At 57 miles long, the New River Trail State Park is the longest state park in Virginia. Located in southwestern Virginia, this rail-to-trail park follows alongside the New River for 39 miles, making it pleasant and beautiful.
The New River Trail is rated easy, on mostly level terrain.
This is a Family-friendly hike or bike ride that is also handicap accessible. Dogs on leashes are also allowed.
Tennis shoes are fine. There were patches of mud that you can easily walk around.
Horseback riding is allowed along the trail except for a 2-mile section between Galax & the Cliffview Campground. There is a designated parking log for horse trailers and even a horse complex.
What makes this park neat, is that you can rent a horse! Just call the Foster Falls Horse Livery. Check out the park’s website or call: 276-699-2460.
Or, rent a bike, canoe, kayaks, or inner tubes at the Foster Falls Boat & Bike Livery. They do run a shuttle service as well. Check out the park’s website or call: 276-699-1034.
During our trip, cell service was fine. We had 4 bars the whole time we were there.
We saw a few people fishing in kayaks. We also noticed that there was a couple having wedding pictures taken beside the river. That was a good idea because it was gorgeous there and the light was just right because the sun was about to set. In one of the barns, there were food, music, and friends all around.
|You may want to go ahead & print-out the trail guide so you can follow along: New River Trail State Park – Trail Guide – 2 page PDF|
We Biked It
We went in late October 2020 when the leaves were turning colors. It was a great day weather-wise.
We did a section from the Foster Falls parking lot, past Austinville, and to Ivanhoe. One way is 7 miles. We did an out-&-back bike ride, making it a 14-mile-round-trip. We spent a total of 2 hours on this bike ride, which included about 30 minutes at the falls themselves.
We did not do the Mountain Bike Trails near Hoover Mountain. There are several trails, mostly rated Moderate. Use the Hoover Mountain Parking Lot off of Rt. 693/Julia Simpkins Road for easy access to these bike trails that you can also hike.
There are several access points along this 57-mile long trail. Parking lots can be found at Galax, Cliffview, Dannelly Park, Chestnut Yard, Gambetta, Fries (to Fries Junction), Byllesby Dam, Buck Dam, Ivanhoe, Austinville, Shot Tower (hikers only), Foster Falls, Allisonia, Hoover Mountain, Draper, & Dora Junction.
You have to pay the $7 state park fee in a self-pay honor system. Attendants are there during normal business hours and self-pay during off-hours. Cash is accepted or use the on-line parking website (vasp.fun/parking) or you can scan the QR code to pay by credit card.
The Foster Falls lot is a paved & gravel lot with ample parking. It has at least 1 handicap parking space (that I can remember).
Half the lot was filled with hikers, bikers, and campers. They had wheeled carts available for campers to haul stuff down to the campground.
The trail itself is very nice. It’s wide enough to easily fit a truck down and I believe golf carts from the campgrounds use this path too. Dad says it’s one of the better trails he’s ever been on.
Although the path near the parking lot was kind of hilly (Dad says no), the main trail is flat, but made of fine gravel, with very little mud. It is easy to bike and walk on.
There is a 500-foot change in elevation from Galax, the highest point, down to Pulaski.
There were a few benches (or picnic tables) with a covered shelter along the trail every once in a while. Although they are few & far between. You can always sit down on the ground or along the river bank for a nice rest.
Along the section we did, there were a few permanent bathrooms that didn’t have any electricity. They were basically fancy port-a-potties. After looking at the map & park’s website, apparently there are 5 non-flush toilets along the trail.
I didn’t notice any water fountains, but the map shows there is potable water periodically available along the trail. It doesn’t seem to be available at every access point.
I did notice there were lidded trash cans near the parking lots and at the campground.
There are old concrete mile markers that the railroad used. Mile 0 (zero) is Pulaski. The markers (& trail map) show the mileage away from Pulaski. Example: “P6″ is Draper, which is 6 miles away from Pulaski.
