Ten locations to savor fresh air in the New River Valley
In the spirit of physical distancing and more time spent at home studying and working, university community members are reminded of the countless locations to enjoy outdoor recreation in the New River Valley.
Just remember, even outdoors, it is critical to maintain physical distancing from others on trails, paths, and roadways.
Here are 10 (of the many) locations easily accessible from the Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus:
1. The Huckleberry Trail
The beloved Huckleberry Trail is one of the region’s greatest assets and easily accessible thanks to its location in Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The trail runs from Gateway Park at the base of Brush Mountain to the Montgomery County Public Library in downtown Blacksburg and continues all the way to the Christiansburg Recreation Center.
The Huckleberry also connects users to Pandapas Pond and the Coal Mining Heritage Park. The trail is mostly flat and provides a variety of rolling, rural landscapes and forested paths. It is the perfect trail to walk your dog or ride your bike.
2. Pandapas Pond
In Blacksburg’s own backyard, Pandapas Pond is an 8-acre man-made pond with a looping 1-mile circuit trail (which is wheelchair accessible). If visitors want a longer or more rigorous hike, there are 19 connecting trails that provide more than 30 miles of hiking in the Jefferson National Forest. These trails range in difficulty and are perfect for a brisk walk, a moderate hike, or some rugged mountain biking.
Pandapas Pond is also known for its abundant wildlife — frogs, turtles, dragonflies, salamanders, geese, ducks, deer, various species of songbirds, and more. Visitors can also enjoy fishing, picnicking, and canoeing.
Access and parking are free. Restrooms are available.
3. Claytor Lake State Park
Just over 30 minutes away from the Blacksburg campus is Claytor Lake State Park, one of the areas best places to enjoy fresh air by the water. Enjoy boating, camping, picknicking, paddleboard rentals, fishing, and many more lakeside activities.
In Pembroke, Va., approximately 40 minutes from Blacksburg, is one of Virginia’s favorite gems, the Cascades. This moderate, 4-mile roundtrip hike leads you upstream alongside a shaded mountain creek to a gorgeous 66-foot waterfall.
This highly scenic trail offers two paths to the falls: the upper trail and lower trail, which is the more scenic of the two. The lower trail is a little trickier, with rockier pathways, but well-worth the climb. The upper trail is perfect for the walk back, as it is a mostly downhill gravel path.
Once you reach the destination, enjoy the cool breeze and spray of water coming from the falls or get even closer and explore the pool of water beneath. It’s perfect for swimming in the summer.
The Cascades is a popular Hokie Bucket List item.
Please note: There is a $3 parking fee. Bicycles are not permitted on this trail.
5. Bald Knob Trail
While the short half-mile hike (each way) to Bald Knob is fairly steep, the scenic overlook onto the New River Valley that awaits at the top is well worth the effort. The Bald Knob Trail is located in Pembroke, Virginia, approximately 35 minutes from Blacksburg. After the hike, visit Mountain Lake Lodge, where the 1980s classic "Dirty Dancing" was filmed.
6. Rock Castle Gorge
For hikers looking for a more strenuous, all-day experience, this nearly 11-mile trail offers scenic views, shaded paths beneath the forest, a waterfall, streams, spring wildflowers, a walk amongst cows, diverse wildlife, and much more.
This trail, located in Floyd, Virginia, is one of the most diverse trails around. It goes from demanding climbs, to flat walks through meadows, to steep descents. Along with the natural beauty to see, users also pass by an old Appalachian Trail shelter, an old homestead stone chimney, and the historic Austin House.
Please note: Make sure to bring plenty of water. Dogs are allowed on this trail if they are on a leash.
7. Stiles Falls
Just a short 25-minute drive from Blacksburg, located in Camp Alta Mons in Shawsville, this hike is perfect for someone looking for a shorter walk that still has a spectacular destination.
Be prepared to cross Purgatory Creek and rock hop to Stiles Falls, which is nearly 60 feet tall. You might get your feet wet, but it is worth the effort. The whole hike is a breezy 3 miles roundtrip. The trail is fairly easy, with occasional steep inclines and the aforementioned rock hopping. With some extra climbing, you have access to the pool below the falls.
Please note: Trail access is open to the public unless camp is in session. Dogs are allowed with a leash.
8. Gateway Trail to Jacob’s Ladder to Snakeroot Loop Trail
For hikers looking for a peaceful, less-trafficked trail or a trail to run or exercise on, this trail is a perfect match. While there are no waterfalls or scenic mountain views, this trail offers a nice walk through the woods with plenty of wildflowers and bird watching.
Users looking to get their heart rates up will find the trails’ hills do the job. The trail even begins with a steep climb up Gateway Trail.
This series of connecting trails is a short distance from Blacksburg for anyone looking for a walk close to home.
9. The New River Trail
The New River Trail is more than 57 miles long, extending from the trail’s northeastern terminus in Pulaski, Virginia, to the southern terminus in Galax, Virginia. The trail is mostly flat and great for biking, hiking, picnicking, and horseback riding.
The trail has two tunnels, three major bridges, nearly 30 smaller bridges and trestles, and many historic landmarks along the way. The closest point to get on the trail from Blacksburg is in Pulaski, roughly 40 minutes away.
10. War Spur Trail
This 2.6 mile loop trail runs through Mountain Lake wilderness and is perfect for hikers of all skill levels. Users will enjoy shade under the forest canopy, beautiful wildflowers, and amazing views at an overlook. Most users travel the loop counter-clockwise, following the Salt Pond Mountain ridge to the overlook. If looking for something more strenuous, travel the loop clockwise.
Hike Smart with these hiking safety reminders from the National Park Service.
Written by Christy Myers