The days are getting longer and Dave Walsh is back to biking on the Chessie Nature Trail, a rail trail linking the town of Buena Vista with the city of Lexington along Virginia’s Maury River.
A three-hour drive from D.C., Lexington is 55 minutes east of the West Virginia border and 50 miles north of Roanoke.
Walsh, owner of Shenandoah Rides and Rentals, leads the way for a short ride through the heart of Lexington, then we find ourselves on the Chessie Trail — a flat, crushed gravel route accessible for bicyclists of many skill levels.
Is it our imagination, or are people a bit nicer to bicyclists in Lexington? Walsh attributes it to the less dense population in an area where people are taught to say hello to strangers. “This is a bike-friendly community,” he said, “and if the drivers don’t know me, well, they know someone who does, so they’re good about sharing the road.”
Insider tip: Ask Walsh about food, as well as biking. On his custom bike tours, he includes food stops and snacks that range from standard peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to more gourmet selections, such as aged gouda on Asian pears, cherries in a balsamic reduction on crackers, or hard salami and brie. One of his post-ride favorites is a plate of sweet potato fries — and he’ll search the Internet ahead of time to find a place that sells them.
Walsh also organizes major bike events, such as the April Appalachian Spring Ride. Beginning in the Rockbridge Vineyards in Raphine, this ride combines beautiful scenery, friendly folks, local barbecue, Virginia wine, and a course designed like a cloverleaf (that is, with parking and an aid station in the center), so you can ride anywhere from 20 to 100 miles.
For a more restful view with a dash of history, take a carriage ride through town with Shana Layman at the Lexington Carriage Company.
Not your mother’s Natural Bridge
This longtime tourist staple has had a makeover, with 1,500 acres now designated as a state park. The Natural Bridge itself — a 90-foot limestone arch standing 215 feet above Cedar Creek — hasn’t changed. But, tour packages are being expanded and revamped, and the attraction is open seven days a week through the spring and summer.
Opt for the “Caverns and Bridge Combo” package ($20 for adults; $12 for kids) that includes the onsite caverns, Natural Bridge, Monacan Indian Living History Exhibit, and Cedar Creek Trail. If you want to add a couple of short hikes, try the 3.3-mile Monacan Trail and 1.8-mile Buck Hill Trail in the park. The 30-foot Lace Falls are named for the appearance of the water as it cascades over the rocks.
Small-but-mighty Buena Vista
Buena Vista — a small city of 6,800 on the eastern side of Rockbridge County — is home to the 300-acre Glen Maury Park and Campground, which hosts concerts and private events, and also offers hiking trails and an 18-hole golf course.
The city cut five new walkable trails in Glen Maury Park during 2016, and plans are underway to connect them as a loop. The park already connects with the Chessie Trail.
Buena Vista was recently designated a “golf cart-friendly community,” meaning golf carts are allowed on the streets, so be mindful as you travel about town. Also, keep your eyes open for flocks of wild turkeys around the outskirts of Buena Vista. They’re around, but never for long.
‘Fish and Pick’
This two-day event in May features trout-fishing, two bluegrass concerts, games, food, and camping.
“We stocked the Maury River with 1,000 trout for the Fish and Pick last year,” said Brian Brown, Buena Vista’s director of economic development, who also appears to be in charge of directing people toward fun outdoor activities in his town.
Cheers to new beers
While Devils Backbone Outpost is the most well-known brewery in the Lexington area, the craft beer selection is growing by mugs and bounds, now with three breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail.
The newest brewery on the trail is the Great Valley Farm Brewery in Natural Bridge, where a gorgeous view is also served. Check out the Blue Lab Brewing Company and Brew Ridge Taps in Lexington, too.
Art-gazing, nibbling, lodging
Eleven artists will open their private studios to the public May 14–15, joined by 21 guest artists showing and selling a variety of artwork. In some studios, you can enjoy demonstrations of art techniques, and most studios offer snacks and beverages. A free, easy self-guided tour takes visitors to seven in-town studios. With one exception, the other four are within 1 or 2 miles of the city center.
The company Roanoke Food Tours offers a three-hour food tour in Lexington with seven stops: Southern Inn Restaurant, Mano Taqueria, Blue Phoenix Cafe and Market, Pure Eats, The Red Hen, Cheese To You, and Pronto Gelateria.
Insider Tip: Ask Meg Hall, owner of Cheese To You, to talk to you about how to care for and identify “real” cheese. Her thoughtful answer will have you rethinking a favorite food.
The Fox Hill Bed and Breakfast Suites in Fairfield — just outside Lexington — offers privacy, a brightly starlit sky, and a friendly greeting from innkeepers Cathy Archer-Miller and Mike Miller. Pile the dog and the kids into the Stable Suite, where you can wake up, walk out the door, and pet Cody, the horse, and Love Bug, the donkey. If you don’t bring your own pet, there are two friendly dogs, Benelli and Ruger, who will greet you if you walk into their area of the lovely grounds.
The Hummingbird Inn offers views of Goshen Pass and wide porches on which to rock and enjoy them.
South River Highlands Country Retreat offers five cabins, dating from 1775 to the early 1900s, and the Hearthstone Lodge, all set on 250 beautiful acres. There are retreat and creative programs throughout the year.
Ride, eat, fish, or rock your way to enjoying Lexington this year.
Before you go:
Lexington Tourism: lexingtonvirginia.com