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As it weaves past long-abandoned mining towns, the Southside Trail (formerly the Brooklyn to Southside Junction Trail) in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve tells the story of “King Coal” through the crumbling ruins at coal mine sites, relics of the railroad era, and a cemetery for mine disaster victims.
The trail runs nearly 7 miles within sight and earshot of the New River, a popular whitewater rafting destination preserved as a national river in 1978 and protected as the centerpiece of a 53-mile-long national park since 2021. The trail follows a segment of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which began serving the area in the late 1800s.
A forest of oak trees, rhododendrons, and evergreens envelops travelers alongside the river. Among the most popular of the area’s many trails, the Southside Trail is particularly attractive to mountain bikers, who enjoy the rough riding provided by exposed railroad ties along its route.
From the Cunard River Access in Brooklyn, the trail shares a road heading south for 1 mile to a parking area at the Brooklyn Campground and Southside Trailhead. Listen for the exuberant screams of whitewater rafters on what’s considered one of the finest whitewater rivers in the eastern United States.
About 1.2 miles past the campground, you’ll pass a small stream on the left that marks an off-trail low-water crossing to Red Ash Island. Up on a high point on the island you’ll find an overgrown cemetery for miners killed in disasters at the nearby Red Ash and Rush Run mines in 1900 and 1905. Most of the burials are simply marked by blank headstones.
Continuing up the trail about 2.8 miles past the campground, you’ll pass remains of the Red Ash mine and then the Rush Run mine. Stone and cement foundations are scattered through the woods, as are the remains of coke ovens where coal was purified for industrial and home use.
A trail junction for the Arbuckle Connector appears 5.1 miles past the campground. In 0.3 mile it connects to the Rend Trail, which features several trestles and views of the New River and the old railroad boomtown of Thurmond on its southern segment.
The Southside Trail continues another 0.8 mile to a dead end at an active railroad line that runs along Thurmond Road, across the river from the historic Thurmond railroad yard. A legal (and safe) crossing here is currently not available. According to the National Park Service, negotiations are underway, but in the interim, please respect this private property and keep clear of the tracks.
Parking is available by the Cunard River Access (Cunard River Access Rd, 1.7 miles east of Brooklyn Loop/CR 9/14) and at the Brooklyn Campground (1 mile south of Cunard River Access).
To reach the Brooklyn trailhead from Beckley, take US 19 north to Fayetteville. Take State Route 16 south through Fayetteville and turn left onto Gatewood Road. Turn left at the Cunard turnoff and follow the signs to Cunard River Access. Once you reach the access area, continue 1 mile up the gravel road to the Brooklyn trailhead, where parking is available.
The Southside Junction end is not recommended as a start for the trail because the active rail line perpendicular to the trail often blocks access to the trailhead, making crossing hazardous.
I rode this trail today after riding the Rend Trail. Well, I rode the 1.2 miles closest to Southside Junction, at least. There are two basic options for starting on this side. The only way to avoid crossing the tracks is to park at the Rend Trailhead, ride that trail, and carry your bike down the Arbuckle Connector. It's mostly rock steps, not rideable, and thus it's carrying your bike down 300 feet of election over less than a mile. But it avoids the tracks, and is how I got there.
The other is starting either at the Rend Trailhead or Thurmond and crossing the tracks. Today, a CSX crew was welding the tracks on the Thurmond side, and all signals were red as a result, but most days there are likely trails rolling through. Realistically, I expect anyone starting at the north end and traversing the whole length will want to cross the tracks and explore Thurmond, and I didn't see a reason to expect it to be any more hazardous than crossing the tracks near my grandparents' house. Why hasn't the NPS put more emphasis on making an official crossing? That is a great segway into the trail itself.
Between the Arbuckle Connector and the tracks, the trail is wide enough, and directly parallels decades-abandoned track. It's scenic, and in one section there were flowers dropped from trees all along the ground. But it's also not exactly well maintained. I had to dismount and duck my bike under one tree, and lift it over three others (two of them grouped together). It's clear that active maintenance of this trail isn't a high priority, which is likely related to why an official crossing at the southern end hasn't been a high priority.
North of the Arbuckle Connector, the trail narrows into a singletrack, and I eventually hit a lengthy mud patch that I decided was not worth traversing.
