Rails-to-Trails Adventure Sound Cool? We’ve Got a Doozie

The Central Shenandoah Valley is the perfect spot to experience a full range of rails-to-trails activities, all within easy access to spectacular outdoor recreation, a thriving local food movement and rich small town cultural offerings.

The Attractions

Historic Hummingbird Inn Bed & Breakfast, circa 1780, is positioned between working train tracks and Mill Creek, a fast moving stream that joins the Cowpasture River to form the Maury River. While ruby-throated hummingbirds do frequent the lush gardens of the establishment, the Inn was actually named after the Humming Bird Limited, a passenger train that ran on the Louisville & Nashville line. Eleanor Roosevelt stayed at the Hummingbird Inn during a visit to a local factory.

Historic Hummingbird Inn

The Chessie Nature Trail is a seven-mile stretch of disused rail line that follows the Maury River from Lexington to Buena Vista along mile markers left behind by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Proximity to the river and alternating open and forested habitats provides the opportunity to view varied wildlife.

Chessie Trail

Chesapeake & Ohio Heritage Center, located in the important railroad town of Clifton Forge, is a railway heritage museum, interpretive, educational, and visitor’s center that tells the story of the C&O Railway, its people, the places it serviced and the technology that made it possible. The collection, which is curated by the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, is one of the largest held in the United States pertaining to the technological development of a single railroad.

Ghosts of Staunton Walking Tours. The Staunton Train Depot is arguably one of the most haunted spots in Staunton, VA, and visitors can learn all about the importance and tragedy surrounding the station’s 150-year history during a narrated walking tour offered by Black Raven Paranormal, April-October.

American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton is a re-creation of The Bard’s original indoor theater. Shows run year-round, featuring a world-class troupe of seasoned actors.

Jackson River Scenic Trail This serene 10.7-mile rail-trail is nestled in the Allegheny Highlands of western Virginia and traces the route of what was once the Hot Springs Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. It features waterfalls, rock formations and seasonal foliage.

10522372_10152237947242927_601402069162495209_o

Goshen Pass is Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. Located in Rockbridge County, about 10 miles north of Lexington, the Commonwealth first acquired the property in 1954 to help protect the spectacular views of the 3.7-mile long gorge along the Maury River. Public access to Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is only available via a parking area off Route 39 and swinging bridge across the Maury River.

Where to Dine

The Depot Grille, located in the historic Staunton Station
The Red Hen, Lexington, farm-to-table cuisine
The Club Car Shop & Deli, Clifton Forge, +caboose gift shop

The Itinerary 

DAY 1

Base camp at the Hummingbird Inn Bed & Breakfast in Goshen, VA for the perfect rails-to-trail adventure in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The lovingly restored five room inn represents the heyday of the railroad era in Virginia, where vacation trips to the mountains and “healing waters” of nearby Cold Sulphur and Warm/Hot Springs were made by rail. Eleanor Roosevelt was the inn’s most famous guest to date.

After check-in, a short drive to Staunton for dinner at The Depot Grille, a full-service restaurant located in the historic Staunton Train Station, will set the stage for this unique getaway. A bustling passenger and freight area until the 1960’s, the Station now has limited Amtrak service and features shopping, nearby wine tasting and brewery offerings, as well as a recently restored pedestrian bridge that has connected the downtown to residential parts of the city for more than a century.

Sears Hill Bridge at the Staunton Train Station

April through October, brave travelers can meet up with the Ghosts of Staunton Historical Walking Tours for a reconnoiter of Staunton’s more elusive residents. The 90-minute adventure covers stories from a train derailment at the Staunton Station, tales of Civil War soldiers and many more sagas laced with the rich history of Staunton’s days gone-by.

If tamer entertainment is in order, the lights are always on at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, a re-creation of The Bard’s original indoor theater. Shows run year-round, featuring a world-class troupe of seasoned actors. Train station and cultural offerings are all within walking distance in Staunton’s picturesque downtown.

DAY 2

Following a restful sleep and two-course breakfast to fuel day 2, get moving with a trail hike/ride along the Chessie Nature Trail, a seven-mile stretch of disused rail line that follows the Maury River. Proximity to the river and alternating open and forested habitats provides the opportunity to view varied wildlife.

Grab a quick lunch at one of Lexington’s diverse dining offerings or take-out a picnic for a leisurely meander to Goshen Pass, Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. where you can dip your toes (more) in the cool Maury River, take in another hike or venture across a swinging bridge.

Regroup back at the Hummingbird Inn with a cup of tea in the sun room or garden, then mosey back to Lexington’s The Red Hen for a farm-to-table meal sourced from the area’s vibrant local food scene. Save a little room for home-baked goodies waiting back at the Hummingbird, or a bottle of wine to share while watching fireflies.

DAY 3

Awake on Day 3 refreshed and ready to explore nearby Clifton Forge, home of the Chesapeake & Ohio Heritage Center. The extensive collection is one of the largest held in the United States pertaining to the technological development of a single railroad.

Enjoy lunch at The Club Car Shop & Deli, then finish off this rails-to-trails trip with a hike or ride along the Jackson River Scenic Trail, a serene 10.7-mile rail-trail is nestled in the Allegheny Highlands of western Virginia.

Ideas to extend the stay:

C&O Depot, Covington
Falling Spring Overlook
James River Heritage Trail, Lynchburg
O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke