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Waterfalls, river views, rugged rock formations, vibrant fall foliage and delicate flowers in the spring: These are the sights that put the “scenic” in Jackson River Scenic Trail. The serene rail-trail, nestled in the Allegheny Highlands of western Virginia, traces the route of what was once the Hot Springs Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.
It begins in Intervale, just north of Covington, and runs in both directions. It heads south 0.6 miles back towards Dry Run in the City of Covington, and winds north hugging the curves of its namesake river. Picnic benches along the water allow you to rest and take in the beautiful surroundings. For added adventure, you can kayak or canoe in the river, and it’s also known as an excellent place for trout fishing. 7.2 miles north of Intervale you’ll find the Smith Bridge Trailhead, and another 6.5 miles leads to the current terminus, near the Alleghany/Bath County line.
The trail’s crushed gravel surface extends a few miles north of the Natural Well trailhead. Much of the route is wooded and you may see deer, rabbits, groundhogs and other wildlife.
Round out your experience with a visit to the C&O Depot in Covington for a peek at the trail’s railroad past. The restored 1908 structure now houses the Alleghany Historical Society and their exhibits on the history of the region. Rail buffs may also want to head 11 miles east of Covington to Clifton Forge, where many historic railroad artifacts and equipment are on display at the C&O Railway Heritage Center.
Another nearby and worthwhile side trip is the Falling Spring Overlook. The roadside attraction is a jaw-dropping 80-foot waterfall on US 220, just north of Covington.
There are three parking areas for the trail:
Overview: The trail length has doubled from about 7.2 miles to 13.7 miles making it 27 miles round trip. This provides a biking distance attractive enough to justify the travel destination for many riders.
Access: To the new Natural Well Trailhead, take US 220 North of Covington to just beyond the Nissan Dealership. Look for the brown Lake Moomaw sign prior to a left turn at route 687 Jackson River Road. Careful, you don’t have good sight distance for turning left in front of oncoming traffic on US 220. Following one route number 687 makes the rest of the trip easy though.
Trail beta: This trip we biked only the newly opened 6.5 mi section from Smith Bridge to the northern terminus which has no vehicle access there. The Natural Well Trailhead is half way in between. It has awkward off street parking with only one way in, a picnic table in the sun, and a porta potty, the sole ‘rest room’ currently on the new section. The most scenic section of the new trail is between Natural Well and the northern terminus along Cedar Creek. It is the most remote section and worth the road distance of 12 miles from I-64 to Natural Well and 20 minutes in time. The surface is smooth fine gravel.
Sweet Lunch Spot: On the entire trail it is in the new section about ½ mile north of Natural Well at MP # 11.5 the trail distance from Intervale. The picnic table is in the shade on the river bank within the sound of a river rapid. In the new section, most of the other 10 plus picnic tables have been placed in the open, in the midday summer sun. Stainless steel MP markers are installed including ‘FULL’ markers showing cumulative mileage for those doing a round trip. Will come again.
Davefox October 2017 has an accurate writeup.
This trail is very well done. Great scenery and new service areas enhanced the ride. We met a number of local people who were walking and they were all very friendly and proud of their new trail. We were encouraged to tell others and to come back. We will and with more friends next time!
On a beautiful bike ride along the Jackson River, we encountered walkers, bikers, fishermen, runners, and folks on horses decked in pink riding for The Cure. We clocked 27.1 miles out and back starting at the Intervale parking lot; riding on a wide, hard packed crushed stone tread way. And, we saw a Bald Eagle! Thanks to Alleghany County and The Alleghany Foundation for implementing and maintaining this trail. It's a gem!
I had a very good ride on the "new" section (from the Smith Bridge Trailhead northward) and my GPS read it as 6.5 miles. It's 3.5 miles from Smith Bridge to the Natural Well trailhead, and then another 3 miles to the terminus. I get 7.2 miles for the old section, so I make the total length as 13.7 miles. Some report it as longer. The confusion may be due to the old railroad mileposts, which don't correspond to the miles on the trail.
The new section has the same smooth surface as the old section. I think it's the best surface of any of the rail-trails in Virginia. The average grade on the new section is about 0.3%, so it's barely noticeable. The scenery is excellent. The trail follows the Jackson up until the last half mile or so, where the Jackson curves west to the dam and the trail continues north along Cedar Creek.
There are two picnic tables at the northern terminus, which is a nice spot although there are better views along the way. These are the only picnic tables or benches on the new section at present. There are some surfaced areas near the small trestles that suggest that tables or benches may be added later. There's a porta-potty at the Natural Well trailhead.
I did encounter an obnoxious beagle a couple of miles north of the Smith Bridge trailhead. I need some James Bond style accessories on my bike for these situations. Other than that, it was a great ride. Allegheny County has done a great job on the trail. I hope they add some tables and benches on the new section, and perhaps come up with a better trail map and mile markers.
Labor Day weekend - my wife and I rode the trail on Sunday and loved it. We met some friendly folks from Covington along the way. The trail now extends a few miles north of Natural Well. Even though it had rained the night before, the trail was dry and the crushed gravel provided a smooth, consistent surface. All the parking lots, including Natural Well, have at least a porta-potty & picnic table. The distance from Intervale to just beyond Natural Well is approximately 12.5 miles.
They have just completed another 10 miles of trail this spring. The best I can tell, it's now a bit over 17 miles long. It a quite wide and seems to be a very well-maintained trail. There is no more than a 1% grade on any part of the trail so it's suitable for families. Much of it follows the Jackson Rive and it's it has cool breezes of air coming off the water on a hot days. It appears they are still currently expanding the trail into the city of Covington. They have added bathrooms and a nice picnic shelter near the Intervale Trail Head in the city. However the upper end of the trail beyond the Smith Bridge Trail head has recently been completed and lacks facilities. Although there are plans to add them in the future. Most of the trail is well shaded by the trees in the summer and appears to drain nicely following rain. It's worth the trip to for the scenery alone!
My wife and I were on the trail Memorial day, and the county has made significant progress on completing this trail. I'm not sure if it's all the way to Lake Moomaw yet because we ran out of time before we ran out of trail. Just south of Natural Well there's about a 25 yard section that looks unfinished, i.e. rutted out and no cinders. At first we thought that was the end of it but we pushed through to the parking lot at Natural Well and noticed that the trail looked finished again on the north end of the parking lot. So we kept going. And going.
This is by far my favorite bike trail in Virginia. And it's now long enough for the more serious bikers. Get out and enjoy this trail!
Yesterday my wife and I rode the trail. Coming from Lynchburg the trail head in Covington was easy to find, and there were signs directing you through town (this was the Intervale trail head). The trail is predominantly flat, with a few sections that have a slight grade, up or down depending on your direction. We experienced no dogs that some of the other reviewers mentioned, only 1 black snake, but he was minding his own business. There are plenty of things to see, and the trail was very well maintained (the county was even clearing trees yesterday). The mile markers were spot on with my GPS. The trail currently ends at the Smith Bridge parking area, and the mileage there from Intervale was 7.1 or so, definitely not 10. Be sure to check out the old Smith bridge over the river there! There was currently construction underway on extending the trail farther North, so once this is done it will make the trail even nicer! Lunch afterwards at Cucci's Italian in Covington is a must!
My wife and I purchased new bikes a few weeks ago. Since then we have ridden 3 trails. This trail was really, really nice. The ONLY complaint was that about a 2-3 mile stretch was fairly bumpy due to horse tracks. It appeared that the area had received a LOT of rain recently- perhaps this made the trail more bumpy than usual. There is a riding stable located along the trail, and it was evident that the horses had been using the trail about 1-2 miles in either direction and had rutted up the trail a little. We were also disappointed that there was no trail access above the Smith Bridge- it looks like they are currently getting ready to add cinders to the trail above the Smith Bridge.
Hopefully the trail will be "groomed" at some point to smooth out the bumpy areas. If it were smooth, this trail would get a 5+ rating from us !
What a wonderful trail. This trail maybe a little out of the way but it is a crown jewel of rail trails! Plus, once you're in the area there are many outdoor activities/adventures available. The Jackson River views are amazing as well as the cliffs, mountains and even fields. You can not get a more complete experience. I spoke with maintenance workers on the trail (super nice)and they said that the next two sections will be under construction at the beginning of the year. This will connect the Intervale trail head to the City of Covington and continue the trail from the Smith Bride trail head to the Bath County line. They also said a future connection into Bath County is under development. Very much so looking forward to that!
My husband and were enjoying the JRST on Sunday, July 19 between 1:00 and 3:00 pm. At approximately 5.8 miles, a loose dog (white with brown spots) emerged from a yard to our right. Thinking it had more bark than bite, we didn't flee but tried to steer clear. It pursued me on the left side and bit my upper left ankle. The wound bled for the rest of the ride. The house is north of a place called 'heavenly acres' and a place with chihuahua pups for sale. I spoke with another group of riders and the dog chased one of them as well.
Per this incident on July 19, I received no less than 8 phone calls from a Sheriff Deputy and no less than 3 calls from the Alleghany Health Department. The dog that bit me was not located. I was highly encouraged (almost forced) to obtain the rabies vaccine, which I did.
One awful dog, on one awful day in Covington/Alleghany County has now cost my insurance company over $3,500 and me personally, out of pocket, just under $2000.
There are no 'unleashed dog' warning signs and no protective barriers.
The trail is high risk for preventative injury in albeit a place of beauty. Because of my experience, and the experience of other riders from what I hear and read, I would not recommend this trail to anyone.
My husband and I did a long run here while staying at The Homestead, about 30 minutes away by car. The scenery is beautiful and the trail is shady and flat. We saw other runners as well as bikers and a few dog-walkers (though all were leashed or were quickly grabbed as soon as owners saw us coming). There were a few loose dogs at nearby yards, however.
Highly recommended for those looking for some beautiful and flat distance while in the area!
My son and I had a wonderful experience. Rode early Saturday morning. The trail is well maintained and free of debris. No problems with dogs as mentioned in other reviews, but did hear them. Simply beautiful ride. Wish it were closer to Roanoke!
This is the trail that has gotten me to change my sedentary life for the better. The Jackson River Scenic Trail a wonderful beginner's trail for anyone who is just beginning to become active. It is wide and gravel lined, and the elevation changes are slow and gradual. You can walk it at a leisurely pace, use it for bicycling or running, and enjoy it in the way that suits your own current activity level. This trail is beautiful and it serves as kind of a mental and physical reset-button for me. I can't say enough good about it. Pictures I've taken on the trail this summer are here:
The Sheriff's Office patrols this trail from time to time on ATV's. Any violations should be reported by dialing 911 or 540-965-1770.
This is a beautiful trail; however, everytime I ride my bicycle on the trail there are dogs on the trail not on leashes. I am on the trail 4 or 5 times a week. Recently, two dogs tried to bite me. They are always between mile 3 marker and just past the 2nd gate and are not with any owner. Several times I have been biking and dog owners will have their dogs unleashed with them. They always say - "He won't bite." I always get off my bike, and slowly walk past. I feel the need to protect myself, so I will begin bringing pepper spray with me. I feel that Parks and Recreation should do something about this.
I did this 7.2 mile trail from Smith Bridge 5/4/14 with my wife driving shuttle. By the way when you are down here don't miss seeing the Falling Spring at the wayside up on Rt. 220. It is totally unique. The surface is very small loose stone and I found it a bit harder work than a firm surface and used one gear lower. I had a talk with a local and they do hope to extend the trail 10 miles farther but are having normal landowner problems. The river looked so great I wished I had my kayak for the white water. Spring flowers were great. Youker
This trail is wonderful and a hidden treasure. Very nice surface, well kept and very few people on any part of the trail, at least in early spring/late winter. It is by far the trail with the most houses, but it seems the most serene.
This has by far been the prettiest trail yet. Very easy, like walking on sand at the beach. Beautiful!!
I did this trail in December, I enjoyed it. Its a very nice trail and is a relaxing ride. I recommend this to everyone.
This trail is an awesome little ride. Surface is great for a smooth ride views along the trail are really nice. Just all around good 14 mile round trip from intervale to smith bridge and back. Highly recommend this trail. I have rode on several rail trails and this one is top of the line. THUMBS UP!!!
My wife and I rode on this trail on Memorial Day weekend 2013. The trail is in excellent condition. It is an easy ride, flat, and offers beautiful scenery. We plan to return with our grandchildren as this trail seems to be a very safe one for small children to ride on, too, since it does not have steep drop-offs or other hazards.
My husband and I took to this trail on April, 7th 2013 and the trail looked like it was brand new. New picnic tables along the river, the crushed gravel surface was smooth, free of debris and rocks- just perfect. We encountered a little waterfall off of some rock/cliff formation midway right on the trail that you could touch it. It looked so refreshing as we were breaking a little sweat. This would be a great trail for family rides as it is nice and wide to accomodate bikers and walkers.
This was my first ride on the Jackson River trail, and I was impressed with the scenery, the crushed stone surface, and the parking at the trailheads. The trail now starts at Dressler Dr. (Va778)just as you turn left from route 220 north (just before the Nissan dealer).This is around 2 miles down river/trail from the Jackson River Road access. Large lot with information kiosk and porta-potty. I parked at the Smith Bridge Road lot which is where the crush stone surface ends going north. I measured the distance at 7.5 miles between here and the Dressler Dr. lot. You could continue north but the trail is grass along with water puddles.
Newly developed and just amazing. Great family bike ride with beautiful views. Highly recommended!
The trail was renovated by a local construction company, and it's a lot nicer then it used to be. They have signs posting it's location, and also it's own parking lot along Jackson River Rd. right across from Petticoat Junction. I use it to run quite frequently, and i couldn't love it any more!
The Jackson River trail is an abandoned C & O railroad bed with very scenic small waterfalls present over rocks in the spring time. On Jackson River road you can park at Petticoat Junction store (just ask the store attendant). Just a little ways from the store you can go either North or South. The South part is not too long and goes back towards Covington. The highlight of the trail is the North route which goes towards Lake MooMaw partially alongside the Jackson River. This part of the trail is roughly 14 miles one way, so you might want to pack a small backpack if you plan on doing the entire North route. It is slightly upgrade going North.
The trail is old ballast and can be very rough in spots. There are a few waterholes, and in one spot approximately 10 miles North of Jackson River road there is a slightly damaged trestle, but if you are very careful you can get over it. In the mid-summer time there are lots of delicious blackberries along the trail, but watch out for the poison oak. I would highly recommend a mountain bike with good tire tubing. A hybrid bike will work, but you have to have thick tubing and be careful in spots where there are some unexpected rocks along the trail. Have fun!
This trail was very difficult to find, but once we located it, we enjoyed our ride. It is hard packed grass. Not many locals seem to know about it. Here are the directions we were given from the Homestead.
Take route 220 south (8-10 miles from the Homestead)
Turn right onto Fall Road (640) There is a small abandoned concrete building on the corner.
Turn left onto Jackson River road.
Make next left onto Smith Bridge Road.
Park at river acess. Bike trail is not along the river. Go back up the road that you just came down and look for yellow posts that mark the entrance to the trail.
The north branch (left) doesn't go very far. Maybe a mile or two.
The south branch goes to Interval, there is a portion that is on a road. We stopped there and turned back.
It is a very pleasant ride.
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