements to parking are slated over next year or so.

I live in Lexington and am on the trail often on my cross bike with 43s. Some friends and I started a local advocacy group last year called Friends of the Chessie Trail and we have a website. The trail is being upgraded by Virginia Military Institute and major improvements are slated over the next two years. Meantime, the Friends have been active on the fence and other issues. From Lexington to South River two fences have been removed, one landowner added a pedestrian and bike friendly gate, and trail surface improvements have been made. Because a bridge washed out some years back, a short detour is needed at South River. There is a parking area there also. From this area just go on to the county road for a couple hundred yards and you will see a sign leading you down a hill to a farm the trail crosses. The Friends just installed a pedestrian and bike friendly gate here at this farm in October. Sometimes cattle are in this area but are laid back animals. The next gate has pedestrian passage but you have to lift your bike over a couple boards. The next gate swings wide open but make sure to close it. The gate after that is difficult and you have to lift your bike through a narrow passage or simply over the gate. You then encounter another farm with cattle and the subsequent gate is difficult also but Friends has prioritized adding a bike friendly gate. You then head on to parking or to Buena Vista on public roads. In short, the fence issue is being addressed. Signage issues will also be addressed by VMI as will parking. Parking is available at Jordans Point and you just ride along Route 11 over the bridge, turn right and you will see the Trail parallel to the Maury River. There is also parking at several points along this road.

I have ridden the entire trail on my vintage steel Merckx road bike with 23 s but a hybrid with wider tires, or mountain bike, or cross bike is best owing to mixed terrain. Surfaces include short stretch of heavy gravel by businesses, then fine gravel generally, and some dirt and grass. This is a rural area with farms that include cattle and that is part of the charm. Deer, herons, ducks, geese, a plethora of birds, and nature in general offer good company along the way.

The administrator of the Trail, Virginia Military Institute, has a website on the Trail.

This trail was not what we expected. Please understand that to enjoy this trail you must be able to lift your and your riding mates bikes over your head NINE (9) times and crawl thru and over small openings with loose barb wire. Be prepared to plow thru a lot of very loose and hard to get any traction cow poop.
Giving this a 3 star only because it follows a river which is nice and some of the ride was pretty.

Side note; Rode over to Virginia Military Institute and rode around the campus which was really awesome.

We started out at the beginning in Lexington, VA. Finding the trail and a place to park were difficult. There were no signs directing you to the trail. We did find a place to park close to Route 11 behind some buildings. We rode for 3.5 miles until we hit a fence. The fence was locked and farm fencing was put up blocking all access to the trail. There were cows and cow patties all over the trail and the only way to get to the trail would have been to climb the farm gate with our bikes. The trail was poorly maintained and is definitely not for road bikes.

We decided to drive down to Buena Vista and start at the other end. It again took a while to find the trail as there were no signs along the road. Once we found the spot we nuzzled into a small parking space next to a guard rail. We rode for about 1/2 mile and the trail was again closed by a farm fence. There was another pasture with cows. There was very little evidence of a trail.

We had read about the trail in Rails to Trails magazine and we drove from Ohio to ride it. Definitely not worth it al all. The only good note about it is Route 39 that we took from Snowshoe Mountain WV to Lexington VA. This was a beautiful drive. Another good point is that we stayed the night in Lexington, had a great dinner at the Red Hen and some good wine at the Rockbridge Winery.

Some of the reviews indicate that the cows on the trail are a problem, but I think that's mostly the perspective of people who don't spend much time around cows. The cows are almost entirely on the Buena Vista half of the trail, if you are walking the half between Lexington and the Interstate 81 overpass, you're not going to see any cows. But if you walk the other half of the trail, you'll walk past some big, photogenic bovine beauties. Just enjoy the scenery and keep moving.

Cows are large, and can be intimidating, so I understand the natural inclination to be wary of them. Here's the thing: If you don't intentionally mess with or bother the cows, you're not likely to have any problem with them. Cows are naturally a little afraid of people and will move out of your way when you approach. If a cow is laying down, it might stay where it is. Just step slightly off the trail and keep going. A spooked cow can be dangerous because they'll jump and run in random directions to try to get away from whatever has spooked them. The secret is to not sneak up on them, talk and laugh and let them hear you coming. Don't intentionally try to upset them, justkeep moving in an nonthreatening manner as you pass them, and you'll find that walkers and cows can enjoy the trail together without any problem.

Yes, there is a lot of cow manure on the Buena Vista half of the trail. This is a "nature trail." Manure is natural. Watch where you're going and you'll be able to navigate around and over the manure without any problem.

There are a number of gates that cross the trail as you pass through private farm land. Each gate is outfitted with a ladder, turnstile, or small pedestrian gate to allow easy passage for trail walkers. On my walk today I passed by some of the owners of the private farmland, working with their animals. I smiled and waved, they smiled and waved back. A little courtesy goes a long way, and is generally well received.

Just treat this trail as you would any other, don't litter, be respectful of the land, and enjoy the scenery ... cows and all.

We decided to give it a try after reading about in the current R to T Mag. Adjacent landowners are blocking the trail with fences and gates. Cow poop as well. We will not try it again, but I would love to be a part of an effort to regain the access Robert Holt

Trail runs for about six mies from Lexington along the Maury River to about one mile short of the small town of Buena Vista. We started at the Lexington where the trail is both the most well established and the most used. The surface of crushed gravel about six feet wide deteriorates to a one or two-track cowpath towards the other end. The major problem with the trail for cyclists is that there are 11 barriers across the trail that require dismounting. Six of these are 4.5-foot tall cattle gates that do not open so that the bikes must be lifted over. This lifting would be very difficult for a single rider. A secondary problem is the presence of small herds of cows on the trail (no bulls observed). We ran into three small herds. The cows moved on request but the calves were a little spooky. Otherwise an interesting and somewhat challenging trail.

On September 18, 2014 we road the Chessie Rail Trail. Finding the trail head was a task. A local Organic store clerk was able to guide us in the right direction. Over all the trail is well maintained easy riding however the cattle gates do require some modernization. You need to lift you bike over and walk through or climb over a gate. I understand that this is being addressed and should be in place Spring of 2015. Suggest you start the trail in Buena Vista to Lexington. Lexington offers a range of dining and shopping options. We had the trail to ourselves. An occasional walker and joggers. Use caution when passing through the occasional herd of cattle. Oh and be careful of the cow pies. It was an enjoyable trail.

Nice walking trail but be VERY careful if you have a dog. The cows become protective of their calves and they WILL become agressive if you come too close. Problem is, the herd (wtih their young) may be congrugated by a gate and then what do you do?

My wife and I tried out this trail a couple of weeks ago. It was very pretty and parts are secluded with very little traffic, except when you get closer to Lexington where there are a lot of runners, walkers and dog walkers. This was primarily a walking trail that now allows bikers, and given that background, it's a nice trail close in to town. When you get further away from Lexington it becomes more rough and at times grassy and you have to go through a couple of cow pastures that have gates around them. You have to lift your bike over the gates with one exception where someone was smart enough to place a chain instead of locking the gate. Warning: the cow pastures are full of cows and what cows make naturally. You have to be extra cautious not to get the muck in your tires and some of the cows are not "user friendly." Otherwise, it's worth a visit but again, it's not a real rail-trail, but a converted nature trail.

I did both ends of the trail a year ago but because of rain I did not finish the middle section. I tried again 5/3/14. There is a bridge out in the middle of the trail where a road section is used to get around the missing bridge. Stuartsberg Road and Old Buena Vista Road run parallel to the Chessie Trail and the river. The west end of the missing bridge with some parking is another good trail head. The east end of the missing section is a bit east and on down a farm road. I biked west of the missing bridge for a ways. The gate at that spot was difficult but I did get by. So many cows however it was difficult to keep your tires clean! Youker

Nice, well used trail. Wish the bridge were back and you could get through the farm before the bridge, but all "sections" offered something different. Great walk

This is a lovely trail, dirt and gravel but smooth. I started at the West (Lexington) end on Rt 631 and biked as far as the Interstate and back. The gate was tight for a bike but ok. I then drove to the other (Buena Vista) end off Rt 608 but it started to rain so I did not get to try this narrow trail part. It was Memorial Day weekend so the river was full of canoes and kayaks. Bob

I rode about 5 miles on this trail (and back) in July and it was a great experience. The trail is a little rough in some spots but not a problem for a mountain bike. A road bike might have some problems. The trestle bridge about half way through the trail has washed out and there is a detour to an adjacent road for about 1/2 mile and then back to the trail. The many gates are a necessary nuisance but it's easy enough to life your bike over them. I saw no signs indicating that bikes were not allowed and saw several hikers; none of which expressed any objection. It was a 90 degree day and a quick swim in the river was very refreshing. I am already planning my next trip on this trail. Great experience! Photos have been submitted - enjoy! Here's a Google Maps link showing the bridge detour: http://goo.gl/maps/1w6EX Navigate the trail virtually until you come to the blue line...or click the "detour link" on the left.

