- Virginia Johnson
Rolling down the highways, watching the usually dull scenery go by, you might never guess that there are interesting places to explore not that far from the interstate. For some people, being a hiker means doing the Appalachian Trail, preferably all the way through. But there are a lot of other trails, many just as scenic, within an hour or two or a day’s drive of our area.
Where did rail-trails come from? When rail travel became less of a thing in the latter part of the 20th century, certain hiking, biking, and riding enthusiasts realized that those carefully constructed but now unused rail beds would make excellent trails. For decades now, volunteers have done the work of partnering with local and state authorities to make these repurposed railways into miles of trail for you and your family to enjoy. Ranging in distance from a few miles to over a hundred, you can almost certainly find a scenic path that suits you, from the ocean to the mountains.
Rail-Trails Mid-Atlantic is a practical guide to those many trails. In a concise format, it tells you where they are, whether or not the family dog or rollerblades are welcome, rates each one’s difficulty, and gives its special features.
Feel like a nearby day hike? Lake Accotink Trail, tucked away in Springfield, is “a wilderness escape amid the city surroundings.” The 4.5-mile trail, rated a 2 out of 3 on the Roughness Index, circles through the forests around Lake Accotink in a 500-acre park. The park itself has a number of amenities for family fun, including an antique carousel, picnic area, boat rental, and fishing hole. The small map, included for each trail, will help you get the lay of the land.
Not so interested in civilized amenities? Little Stony National Recreation Trail in Jefferson National Forest (Scott County) will show you beautiful views in just 2.8 miles. There is a good bit of ascent and descent on its dirt paths, so this trail is rated 3 out of 3 for roughness and is only designated for hikers—and fishermen. Even so, Little Stoney is much less . . . primal . . . than nearby Devil’s Fork Loop, which is also detailed.
Those looking for a longer adventure (or a smoother path) might want to consider New River Trail State Park. With a roughness index of only 1.5, it is a relatively gentle trail with parking and restroom stops to be found at frequent intervals for much of it.
If you live in our region and like to hike or bike, Rail-Trails Mid-Atlantic is a perfect guide for helping you plan outdoor fun in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, D.C., or Delaware. While apps/websites such as AllTrails and TrailLink (the rails-to-trails site) are certainly useful, this book lets you comfortably browse a wide range of options across several states, all in one handy volume.
Some rail-trails run through towns and cities, shadowing the path of the trains. Fredericksburg is home to the Virginia Central Railway Trail. Check out the video below for some of its sites: