New River State Park -- US-221 Access (6-2-18)
New River State Park is located in Alleghany and Ashe Counties in extreme northwestern North Carolina. Protecting a 30-mile stretch of the ancient New River the park is spread out along the waterway, encompassing just under 3,000-acres within about a half-dozen separate "access areas." While a couple of these areas are only accessible by water most are also reachable by car, offering land-based recreational activities to compliment the obvious aquatic ones available on the river. On this particular visit I'd be stopping at two such access points...the U.S.-221 Access Area, which this album tours, and the lesser known Alleghany County Access which is covered in a separate album. The U.S. 221 Access contains the main office and visitor center, the parks only drive-in campground, as well as a picnic area, boat launch, and hiking trails. My plan was to hike two of the main trails within the access area, the Hickory and River Run Trails, creating a pleasant three mile loop which I hoped would offer a good overall look at this particular corner of the park. I wasn't disappointed.
My hike would begin at the large parking area located at the end of the park road adjacent to the boat launch and picnic area. The Hickory and River Run Trails both leave this parking lot but I'd be headed out on the former first to do my planned loop in a clockwise direction, leaving the (hopefully) more scenic river-side portion of the hike until last. The Hickory Trail begins by climbing the hill on the backside of the parking lot, ascending through a mix of field and forest on an easy to moderate grade. After only about a mile it reaches the park road where I decided to make a side trip over to the nearby overlook at the park picnic pavilion. This required a short road walk but it was a brief one. The overlook was only marginally worth the time and effort. Though the rolling green hills surrounding viewpoint were pretty the New River could not be seen. I didn't know it yet, but this would become the theme of my hike. Backtracking to where the Hickory Trail crosses the road I re-entered the woods where I immediately reached a T-junction where I made my left turn onto the River Run Trail. The route continued to be easy-going as the path wound first along the top of the ridge through a pretty pine forest then descended to flat ground alongside the New. As I neared the river, still a bit above it, I was treated to one brief and limited view. That was it however. Though for the remaining three-quarters of a mile the trail remains within a stones throw of the water the trail remains separated from the river by a thick wall of tall bushes and shrubs, hiding it completely. This was a bit of a disappointment if I'm honest. I kinda hoped that in a park named for the New River I'd actually be able to see it a bit from the trail. Despite the lack of river-sightings it was still a pleasant way to end this part of the day as the trail remains easy and flat and even passes by the remains of an old homestead at the halfway point to keep things interesting. Before long I was back at the parking lot where I started.
Considering the ease of the hike, the mild disappointments I had with the visit (namely not being able to see the river from the trail), were lessened some. This is a very pretty park and a wonderful place to spend some time for a picnic or to pitch a tent. It just didn't "wow" me much along my walk. Obviously, the best way to experience the park is from the water which I knew ahead of time would be a drawback. Perhaps on a future visit I'll bring the kayak and see what the New River is like up close and personal. Regardless it was a pleasant walk and gave me a good taste of this unique park. I was anxious to see what awaited me at the Alleghany Access as well, which I would be exploring shortly. So, without further adieu I present to you the U.S. 221 Access Area of New River State Park...as always, ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.456502, -81.337143
Route Type: Loop w/ spur Difficulty: EASY
Mileage Hiked: 2.8 miles Hike Duration: 1:15
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: None!!
Min. Elevation: 2,550' Max. Elevation: 2,800'
Total Vertical Gain: 350' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 125'
Trails Used (blaze color/shape): Dogwood (unblazed), Hickory (red circles), River Run (red triangles)