I visited Lexington yesterday for a job interview, which was a four hour drive for me. I have been interviewing in several states, and a prerequisite for any job I apply for is that the area must have a scenic and flat bike trail of 5 + miles. I bike rails to trails regularly at home, and have been an avid rider on the Va Creeper Trail in Damascus, Va for about 10 years now, and hope to retire near it. Lexington is halfway to Damascus from my current home and a wonderful "old Va" town, so I was really looking forward to the visit. I had seen the Chessie Trail on line, and boy, was I frustrated! First of all, it took me half the day to find it. No one in downtown Lexington was familiar with it, and the bike shop owner said that the VMI, who oversees the trail, likes to "keep it a secret" (because their boys run on it?). The Lexington Visitors Center had no staff familiar with it, and handed me the same one line of info that I had already from the town website. I finally found the Lexington starting point, and walked on it for about an hour. It was very beautiful. I was thrilled at how lovely it was. Then I drove over to Buena Vista and found that about 1/4 mile from the starting point there was a locked gate that blocked all bike access!!! The gate was outfitted with a "turnstile" on one side, which allowed a body but not a bike, to get around the locked gate. I agree completely with the previous reviewer, who said that all gates on this wonderful trail should be converted to "weighted closure"- which are so simple even a child can install. They are the means by which all pastures on the Va. Creeper Trail allow access to bicycles without compromising the security of the field, essential to protect the livestock which inhabit them. Please, VMI and Rails to Trails, get to work! You are shutting us cyclists out and it hurts.

I MTB the Chessie on Dec. 29 on a cool 30 degree morning. The first two miles (south of Lexington) is nicely surfaced crushed stone. This is where most walkers and joggers partake. Once you go under the I-81 bridge it turns mostly to grass and dirt along with the occasional truck/tractor rut from the numerous farms accessing their fields. I only rode a bit over 5 miles one way; dismissing the last bit after lifting my bike for 5 of the 7 gates (if I recall). Also, upon seeing a cattle field (in view of US 60) with cow piles on the r-o-w to avoid while also keeping an eye for the cattle; well I turned around.
The trail could benefit from gates that only open one-way and self close for the cattle (Virginia creeper) now since bikes are allowed. The VMI foundation is the “caretaker”; perhaps an area parks and recreation department could “manage” the trail and be more suited for maintenance and improvement. One bridge I crossed (just before the I-81 bridge) did not have any side railings. I thought the scenery was great (river and cliffs/bluffs) and would love to ride it again in the future.

I'd heard at Lexington Bicycle Shop that velocipedes are, in fact, now permitted on the Chessie. As such, this morning, I ran (albeit slowly) from Buena Vista to Lexington (and back) and noticed that the "No Bicycles Allowed" signs have, indeed, been removed. Woot! Unfortunately, the pesky cattle gates are still very much in place, so cyclists will just have to pretend they're partaking in a cyclocross race, I suppose. Happy riding, everyone!

We hiked this trail today hoping it would be dry and no snow! We started at the Lexington side and hiked about 2.5 miles in and back out. It's a lovely flat, wide old railroad trail that follows the Maury River. This is a great trail for beginning hikers and families. We met several other people and their dogs and many runners. Everyone was extremely friendly and out to enjoy our long awaited warm day! We came across only one area that is blocked from the sun that still had ice and snow. Lots to see and in warmer weather having the river so close will definitely be a bonus! There were several spots for our dog to get water which helps greatly.

Like others who've reviewed this trail, I don't understand why bikes wouldn't be allowed. This would be wonderful for our fat-tired mountain bikes. It's wide enough and the gates on the trail would discourage racing and abuse.

We definitely plan to hike the entire trail soon.

