New Trail System and Park Elevate Montgomery County’s Mountain Biking Scene
The not-so-secret is that Montgomery County is home to some of the finest mountain biking trails on the East Coast. At least the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) seems to think so. For years, riders have come to Blacksburg and Christiansburg to explore trails throughout the region, like those at Pandapas Pond, the Poverty Creek Trail System, and even the newer mountain biking skills park.
The routes available to riders just lengthened by about five miles thanks to development of the McDonald Hollow Trail System, the first in the new Brush Mountain Park. A total of seven trails are part of a stack-looped system that work their way to the peak of Brush Mountain and give riders opportunities to vary or extend their routes. The trails naturally become more challenging as elevation increases, with the half-mile Blunderbuss trail being the greatest test. The black diamond Blunderbuss descends some 240-feet from the trailhead along narrow switchbacks with jumps and optional gaps.
A variety of intermediate and easy routes are abundant to ensure the trail system accommodates riders of all skill levels. Additional trails, as part of a second phase, are being planned, and include extending the popular Huckleberry Trail to the McDonald Hollow parking lot to allow for longer rides with even more types of terrain.
Access the McDonald Hollow Trail System via Meadowbrook Drive at Glade Road. This is a fortuitous location as just down the street on Glade Road, Rising Silo Brewery awaits to refresh riders with a pint or two of locally crafted brews.
Users of the trail are kindly reminded to leave no trace, use only open trails and refrain from riding on muddy trails to preserve the quality of the system.
A Family’s Mountain Adventure
Spring in southwest Virginia is quickly becoming my favorite time of year here in the New River Valley! It is a time when buds burst forth with tender green leaves and redbud trees appear as pops of colorful sprays in a natural bouquet. My husband and I, “Pops” to the grandkids, recently set out on the first camping trip of the season. Visiting all Virginia State Parks has long been on our bucket list. We spent a long weekend in Claytor Lake State Park in Dublin, Virginia which is easily accessed from I-81 via Exit 101. The park offers a wide variety of activities including swimming, fishing, boating, camping, cabins, and nature and history programs. This park, as with most of the state parks, has kids’ programs offering fun guidance on how to identify natural elements along hiking trails of which there are several varying from easy to moderate. This will be the perfect weekend for exploring what to do with the grandkids this summer.
Once our campsite was set, Zelda the family dog and I walked down to the visitor’s center at the historic Howe house to sign up for a dog hike the next morning. I made mental notes along the way of playgrounds, an accessible fishing pier and bike rentals. The next trip would include two more passengers who are not as tall as Pops and not as furry as Zelda. I simply could not wait to convert these trip ideas to reality with the grandkids! The next trip with them would include:
A burger! The last thing I want to do after setting up camp is to cook. Yes, we are glampers! We’ll venture out on the first night for a Buffalo Burger at Buffalo and More located 20 minutes from the park in Riner, Virginia. Do you ever wonder why hamburgers don’t taste like they did when you were a kid? These do! The owners of Buffalo and More own their herd which is raised only a few miles down the road from the restaurant. Buffalo is a lean and healthy meat. As they say, you are what you eat!
The smell of bacon will fill the air on the first morning. The sleepy heads will roll out of bed and immediately begin asking to go swimming. First things first. Pops and I feed the kiddos and the beagle. The kids and I walk to the beach through a dense pine thicket with a well-maintained trail. Spring has brought forth all sorts of plants and wildlife to see and talk about. Better have answers ready for lots of “whats” and “whys” from the kiddos.
The kids are tuckered out that evening. The hammocks under the shade trees are very inviting for a quick lounge. A regional store, Walkabout Outfitters, is a great place to find outdoor gear. The closest location to the park is in Blacksburg, VA which is 30 minutes away. Maybe an urban exploration for another day. It is almost time to start the grill and the campfire. A fire is welcomed as the warm temperatures of the day give way to cool spring nights. The hoot owls can be heard clearly among the chorus of spring peepers. Although TV and WiFi is available, not one electronic device is being used at this moment. How could they compete with Pops tales told around the campfire?
Rain moved in on this last full day. No problem! The Wonder Universe: A Children’s Museum. This well thought out venue has hands-on exhibits and learning opportunities through play. It is located in the Uptown Christiansburg Mall. This is the perfect place to bring the kiddos in a rainy or sunny day!
