Adventure Ready Activities
Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve
Find beautiful adventures in Rockbridge County, Virginia.
Written by Hope S. Philbrick, editor Foodie Travel USA.
Tired of seeing the same scenery day after day? Escape to Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve in Rockbridge County, Virginia, where the spectacular view is ever-changing. “It has a different look every time,” says Steve Reeser, regional fisheries manager for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. “It changes with every season and flow of the river, yet it’s always a beautiful place.”
Goshen Pass Natural Area, a 936-acre preserve protecting the 3.7-mile Goshen Pass gorge on the Maury River, boasts steep slopes, jagged rocks, cliffs, river and shoreline, as well as forests and woodlands. Whether you seek picturesque vistas or heart-thumping adventures, it delivers.
Driving through Goshen Pass is arguably one of the prettiest routes in Virginia. Route 39 parallels the Maury River and offers several lookouts down into the gorge; the unmarked pull offs can accommodate a few vehicles at a time and are accessible from both sides of the road. Grab your camera and snap a panoramic view of the gorge and surrounding forests. Zoom in on rare plants and wildlife, including a delicate-looking relative of the dragonfly. Focus on bald eagles soaring overhead, wildflowers in bloom, fall leaves drifting in the breeze, river otters frolicking, snow accumulating, or whatever captures your attention.
“There’s plenty of spectacular scenery and viewing some features of the particular ecosystems and unique habitats of the protected forest is possible from Route 39,”
...says Tyler Urgo, Shenandoah Valley region steward for the Department of Conservation & Recreation Division of Natural Heritage. Rare biological treasures include the Appalachian jewelwing (a damselfly), freshwater cordgrass (related to the cordgrasses found in Virginia’s tidal marshes), marsh vetchling and sand grape (both rare plants).
Put a kayak or canoe into the water at the upstream end of the gorge for a challenging adrenaline rush paddling downstream. “The 3.7-mile stretch of the Maury River through the gorge is some of the best whitewater in Virginia,” says Reeser. “It’s a free-flowing river and depending on the flow there are rapids that at times reach Class 6—the most technical, the most treacherous.” Some areas have earned nicknames; Devil’s Kitchen is a series of Class 4, 5, and 6 rapids within a short several-hundred-meters.
“People come from far and wide within the whitewater community to do that river section,” says Reeser. It is a genuine challenge, so previous whitewater experience is encouraged. Located at the upstream western end of the gorge, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries maintains a gravel public parking area, which is located a 15.4 mile drive from Lexington; reach it via an unmarked gravel road on the right about 1.7 miles upriver from the Virginia Wayside rest area on Route 39 West.
The swinging bridge over the Maury River at the upstream end of the Pass is the access point to the Goshen Pass/Jump Rock hike, a 9.1-mile loop that’s one of the best yet most underused day-hike loops in Virginia. With elevation gains of 1,600 feet, it’s a challenging trek with amazing views.
Fishing is another popular activity in the upper portion of the Pass. “Our agency stocks the river with trout from October through May,” says Reeser. Year-round fish populations include sunfish, rock bass, and smallmouth bass. The Maury River flows entirely in Rockbridge County; Goshen Pass is its headwaters and the James River in Glasgow is its terminus.
Both Guys Run and Laurel Run offer hiking and other opportunities for fun. Both open seasonally, “they offer traditional recreation like hunting and fishing as well as hiking and a network of road systems with great vistas and views, plus wildlife viewing in general,” says Urgo. Access to Guys Run is near the swinging bridge in the Wildlife Management Area; the road is unmarked and the gate is closed June 1 through October 1. The entrance to Laurel Run is approximately a quarter-mile east of the Wayside picnic area.
Downriver, a monument at the Virginia Wayside honors Matthew Fontaine Maury, for whom the North River was renamed in 1945. Maury was an astronomer, naval officer, meteorologist, author and teacher best-known for charting winds and ocean currents. Before railroads, the river was a primary source for transporting goods including iron ore. The wayside, which is maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, offers pull-off parking along Rt. 39, a pavilion, and portable restrooms, as well as a grassy area and river access.
In summer months, whenever the flow is tamer and slower, the river at the downstream eastern end of Goshen Pass is dotted with waders, swimmers, and innertube-floaters. Picnickers share the table on the shore nearby.
Much of Goshen Pass can be enjoyed free of charge, but permits are required for access to Wildlife Management areas, including the three-mile Laurel Run Trail. A valid Virginia hunting license, fishing license or boat registration covers the fee; or you can purchase a $4 day pass or $23 annual pass from the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.
Acquired in 1954 and ranking as the oldest state-managed natural area in Virginia, Goshen Pass is located about 10 miles west of Lexington. The Pass itself was formed over millions of years. From every angle, it’s stunning.
Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is just one of the many great reasons to visit Lexington, Virginia.