The trail is a multi-use rail trail that was created out of 57 miles (92 km) of abandoned railroad formerly owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway. Norfolk Southern donated the land to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1986 for the purpose of creating a state park. Volunteers began making improvements and the park opened in May 1987, with 4 miles (6.4 km) of trail open for use. Since then, 57 miles (92 km) have been made open for public recreational use. The trail surface is crushed stone.
The trail passes several old industrial towns including Pulaski, Galax, and Fries, as well as the 19th-century Jackson Ferry Shot Tower and two turn-of-the-century hydroelectric dams.