Spend a Day in the Jefferson National Forest
Jefferson National Forestis one of two forests (the other being Washington National Forest) that stretch across the entire state of Virginia, watched over by the beautiful Appalachians. Two thousand miles of hiking trails set among neo-tropical birds in the summer and a kaleidoscopic pallet of color during the crisp fall lend to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the region.
Visitors can enjoy the forest in whatever way their wanderlust desires, whether fishing, mountain biking, camping, hawk watching, cross-country skiing, horseback riding and photographing the incredible landscapes. Additionally, 330 miles of the internationally famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail, along with 160 miles of National Recreation Trails, call the forests home. And recently, a 237-acre section of woodlands near McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs was added to the Jefferson National Forest to preserve the views from those landmarks for years to come.
The forest is divided into different districts given its massive size, with the Eastern Divide Ranger District being the nearest to Montgomery County. With so much to explore, it’s tough to know where to begin if you only have a day or two. So, here’s a guide to some of the top attractions you can easily explore during your next visit to the New River Valley.
Pandapas Pond Loop Trail
Pandapas Pond is an eight-acre man-made pond situated within a hardwood forest, adorned with rhododendrons and flame azalea, and is a favorite location among visitors and locals alike. The trail around the pond and adjacent wetlands is less than a mile long and is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, while structures like boardwalk areas and bridges let hikers get an up-close glimpse of the pond’s aquatic residents. Numerous spots along the trail are great for fishing and the park claims some of the best mountain biking trails on the East Coast. The Pandapas Pond area also includes the Poverty Creek Trail, which is the main, multi-use trail at Pandapas Pond. The Poverty Creek Trail features more gently rolling slopes across a 7.1 mile one-way trail, perfect for hiking, running, horseback riding, mountain biking, or just enjoying a picnic at Pandapas Pond.
Cherokee Flats Day Use Area
After a short drive west from Blacksburg, visitors encounter a streamside, paved trail that leads to the best fishing holes along Big Stoney Creek, a stocked trout stream. The half-mile trail is lined with American holly, rhododendron and wildflowers, and is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. In fact, Cherokee Flats was designed to accommodate wheelchair-bound anglers and features a metal ramp that allows wheelchair users to experience in-stream fishing.
Two separate two-mile trails lead to Cascades Falls, a breathtaking 66-foot waterfall that feeds into a large, rocky pool below that’s located about 13 miles west of Blacksburg. The lower trail is a National Recreation Trail and tends to bestow more scenic views, as it follows along Little Stony Creek for the entire two-mile duration. Many sections of the lower trail are carved into existing rock, featuring stone steps, walls and walkways. The upper trail is an easier walk as it is less rocky, wider, and ascends more steadily through the forest and above the creek. The locals’ preferred route is to take the lower trail up to the falls, and return via the upper trail.This is just a small sampling of the treasures that await in Jefferson National Forest. For additional information on all of the recreational activities located in the Eastern Divide Ranger District, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gwj/recarea/?recid=77658.
Blacksburg’s Mountain Biking Paradise
The thriving town of Blacksburg, Virginia, is known for many things: Virginia Tech, modern art, a hip brewing and gastronomic scene, a lovely temperate climate, and easy access to the rolling hills and slew of outdoor activities surrounding the ancient New River Valley.
Area mudslingers, however, know it for something especially gnarly: top-tier mountain biking. Tucked away in the Jefferson National Forest, the Pandapas Pond Day Use Area and Poverty Creek Trail System offers a wide variety of riding just a short drive—or bike ride—from Blacksburg.
Variety is the name of the game at Pandapas Pond, and 19 trails provide more than 30 miles of mayhem across the mountain biking spectrum. Greenhorn beginners, downhill shredders, and technical gurus alike will have a field day on rolling singletrack, rough rock gardens, heart-stopping switchbacks, and soul-crushing climbs.
Trail difficulty is marked with International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)-designated signage and is well-posted at most intersections. The symbolism is equivalent to that of the ski world (green circle=easiest, blue square=intermediate, and black diamond=most difficult), offering a simple and recognizable hint at what riders should expect around the next bend. A “Muddy Trails Meter” at the Pandapas trailhead kept current by daily users even offers a glimpse of what to expect when the unfavorable weather has made things uncertain. If the slider is set to Poor, consider riding drier trails or gravel roads to prevent resource damage on muddy trails.
Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.