Virginia’s New River Valley is an outdoorsy place. The combinations of mountains, rivers and bountiful public lands puts hiking on the front burner of outdoor activities that also include paddling, camping, bicycling, and mountain biking.
The New River Valley area is generally defined as the communities of Western Virginia in proximity of the New River from Pulaski in the southwest, north through Blacksburg, then west to the Virginia state line at Glen Lyn.
Geographically speaking, the New River Valley and its tributaries cut through the high and mighty Appalachians, creating waterfalls, overlooks and geologically fascinating locales.
Pathways aplenty course through the region. The Appalachian Trail is the centerpiece of the trail system. The world’s most famous footpath enters the area near Pearisburg. From there the AT works through Mountain Lake Wilderness on its way to Roanoke and beyond.
However, there is much more to hiking here than just the Appalachian Trail. Have you been to Sentinel Point and the Falls of Mill Creek? How about Cascade Falls? Or Wildwood Park? Or the New River Trail near Pulaski?
So lace your boots, grab your back, fill your water bottle and let’s hit the trail! The following hikes give you a sampling of hiking destinations in the New River Valley.
– MILL CREEK NATURE PARK –Nearest Town: Narrows
Distance: 6.8 mile there and back
Best Times to Visit: Whenever the skies are clear and the streams are up
What You Need to Know: Be vigilant when starting your hike and don’t get confused in maze of nature trails at trailhead.
GPS Coordinates: 37.31681, -80.79346
The town of Narrows has established a park along Mill Creek with a trail network coursing through the town’s 145-acre preserve. This hike starts there and continues into the adjacent Jefferson National Forest. Starting the correct trail is key to your hike. Leave the parking area, and pass near the picnic shelter in a small field on the Wheezer Trail. Enter woods and join a wide track with Mill Creek flowing to your right. Do not take the trail crossing over Mill Creek by bridge. It links to the Upper Loop and Lower Loop trails. Don’t take the gravel road leading uphill to a water tank, either.
Climb along waterfall-rich Mill Creek. Signed spur trails lead to two significant falls, one of which bounces 80 feet in several stages. The other drops 15 feet levels off then spills another 10 feet. Make your way to Wolf Creek Mountain and Sentinel Point. From this overlook, gaze down as the New River surges between East River Mountain and Peters Mountain into West Virginia.
– ANGELS REST –Nearest Town:PearisburgDistance: 5.0-mile there and back
Best Times to Visit: Cool fall or spring days, summer mornings
What You Need to Know: The hike ascends almost 1,700 feet from the trailhead.
GPS Coordinates: 37.3293, -80.75166
This is a classic mountain climb to a view – or three views in this case. However, you will earn each of those three views on the upward march. Since the route uses the Appalachian Trail, the pathway is well maintained and sanely steep. Therefore, your average hiker taking their time will have no problems.
Climb the northeast shoulder of Pearis Mountain on a series of switchbacks winding up a thickly wooded ridge. Once on the crest, enter a boulder garden to emerge at Angels Rest and its view of the New River Valley. The scene is a fusion of land and water, civilization and wilderness. Here, peer down on the New River, as well as the towns of Narrows and Pearisburg, framed by Peters Mountain. It is amazing how the New River -- a truly big waterway at this point – looks so small from Angels Rest. From there, head south along Pearis Mountain, passing a lesser view before reaching Wilburn Valley Overlook. Soak in gorgeous Virginia countryside lying between wooded ridges.
–CASCADE FALLS–Nearest Town:PembrokeDistance: 4.0-mile loop
Best Times to Visit: Year-round
What You Need to Know: Bring your swimsuit in summer. Cascade Falls has a huge plunge pool.
GPS Coordinates: 37.3536, -80.59942
A network of interconnected trails leads up to 60-foot Cascade Falls. It is a net 700-foot ascent from the trailhead to Cascade Falls. Some trails are narrow and rolling while another well-graded wide track makes the easiest yet least scenic way to the cataract. No matter which way you go it is 2 miles by foot to the waterfall. I recommend taking the picturesque and exciting Lower Trail first. Picturesque carved stone signs located at trail intersections keep you going in the right direction. Using stone steps and rock walkways integrated into the incredible landscape, the waterside trail slice through the heart of the Little Stony Creek valley. Note: Cascade Recreation Area can be very crowded on nice weather weekends. Solitude seekers will plan their visit for off times.
–MOUNTAIN LAKE CONSERVANCY–Nearest Town: Pembroke
Distance: 3.6-mile loop
Best Times to Visit: Late spring through fall
What You Need to Know: Make a donation to Mountain Lake Conservancy while you are here.
GPS Coordinates: 37.35492, -80.53843
This hike takes place at Mountain Lake, one of only two natural lakes in Virginia and the highest lake east of the Mississippi. Since the 1800s, the lake and surrounding highlands have beckoned hikers and outdoor lovers. Mountain Lake today boasts historic structures and recreation facilities and lands of the Mountain Lake Conservancy, which abuts lands of the Jefferson National Forest.
Leave from the on-site Mountain Lake outfitter and make your way up to Bald Knob, 4,365 feet. An array of outcrops beckon. Earthly views extends west, into and across the New River and the New River Valley, south toward Blacksburg and north to Butt Mountain and Peters Mountain, with layers of ridges fading in the distance.
Next, head out Salt Pond Mountain in high country splendor to Bear Cliff Overlook, boasting a southerly vista, then return to the trailhead, coming near Mountain Lake.