Shown Left is P28 – Austinville
Occasionally the trail does cross over a road. You need to be CAREFUL! STOP, get off your bike, & WALK across the road, since the cars using those roads are going fast and will quickly sneak up on you.
The area near the falls is called Foster Village. Back in the old days, they would build dams & canals near the falls. They would use water wheels to generate power. As time went by, towns, villages, and other businesses would spring up nearby. Foster Village also had an old iron furnace that operated from about 1881 to 1914.
By 1962 most of the buildings in Foster Falls were falling apart. The hotel/school is now being restored and will eventually become a place where park visitors can spend the night. There is even a restored train station and caboose, along with other buildings and barns nearby.
|Be sure to check-out DHR’s website showing pictures & history of Foster Falls. Look at the bottom of each slide for text. |
It’s really neat seeing these old photos!
I noticed that there were rapids at Foster Falls. My dad showed me some old canal ruins. They would build canals so that the boats could travel past the rapids on the river on nice slow flat water.
Rivers were vital in early America for commerce. People would send their farm products and raw materials downriver in canal boats. Later finished products such as furniture, clothing, and machines were shipped back upriver on the return trip.
The railroad eventually replaced the canal boats for shipping. The rail lines typically followed alongside rivers because the grade & elevation was somewhat flat & gradual.
Eventually, roads and Interstate Highways made the railroad obsolete in some areas of our country. But the old railroad beds remain, and they make excellent bike trails because there are not many hills.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a rail-to-trail park. The old Norfolk & Western Railway used to run through here hauling iron, other freight, and even passengers.
Back in 1986, the Norfolk Southern Railroad donated the abandoned railroad to the State of Virginia in order to create this state park.
The Shot Tower, completed in 1807, was used to make lead bullets. There are lead mines nearby at Austinville. Located at the top of this tower is a furnace where the lead was heated. Gravity was then used to create a “round shot” which would land in a kettle of cold river water. The bullets, created in various sizes, were then shipped downstream and sold.
Check their website for periodic access & tours of the tower:
There are 2 tunnels along the New River Trail. One is located between Austinville & Ivanhoe and is 193-feet-long. The other tunnel is between Fries Junction & Gambetta and is 135-feet-long.
This tunnel was carved out of the side of a mountain and has a rough finish, but is very sturdy. I’m sure if they could have gone around this mountain, they would have.
There is a major temperature change when you reach the tunnel. It’s drippy and cold, but has a neat echo where you can hear yourself.
Further down the trail, we stopped at the Stephen Austin monument near Austinville. He was a man born in Virginia who later became known as the “Father of Texas.” I am sure that the city of Austin was named after him.
The Austinville Mines was where the lead that was used to make bullets at the Shot Tower came from.
There are tons of bridges along this trail, but a few of the old railroad bridges are impressive.
The Ivanhoe River Bridge is 670-feet-long, one of three bridges crossing over the New River. The other two are:
- Hiwassee River Bridge, which is 951-feet-long (located at P10), and
- Fries Junction Bridge, which is 1,089-feet-long (located at P40).
At one point, we even went under the Interstate 77 bridge. That’s neat, since I don’t do that every day.
New River Trail State Park Info
There are 3 campgrounds along the length of the trail – Cliffview, Double Shouls, & Millrace/Foster Falls – all are primitive. There are no showers; only non-flush toilets. Potable water is not available year-round at some locations. Most campsites require prior reservations.
- New River Trail State Park
- New River Trail State Park – Trail Guide – 2 page PDF
- New River Trail Boat & Bike Livery – 2 page PDF
- DWR’s website on the New River with Boat Landings & Fish info
Fort Chiswell along Interstate 81, & Hillsville along Interstate 77, are both about 15-20 minutes away from Foster Falls. You will find hotels, and plenty of family-friendly restaurants (like Cracker Barrel, McDonalds, Bob Evans) near there.
After visiting this park, I now realize we barely saw much of it at all. When we happen to be back in the area, we hope to spend more time in this park. We plan on trying out the bike shuttle service, camping, and maybe even tubing portions of the river. Look for updates if I ever get a chance to return to this gorgeous area.