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Get Your Game On: Outdoor Fun in Galax VA

Derek Rose proudly displays the muskellunge (muskie) he caught in the New River.

Galax, VA, is a prime destination if you’re looking for a spot where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the spirit of adventure. Nestled in the heart of Southwest Virginia, Galax offers a vibrant outdoor recreation scene that attracts not only adrenaline junkies but also those seeking low-impact outdoor activities for adults and families. With a wide variety of terrains and scenic vistas, Galax offers a mix of challenge, relaxation, and beauty that keeps visitors returning for more.

BestPlaces.net says: “The reviews of Galax speak for themselves; visitors love the small-town atmosphere amidst breathtaking scenery and a year-round selection of outdoor activities.”

The Lay of the Land

Galax is renowned for its lush landscapes, rolling hills, and, of course, its proximity to the New River. This makes it a haven for outdoor lovers. The town might appear quaint, but it serves as a gateway to many activities, from heart-pumping kayaking to intriguing nature walks. Visitors are often spotted in local cafés, excitedly sharing tales of their day’s adventures.

Whether you’re into kayaking, mountain biking, fishing, birding, pickleball, swimming, nature walks, shopping, museum tours, festivals, or scenic drives, Galax is a delight. Let’s explore some of the best spots and tips to maximize your outdoor adventures.

Pedal and Trek: Premier Cycling and Hiking Trails in Galax

cyclists on new river trail
Biking is a favorite activity on the New River Trail.

The New River Trail State Park

Galax is a dream for trail biking and hiking enthusiasts. The New River Trail (NRT), stretching 57 miles northward to Pulaski, VA, is one of Virginia’s longest and most scenic rail trails, passing through four counties and the city of Galax. The NRT’s access to two tunnels, three major bridges, and 30 smaller bridges and trestles will make your trip memorable. There’s plenty to explore whether you’re on two wheels or two feet. The trail is friendly for beginners and seasoned cyclists, with the Galax Trailhead offering a gentle start. Hikers can find plenty of spots to pause to absorb the beauty or enjoy a quiet picnic. Thru-hikers and cyclists can find primitive camping at Cliffview, Millrace, and Double Shoals.

Park visitor Olivia reflects on her visit: “We were in heaven biking this trail… gorgeous fall foliage surrounding a rushing river, mountains, lush fields, and wildlife. Every turn presented a new and beautiful surprise with no road noise.”

Where to Go

Start your trail adventure at the Galax Trailhead (you can’t miss the big, red, N&W Railway caboose), where you can ride or walk along the New River Trail’s gentle grade. This section of the trail is perfect for beginners but offers enough variety to keep more experienced folks entertained.

Equipment and Resources

If you need to rent a bike or need tips on the best routes, Galax boasts two first-rate outfitters: New River Outfitters on Main St. and New River Outdoor Adventures on Fries Road. Both offer mountain bike rentals and can point you to the best trails for your skill level. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a backpack with essentials like water and snacks if you’re hiking. The New River Trail State Park has several access points, so you can choose your starting point based on your preferred distance and terrain.

Matthews State Forest

Like the New River Trail, Matthews State Forest offers outdoor enthusiasts a serene yet invigorating escape. Here, you can challenge your body, relax your mind, and rejuvenate your spirit.

With eleven miles of well-maintained trails, the options are plentiful. Whether you’re a hiker seeking solitude, a mountain biker craving challenging single-track trails, or a birder working on one of their lists, Matthews State Forest caters to adventurous spirits without the noise of motors or the hustle of crowded tourist spots. Here, the journey is yours to define.

Where to Go

Accessing Matthews State Forest is straightforward; it’s only a few minutes from downtown Galax. The main entrance is marked and leads you into the forest, where you can find parking areas, trailheads, and information about the forest’s amenities and activities.

Equipment and Resources

While the call of the wild is hard to resist, Matthews State Forest is committed to conservation and safety. As such, some activities are restricted, and permits may be needed. For more information, check the Virginia Department of Forestry website.

Kayaking the new river
Kayaking on the New River ranges from flat and peaceful to exciting and fast. Photo: Virginia State Parks

Paddle or Float the New River

Take a trip down the New River, one of North America’s oldest rivers, where you’ll find peaceful waters mixing with thrilling rapids. It’s ideal for kayaking, canoeing, or tubing, and the River suits a range of abilities. Family visitors recently commented:

“The tubing experience was fun…it was a very slow, relaxing ride down the River. Pleasant overall experience….This section of the New River is very shallow and easy for younger children, at least in late July. Highly recommended for first-timers.”

