The Boone area is home to the origins of the New River, a north-flowing river, believed to be one of the oldest in the world. The South Fork of the New River joins the North Fork of the New River just north of the town of Boone, which then flows into the Virginias, gaining power. The gentle South Fork of the New is formed in the town by a confluence of three creeks: Winklers Creek, the East Fork, and the Middle Fork. This Middle Fork flows north from Blowing Rock to Boone, perfectly connecting the two towns by waterway.
The Middle Fork Greenway project, led by the Blue Ridge Conservancy, has been in development since 2013. Eventually, the Greenway will be an uninterrupted walking, biking, and hiking path that follows the Middle Fork of the New River all the way from Blowing Rock to Boone's existing Greenway trail.
Although the Middle Fork Greenway is not yet finished, there are several miles of the trail already built and ready to enjoy. Four great trailheads can take you to several sections of completed trails open to hikers, bikers, and leashed pets. Most trailheads offer fishing access, benches, and picnic tables.
3703 US Highway 321 S.
From Blowing Rock, travel about 4 miles on Highway 321 until you reach the right-in, right-out trailhead just past Birdies Coffee & Treats Food Truck. From Boone, there is no left turn into the trailhead. Simply continue to the next light, turn left onto Middle Fork Road, and turn around to make a right back onto Highway 321.
This pocket park connects to the main trailhead via a 0.2-mile paved path. From Boone travel approximately 1.5 miles on Highway 321, and turn left onto Niley Cook Rd. After another half mile, the park is on the right. From Blowing Rock, travel about 3.7 miles north on Highway 321 and turn right onto Niley Cook Rd., continue a half a mile, and turn right into the parking area.
1 Whitener Mountain Rd.
From Boone, go 3.5 miles south on Highway 321. Get into the middle lane and turn on your left turn signal after passing Tweetsie Railroad. After passing Mystery Hill on the right, turn left across the highway onto Whitener Mountain Road. Immediately take a sharp right leading down to the small gravel parking lot that provides spaces for four vehicles. From Blowing Rock, travel 2.6 miles on Highway 321 before turning right onto Whitener Mountain Road.
232 Payne Branch Rd.
This small park is the former site of the historic Tate Dam, a 1924 hydroelectric dam that was removed in 2020. From Boone, travel one mile down Highway 321 toward Blowing Rock. Turn right onto Payne Branch Rd. Continue a few hundred feet and you will see a pull-off large enough fo four cars on the right side of the road before a very large rock. Please ensure you are parked completely off the road.
One more trailhead is located at the "Welcome to Blowing Rock" sign near Shoppes on the Parkway, but since the trail does not connect here yet, we would suggest starting your Middle Fork adventure at one of the above trailheads.
Starting at Goldmine Branch Park and hiking to the end of the currently completed trail and back is about 1.6 miles. The handicap-accessible trail meanders along the Middle Fork of the New River and between residences before reaching a large bridge connecting it to the Greenway's Highway 321 trailhead. The paved section continues another 0.1 miles, making an accessible round trip back to Goldmine Branch Park 0.6 miles.
The larger Highway 321 trailhead, flanked by Blue Deer Cookies and Birdies Coffee & Treats, is a more popular place to start. Two bridges present the potential paths ahead: take the bridge to the left and 0.2 miles to the Goldmine Branch trailhead. The bridge to the right's path continues for about 0.6 miles until its current terminus.
The bridge on the right crosses the Middle Fork and continues for 0.1 miles until the paved path turns into gravel. The gravel path quickly climbs in elevation, away from the roadway and into nature. At 0.4 miles, hikers or bikers will reach a resting spot and a bent wooden bridge. The trail climbs again on the other side of the bridge, past boulders, rhododendron, and plentiful mountain laurel, until it starts to descend after another tenth of a mile.
After descending back down a curving sharply to the right, the trail reaches a temporary stopping point. Soon the path will connect to another mile of constructed trail on the other side of the road. Turn back and stroll 0.6 miles back to the trailhead.
This section of the Greenway currently has about 0.1 miles of natural surface trail. The park's resilient natural ecosystem and hydroelectric history make this area a favorite stop for fishers and hikers already. Stop at the informational kiosk to read about the history and removal process of the Historic Tate Dam and the riparian restoration efforts made by local conservancy groups. A picnic table, situated near the trailhead, makes the perfect streamside picnic spot, and benches are situated in shady spots along the trail.
Take the path to the left of the parking area to explore the widening headwaters. Several side paths along the way will take fishers down to the waterside. Stick to these side trails to protect the riparian zone.
It's hard to imagine you are walking so close to a highway when strolling next to Sterling Creek Park's babbling brook, surrounded by unique craft art and lush Carolina Rhododendrons. Take the path next to the stream and follow it towards the culvert beneath the highway. After crossing under the road, the path continues past Mystery Hill, a fascinating roadside attraction with a gravitational anomaly, towards the parking area for Tweetsie Railroad and High Gravity Adventures. At the end of the paved Greenway turn back to Sterling Creek Park for a 2-mile round trip.
Help preserve the Middle Fork Greenway by planning your route ahead of time, keeping to designated trails, respecting wildlife you encounter, packing out any trash, and being considerate of others in the outdoors.
Click through the buttons below to learn more about how to help Preserve the Awe in Boone's unique environment!