It’s one of those days with a vexing heat index but biking on the shaded Newport News Park Trail, only a 3-hour drive from D.C., instantly transports you to a more temperate climate, complete with deer placidly feeding in the woods. The 5.3-mile, hard-packed gravel loop is rideable for most anyone, and even crosses into the Colonial National Historic Park, where you can stop to view a placard noting the site of George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War.
For more experienced mountain bikers, the Lake Maury Natural Area Trail offers a single-track, root- and switchback-filled route that’s classic intermediate riding. When you’re on the maze-like trail, remember: you might not know where you are, but you’re never lost! Just keep hugging the lake. Mapped as a five-mile trail, you could easily eke a 10-mile ride here by taking some side trails or re-practicing some of the jumps to upgrade your skills.
A note for runners and hikers: Either of these trails provides a shaded loop on foot, as well as beautiful fall foliage in a month or so.
Newport News Park Bikeway Trail. Park behind the campsite office at 13564 Jefferson Ave. Follow the paved road into the campground, then follow signs for the clearly-marked bike loop.
Maury Natural Area Trail. We GPS’d our way perfectly to the intersection of Gatewood Road and Warwick Boulevard, where there is a small gravel parking lot next to the trailhead.
New trail maps
Besides the two trails we tried, there are many other bike trails in the Newport News area, from advanced-level mountain biking to short road rides. New online maps and descriptions (newport-news.org/visitors/about-our-city/bike-trails) are immensely helpful in evaluating what’s best for you and then navigating your way there.
After biking, what else but bourbon?
Still warm from your ride, find your way to Ironclad Distillery. Housed in the S.W. Holt & Co. warehouse built in 1913, simply opening the door takes you back in time.
The day we visited, Kara King, daughter of the family-owned distillery’s founder, was serving the signature Ironclad small-batch bourbon on the rocks. Each ice cube — which comes from another Newport News small business, Chisel & Shaker — is a beautiful small sculpture in your glass, and the bourbon is simply wonderful, immediately soothing any pain you inflicted on yourself from over-ambitious tricks on the bike trail. If you visit in late fall or winter — and we will — this bourbon will also makes an excellent post-ride warmer.
Ironclad’s grains-to-glass approach means you’re supporting local Virginia farmers every time you sip. And, if you gently peel back the label on a bottle of Ironclad, you’ll find a blueprint of one of the original ironclad ships, the U.S.S. Monitor. This unique bottle would make an excellent hostess gift for Thanksgiving (if you can manage not to drink it yourself before then).
3 Barrels 3 Cities
Ironclad is part of a new “3 Barrels 3 Cities” trail that also includes the Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery in Hampton, and Blue Sky Distillery in Smithfield.
At Vanguard, housed in Hampton’s historic former armory, try the Caiseal spirits, alone or in a cocktail. (Caiseal, pronounced “cash-ul,” is a Gaelic term for “ring fortress.”)
At Blue Sky, don’t let the small space fool you: the distillery continues to rack up international and regional awards, and has a “give back” mentality with community contributions and events, often benefitting animal shelters.
Ask for your “Toast the Coast” pocket guide at any of the three distilleries. As you visit, be sure your server stamps your guide. Then, when you have earned three different-color stamps, stop by the Newport News Visitor Center (or find other participating centers here toastthecoastva.com/3-barrels), to pick up the prize you’ve earned — a tasting glass!
Where to stay
For outdoor enthusiasts and bourbon tasters, the Holiday Inn Newport News at City Center offers a great home base that’s central to the bike trails and distilleries. For runners, map your way from the hotel and enjoy an exploration run around the fountain at City Center at Oyster Point. Then, as a bonus, you can walk to City Center Ice Cream to restore all the calories you’ve burned biking and running.