Remember when you were a kid pedaling your favorite two-wheeler through the neighborhood? Recall the fun, the freedom, and the feel of the wind blowing through your hair as you bicycled about, soaking in the summertime. We may not be able to go back to the carefree days of our youth, but we can get back on the bicycle, taking our friends and families exploring on Virginia’s bike trails, making new memories to last a lifetime.
And when you think of family bicycle rides in Virginia, dismiss that image of fighting your way along a slender passage of a busy street, with cars whizzing by a foot from your tires. Instead, visualize this: pleasant paved pathways free of autos, trails designed for human-powered travel, places like the Virginia Capital Trail, where you and your loved ones roll in tandem through the James River Valley. Or picture the pea-gravel New River Trail, a converted railroad line now snaking through eye-appealing countryside. Imagine pedaling along Virginia’s High Bridge Trail, a bicycling icon, with its impressive span that gave the path its name.
Read further to find the Virginia trail for your family bike ride, and when you hit the trail, look for that gleam in your child’s eye—and maybe your own.
Virginia Capital Trail
Nearest Towns: Richmond, Charles City, Williamsburg
The Skinny: The completed trail offers 52 miles of pedaling pleasure
Trail Overview: The Virginia Capital Trail —over two decades in the making—is now finished. The paved, signed and well cared for path courses through the lower James River Valley, linking Richmond to Williamsburg, and connecting smaller communities in between.
Bike Rental: James City County Marina, formerly known as Eco Discovery Park, located at the eastern trailhead, among other places.
Recommended Bike Ride: Explore Virginia’s earliest colonial history on this 13.4-mile out-and-back pedal. Start your adventure at Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum adjacent to the site of the first successful English settlement in the new world. The trail does parallel two-lane VA Highway 5 in places. However, a vegetational screen between the path and the road does wonders for the ride. Initial segments traverse fields. A host of historical markers vies for your attention. Chickahominy Riverfront Park makes a good turnaround point, where the Chickahominy River and Deep Creek flow together before meeting the James River.
After the Ride: Complete your historic bike ride with a meal at the Old Chickahominy House in nearby Williamsburg. Enjoy some good ol’ Southern cooking amid an antique store. The eatery, specializing in ham biscuits, offers a complete menu and has been an area classic since 1962. Also, visit the Jamestown portion of Colonial National Historical Park, the place where the first representative assembly in the New World took place, among those intrepid settlers who founded Jamestown.
Belle Isle State Park
Nearest Town: Warsaw
The Skinny: Quiet state park offers rustic, level trails along tidal Rappahannock River
Trail Overview: A 10-mile network of trails — most of them gravel doubletrack paths ideal for casual bicyclists — course through the park, a land bordered by the tidal Rappahannock River and its tributaries. The park as a whole is very quiet, so you can add bicycling paved park roads to the trail system. Pedal by wetlands bordering the park and fields and forests.
Bike Rental: Rent bicycles at the park by the hour or by the day. Pedal directly from the rental area and tour the park.
Recommended Bike Ride: The park is located on Virginia’s Northern Neck, a peninsula of land in northeastern Virginia between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, so water is always nearby. Start your 8-mile trek at the bike rental area, then head down Creek Landing Road to pedal the Mulberry Creek boardwalk and get up close with the water. Next, take the Mud Creek Trail to the Watch House Trail, passing wetlands and woods. Head out to the Neck Fields Trail to Brewers Point, enjoying more aquatic vistas. Backtrack, then take the Porpoise Creek Trail to a wildlife blind. Scan for blue herons and osprey. Stop at the picnic shelter nearby and overlook the breadth of water and beach below.
After the Ride: Consider camping at Belle Isle State Park. It features a spacious campground with 30 sizeable sites, each complete with water and electricity. Gravel pads are good for tent campers, and the large sites suit RVs. On the other hand, you could stay at the Bel Air Guest House, a park dwelling with a maximum capacity of 8 guests. Enjoy the leisurely pace of the park, explore all the trails, and perhaps even rent a canoe or kayak, adding an aquatic aspect to the adventure.