Where to Go

For beginners or those who prefer a leisurely paddle, head to the calm stretches of the New River between Fries and Galax. This section is perfect for soaking up the scenery without the stress of rough waters. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try the section near Fries Junction, where the River picks up pace, providing a more challenging ride.

Equipment and Resources

If you don’t have a kayak or canoe, don’t worry—there are rental services in the area. New River Outdoor Adventures is a popular choice, offering rentals, shuttles, and guided tours. They also provide all the safety gear you’ll need so you can focus on having a blast.

tennis courts at felts park
The well-maintained tennis courts at Felts Park are available to residents and visitors.

Serve and Volley at Felts Park

Not all of Galax’s recreational options involve trees, rivers, and trails. You can also enjoy a fast-paced game of tennis or pickleball or a refreshing swim to work out the kinks in your mind and muscles.


In the heart of downtown Galax, Felts Park offers well-maintained tennis courts for enthusiasts to enjoy a game or two in the open air. The courts are publicly accessible, offering an opportunity to mix sport with leisure under Galax’s clear, blue skies.


Grab your paddle and head to one of Galax’s pickleball courts for a game that combines tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, pickleball is a blast for the whole family.

Where to Go

The Galax Recreation Center, located on Main Street, is part of the Felts Park complex and is open to the public. The tennis courts are outdoors, and the pickleball courts are in the upstairs gym. Check their schedule for particulars and any special events. There is an information desk on the ground level of the Recreation Center building.

Equipment and Resources

Bring your racket and tennis balls (or paddles and pickleballs), as equipment rentals are unavailable. If you need a place to reset after a game, the Rec Center has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, walking tracks, and indoor workout rooms. Lockers are available for storing your belongings.

golf at blue ridge country club
Few things are as satisfying as a round of golf in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Golf in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Just a short drive from the center of Galax, the Blue Ridge Country Club (BRCC) offers golfers an 18-hole course against a breathtaking mountain backdrop. The course challenges with its mix of long fairways and strategic greens. Whether you’re looking to sharpen your skills or want to spend some time outdoors, you’ll love the BRCC.

Visitor Chris shares his opinion: “One of the nicest courses I’ve played. Fairways were like carpet. Rough was definitely rough. Back 9 is tough, front 9 is flat. Will definitely be back.”

Where to Go

The Blue Ridge Country Club is located on Country Club Lane between Carrollton Pike (Rte 58) and Glendale Road in Galax and is open to the public. Book a tee time in advance, especially during peak season.

Equipment and Resources:

BRCC is a semi-private club that offers members and guests golfing facilities. Also, the club has reciprocal playing agreements with some of Southwest Virginia’s and Northwest North Carolina’s best golf courses. Cart packages are available.

fishing on the new river
A serene day fishing on the New River.

Fishing on the New River

Fishing isn’t to be missed on the New River; it’s one of the best fishing rivers in Virginia. It supports over a dozen freshwater game fish populations, including smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye, and catfish. The gentle flow of the River and its scenic banks make it an ideal spot for anglers of all skill levels.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation between Galax resident Derek Rose, who fishes the New River often, and Wayne Jordan. The featured image on this page is Derek and his muskie.

Derek: “I’d say my favorite part about fishing in the New River is that it can be anything you need it to be…you got hardcore bass, and you get surprises like muskie and walleye. It’s kid-friendly, too, if you want to catch bluegills and little ones. It’s all levels, (from) advanced hardcore professional fishing all the way down to just very casual fishing with family.

Wayne: Tell me about the muskie.

Derek: Oh, man, I still get adrenaline from that muskie even to this day…I was just walking up and down the River, casting right off the bank. And then suddenly, a bad day turned into a memory that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It was a slow day, and then zero to one hundred in one second. The fish flashes up inside on the top of the water, and I see this huge shadow and teeth. It probably took me about 10 minutes to get it up to the bank.”

Where to Go

Head to Fries Junction or Cliffview along the New River Trail for easy access to the River. Both spots have ample parking and are popular with local anglers. If you’re up for a short hike, you can find quieter spots along the New River Trail.

Equipment and Resources

You can rent fishing tackle from New River Outdoor Adventures (NROA) if you don’t have any. Fishing licenses are available here as well. Boat rentals are, too, but many fishermen prefer the riverbank. NROA also offers guided fishing trips for a more structured experience. If you would rather buy fishing gear, you’ll find selections at the Galax Walmart and Tractor Supply.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a prime habitat for many species of birds.

Birdwatching Bliss: Discover Galax’s Avian Wonders

Galax, VA, offers a first-rate experience for those who cherish the quiet thrill of observing nature’s finest aviators. Two loops of the Mountain Trail region of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail pass through Galax: Mountain Music and the Blue Ridge Highlands.

