Ah, springtime in Rockbridge County. When Mother Nature awakens from her nap, laces up her boots, and kicks open the door with an adventure-loving grin.
Top destinations for springtime adventure include the Maury River, which stirs up Virginia’s gnarliest whitewater as it crashes through Goshen Pass. Route 39 through Goshen is a gorgeous cycling route, flanked by redbuds and dogwoods blooming like plants gone wild. Adventurous hikers scramble over the sun-warmed boulders at Devils Marbleyard, where beauty and geology collide with impressive abandon.
Kayaking, Canoeing and Tubing
So where should an adventurer start? For kayakers and canoeists, spring is a fantastic time to explore the county’s two major waterways, the Maury River and the James River. Fed by creeks and streams tumbling down the slopes of nearby mountains, the rivers flow past miles of mountain-and-valley scenery, from rocky gorges to forested slopes to picturesque farms.
From March to June, seasoned kayakers from Washington, D.C. and neighboring states converge on the quick-dropping Maury River. These whitewater daredevils drop into the famous Goshen Run, which smashes through a narrow gorge and two Class IV rapids. This exhilarating trip is one of the top whitewater runs in the state. Downstream, Class II’s and III’s keep things wild for experienced paddlers who want to extend their ride.
To avoid wild drops altogether, newbies head to the James River, a wide and inviting waterway twisting lazily through the Blue Ridge Mountains. River runners looking for a taste of whitewater can run the low-key rapids at Balcony Falls, which are one mile downstream from the confluence of the Maury and James Rivers. If lifting a paddle isn’t your thing, plopping into an inner tube - on the Maury or the James - is a fine alternative.
Where to drop in? The cities of Lexington and Buena Vista border the Maury River and provide convenient access points. The town of Glasgow, a paddling hub with a new boat ramp, sits at the confluence of the Maury and James.
But rivers aren’t the only outdoor attractions getting frisky in spring. Cyclists tout the beauty of the region’s backroads, which unfurl alongside an artist’s array of bright blossoms and fresh mountain flora. The 50-mile loop between Goshen Pass and Lexington is a regional favorite, and the route’s buttery spin through the Goshen Pass gorge on Highway 39 immerses cyclists in a kaleidoscope of pink redbuds, white dogwood blossoms, and rain-fed evergreens.
If you think a buttery ride is for wimps, might we suggest the 4-mile climb on Route 56 from Vesuvius to the Blue Ridge Parkway? Considered the toughest leg of the TransAmerica Trail, this monster - which reaches a grade of 24% - is not for the timid. And did somebody say Blue Ridge Parkway? We hate to brag, but the prettiest section of this beloved 469-mile byway runs along the border of Rockbridge County.
The most adventurous trail? The aptly named Devils Marbleyard is a life-list destination for hikers throughout Virginia. A 1.5-mile stroll on the Belfast Trail drops you at the marbleyard, a field of granite boulders sprawled across a mountain slope near Natural Bridge. Bring your grippiest hiking boots to explore these quartzite wonders – some are as big as a car.
The final stretch of trail to the 3,645ft summit of Big House Mountain is steep and unforgiving. But glimpses of the countryside below should ease the burn as you ascend through the trees. A new trail twists up the western slope of Little House Mountain then rolls to an overlook with a fine view of Lexington. If you can’t make it up to the summits, end with a picnic in the Saddle, a meadow between the two peaks. Little House Mountain is Lexington’s patron peak and a familiar site from downtown.
Beauty and adventure are in cahoots in the Rich Hole Wilderness in spring when rhododendrons and mountain laurel bloom beside the Rich Hole Wilderness Trail. Expect creek crossings, rock outcroppings, and small waterfalls along the way. Wildlife spotting is also a highlight, with bear, bobcats, and turkeys checking out the scene. The hiking isn’t as adventurous on the short Laurel Run Trail in Goshen Pass but the rhododendron and mountain laurel blooms will surely earn some “Wows!”
Spring is a perfect time to tackle sections of the Appalachian Trail, which runs beside the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thru-hikers trudging north from Georgia haven’t reached Virginia yet in spring, so you’ll have more elbowroom as you hike. Deer sightings are almost guaranteed.
Fly Fishing & Llama Trekking
But adventurers do more than huff and puff over trails and rapids. Just ask the fly fishing enthusiasts, who practice the art of patience as they stalk native brook trout in the region’s cold mountain creeks. And hunting? Not a highlight in spring, although some turkey and small game hunting is allowed at certain times on specified public lands.
What spring adventures have we forgotten? Oh yes, llama trekking. Things get delightfully weird at Applewood Inn, where Stryker the Llama might sniff your hair – or spit in your general direction – during a trek to the river.