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Southwest Virginia’s New River Trail is one of America’s premier rail-trails; the U.S. Department of the Interior designated it an official National Recreation Trail in 2002. The trail is also a linear state park running along the New River through Grayson, Carroll, Wythe, and Pulaski Counties. In 1986, the Norfolk Southern Railway donated the railroad corridor, which originally served the once-expanding iron industry, to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
If you travel from Galax or Fries and head north to Pulaski, the mileage markers count down beginning with P51 at Galax and P45 at Fries (the numbers indicate the distance to Pulaski). Much of the trail is downhill from south to north. Equestrians should note that horseback riding is allowed on all sections of the trail except for the first 2.4 miles between Galax and Cliffview. Horse trailer parking is available at the Cliffview parking area and several other parking areas along the trail.
If you start from Pulaski (Dora Junction) and head south, the first 3 miles are uphill, though most won’t find it a burdensome climb. A mile or so after Draper (mile marker 6), the trail travels downhill to the impressive 950-foot-long Hiwassee trestle at the river. This 5-mile section features numerous trestles and offers a study in mountain railroading, as the tracks climbed away from Claytor Lake and the river to reach the mainline at Pulaski.
Many visitors choose to begin at Foster Falls (mile marker 24), the New River State Park headquarters, located about midway along the New River Trail. The park’s Foster Falls Boat and Bike Livery (116 Orphanage Dr. in Max Meadows) provides shuttle services and rents bikes, canoes, kayaks, and float tubes.
The Galax trailhead, which features an old red caboose, has plenty of parking. From here, you’ll follow Chestnut Creek along a 12-mile section leading to Fries Junction. The creek affords rugged scenery from the narrow valley it carved on its way to the river. At mile marker 39, you’ll encounter the beautiful Fries Junction trestle spanning the New River. Just across the bridge, you have the option of taking a pleasant excursion to Fries, an 11-mile round-trip. This 5.5-mile spur is included in the trail’s total length.
The remaining 39 miles proceed north (downgrade with the river) along the peacefully flowing New River as it runs through Ivanhoe, Austinville, Foster Falls, and Allisonia. The trail is isolated for much of this journey, so if you are on this stretch, be sure to carry all necessary supplies in case of an emergency or quick bike repair.
Along the way, you’ll see many railroading highlights, including cavernous tunnels, steep dams, and trestle bridges, as well as the historical Shot Tower, built in 1807. The Galax and Pulaski trailheads have all your post-trail amenities.
There are numerous other access points and parking areas along the entire route; refer to the map for more details.
To reach the Galax trailhead, take Interstate 77 to the US 221/US 58 Exit (Exit 14) toward Hillsville/Galax. The trailhead is located on the right, where US 58 crosses Chestnut Creek.
To reach the Dora Junction trailhead in Pulaski from I-81, take State Route 99 west for 2 miles toward Xaloy. Turn right on Xaloy Way and look for the trailhead on the right.
You can also access the trail in Fries: Take I-77 to the US 221/US 58 Exit (Exit 14) toward Hillsville/Galax. Turn right at Cliffview Road/SR 721 to Fries. SR 721 becomes Fries Road before crossing the New River. As you come into town, turn left on Dalton Road. The trailhead is at the bottom of the hill; the trail signs are impossible to miss. Parking is available near the town park on Riverview Avenue.
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