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The Potts Valley Rail Trail is built upon an abandoned corridor of the Norfolk and Western Branch rail line. Called the Potts Valley Branch, it operated between 1909 and 1932 and was built to haul iron ore, then timber, out of the lush mountain region. Much of the 5-mile rail-trail lies within the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, while a small portion is on a private property right-of-way. Along the trail you will find interpretive signs about Potts Valley's history as well as benches to stop and take in the scenery or the quiet solitude of the forest.
The southwest trailhead lies a few hundred yards from the Eastern Continental Divide, which at that location separates the headwaters of Stony Creek (a New River tributary) and Potts Creek (a James River tributary). Mountain ridges on each side of the valley trail reach elevations of between 3,700 and 4,100 feet, and the trail overlooks the South Fork of Potts Creek, a brook trout stream.
The trailhead begins in West Virginia, just shy of the border with Virginia, on State Secondary Route 17 (Waiteville Road). The trail traverses a forest of mixed pine and hardwood, with rhododendron in the understory. Because it was a former railroad grade, the slopes along the Potts Valley Rail Trail are gentle. Beginning at the southwest trailhead, you will follow the border of the Mountain Lake Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the Jefferson National Forest.
Take one of the side trails and view the handiwork of stone masons, who carved culverts for the forest's ubiquitous streams to run underneath the former rail line. At about the 3-mile point, you arrive at the site of the former Crosier trestle. The wooden bridge, once 98 feet tall and 600 feet long, carried trains across the stream. Unfortunately, rebuilding it for foot traffic was unfeasible, so the rail-trail detours here down slope away from the rail bed. Notice the hand-cut stone pillars that once supported the railroad bridge.
About 0.75 mile beyond Crosier Branch (a stream you must cross), the trail enters private property and continues for another 0.5 mile to the northwest trailhead. A bench just before the trailhead provides a great location for enjoying the pastoral scenery. The trail ends about a mile or so above Waiteville, but if you continue on (following public roads), you come across the old Waiteville depot then the Paint Bank, another former depot (now a lodge). In the nearby brick building, you'll find a general store and restaurant.
Mountain bikers can do a loop ride by using State Secondary Route 17 (Waiteville Road) and State Secondary Route 15/5 (Rays Siding Road) to reach the trailheads of the Potts Valley Rail Trail.
From US 219 at Union: follow State Route 3 east for 9 miles to Gap Mills, and turn right onto Zenith Road. After 3.5 miles, turn left onto Limestone Hill (Waiteville) Road. Follow for 5.5 miles across Peter's Mountain. At the bottom of the mountain, turn right onto County Route 17. Follow CR 17 for 1 mile to Waiteville, and then for another 4.5 miles to the SW trailhead, on the left, not far from the Giles County line.
From US 460: about 4 miles east of Pearisburg, VA, turn onto SR 635 (Forest Service Sign for White Rocks Campground). After 5.5 miles, turn left to stay on SR 635. Continue for another 12 miles. At the Monroe County line, SR 635 becomes CR 17. The SW trailhead will be on the right, roughly 0.25 mile in from the border.
From SR 311 at Paint Bank: follow SR 600 (CR 17 at the Monroe County line) for 12 miles to Waiteville. Continue on CR 17 for another 4.5 miles to the SW trailhead.
From Mountain Lake: follow SR 613 north, past the War Spur and Wind Rock trailheads, and the road to White Rocks Campground. At the bottom of the mountain, turn right on SR 635 (CR 17), and follow 1.5 miles to the SW trailhead.
NE trailhead from SW Trailhead: follow CR 17 to the northeast for 3 miles. Turn right on CR 15/5, Ray Siding Rd. Follow for 0.75 mile to the trailhead, on right.
NE trailhead from Waiteville: follow CR 17 to the SW for 1.5 miles. Turn left on CR 15/5, Ray Siding Rd. Follow for 0.75 mile to the trailhead on right.
Rode from NE trailhead, finding the first mile plus nearly impossible to bike. Treacherous descent / ascent through area of former trestle (pushed / pulled bike, cannot imagine riding it). Many downed trees and branches at intervals the entire length. Although we pulled smaller ones that we could manage, off the trail, significant more remain, most will require tools. Good signage, including reflective markers through the first section where the trail is nearly indiscernible; mileage designations would be helpful. Recommend riding from SW trailhead 3 miles to trestle site, then turn around and ride back. Those 3 miles scenic, with the trail elevated through woodlands. No mountain views while trees in leaf. Consider that elevation rises from NE to SW.
