Natural Area Preserves: Shenandoah Valley to Blue Ridge Highlands

Delicate habitats are to be treasured, not trampled on, and only 21 Virginia Natural Area Preserves offer public access. Tread lightly, leave nothing, and take only photos as memories.

This, the fourth of a four-part series (see parts onetwo, and three), suggests ways to experience six publicly accessible Natural Area Preserves from Goshen in the Shenandoah Valley to Lebanon in the Blue Ridge Highlands. See the purple pins on the map below.

Permitted activities while visiting these preserves are hiking, canoeing, kayaking, photography, and wildlife watching. Camping, fires, horses, bikes, ATVs and any other vehicles are prohibited. Pets must be leashed at all times.



Goshen Pass

936 acres. A jewel of Rockbridge County, Maury River carved it and still runs through it with Hogback, Little North, and Forge mountains casting shadows from above.

For You: Acquire a Wildlife Management Area Access Permit to park and cross the swinging bridge to walk the trail. Fishing, swimming, and kayaking the River are available at your leisure. Preserve FAQ
Watch For: Bright red cardinal flowers are prominent in summer. Watch for the state-rare Appalachian jewelwing damselfly along with three rare plants: freshwater cordgrass, marsh vetchling, and sand grape.

As you move along the route (see map below) to the next preserve, you may be seeking something to eat or a place to stay. If so, here are a few suggestions:



932 acres. Home to the world’s largest known population of piratebush, and some of the most rugged terrain in Roanoke County.

For You: Loop your way through the pine-oak woodlands by way of the four-mile trail. It’s rugged and steep. Piratebush Loop is both easier and shorter for those who need a kinder physical challenge.
Watch For: The Piratebush turns yellow in fall, blazing to catch your eye. Spring and summer yield mountain laurel, mountain fetterbush, and beautiful birds like the scarlet tanger, Acadian flycatcher, and pileated woodpecker.



1,440 acres. This three-mile-long ridge northwest of Rocky Mount is a wayfinder in Franklin County and home to the globally rare woodland communities of Carolina thistle and Piedmont fameflower.

For You: Meander more than six miles of trails to encounter a variety of birds, from blue jays to red-tailed hawks. Trail Map | Preserve FAQ
Watch For: Rare plants like the Carolina thistle and fameflower.

Rest and fill up before you’re on to the next:



1,140 acres. At sub-alpine-height 3,971 feet, Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County presents six rare natural communities, which are home to 14 rare plants and three rare invertebrates.

For You: The steep one-mile trail to the summit delivers incredible 360-degree views. Late summer is the time for wildflowers on Buffalo Mountain. Preserve FAQ
Watch For: Purple blazing-star and stiff goldenrod, but also timber rattlesnake and black bear!

You’re really getting it done! Here are places to eat and rest before The Great Channels:



The Channels Natural Area Preserve

721 acres. Nestled into the nearly 4,900-acre Channels State Forest is this Natural Area Preserve, set aside to protect the Great Channels of Virginia.

For You: 11.3 miles of trails course through the State Forest and NAP. Brochure
Watch For: The reason one goes to The Channels is to see the sandstone formations for with the area is named. Huge boulders visitors can meander around and under are like no other experience in Virginia.
Note: The Channels is owned by the Virginia Department of Forestry and is managed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Finally, on to the Pinnacle! 



Fishing at Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve

776 acres. A variety of terrain and geographic features make this preserve in Russell County a destination for outdoor lovers.

For You: About four miles of trails lead you along Big Cedar Creek, to waterfalls, along the ridge, and to other points of interest, like the Pinnacle itself, a towering dolomite rock formation. Preserve FAQ
Watch For: Frogs and salamanders are plentiful. There are at least nine rare species and two rare natural communities present at Pinnacle.

© Casey for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2015. |

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Casey Higgins

We are FUN! We are RVA! We support local business and charities! Life is good!