The Chessie Trail parallels the Maury River from East Lexington to Buena Vista for seven miles. A rail-trail, the Chessie’s path is comprised of a portion of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad bed as well as canal towpaths. It is managed by Virginia Military Institute. The locals love to hike and run this trail because it’s easily accessible while also boasting abundant natural beauty, wildlife, and farmsteads.
From the Lexington side, a short access trail leads to Chessie Trail. Walk east (left) to follow the trail to Buena Vista. The footpath is a flat gravel trail that is always in excellent condition. Watch for concrete markers with the notation “BF,” referencing the distance to Balcony Falls near Glasgow. These markers were important to train conductors to know how much farther down the Lexington branch to travel before connecting with the C&O main line.
At least 43 migrant and resident mammal species have been counted along the trail, including squirrels, white-tailed deer, groundhogs, and cows. Waterfowl enjoy the river, as do minks and beavers.
From the Lexington Visitor Center, drive west on Washington Street to a right onto Main Street (US-11 Business). Continue driving north on US-11 and cross Veterans Memorial Bridge. Turn right onto VA-631 / Old Buena Vista Road. In one-half mile, just before the intersection with Lincoln Road, is a parking area on the right.
Virginia Military Institute manages the Chessie Trail. Click here for additional information about the trail.
Chessie Trail Route Update & Map
Hikers using the Chessie Nature Trail will be diverted onto Old Buena Vista Road for a short distance near Route 11.
Click here for the updated route map updated 11.7.17.
- The trail traverses private land. Be respectful of gates and cattle. Dogs must be leashed at all times and should not be allowed near farm animals.
- The Buena Vista trailhead is a great place to fish. Common catches include bass and wild trout.
- Enjoy a different perspective of the trail when you float, canoe, or kayak the Maury River. Call Twin River Outfitters at 540-261-7334 to inquire.
Chessie Trail Half-Marathon and 5K
Run one of the most awesome rail-trails in the lower fourty-eight states! The seven-mile Chessie Trail, situated at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, parallels the scenic Maury River and connects historic Lexington, Virginia, with the boom-town community of Buena Vista. The smooth gravel and grass trail runs along the former Chesapeake and Ohio rail line and parts of the earlier James and Kanawha Canal towpath. You’ll run through an ever-changing landscape along the wild Maury River, through farmland and spring wildflowers, past ruins of massive stone locks and dams. View wildlife from fish and ducks to rabbits, wild turkeys, and even bald eagles (if you are lucky), feel the cool moist air as you pass small caves, and enjoy the serenity of a breeze rustling through a bamboo forest. Check the Events link for the next half-marathon date.MORE INFORMATION
"My Perspective on Lexington: What’s Out Your Backdoor?"
As I was running down the small hill under Lexington Bridge by Furrs Mill Rd., all I could see was darkness. My eyes had not adjusted to the dark, still, I pressed forward passing through the tunnel along the Maury River. Until sunrise, I felt as if I was being engulfed by a big animal. I could feel my senses heighten because of the eerie dimness, and yet, I also felt a sense of calmness. I could hear the distinct sounds of the crickets and my feet pounding the ground as I continued to run. I saw the silhouettes of deer passing by and the sporadic movements of some smaller animals. I had blurry vision of the trail, but as I kept glancing around, I began to notice a contrast in shapes. During the day, all the trees looked the same, but in the dark, I could see the differences of the leaves, the thickness and height of the trees, and the shadows of the bushes. As I ran further down the trail, I could hear the sounds of running water by my side and felt as if nature was encompassing me with sounds. From the wind, to the bugs, to the water flowing through the stream, I felt surrounded by the blessings of nature.
Exploring the Chessie Trail that morning was an invigorating moment. The thought of going out before sunrise came to me on a whim as I read Aldo Leopold’s 4 AM reflections in A Sand County Almanac. However, roaming the trail and meditating at such an unexpected hour was surprisingly a refreshing experience. At that time, I was dealing with some personal issues and felt extremely overwhelmed. The meditation ended up being therapeutic, reminding me of the good things in life. Later that day, I read this verse, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” in the Bible and thought that the trail run did exactly that; renew my mind. And ever since that September sunrise on the Chessie trail, I have developed an immense appreciation for nature and have started to look at the world differently.
In October, a month following my meditation on the Chessie, I experienced another eye/mind-opening experience. For three days and two nights, I was at McKethan Park for VMI’s Army FTX (Field Training Exercise), learning and applying basic skills that we had accumulated during the semester. The main training that weekend focused on land navigation: practicing how to plot and find points on a map. And because we practiced navigation twice in one day, both during daylight and night, it enabled us to explore McKethan and see its natural beauty at different times of the day. Nature confronted me in every turn, and the navigation sessions became experiences I will never forget. Particularly the night session because I felt as if I was inside a movie scene!
That night at 10 pm, I partnered with two other friends. Instead of a training mission, I honestly felt as if I was on an adventure. We started at the bottom of a hill by the 3 mile marker and made our way up, struggling somewhat, because of our fatigue from earlier trips. We turned on our red light and started walking towards the far end of McKethan. We found ourselves walking across a huge field of tall grass. And being 5’1 and all, I truly felt as if I was Jane from Tarzan walking through the jungle. Avoiding pot holes, my friends and I made our way to a section full of trees. But somehow we put ourselves in a tricky situation when we circled the area and then trapped ourselves in fencing: unfortunately, we had no visual vantage point of where we were. We eventually found our way, but came up empty handed because we could not find the intended point in the area.
Not too long after, our night greatly improved. We were walking out of the forest towards a gravel sidewalk close to the trees, and found ourselves dazzled by the stars. Without a single cloud in the sky, we saw hundreds of stars glittering like diamonds. My friends and I reminisced about the struggles we had faced during our weekend, and laughed at all the funny mistakes and moments we’d had together. After struggling with training and spending a hard weekend together, this beautiful moment was so special.
When we are able to look at nature in fresh ways, we are able to appreciate the benefits of nature. If you want to gain a new perspective like I did on the Chessie Trail, try visiting a familiar trail at a new time of day or season! Staying overnight at McKethan Park and enjoying the beautiful grounds during FTX is unfortunately only a privilege free to VMI cadets. A highly-recommended alternative for those who enjoy night adventures, or star gazing as much as I do, would be the Night Time Star Light Paddle, a paddling adventure in the stars!
It is truly a unique date night option or outing for adventurous groups of friends, because it opens your senses to the sights and sounds the nighttime has to offer. This paddle event launches at dusk from the Springwood boat landing and floats down an easy section of the James as the sun sets. Halfway through the trip, the sun will go down and the group will be able to complete the last portion of the trip in the dark and gaze at the stars. Hopefully, you will be able to clearly see the stars and appreciate what nature has to offer.
The Chessie Trail and McKethan Park are two unique attractions in Lexington, VA. What’s out your backdoor?