Crystal Springs Recreation Area
There’s something for everyone at Crystal Springs Recreation Area (unless, of course, you don’t like trees, or gently flowing creeks, or listening to birds sing, or being outside).
Situated just a few miles off historic Rt. 21 in Wythe County, Crystal Springs is becoming a go-to place for locals and visitors alike who enjoy unplugging from the busyness of life, getting out in nature, and enjoying time as a family. The park, located on 1,800 acres of land, boasts half a dozen hiking and biking trails, primitive campsites (which are free upon registration), an old reservoir, wooden footbridges, wildlife viewing, and more.
The newest—and most challenging—trail opened in 2015 along the boundary of the park. Fittingly named, the Boundary Trail follows the ridgeline of Lick Mountain at an elevation of approximately 3,300 feet. At certain points along the trail, visitors are able to see both sides of the mountain, down into the valley and a large basin of rolling farmland. On a clear day, they may be able to hear the church bells in Rural Retreat chime on the hour.
At 8.5 miles from start to finish, the trek will take a solid half day, so hikers are encouraged to pack plenty of water, food, and other essentials. At some rock ledges, mountain bikers may need to dismount and carry their bikes across. Visitors seeking an even more demanding hiking experience can begin on the Boundary Trail and connect to High Rocks via the High Rocks Spur Trail. This trail is a great option for avid hikers and mountain bikers and complements one of the park’s most unique features: its kid-friendly trails.
The Woodpecker Run Trail (0.7 miles), Salamander Meander (0.14 miles), Waterline Trail (0.47 miles) and Shortcut Trail (0.5) are all perfect lengths for little legs. What’s more is that these trails at Crystal Springs are part of a larger network of trails, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Kids in Parks program, better known as TRACK Trails. The goal of TRACK Trails is to make nature a place children want to be, to encourage them to get outdoors and temporarily disconnect from technology. The premise of the program is simple: kids hike a trail, log it through the TRACK Trail website, and receive prizes for accumulating hikes. Additionally, partnering trails are outfitted with interactive educational panels especially designed for young hikers and self-guided brochures that lead children on scavenger hunts or hide and seek adventures in the woods. Of the 154 parks around the country participating in the TRACK Trail program, Crystal Springs was the fourth one in the country and the first in Virginia to be established.
For casual hikers or mountain bikers, the Crystal Springs Loop Trail is the perfect fit. At 2.1 miles and varying degrees of incline, this well-marked, well-traveled trail gives visitors a happy medium. For visitors’ convenience, there are restrooms and storm shelters along the route. This route will cross paths with several other trails at the historic reservoir. The reservoir was built in the early 1900s with hopes that it would be the main supply of water for the town. Unfortunately, there was not enough water volume, so the reservoir became a supplemental source of water for the town instead. It is shallow enough to wade in or splash around to cool off on a hot day.
Visitors interested spending the night at Crystal Springs have a few options. There are two primitive campsites available at no cost towards the front of the park. Additionally, there are five backcountry backpacking campsites near the Boundary Trail. (Registration is required beforehand. Contact the Town of Wytheville’s Parks and Recreation Department to do so.)
Even if hiking, biking, or walking in nature is not of interest, visitors can still enjoy the park. There is a large open field at the entrance to the park where families can have a picnic, play a game of touch football, throw a Frisbee, or play fetch with their dog.
All in all, Crystal Springs Recreation Area is a great place to relax, learn, and spend time together outdoors. It is a true treasure in Wythe County.