June 6, 2018-
Parked at the west trailhead. There is room for about 6 cars about 50 yards from the hard surface road. My dog and I hiked about three miles to where the trail descended into a hollow where there once was a railroad trestle. We then turned around and came back due to lack of time.
This part of the trail is nearly flat and level. Rhododendrons in full bloom. Several springs where dog drank and cooled his feet. Took about 2-1/2 hours for a leisurely 6 mile round trip. Trail is wide and clear with little brush or limbs. I suggest long pants or long socks as there were just a few briers and nettles. Also a mud hole where you will likely get your shoes wet.
We encountered few gnats and mosquitoes, but it was windy and cool.
At about the three mile point going east, the trail depends steeply into about a 600 foot deep ravine, but it looked like the trail was well worn and had switchbacks.
Suggest setting up a shuttle with a vehicle at the far end (about 4 miles) so you don’t have to double back.
Or you could walk back on the hard surface road, not much traffic during the week.
One of the nicest and easiest trails in this area. Has some interesting history told by a placard on the east side of the gorge.
Your grandma could hike this trail with ease.
We read the reviews and were not too surprised by the need for mountain biking skills. We took two horses and a bike. Trail is wonderful for horses and the creek crossing was just a little slippery. Only a couple of trees down which the Back Country Horsemen will try to get cleared soon. Cold breeze blows down this valley so prepare for a cold north side of the mountain experience in winter. I am sure it's just the place for a hot summer day!
West parking lot is small, no room for trailers, but East lot near Waiteville is plenty big.
Hard trail because it is steep and has dangerously sharp turns. My husband and I did have a good time but we suffered.
Had a great trip this morning (Mid June 2015) with my dog. Parts of the trail had trees down or were overgrown but the trail was easy to follow and fairly level most of the way. Just remember it isn't a loop so when you finish, have another car parked at the end unless you want to walk all the at back (like we did). The benches were well located but the grass was too tall for me to want to climb through for most of them.
Looking for solitude? This is the place! We hiked the whole trail -- in and out, and never saw another human being! Trail is easy for the first 3 miles, except for the downed trees from the summer storms. However, the next half mile or so is much more challenging due to the missing trestle. We started at the southwest trail head, so had a steep walk down to the creek. There is nothing but some rocks to balance on to get across the creek... definitely would not want to attempt with high water or any ice! Once across the creek it was relatively easy (but not flat) to the northeast trail head. On our return, it was a steep climb back up from the creek. And a gentle uphill back to the southwest trail head. Interesting changes in plants, terrain and scenery. All in all an enjoyable hiking trail, but not your typical rail trail.
We had a lot of fun playing around with our mountain bikes on this trail this past weekend, and it was wonderfully picturesque forest. I recommend using a mountain bike on this trail, or at least fat tires, because it was no longer cinder track in most places but more grown over and bumpy with tree roots, dead branches, and an occasional rock or mud. You need to like such things; if you think you might like these things and want to find out, this trail is a good learning trail for new mountain bikers because the gentle slope lets you ride over obstructions more easily without losing your balance. The weeds weren't tall at this point of the season, late September. The second half of the trail was a mildly steep single track rather than a railroad bed.
The downhill direction is eastward, with the top of the hill being the parking area near the WV/VA border off 635. If you're not too hardcore, you may want to take 2 cars and just do the downhill part; we did a loop by coming back on the road.
Trail is in a remote forested area. Easy to find; coming from Pembroke, Virginia and after turning on route 635, the southern trailhead is on right just after entering West Virginia. At first I thought I had to park along road, but there is a small parking area an 1/8 mile in from the road. Gorgeous, rugged area along trail because the railroad needed to cross eastern continental divide along this stretch. Great scenery and a very peaceful trail.
However, it is not surfaced nor has it been “graded”. Very undulating along with “mud holes” and grass (August) 8 inches tall obstructing your view of the too numerous stones and tree branches that you have to avoid taking your attention away from admiring the area. I am not wanting rolled crushed stone, although that would be great, but at the very least provide a trail more maintained then now.
Granted this is a newly opened trail and perhaps more bikes can “beat” a path of single-track along R-O-W. As stewards the Forest Service knows how to maintain a successful rail trail in the Jefferson National Forest (Virginia Creeper). I only hope this trail will benefit from their experience.
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