Riding the High Bridge Trail State Park
Sleep in a tipi, zip line through the woods, stop at a brewery and ride the beautiful, historic High Bridge Trail.
It’s hard to know where to begin when writing about this adventure-filled weekend in Farmville, Va. Mary and I along with friends Barbara and Gary Butcher stayed in a glamping tipi (teepee), spent a few hours on a high ropes-zip line course in the woods and rode the historic and beautiful High Bridge Trail. It was a busy weekend.
Riding the High Bridge Trail
The High Bridge Trail State Park is a typical rail trail. It opened along its full length of 31 miles in 2012.
The surface is hard packed gravel and the grade is flat to 2-percent.
So, essentially, just flat.
We began our ride in Farmville, Va. which is not quite in the middle of the trail. We had hoped to ride the entire trail, but a sinkhole caused by Hurricane Michael closed the section between Farmville and the High Bridge.
That left us with option A: Get some extra miles and ride to the end at Pamplin, or option B: Do a shorter ride in the other direction, and see the famous bridge.
It was either distnce or bridge, but not both.
Since Gary and I were on brand new gravel bikes and we were anxious to try them out, we opted for the extra miles.
We would see the bridge on day two.
Farmville to Pamplin on the High Bridge Trail
Starting in Farmville, it’s about 16 miles to the end of the trail at Pamplin, a community of 220 people, according to the census bureau.
The path just sort of ends there.
Since the journey is the destination, it really doesn’t matter.
Let’s get to the journey.
The trail is comprised of hard packed gravel made up of white stones. It’s been replenished near Farmville, creating a surface that’s about a half inch deep. But after about half a mile, it smooths out to a hard-packed surface that lets the bikes roll more easily.
We rolled along and enjoyed the easy terrain.
The trail is smooth.
It’s also straight.
If you ever wondered about the line, “May the road rise to meet you…” from the Irish blessing, you can see it on this trail.
The road goes on and on, seeming to rise for as far as you can see.
For the record, the next line in the blessing reads, “May the wind be ever at your back.”
On the way out, the road may have been rising, but the wind was ever in our face.
No matter, we pedaled on and chatted, taking in the scenery. There were beautiful farm fields dotted with round hay bales. The leaves were on the yellow side of the autumn peak, but still a plus.
We passed a few other cyclists and the occasional walker.
High Bridge Trail Amenities
The trail is dotted with restrooms and picnic tables. We carried PB&J sandwiches and trail mix. The plan was to stop at the end of the trail at Pamplin, eat and return to Farmville.
There is a restroom and a picnic table about a quarter of a mile from the terminus. Alas, we opted to ride on past, so we could say we rode to the “end.”
All that’s at the end is a pile of gravel.
So we ate standing up.
Don’t get me wrong, We were happy. It was a beautiful day and we were standing in the sun.
The road would rise to meet us on the return trip and now the wind would be at our back.
For the record, Strava shows that it is uphill on the way out and downhill for the return. Our speed picked up considerably as we headed back to Farmville, with the gravel bikes rolling up to about 18 mph.
Remember we are boomers, long past our hammerhead days.
Here is a map of the trail.
Just as my Garmin clicked over for 33 miles, I looked up to see our parking lot and a craft brewery. 3rd Street Brewing has been open about a year and its back door is right on the trail.
There is ample bike parking and a great, craft brewery atmosphere inside.
I tried the N 150 IPA named for the railroad mile marker that still stands along the trail, just outside the brewery. Gary went for the Fog Light Porter, while the women went for the Top Down Blonde.
We were, as I once heard an elderly Virginia politician say, “favorably impressed.”
Look for a review of the N 150 in a future edition of Beers I have Ridden.
Day Two and the Famous High Bridge
Due to the aforementioned sinkhole, we had to drive from Sandy River Adventures about 4 miles to the trailhead at Rice. (Use Camp Paradise Road) This is a significant parking area that opened in 2016 with lots of room and information kiosks. There are also restrooms there. It’s only .6 miles from the parking lot to the High Bridge, which was a bit disappointing, since we wanted a bit more ride. But we had our bikes and we wanted to see the trail’s namesake.
So, off we pedaled.
I’m glad we did. The bridge is spectacular.
We rolled onto the bridge as turkey vultures circled just above eye level.
It’s not that I love vultures, but we were so far up, that we were right there with them above the treetops.
The bridge is that high.
The structure has significant civil war history as well, and a park ranger had set up a table to share the story of how the bridge lead to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
The Civil War Story in a Nutshell
By April 6, 1865, General Robert E. Lee’s army was depleted and short of food and other supplies. Lee hoped to retreat until he could join other Confederate forces in North Carolina. He wanted to use the Appomattox River as a barrier to Union troops.
But it didn’t work.
Lee’s army retreated across the High Bridge and attempted to burn it, to prevent Grant’s army from pursuing them. There was also a smaller wagon bridge below the High bridge, and Grant’s army used that to cross the swollen river.
That was about all for Lee.
The Union thus prevented him from joining forces to the south and also seized rations Lee needed for his army.
Lee retreated to Appomattox where his generals reported to him it was no use to continue fighting.
On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered.
If you like history better than cycling and vultures, there’s a whole lot more to see and learn.
I was pleased to know the bridge rolling under my tires was significant beyond its 2,422 feet in length and 117-foot height.
It’s just cool.
Perfect Bikes for the High Bridge Trail
I was riding my new Fuji Jari 1.3, while Gary was on his brand new Canyon Grail with the unique and interesting “hover” style handlebars. Mary and Barbara were on hybrid bikes with front shocks and flat handlebars.
Barbara’s is a Trek. Mary rides a Giant Liv. They found the riding easier and just as comfortable on this surface when they locked out the front shock.
Gary’s tires were the widest at 40mm. The rest of us were on 35’s. All of them seemed plenty wide for the surface, but I would not have wanted to be there on my road bike with its 25’s.
I won’t diverge too much into the newish realm of gravel, adventure and other similar bikes, but it’s worth a sentence or two on these emerging options.
Gary and I were thrilled to be riding bikes that looked like road bikes, but offered the cushy ride of hybrids. We had been riding rail trails on mountain bikes. It and felt like we had somehow angered the bike gods who were punishing us by making the ride look fun and easy. Except we would return from 20 milers, feeling like we had biked a century.
Give a gravel bike a look.
The Tipi Thing
We stayed at the Sandy River Adventure Park, about 5 miles from the trail, which offers glamping tipis. These so called luxury tipis have heating and air conditioning, heated cement floors, queen-sized beds, running water and bathrooms.
It’s not exactly roughing it.
We enjoyed campfires at night and even made a pot of chili over the open fire.
There are no cooking stoves in the tipi. The owner told us it is hard to remove the smell from the tipi’s “skin”. The resort does provide a cast iron frying pan, making it convenient to cook over the campfire.
Tipi glamping is a plus.
High Ropes Course
We would have ridden the entire portion of the trail we missed on day 1, (about 20 miles round trip from High Bridge south to Burkeville) but we had signed up to try the high ropes course back at Sandy River. So we parked the bikes and joined about 20 other people attempting to navigate the various rope bridges, balancing challenges and zip lines in the treetops.
Um, it wasn’t easy.
We started out on the green course. Yellow was easiest, then green, blue and black.
Just like ski areas.
About 20 feet into the first challenge I felt like I would rather be back on the trail, riding my bike. It was a wiggly footbridge with rope handles and everything moved.
We all managed to get across without dangling from our harnesses, but it took a long time.
Additional cruel and unusual contraptions awaited us along the way until we were rewarded with multiple zip lines between the trees.
Meanwhile, teenage boys crossed the various obstacles on the black level course above our heads, like they were born in the forest canopy.
I was feeling my age.
I think Mary felt even older.
A Note about Farmville
Farmville is a cute little college town, Home to Longwood University and Hampden Sydney College.
It also boasts the famous Green Front furniture stores which attract bargain hunters for hundreds of miles.
There are great restaurants and coffee shops.
We ate dinner at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe.
Make sure you get the crab dip. Everyone does.
We also had breakfast at the Uptown Coffee Cafe.
Try the Milky Way Latte.
You must also eat at Walker’s Diner. It’s a true, old fashioned diner with great food and colorful, authentic servers.
Trust me on this one.
What a weekend
Still left to do is ride the trail to the other end, toward Burkeville. The riding will be as enjoyable as this trip, and hopefully the sinkhole will be fixed. I would stay in the tipi’s again and look forward to eating at Walkers. I’d go back to the other places as well, but I might want to try out some new options. In the summer, I’d likely replace the ropes course with paddling and perhaps some fishing.
Bottom line, there’s a lot going on in this small town.
If you like the outdoors, you need to spend a weekend in Farmville.