WanderLove: A Road Trip Through Lexington & Rockbridge County

Rockbridge County is the southern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley. Conveniently located at the junction of I-81 and I-64 W, visitors have fast and easy access to our “big backyard” – 100,000 acres of public forests, parks, recreation areas and two rivers where outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can hike, bike, paddle, fish and camp.

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Lexington is the perfect hub for this outdoor lover’s itinerary. The historic downtown is completely walkable and boasts over 65 indie-owned shops and eateries, in addition to numerous museums, historic sites and tours. Stay at one of the three hotels within walking distance of the historic district and universities: Hampton Inn Col Alto, The Georges Inn, ranked the #2 hotel in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, or The Gin Hotel, an Ascend property.

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For those looking for a more rustic or rural setting, the area offers many cabin and vacation home rentals including properties specializing in outdoor recreation such as Sugar Tree Inn, Fox Hill B&B, Steeles Manor Tavern B&B/Cabins, and Hummingbird Inn.

Cross Natural Bridge State Park off your bucket-list. The geological wonder is an awe-inspiring 215-foot high limestone arch carved from Cedar Creek, and is estimated to be 450 million years old. Today, the Virginia State Park offers educational programs, over 6 miles of trails and the Kids in Parks Track Trail and a NatureExplore play area at the new Children’s Discovery Area.

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Photo Credit: Shannon Terry

Get a new perspective of the Blue Ridge Mountains! Spend the afternoon paddling, fishing and wildlife viewing on the 65 miles of the Upper James River Water Trail. This waterway features Class I-III rapids, ensuring paddlers a segment suitable to their skill level. Bring your own equipment or utilize an outfitter who will provide gear and shuttle transportation.

After a jaunt on the river or trail, “Drink in the Shenandoah Valley” with a cold craft brew along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. Relax and enjoy the companionship of good friends amidst beautiful farms and mountains, breathe in the scent of ancient forests on a hike, explore a fascinating new community, taste the fresh flavors of a farm-to-table meal, or listen to music under the stars as you discover a new favorite band. Don’t forget to get your Beerwerks Passport stamped at 8 of the 15 breweries to receive a commemorative Beerwerks t-shirt and bragging rights.

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Stable Craft Brewing, Photo Credit: Nikki Nargi

Get an early start on 2 wheels as you breeze past pastoral landscapes, quaint cities and towns, and historic, natural and cultural resources with a Rockbridge County cycling route.

Experts can start in charming Buena Vista, an Appalachian Trail Community, and climb their way to the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, “America’s Favorite Drive.”

The Lexington/Goshen Pass Loop will wind along the Maury River on Rt. 39, Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway with many pull offs to enjoy river access and views of Goshen Pass, a three mile-long gorge in the Goshen and Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

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Or peddle around the Villages of Fairfield, Raphone and Brownsburg on a “tour de farm” route visiting farms, a vineyard, grist mill, community museum and more rural beauty than you can imagine. Many of the stops are members of the Fields of Gold Farm Trail.

And for those looking for an epic cross county experience, cycle a segment of the TransAmerica Bike Trail along Scenic Byway Rt. 56. And for those who wish to explore the natural beauty from behind a windshield, any of these routes make the perfect scenic drive.

Put on your walking shoes and explore Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista. This 315-acre park includes camping, hiking/mountain bike trails, fishing on the Maury River, an Olympic-sized pool, playing fields, picnic areas, and the 18-hole Rick Jacobson designed links course. Catch a bluegrass, gospel or beach music concert. Stroll the Buena Vista Riverwalk, a two-mile flood wall that connects the park to the nearby Chessie Nature Trail.

The Chessie Nature Trail parallels the Maury River, connecting Lexington and Buena Vista. A 7-mile rail-trail, the Chessie’s path is part of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad bed as well as canal towpaths and boat lochs. It’s the perfect place to hike and run because it’s easily accessible while also boasting abundant natural beauty, wildlife, and farmsteads.

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There are Hidden Gems just waiting to be discovered in Rockbridge County!

Take a peaceful moment and discover the flora and fauna tucked away just 1.6 miles from the historic downtown district at the Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden, a 15-acre arboretum featuring over 12,000 trees, fields, woodlands, ponds, and native and unusual plant specimens. There is a Kids Play Trail and Fairy Forest and a summer music series for the young at heart. Go on a high-tech treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to locate hidden geocaches.

The Gems of Rockbridge Geocaching Trail consists of ten geocaches that are strategically placed to highlight the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the gateway communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway: Vesuvius, Buena Vista, Lexington, Glasgow, and Natural Bridge.

Looking for a decadent slice of homemade pie? Local jams, jellies and pickles? A souvenir to take home? Visit a nostalgic Country Store! Opened in 1954, Layne’s Country Store is famous for their Virginia Country Ham and Hoop Cheese sandwich, which was ranked in the top 10 “Top 50 places in Virginia to get a country ham sandwich” by USAToday.

Natural Bridge General Store & Natty B’s Cafe serves up the best homemade pies around and is a great place to fuel up with a Blue Plate Special for a day on the river.

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Gertie’s Country Store & Deli in Vesuvius was a finalist on the Blue Ridge Parkway Foodie Tour with their infused pulled pork BBQ sandwich. The store’s walls are covered with signatures from visitors from around the world, and is a convenient stopover for travelers on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, who can camp out back for free.

To come full circle, visit the Brownsburg Museum’s new exhibit, “Cradle to Coffin: Remembering the Country Store,” which includes an actual screen door where visitors step back in time and enter a one-room replica of a country store. The replica is complete with chairs so you can sit and “loaf” – which was the “term of art” used by the men of the village when they hung out at Whitesell’s Grocery or Swope’s store or Bud Wade’s barber shop and pool hall.

You’ll want to remember your “Small Towns, Big Backyard” road trip with a photo in front of the Natural Bridge State Park LoveWork. Designed by Mark Cline – famous for his life-size fiberglass dinosaurs and Foamhenge, a true to scale replica of Stonehenge. This installation includes elements that represent Rockbridge County, including the Natural Bridge, Lace Falls, wildlife such as deer and eagles, paddling on the James River, and stunning rock formations…what Rockbridge County is named after! This LoveWork is scheduled for installation by October 2020. 

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