"Me and a friend rode this trail with our mtn bikes a couple years ago. I don't remember seeing any ""no biking"" signs. Its not like they have guards or any park ranger presence anyways because it is a rural trail.They don't really maintain it. There was a lot of cattle farms that the trail cuts through which I though was cool. I road my bike right through a herd at a slow pace. Lots of native wildflowers blooming on the cliff when we were there in early April."

"I definitely do not understand how a trail of this nature does not allow bike access. It is dumb to say that because there are cattle guards across the trail that bicyclists would not want to ride that trail. I ride across cattle guards daily when I leave my driveway. As long as you hit them at a right angle and with a little speed you flow right over them. Any cyclists than can not negotiate a cattle guard obviously needs a little more practice, and if these are the reason for limiting access to this trail then I think the local government should know that hikers are much more likely to twist an ankle in one than a bicycle wrecking because it couldn’t roll over the obstacle.

I for one would love to enjoy this trail, but have not and probably will not until cyclists are allowed by law to use it. I do not believe in riding in areas where bikes are not allowed even if they are limited because of ignorance or prejudice. Bicycles are a safe and fun way to enjoy the outdoors and do it quietly with almost zero impact on the trails.

I bet they allow horses on the trail and not bikes because of Lexington’s horse history and culture. Horses for one are animals that should be limited from trails. They poop on the trail in large quantities to make all others have to smell and walk around. They also rut and gouge trails with their hooves because of the amount of weight put on small hard hooves.

I am sorry to rant on like this, but it peeves me to see a beautiful trail such as this limited to a number of responsible users that would enjoy it without harming it.
"

"The Chessie Nature Trail is NOT a bike trail. Signs along the trail clearly state that it is for pedestrians only. Even if people don't know the word ""pedestrian,"" there are numerous cattle fences across the trail that ought to be a clue to the no-bike policy."

"This trail is definitely not fun for bikes. It is nice and level, but the constant climbing of cattle gates and the dodging of ""cowpies"" is not worth the trouble. There is also a big bridge that is washed out and has no warning signs. Luckily we looked, or we would have suffed a fall of at least 50 -eet into the river. We can't believe the county hasn't taken the responsibility to gate off the access to the bridge."

"This is a nice trail. It's best used as a connector to get to the mountains beyond Buena Vista. Strangely enough, it clearly states that no bicycles should be on this trail (despite the fact that federal government funds were used to develop the trail). No one seems to mind, though, and perhaps a little civil disobedience is in order. It sure beats riding old Buena Vista road during rush hour just to get to the mountains.

-jk

NOTE FROM Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: Funding for some rail-trails comes from the Recreational Trails Program (see www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rectrails), a program of the Federal Highway Administration. The Recreational Trails Program does not dictate to local jurisdictions that their trails allow bicycling. "

"Chessie Nature Trail is a pretty trail along the Maury River between Buena Vista and Lexington. It passes along step rock edges, through cow pastures and meadows, across 2 wooden foot bridges and under canopies of over hanging trees. Signs at either end state “Pedestrians Only” but, they do not explicitly prohibit bikes. There are 12 cattle gates which must be crossed. There are pedestrian step throughs in “>” shapes allowing walkers to cross to the other side but, bikes must be lifted over the gates.

The trail can be found from Buena Vista by going west on Rt 60 to right turn onto Stuartsburg Rd (Rt 608). Soon after turning onto Rt 608 you will pass by a small parking area on left to come to a second smaller parking area on left. There will be a steep gray rock edge on your right.

The trail starts from the second parking area although the first parking area may be the better place to park and then walk or ride up to the trail. Access to the trail from the Lexington side can be found at the juncture of Rt 11 and the Maury River. There is a gravel area behind a small oil company just east of Rt 11 on Old Buena Vista Rd (Rt 631) which is continuous with the trail going east. Old Buena Vista Rd will come to Stuartsburg Rd. There is a trail sign and paths on the opposite side of the Maury River just below VMI, however, there is no way across the river to the majority of the trail other than going up on Rt 11 and crossing the car bridge. "

The trail crosses the Maury river on a picturesque wooden bottom bridge. A great place for lingering...

I hiked this trail today in both directions and found it easy but rewarding for the views of the river and the traces of the old railway. The two miles near the Buena Vista end go through two different pastures with cows in them. This should be noted for anyone that is not used to animals of this type and could make someone uneasy if not expecting to see them. They are docile and no problem but just thought people should be aware of their possible presence. It is well worth the hike!

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