New River Trail
Nearest Towns: Pulaski, Galax
The Skinny: Extensive rail trail travels along the mighty New River through scenic Southwest Virginia countryside
Trail Overview: The New River Trail is Virginia’s longest state park, a path extending over 57 miles. The rail trail courses along a cinder bed and over trestles that span Chestnut Creek and the New River. Occasional rapids and riverside bluffs satiate the visual palate. Pass through a 200-foot tunnel, adding mystery to a great trail. The trailside is generally forested, though is more open between Foster Falls and Pulaski, where you pass Claytor Lake, an impoundment of the New River, and location of a fine Virginia State Park.
Bike Rental: Rentals available in Galax, Claytor Lake State Park, Foster Falls near Austinville, and Pulaski. Rent at Foster Falls, part of New River State Park, for recommended ride. They offer one-way bike shuttles, too.
Recommended Bike Ride: Make a 14-mile there-and-back adventure. Start at Foster Falls, where a state park campground, historic village, and gorgeous river scenery are located. Head along the New River toward Austinville. After 1.5 miles, you will pass the historic Shot Tower, where lead bullets were made during early Virginia history. Enjoy more riverside scenery after passing under I-77. Have a picnic at the Austinville access. Ahead, pedal through an old railroad tunnel. Next comes a high trestle where you can gaze down on the New River. The Ivanhoe trail access is a good place to turn around. Then pedal back to Foster Falls.
After the Ride: Overnight at Millrace Campground at Foster Falls. The camp is in excellent condition. Be apprised: this is a tent only campground. There is much to do here: fish for walleye, bass, and bream, swim, tube, or paddle. A livery offers tubes, canoes, and kayaks for rent. On summer weekends, the equestrian livery is open for business, enabling you to ride the rail trail atop a horse! It is all part of the great New River Trail State Park experience.
Virginia Creeper Trail
Nearest Towns: Abingdon, Damascus
The Skinny: Rail trail slices through gorgeous mountain scenery
Trail Overview: The 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail starts high in the mountains then descends along Whitetop Laurel Creek in rich woods and highland streams to reach the trail town of Damascus, a fun place to visit. The Creeper then wanders past South Holston Lake and through field and woods to end at historic Abingdon.
Bike Rental: Rentals available in Damascus and Abingdon.
Recommended Bike Ride: Rent your bike in Damascus then get a shuttle to the top of the Creeper Trail at Whitetop Station. From there it is a 17-mile nearly continuous downhill back to Damascus, doable by even the most casual of bicyclers. The mountain scenery is fantastic, and you will enjoy viewing the cascades and pools of Whitetop Laurel Creek, crossing many trestles above the crashing waterway.
After the Ride: Take a stroll down Damascus’ main street, Laurel Avenue, and stop at the iconic Mount Rogers Outfitters, an outdoor store catering to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. The outfitter has character and is usually full of colorful hikers. Then slide around the corner and grab a taco or Tex-Mex food at Hey Joe’s.
Washington & Old Dominion Trail
Nearest Towns: Leesburg, Arlington
The Skinny: This 45-mile rail trail, part of Northern Virginia Regional Parks, runs east west between Arlington and Purcellville
Trail Overview: The W&OD, as it is known, is a paved 9-foot wide path tracing a railroad grade. Near Arlington, it is an urban experience and becomes more rustic the farther west you go. Over a dozen trailheads make accessing the 45-mile track easy.
Bike Rental: At Trail’s End Bikes in Purcellville, also Herndon, Leesburg, and Reston.
Recommended Bike Ride: Start on the W&OD Trail’s west end at Purcellville’s old train depot. Head east through the small town under shady trees. Open into fields and woods before making your way to the hamlet of Paeonian Springs, about 6 miles one way, making a 12 mile round trip back to Purcellville. It is another mile to Clarks Gap, and the trail’s high point, about 60 feet above the trail elevation in Purcellville, making a 14-mile bike ride.
After the Ride: Magnolia’s at the Mill offers American dining next to the train depot trailhead in Purcellville. For a more casual down-home experience, head to the Purcellville Family Restaurant.
