Nelson County social-distanced long before it was fashionable. Enjoy plenty of wide-open spaces in 471 miles of a playground that includes the first 30 miles of the Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway and the mighty James River. Explore the coolest hike in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Tunnel, Nelson’s newest hiking attraction and discuss your experiences afterward as you enjoy fishing along the Rockfish River.
Rail Trails and the Blue Ridge Tunnel
When it was originally completed in 1858, the Blue Ridge Tunnel was the longest railroad tunnel in the United States. The long-anticipated tunnel restoration and trails on the eastern and western portals opened in late 2019 and saw nearly 7,000 visitors within ten days of opening. The tunnel is part of a greenway rails-to-trail system connecting three counties and runs through Afton Mountain under Rockfish Gap at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Directly above the tunnel is the famed Appalachian Trail.
Hikers, bikers, railroad enthusiasts and history buffs will be amazed at the trailway through the restored tunnel. And guess what? There aren’t plans to light the tunnel. That’s right — total darkness. Bring a headlamp and be very brave. The trip through the tunnel is about a mile long, and it’s bound to be refreshing on a hot summer day. Temperatures in the tunnel hover at 50 degrees. The trail is open from dawn to dusk, so take your time and enjoy an unforgettable adventure!
Fishing on the Rockfish River
There are many opportunities to fish in Nelson County. Head to the Rockfish Valley after the tunnel hike to talk about the experience over some fishing. One of the county’s famous residents, Earl Hamner Jr., included fishing in his stories about John-Boy Walton and his siblings, who would fish for sport and food.
The Rockfish Valley is named for the rockfish that swim in the river. You’re very likely to catch a fish since the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources stocks trout in designated waters from fall through spring. Parts of the Rockfish River are slow, shallow and populated by sunfish and smallmouth. You will need a Virginia Fishing License between Oct. 1 and June 15.
Your next move will probably be to grab a bite to eat and something to drink along one of Nelson’s three craft beverage trails — Nelson 151, Nelson 29 and the Brew Ridge Trail. Craft beverages and local food make for great recipes, and Nelson has all of the ingredients. Or travel west across the Blue Ridge to downtown Waynesboro and fish and hike along the South River Greenway, the only urban fish hatchery in Virginia. The South River Greenway connects the river, neighborhoods, historic districts, a mural trail and the Virginia Main Street downtown.