Chessie Nature Trail Along the Old C&O Right of Way

The Chessie Trail lies along the right of way formerly occupied by the C& O rail tracks that connected Lexington with the main line near Buena Vista. In August of 1969 hurricane Agnes dumped over twenty inches of rain in the Valley; as the Maury River rose the raging waters destroyed the railway bridge at East Lexington just downstream of the dam and ripped up most of the tracks. The C & O decided to abandon the right of way and agreed to give it to the Nature Conservancy which in turn deeded the land to VMI with the understanding that the trail would remain open to the public.

The railroad tracks lie on the northeast side of the Maury River. Earlier this path had been used by mules that pulls barges along the river when the North River Navigation Company canal system (later the James River and Kanawha Canal Company) made it possible to navigate the river upstream of Lexington. Many of the barges were used to transport pig iron bars from near Rockbridge Baths to Richmond. After completion of the railroad, the canal went out of business, but remains of a number of the dams and locks remain. One of these, Reid's Dam is located about two miles southeast of the Lexington trail entrance.

The Maury River follows a sinuous course along a narrow valley it has cut into the limestones of the Valley. The zone of highest velocity and turbulence is clearly visible in the stream as it shifts from the outside of one bend to the outside of the next bend downstream. A narrow floodplain is generally present on one side of the valley. The stream flows beside a cliff on the opposite side. Like other streams in the Great Valley, the Maury has been cutting down for many hundreds of thousands of years. The course of the river meanders in some places suggesting that a one time the course of the stream was once much flatter than it is today.

Steeply inclined sedimentary rock strata crop out along the trail. These rocks were deposited hundreds of millions of years ago on the continental shelf of an ocean that predated the modern Atlantic Ocean. The continental margin was unstable and continued to subside as sedimentation took place. Eventually this led to the formation of many thousands of feet of sediment. About two hundred million years ago this margin of North America collided with the margin of Africa. The sediments caught between these two massive plates were uplifted, folded, and faulted during the ensuing mountain building. At the culmination of this event, the Appalachian Mountains may have been many thousands of feet higher than they are today. It was this deformation that caused the layers now exposed along the trail to be inclined. For the last two hundred million years erosion and gradually reduced the mountains to their present form.

For more detailed information about the Chessie Trail, see the Chessie Nature Trail Guidebook published by the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council.

  • Difficulty: Leisurely

  • Drive Time: N/A

  • Hike Time: 2 hours

  • Distance : 7 miles

  • Views: Wooded/Developed

  • Elevation: 887' to 923'


There are several ways to get on the Chessie Trail. Starting in Lexington you can access the trail at Waddell Elementary School. Then a little farther down you can access the trail at Woods Creek Grocery on Lime Kiln Road. Woods Creek is you next access point and then shortly there after at the Woods Creek/Law School Parking Lot. The trail then goes behind VMI where you can hop on at several different places (behind the baseball and soccer fields). The Trail then comes out at the East Lexington Bridge over the Maury River. Your next access is at Horseshoe Bend just past the new water treatment plant. After that you can access the trail where the South River Flows into the Maury, Rte 608 Stewardsburg Rd and then again two miles later the trail runs parallel to Rt 698. Then the trail comes to an end with Rt 608 at Rte. 60 just before entering Beuna Vista.