Virginia may not rank as one of the largest in square miles, but the geographic diversity across the state always surprises me. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself spending more time in Southwestern Virginia, a part of the state which I had explored sporadically over the years. What had I been waiting for? The mountain views are spectacular, and the opportunities for outdoor adventures plentiful. Last spring, I was lucky to discover a small slice of the New River Trail, not far off Interstate 81 in Hiwassee. It’s part of New River Trail State Park, which is a unique linear park running parallel to the New River for almost 40 miles. Fall is the perfect time to head to southwestern Virginia and checkout New River Trail State Park for yourself, and here are 3 fun things to do when you get there.
1. Hike, Bike, Walk or Ride Horseback on the New River Trail. Outdoor lovers will enjoy the 57 mile long trail, with over half running parallel to the New River. With 12 access points to the trail, it's easy to find a convenient place to start. To me, what makes this park unique are the numerous trestle bridges, tunnels and the historic shot tower, which was in use more than 200 years ago (1 of 3 still standing in the U.S.) Take a picture or download the trail guide before you go, to help locate restrooms and other trail amenities. Rent kayaks, canoes, bikes or reserve a horseback ride at the Foster Falls Boat and Bike Livery weekends through the end of October. Families can also participate in the 80th Anniversary Geocache Adventure.
2. Take Part in a Weekend Event. From train tours, to s’mores and stories around the campfire, families will love the different events held every weekend between now and the end of October. The train tour is an all day event, from Foster Falls to the Cliffview ranger station, and you need to register in advance. Or spend time on select dates at the Discovery Center, located at Foster Falls, which features touch tables, crafts, aquariums and a small, indoor theater. Be sure to check out the event schedule to find out the latest schedule and more detailed information.
3. Camp Under the Stars. With 4 primitive campgrounds to choose from, including the Baker Island Campground which is only accessible by boat, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds. No cabin camping is available, and you should know there are no bathhouses or showers, but several of the sites have access to non-flush toilets. Camping here is probably best for those with some camping experience under their belts.
While you are in the area, take time to explore some of the nearby small towns. If you start your trail adventure near Draper, I would recommend stopping at the historic Draper Mercantile and the Blue Door Cafe & Bakery.
Not sure what else to do in the area? Check out these fun weekend itineraries: Camping, Captains and Camels or Eats, Beats and More from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation website. And be sure to wish the Virginia State Parks department a happy 80th birthday!
And be on the lookout for my next post, which will include other state park recommendations from family travel bloggers throughout the US.