Railroads have been an integral part of the success of The United States. As old railway tracks become obsolete, many have been turned into multi-use paths for recreation. These “rail trails” are typically used for walking, cycling, and horseback riding. Abandoned railways are perfect for recreation, as they are found on flat areas and run through historic areas. The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail and the soon-to-open Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel are two such rail trails, and both are found in gorgeous Nelson County, Virginia. Nelson is conveniently located between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, and Waynesboro is relatively close as well. The short travel time makes walking a Nelson rail trail the perfect day trip.
The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail travels through the counties of Amherst and Nelson. It is 6.9 miles long and the trail surface is made primarily of crushed stone for easy walking. Much of the hike is wooded, offering a cool escape from steaming summer days. The trail is easy and takes hikers through a beautiful setting. The Piney and Tye Rivers are often in view, and there are five bridges along the trail, including a covered bridge at Naked Creek. The flat walk is great for hikers just starting out and for families with young children. The Kids in Parks TRACK Trail Program is another plus for families visiting The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail. This program aims to get kids actively involved in nature. Kids register their TRACK Trail experiences at the Kids in Parks website and earn prizes for participating.
The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel is another rail trail that is nearing its final phase of renovations. The Blue Ridge Tunnel is a historic railroad tunnel built during the construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad in the 1850s. In 2007, CSX Transportation donated the tunnel to Nelson County. The tunnel will set the recreational area apart from others in the counties of Albemarle, Nelson, and Augusta. The trail is 2.25 miles in length with the trip through the tunnel about one mile long. Hikers, bikers, railroad enthusiasts, and history buffs will be amazed at the trailway through the restored tunnel. Visitors from all over the country can jog, walk, or bike while admiring the raw, exposed rock walls and ceiling. There’s another surprising twist to this attraction- since there aren’t plans to light the tunnel, those who enter must bring flashlights and headlamps. The tunnel is still closed to the public but is expected to open to the public in late 2020.
Rail trails are unique recreation opportunities that add another layer to hiking. Visitors to rail trails in Nelson will not only enjoy the views and experiences of the trails, they will leave with a better knowledge of the history of railroads in our country. For more information about rail trails in Nelson County, Virginia call the Nelson County Visitors Center at 434-263-7015.