–PANDAPAS POND–Nearest Town: Newport
Best Times to Visit: Year-round to see changing seasons
What You Need to Know: Nature trails around the pond are designated hiker-only
GPS Coordinates: 37.28189, -80.46819
This is a fine New River Valley destination for hikers of all ages. Walk around wildlife-rich Pandapas Pond, taking in the 8-acre impoundment and the surrounding environment of the Jefferson National Forest. Stay with the all access path around the pond and adjoining wetland or make a mini-loop through the rhododendron using the Lady Slipper and Larkspur trails. While here, visit a pollinator garden and wildlife blind as an added bonus.
Pandapas Pond is a much appreciated destination for New River Valley residents, whether they walk, mountain bike, fish or picnic or just have an all-around appreciation for nature. Pandapas Pond not only features hiker-only trails, it also has an extensive network of mountain biking trails emanating from the upper parking lot near Pandapas Pond entrance road. Also, consider picnicking and fishing from the designated fishing pier while you are here at Pandapas Pond.
–MOUNTAIN LAKE WILDERNESS–Nearest Town: Newport
Distance: Hike possibilities from .5 to 10.5 miles
Best Times to Visit: When the skies are clear
What You Need to Know: This hike can be a quick walk, a long there and back or a little shorter loop using a forest road
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.41215, -80.52274
This hike enters Mountain Lake Wilderness via the AT to quickly reach Wind Rock and extensive views. Rocky Mountain and Fork Mountain stand in the fore, while the long ridge of Peters Mountain forms the boundary of West Virginia and Virginia. It is an easy quarter-mile back to the trailhead. More ambitious hikers will traverses a high plateau in northern climate forests, staying with the AT. The hike then splits off and heads for War Spur Lookout. There, Salt Pond Mountain looms across War Spur Branch. Potts Mountain extends to the horizon. Glimpse down to the Johns Creek valley in the distance. The view is a fitting reward for a hike through the 10,753-acre wilderness. From there, you can backtrack or make a loop using the forest road upon which you drive to the trailhead.
–NEW RIVER TRAIL DRAPER TO CLAYTOR LAKE–Nearest Town: Pulaski
Distance: 5.6-mile there-and-back
Best Times to Visit: Early spring through late fall
What You Need to Know: This hike is near the northern end of the 57-mile rail trail
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.00028, -80.74164
This relatively level New River Trail trek starts at Draper, near the Pulaski northern terminus of the New River Trail. Make a nearly imperceptible downgrade toward the New River. Garner sporadic pastoral and mountain views, broken by closed wooded sections where the rock berms close in on the rail trail. Pass two trestles in succession, with the second one being along the shore of Claytor Lake, an impoundment of the New River. After 2.8 miles, cross Claytor Lake on the Delton trestle. This trestle is framed by iron supports and offers good views. It makes a good turnaround spot as well.
–FALLS RIDGE PRESERVE–Nearest Town: BlacksburgDistance: 3.7 miles
Best Times to Visit: Whenever the streams are running
What You Need to Know: Respect the resource – this is Nature Conservancy Property
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: 37.19321, -80.32147
This is perhaps the most unusual waterfall in Virginia. Purchased and protected by the Nature Conservancy, the stream cutting through Falls Hollow spills over some of the largest calcium carbonate displays in the world. See the stream flow over these strange, seemingly melted rock formations fashions an intriguing image. Walk past honeycombed rock bluffs near the falls and see a concrete limekiln from yesteryear. After exploring the falls area, take the spur trail circling around Mill Knob to complete the adventure. Note: Dogs are not allowed at the preserve.
–TRAILS OF WILDWOOD PARK–Nearest Town: Radford
Distance: 4 miles of trails
Best Times to Visit: Year-round
What You Need to Know: The park has both natural surface and greenway trails
GPS Coordinates: 37.13524, -80.56537
This historic park from the 1930s has undergone a renaissance. Once a fixture in Radford, the park fell into disrepair then closed. Later, when a road was proposed to go through the former park property, a movement was started to revive the preserve. Set along Connellys Run just before the stream flows into the New River, the Riverway Trail – an extended greenway – cuts through Wildwood Park and forms the backbone of its trail system. Other footpaths spur off the Riverway Trail, including one running along Connellys Run, another trail by Adams Cave and still another along the Grand Staircase. Interestingly, the Radford High School cross-country team played a part in the addition of the Bobcat Trail, which they use for running practice. Now the Bobcat Trail is open to the public, too.
–TRAILS OF CLAYTOR LAKE STATE PARK–Nearest Town: Dublin
Distance: 4 miles of trails
Best Times to Visit: Spring and fall
What You Need to Know: Most people visit this state park for water action
GPS Coordinates: 37.13524, -80.56537
Better known for its waterfront filled with mountain views, this state park located on an impoundment of the New River also has a trail system. Despite the trails seeming an almost afterthought, the wooded preserve is worth a walk. Start on the Lakeview Trail, an all-access path that parallels the reservoir and true to its name offers aquatic views. After passing by most of the park’s shoreline facilities, join the Claytor Lake Trail -- the park’s longest path -- and strike off for the interior, where woods reign supreme. Circle the Bent Tree Trail for an extra mile of hiking. Otherwise, head for Campground C, passing near the camp and ranger station, before making the final leg of the loop on the Shady Ridge Trail. If you do this loop you will have seen the balance of the state park. And it just might bring you back for the other activities at Claytor Lake in addition to hiking.