March may be a bit too early for most to slide a canoe into a river, but it’s certainly a good time to begin scouting new waters to explore. If you canoe—or kayak or tube–in the Shenandoah Valley, you have almost certainly been on the Shenandoah River. But if you’ve not ventured on the James or the Maury rivers, you are literally missing the boat.
Both rivers are easily accessible from Lexington or Buena Vista in Rockbridge County; either makes an excellent base for a trip. Local outfitters like the Wilderness Canoe Company in Natural Bridge Station, are a good place to start. Owner Charlie Pickle told us, “We will be opening April 1st this year, and we’ll have some new products to let our customers try. We have added fishing kayaks, and we’ll be giving our website a makeover that will include real time reservation capability.” They are located right on the James, and operate six primitive campsites on the river for those who want an extended trip. Shuttles, rentals and other services are provided. Contact them at 540-291-2295.
Depending on where you are, both the James and the Maury can be smooth and tranquil or fast and fearsome. Goshen Pass on the Maury is particularly white-knuckle exciting– a six mile stretch with class II to class IV rapids. A breakdown of popular trips, public access points and difficulty ratings may be found here.
For those who would rather hike or pedal than paddle, opportunities are endless. One flat and scenic option is the Chessie Nature Trail, a seven mile rail-trail that parallels the Maury River between East Lexington and Buena Vista. The trail is managed by the Virginia Military Institute. Much of it passes through private land, so be sure not to wander off the trail. The trail was once difficult for cyclists because of the number of number of gates that had to be traversed. But a group called Friends of the Chessie Trail has replaced them with self-closing gates, (see photo at right) and cycling on the trail is gaining popularity.
“So there are no longer any gates where you have to toss your bike over,” said Eric Sheffield of the FOCT. “The gates are self-closing, and experienced bikers can just bump it with their front wheel while pedaling through going in one direction. In the other direction the gate needs to be pulled towards you.”
Want something harder? The 45-mile Goshen Pass Loop, with grueling climbs and hang-on-tight descents, is a lot harder.
If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, consider Devil’s Marbleyard, a steep and rocky eight-mile fitness test. Get more details here.
More hiking and cycling routes are absolutely abundant in the region—far too many list here. And there is easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail. Suggestions on routes may be found here. And, Natural Bridge State Park is just a 20-minute drive from Lexington. The 215-foot tall rock wonder is the main draw to the park, but with six miles of hiking trails and living history programs ideal for families, it makes an ideal day trip within easy reach of Lexington.
Your first stop in the area should be the Lexington and Rockbridge Area Visitors Center, 106 East Washington St. 540-463-3777.
Banner photo courtesy Rockbridge Regional Tourism