Another prime spot for birdwatchers is Matthews State Forest. The dedicated birding trail, stretching nearly a mile, is a haven for novice and experienced birders. As you meander through this trail, you’ll find yourself immersed in a serene environment where the only sounds are the rustling of leaves and the calls of birds. The birding trail is delightful during the migration seasons, when an array of colorful songbirds and majestic raptors pass through, offering spectacular viewing opportunities.

Don’t forget the New River Trail State Park, which provides a unique backdrop for birdwatching. Following the scenic New River, the park is lined with riparian forests. It is home to waterfowl, waders, and various songbirds. The River’s flow and extensive canopy cover create a sanctuary for these species and an ideal setting for year-round birding.

Whether you’re an experienced birder with a lengthy life list or someone who enjoys the peace of a day spent in nature, the birding opportunities around Galax promise to deepen your connection with the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Where to Go

Start at the Visitor’s Center, where you can pick up a trail map and get tips on the best spots for birdwatching.

Equipment and Resources

Bring your binoculars, a field guide, snacks, and water. The park has picnic areas and restrooms, making it easy to spend the whole day exploring.

walking on the new river trail
The New River Trail is a pleasant place for a walk.

Walks and Rambles

Nature Walks:

Embark on a journey of discovery as you explore Galax’s scenic trails and nature preserves. You can’t go wrong with a nature walk in New River Trail State Park or Matthews State Forest for a gentle outdoor activity. Both offer beautiful scenery and easy walking paths, ideal for leisurely strolls and wildlife observation.

Where to Go

At the north end of Main St—about six blocks from the town center—is the southern trailhead of the New River Trail State Park. Start at the Galax Trailhead caboose and choose your own adventure. You can walk as far as you like, with plenty of spots to rest and enjoy the view. The trail follows Chestnut Creek and merges into the New River, so you’ll always have a beautiful backdrop.

Equipment and Resources

Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a hat and sunscreen for protection from the sun. A light backpack with water and snacks is also a good idea, especially if you plan to walk for a while.

galax downtown shopping district
Shopping in downtown Galax is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Historic District Shopping and Walking

If you enjoy exploring charming downtown areas, the Historic District in Galax is a great place to visit. This area has unique shops, cafes, and local art galleries, providing a relaxed and enjoyable afternoon.

Where to Go

Stroll along Main Street and check out the local shops. You’ll find everything from antiques and crafts to boutique clothing stores. Don’t forget to stop by the Galax Visitors Center on E. Grayson St. for maps and recommendations on places to explore.

Equipment and Resources

Comfortable shoes are a must, as you’ll walk on sidewalks and through shops. Bring a reusable shopping bag if you plan to make any purchases, and be sure to have a camera or smartphone to capture the quaint architecture and colorful storefronts.

Matthews Living History Farm Museum offers a look at the charm of early 20th-century farm life.

Local Museum Tours and Festivals

Galax has a rich cultural history. There are several museums and festivals that celebrate the town’s heritage. The Blue Ridge Music Center’s Museum is a must-visit for music lovers, while the Matthews Living History Farm Museum offers a look at the charm of early 20th-century farm life. Explore historic buildings like a restored farmhouse, barn, and blacksmith shop, while live demonstrations showcase traditional farming practices and crafts. Participate in hands-on educational programs or stroll along scenic nature trails, enjoying the serene beauty and local wildlife.

Where to Go

Check out the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention if you’re in town in August. It’s one of the world’s largest and oldest fiddle conventions, with a week-long celebration of bluegrass music. Another must-see annual festival is the Smoke on the Mountain barbeque championships in July. The Galax Visitor’s Center keeps an up-to-date events calendar on its website.

Equipment and Resources

Bring a comfortable seat or blanket for outdoor festivals and be prepared for variable weather. If you’re visiting a museum, check their hours and any special exhibits they might have.

Outdoor Adventures are Mountain Made in Galax

So, there you have it—after diving into many outdoor activities in Galax, it’s easy to see why this spot is a favorite among outdoor lovers. Galax hits the mark for thrill-seekers and those looking for a peaceful day out with the family. The area’s mix of challenging adventures and relaxing, scenic spots means there’s something for everyone. Whether it’s your first or tenth visit, Galax keeps you returning for the joy of being in the Blue Ridge Mountains. See you around town!

Wayne Jordan is a Galax-based writer and storyteller. His Scots-Irish ancestors settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1760, and he has deep roots there. The author of four books, Wayne is a retired Senior Editor for WorthPoint Corporation, a long-time columnist for Kovels Antique Trader Magazine, and a contributor to regional newspapers and travel publications. He blogs at BlueRidgeTales.com.

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