You do get some views of the New River that you don't on the Rend Trail, but none that beat what you can get from the pedestrian observation points on the bridge into Thurmond. Overall, if you're starting from the south, the Rend Trail is the better bargain even with the trestle out, at least in the spring. Maybe in August there wouldn't be mud, and the Southside would be more traversable.
I'll also note that despite rating this trail 3/5, I'd still very much recommend a day exploring Thurmond, the Rend Trail, and if time permits the Southside Trail. But Thurmond should be the main draw, not the trails, and given their short lengths and rough terrain, it doesn't really make sense to haul bikes there if you don't already have them loaded onto your car for another destination.
We rode this trail a while back because of the beautiful description in the guide. We got lost trying to find the trailhead but eventually made our way to the parking area. We had high hopes as we started and the first couple of miles are beautiful as you follow close to the river. Then, the trail started to get more and more ragged and ok, we can go across a couple of downed trees, and deal with ruts and mud and water, but after about the 5th downed tree, we decided enough is enough and turned back after about 5 miles. This could be a beautiful and fun trail, if they took better care of it. It needs work and widening and removal of the leftover railroad ties which make for not so pleasant riding. Not worth the trip and hassle to find. Don't trust the guide description on this trail unless you just want to try out a trail that is a bear to complete. We were glad to get out.
Rode this trail July 2014. Little rougher than a lot of rail trails I've ridden but what a great ride!! The river is in view the whole way and is really beautiful. The old rail and ties showing up periodically was fun to see and ride. We had to dismount and drag our bikes through some downed trees once or twice but that's part of the charm of a trail like this! Take your time and lots of water and enjoy this ride!!
I hiked this trail in the summer of 2012, and had the luxury of the river access road at Cunard being blocked by a landslide,so I saw only one person on this trail for my overnight trip. By looking at the other posts, I suppose I'm glad that I'm a "homer" and chose this trail due to it's relative simplicity and closeness to home. I simply entered the trail from the Thurmond side. There is a public fishing access area that I utilized to park my vehicle just across the bridge from the Thurmond train station. I intended on fishing the New River along the way, but the weather for the previous two days rose and muddied the river. Therefore, it only took about 3 hours for the hike to the camping area about a mile before the Cunard access road. The trail, as you might have read in earlier reviews, is fairly easy, with some places being pretty narrow, and others being wide enough to drive a truck. I did have to go under the fallen tree mentioned in another post, and also around another at the beginning of the trail which had fallen within a day or two of my arrival. The camping area consisted of about 5 spots, all with fire rings and lantern posts. I only found a few pieces of (relatively) dry firewood, so you may want to take a small stove to heat any food. There are no toilets, other than the "portajohn" at the fishing access area where I parked. All in all, this was a great "get away for a day" trip for me, and was also the first time I had attempted a hike in some years. I am planning on doing this hike again early this spring, as the area is particularly beautiful in the spring and fall.
The trail was gorgeous and the view of the New River was awesome, but about 2-3 miles beyond the trail head, there is heavy deciduous debris and mud/pot holes that you have to watch for. I turned around about 3 miles out due to a large tree blocking the trail.
to get to the trail, you will think you are lost. keep following signs for cunard river access. do not stop at the brooklyn mine trail or kaymore trail, it is very steep and probably not even good for an experienced mountain biker! I made that mistake and large rocks jut out of the ground, I have the chain imprint on my calf to prove it :). as a frame of reference, i am not a mountain biker, so give it a go if you feel so inclined.
keep driving along the paved road to the bottom of the hill, all the way to the river. be careful, the pavement is cracked substantially as it switches back and forth.
i recommend parking at the public restroom facility, then begin your ride there toward the gravel road. this will help you pick up another mile (one way, 2 miles out and back).
i am not sure the drive is worth the riding distance. from fayetteville you are looking at a solid 20 minutes if not more. I was told by Marathon Bike shop there in town to go to Thurmond, which will be my next excursion down that way. Also, there are a couple of bike shops in town and nice restaurants if you do decide to ride down there. i recommend the cathedral cafe, a wonderful coffee shop, after your ride.
I detailed our experience on this trail - it was absolutely wonderful!! You can see it here:
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