Do you consider a getaway day wasted if it doesn't leave you rimed in a salty crust of dried sweat, muscles quavering with exhaustion, nursing a couple of ibuprofen while fighting off the urge to fall asleep in your carbo-loaded dinner plate? Then pack up the outdoor gear and point your GPS south along Interstate 81 to Virginia's New River region for a mountain retreat to satisfy even the most ADD of outdoor adventurers.
A geological quirk, the New River flows north, snaking from Grayson County on the North Carolina border up through Giles County before rolling into West Virginia. It skirts the edge of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, travels through the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Mountains, and is crossed by the Appalachian Trail. Along the way it traverses a Virginia region offering a veritable embarrassment of riches in outdoor recreation: hiking, paddling, fishing, road- and mountain-biking, horseback riding, birding, river tubing and, in short, more outdoors than you can hope to cram into a weekend -- but go ahead and give it a try.
If hiking in particular is your thing, Blue Ridge Outdoors in downtown Blacksburg offers a free guide, "Hiking Adventures Around Virginia Tech," compiled by the university's Outing Club. It describes 24 hikes, with a key to the levels of difficulty, and includes a map and driving directions. McAfee's Knob ("moderate," seven miles round trip, good bouldering and great views at the top), Dragon's Tooth ("difficult," just under six miles) and Cascades Falls ("moderate," four miles round trip, with a 66-foot waterfall to reward you at the end) are widely recommended as some of the area's best trekking. While you're at Blue Ridge Outdoors, which specializes in hiking, camping and climbing gear, buy a copy of the detailed, waterproof National Geographic "Trails Illustrated" map to Blacksburg, the New River Valley and Jefferson National Forest. Many of the area's trails are multi-use, and this map helps to show what's allowed where.
For cyclists, fat-tire or skinny, the Blacksburg area is the kind of community you dream of, one with miles of bike paths through the town itself and abundant off-road trails (the trails accessible from Pandapas Pond, just west of town off Route 460, are a popular local destination) and lightly traveled paved roads nearby, including the Bikecentennial Route 76. There's also a big cycling community, particularly during the school year. Check in at East Coasters Bicycles in Blacksburg for a spare tube and information on local cycling, or check out the New River Valley Bicycle Association's Web site (www.nrvbike.org).
Feeling in need of a little hill work? Shift down to the granny gears on your road bike and take on the Route 613 climb from Route 460 to Mountain Lake (where the movie "Dirty Dancing" was filmed); it's the finish for a local century (100-mile race) known as the Mountains of Misery, if that gives you any idea of what to look forward to. Mountain Lake, one of only two natural lakes in Virginia, sits atop the Eastern Continental Divide, surrounded by thousands of acres of forest and wilderness and miles of trails. Along a migratory bird route, it's also the setting for the Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Festival, which premiered in May.
Of course, there's no point in a visit to the New River region if you don't put in a visit to the New River. Flowing wide and sometimes deep, surrounded by steeply rolling hills and precipitous bluffs, the river is dammed just east of Radford to form the 21-mile-long Claytor Lake, then continues on its course west from the dam. One of the area's standout attractions is the New River Trail State Park, a 57-mile multi-use trail that parallels the river for 39 of those miles. There are boat and canoe launches along the trail and five primitive, tent-only campgrounds, including an island site at Foster Falls that's accessible only by water. Although the trail is pleasant for hiking and open to horses, too, it's a blast on two wheels and an easy off-road ride. Park at the Draper lot ($2 honor fee weekdays, $3 weekends and holidays, closes at 10 p.m.) just off Interstate 81, Exit 92, and head south (remember, that's upriver). Within a short distance you'll come to the first of several dramatic trestle-bridge crossings; at the third crossing you'll emerge from a leafy, wooded tunnel to find the river suddenly spread out before you, hills rising on either side.
To get on the river proper, consider a guided trip from "soft adventure specialists" Tangent Outfitters in Pembroke. "We're just a couple of schmoes who like to fish," says co-owner Steve Phlegar, but in truth he and fellow owner Shawn Nash, both native to the area, are experienced guides who know this river like it's their back yard, which it is. (Though Nash didn't mention this, you'll find him guiding National Public Radio's Noah Adams down the New inside the pages of Adams's book "Far Appalachia: Following the New River North.") Day and overnight fishing (the New River is aswim with smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye and trout), canoe or kayaking trips, tubing, mountain-biking tours, canoe and kayak instruction, trip planning and shuttle services on the New River, New River Trail and Appalachian Trail are all offered by Tangent. If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach, Nash suggests the seven-mile Eggleston-to-Pembroke run, with four Class II rapids, as a perfect day's paddle.
When the sun finally sets, where to lay your weary head? Thanks to the New River's proximity to Virginia Tech, Radford University and two interstates, you'll find ample choices in chain hotels. For a night in the outdoors, the campground at Claytor Lake State Park, just a hop off Interstate 81, is close to the New River Trail and surrounds you with trees and tranquility. For sheer indulgence, however, consider Nesselrod on the New. On a bluff above the New River in Radford, this bed-and-breakfast offers reasonable rates for an experience of such pitch-perfect luxury that you may find it difficult indeed to dislodge yourself from cotton sheets so crisp they crinkle, though the freshly prepared three-course breakfast will reward your effort. Named by its original owners, the house, built in 1939 and set among extensive gardens, was renovated to create four garden-themed guest rooms and suites with features such as the Oriental Lily's private garden and Japanese soaking tub or the positively decadent nine-headed shower in the Lily of the Valley suite. All plans to leap out of bed and hit the trail at dawn will be abandoned forthwith.
But then again, once you get to Virginia's New River region, you know that one weekend will never be enough anyway. Have another cup of coffee. You'll be back.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE'S NEW RIVER VALLEY RANGER DISTRICT -- 110 Southpark Dr., Blacksburg. 540-552-4641. Open Monday-Friday 8 to 4:30. The office has a selection of free and for-purchase maps and guides, as well as a helpful and friendly staff.
BLUE RIDGE OUTDOORS -- 125 N. Main St., Blacksburg. 540-552-1241. www.blueridgeoutdoors.net. Open Monday-Saturday 9 to 7 and Sundays noon to 5. Area guides and maps plus camping, hiking and climbing gear.
EAST COASTERS BICYCLES -- 1301 N. Main St., Blacksburg. 540-951-2369. www.eastcoasters.com. Open Monday-Friday 10:30 to 6:30 and Saturdays 10 to 5 . Bicycling information, gear and repairs.
TANGENT OUTFITTERS -- 201 Cascade Dr. (at Route 460), Pembroke. 540-626-4567. www.newrivertrail.com. Open daily 6 to 9. "Soft adventure" on and off the New River.
MOUNTAIN LAKE MIGRATORY BIRD FESTIVAL -- www.mountainlakebirding.com. Next year the festival is May 19-21.
NEW RIVER ADVENTURES -- Foster Falls on the New River Trail, off Exit 24 of Interstate 77. 276-699-1034. www.newriveradventures.net. Shuttle services along the New River Trail, along with tube, kayak, canoe and bike rentals.
NEW RIVER TRAIL STATE PARK -- Administrative offices, 176 Orphanage Dr., Foster Falls. 276-699-6778. www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/newriver.htm. Park offers primitive tent-only camping ($10-$13 per night) at designated locations, along with picnic grounds, camping and a boat launch ($2 daily parking fee; $3 weekends and holidays). A downloadable PDF map of the park is available on the Web site.
CLAYTOR LAKE STATE PARK -- 6620 Ben H. Bolen Dr., Dublin; off I-81, Exit 101. 540-643-2500. www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/claytor.htm. Wooded camp sites ($18.90-$24.15 per night) and cabins (from $88.20 per night and $528.15 per week in the off season to $118.65 per night and $712.95 per week in prime seasons -- discount fees for Virginia residents), boat launches, a beach and snack bar (seasonal), and boat slip rentals (also seasonal). Access and facility fees vary. A downloadable PDF map to the park is available on the Web site.
INN AT RIVERBEND -- 125 River Ridge Dr., Pearisburg. 540-921-5211. www.innatriverbend.com. The B&B's seven guest rooms ($125-$200 per night) have private baths and a commanding view from high above the New River.
MOUNTAIN LAKE HOTEL -- 115 Hotel Circle, Pembroke; 540-626-7121 or 800-346-3334; www.mountainlakehotel.com. Lodge rooms ($170 to $290 per night) and rustic one- to four-bedroom cabins ($170 to $765 per night); rates for two during the May-November season include dinner, breakfast and activities.
NESSELROD ON THE NEW -- 7535 Lee Hwy., Radford. 540-731-4970. www.nesselrod.com. Four guest rooms or suites ($105 to $250 per night; seasonal and other specials available) overlook surrounding gardens.
RIVERSONG CABINS -- 916 Swinney Hollow Rd., Fries. 877-748-3775. www.riversongcabins.com. Six fully equipped two-bedroom cabins year-round ($100 per night summer and $90 per night winter), an observation deck with a two-mile view of the New River; pet- and child-friendly.
A fairly exhaustive list of area accommodations can be found online at: www.floydfest.com/2005/where.php?dir_id=13.
THE CELLAR -- 302 N. Main St., Blacksburg. 540-953-0651. www.the-cellar.com. Classic college- town grub of brews, burgers, nachos and the like. GILLIE'S -- 153 College Ave, Blacksburg. 540-961-2703. Tasty vegetarian fare and seafood.
SAL'S ITALIAN -- 709 W. Main St., Radford. 540-639-9669. www.salsradford.com. A family restaurant offering a "create your own pasta dish" on its menu.
Caroline Kettlewell is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Weekend. You can find her on the Web at www.carolinekettlewell.com.