High Bridge Trail
Nearest Towns: Pamplin City, Farmville, Burkeville
The Skinny: Another great Virginia state park rail trail, this one courses through Southside Virginia
Trail Overview: The 31-mile High Bridge Trail travels roughly east-west between Pamplin City and Burkeville with the trail’s namesake High Bridge stretching over a half-mile over the Appomattox River and 125 feet above the waterway, delivering a thrilling ride. It is one of the longest recreational trail bridges in the United States. Multiple trailhead accesses and picnic areas enhance the High Bridge experience.
Bike Rental: High Bridge Bikes in Farmville. Rent a bike by the hour or for a full day; bike reservations are available
Recommended Bike Ride: It is hard not to want to see the park’s namesake, High Bridge, so go ahead and do it. It is a little less than 5 miles one-way to the span from Farmville, making a 10-mile there-and-back adventure. If you want to extend the trip, continue another 3 miles from High Bridge to Rice, creating a 16-mile there-and-back run. Not only are the views stellar from High Bridge but you can picnic on either side of the span. The historical component is significant as well. The Battle of High Bridge was Robert E. Lee’s final conflict before heading to Appomattox Court House to surrender to General Grant.
After the Ride: Charley’s Waterfront Café is a stone’s throw from the trailhead in Farmville. Grab a table on the deck overlooking the Appomattox River, enjoy a meal. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offer a kid’s menu as well.
Mount Vernon Trail
Nearest Town: Alexandria
The Skinny: This paved path runs along the Potomac River connecting George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate with Alexandria.
Trail Overview: The trail runs 18 miles to Mount Vernon, passing many sights along the way, including Arlington Memorial Cemetery, Theodore Roosevelt Island, picnic areas, and wildlife preserves. Enjoy a multitude of Potomac River views. The Mount Vernon Trail connects to other paths, including bicycling venue Potomac Heritage Trail.
Bike Rental: Big Wheel Bikes in Alexandria.
Recommended Bike Ride: It is 10 miles one way from Alexandria to Washington’s estate Mount Vernon, making a 20-mile there-and-back trip. Pass the Jones Point Lighthouse, Belle Haven Park, and Dykes Marsh Wildlife Preserve, then Fort Hunt Park. If 20 miles is a bit long for you and the family, cut it short, allowing enough energy to make the return trip.
After the Ride: Tour Mount Vernon. Visit George Washington’s estate for an iconic Virginia experience.
Newport News Park Bikeway
Nearest Town: Newport News
The Skinny: This 5.3-mile loop trail is just one of over 30 miles of trails at this park, one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.
Trail Overview: The Newport News Park bikeway is not paved but is in good shape. It traverses rich woods through the 7,000-plus acre park. Part of the trail connects to George Washington’s Headquarters at the Battle of Yorktown, a portion of Colonial National Historical Park. Here you can extend your ride if you please, on one of the tour roads (You will share the road with cars and pedestrians here, however, speed limits are low). The Battlefield Tour Route is 7 miles, while the Encampment Tour Route is 9 miles. However, the interconnected nature of the battlefield roads makes shortening your route easy.
Bike Rental: Newport News Park, at the park’s campground office.
Recommended Bike Ride: It is fun and easy to make the 5.3-mile bikeway loop. Add other park activities to the agenda. Newport News Park is one of Virginia’s most attractive and well-maintained urban preserves. The Newport News Park Bikeway showcases much of the park. Within this large multi-purpose preserve is the site of the Battle of Dam No. 1, a designated stop on the Virginia Civil War Trails tour. This Civil War battle site is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The hiker trail system on the battlefield is scenic and comprehensive. Allow time to enjoy the facilities at Newport News Park, including additional trails, an archery range, playgrounds, picnic areas with shelters, a fine campground with electric and non-electric campsites, an arboretum, history exhibits, nature programs, golf courses, even 30-acre model airplane field.
After the Ride: Head over to Yorktown. Even if you do not tour the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, stop by the Yorktown Pub, overlooking the Yorktown River, to enjoy burgers, salads and seafood.
Johnny Malloy is a regular contributor to Virginia Travel Blog. For more information about travelling in our beautiful state and to subscribe to Virginia Travel Blog, visit www.virginia.org.