Author Archives: RootsRated

20170711__Virginia_Grayson Highlands

Climbing High: Reaching the Top Peaks in Southwest Virginia

You may find yourself at a loss for words as you reach the top of your first Virginia mountain. Which is OK, because the panoramic view of the surrounding ridges and valleys stretching endlessly toward the horizon won’t require much talking. Seeing as how Virginia is an exceptionally photogenic state, your summit photos will speak for themselves.

The good news is that mountaintop scenes like this abound in Virginia—and could keep you busy bagging summits for years. The better news is that most of them can be reached within a very few miles of your car.

Wild ponies roam the higher altitudes at Grayson Highlands State Park, giving hikers yet another reason to tackle the nine-mile, round-trip hike to the summit.

Wild ponies roam the higher altitudes at Grayson Highlands State Park, giving hikers yet another reason to tackle the nine-mile, round-trip hike to the summit.

Dzmitry (Dima) Parul

Of course, a hiking tour of Virginia wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the state’s highest point, Mount Rogers, which does require a bit of a walk. At 5,728 feet, Mount Rogers may not be at an especially grand elevation, but it is set amid some pretty spectacular scenery. The nine-mile, out-and-back hike to the mountain’s summit begins at Massey Gap and meanders through Grayson Highlands State Park and George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, sticking to the Appalachian Trail for most of the way. In the rolling high-country pastures here you can often catch glimpses of the famed wild ponies that roam the area, using their impressive looks to try and pilfer snacks from visitors. Don’t be fooled, they are wild animals, and should be given plenty of space.

Just before the summit, the trail enters a beautiful old-growth spruce/fir forest that encompasses the top of the mountain and pretty much obliterates any views. Don’t let this discourage you, though: All along the approaching trail you’ll enjoy sweeping vistas of the surrounding highland balds and peeks into the lush valleys below. The views of the rolling grasslands and rocky hills make the trek up Mount Rogers more than worth it. This trip makes a great long day hike, or you can use the trailside backcountry sites to turn your Mount Rogers expedition into a multi-day adventure.

A visit to Virginia’s second highest point requires significantly less effort. The state’s highest navigable road will take you very nearly to the summit of Whitetop Mountain. All that’s left when the well-maintained gravel road runs out is about a half-mile hike to another spectacular peak. Like Mount Rogers, Whitetop Mountain is also cloaked in an old forest, but the trees leave room for a panoramic view of three states. This mountain is an ideal spot to catch a lovely Virginia sunset, especially since the walk back to the car is so brief.

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail.

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail.

Robert Aberegg

For another longer hike, a trip to McAfee Knob should be on anyone’s Virginia bucket list. This 8-ish mile round trip will take you to one of the most photographed spots along the Appalachian Trail. The trail leaves from a parking lot on VA311, which often fills on weekends as the hike’s popularity has grown. The ascent is decently long but fairly gradual, reaching its apex at just under 3,200 feet. From McAfee Knob, an extremely photo-worthy jutting rock formation, you can enjoy 270-degree views of the Catawba Valley and the tree-covered ridges below.

Two benches at the top of Molly’s Knob offer a spectacular place to take a rest and enjoy the view.

Two benches at the top of Molly’s Knob offer a spectacular place to take a rest and enjoy the view.

Virginia State Parks

Another of Virginia’s many gorgeous recreation areas, Hungry Mother State Park, is a wonderful place to take a small walk for a big view. The 1.6-mile roundtrip hike to Molly’s Knob is moderately difficult (it becomes a bit steep near the top) and weaves through dense rhododendron tunnels on the way to the summit. At about half a mile, the trail offers clear view of the prominent Molly’s Knob, the park’s highest point, and the lake below. The final half mile of the hike becomes quite steep as you push for the summit, but you’ll be rewarded by two welcoming benches at the top. From here you can look out onto Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain to the south as you rest before the return trip.

These peaks only scratch the surface of all there is to discover in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Whether you opt for the rigorous Mount Rogers trek or a smaller but equally rewarding jaunt, you are sure to find a beautiful panoramic vista from which to enjoy a picnic, a sunset, or a sunny southeastern afternoon.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Robert Aberegg

20170728_SWV Tourism RR-31

The Historic Inns of Southwest Virginia that Make a Trip Special

The mountains and valleys of Southwest Virginia are the birthplace of Appalachian Mountain culture, which features its distinctive blue grass music, fine crafts, and an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. The small towns of this region are experiencing a renaissance as more visitors seek out their charm and unique attractions—places like The Barter Theatre in Abingdon or the Virginia Creeper Trail. One way to dig into the unique heritage and hospitality of Southwest Virginia is to stay in a historic inn. Here are three exceptional lodging options that will help make your trip unforgettable.

The Oaks Victorian Inn

The Oaks Victorian Inn is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
    Renee Sklarew

The Oaks Victorian Inn is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Renee Sklarew

The Oaks Victorian Inn is located in Christiansburg, about 10 minutes from Virginia Tech. Major William Pierce completed this Queen Anne style Victorian house in 1893 for his bride Julia Baird, and it’s where they raised their seven children. In the 1990s, new owners completed a full-scale renovation to modernize the house and convert it into an Inn. The Oaks received several notable designations, including the National Registry of Historic Places, the prestigious AAA 4 Diamond Award, and recognition by Select Registry.

This small inn is known for personal service, romantic guest rooms, and exquisite three course breakfasts, as well as perennial gardens and oak trees that are more than 300 years old. It’s an ideal place to stage an expedition on the nearby New River or hear live music in the quirky town of Floyd. In the summer, go berry picking at Three Birds Berry Farm or visit one of the seven breweries producing craft beer. The Oaks Victorian is an Instagram-worthy setting where guests will relax and unwind. Rates start at $169 per night.

The Martha Washington Inn & Spa

The Martha Washington Inn & Spa was once a college for young women and a hospital during the Civil War.
    Renee Sklarew

The Martha Washington Inn & Spa was once a college for young women and a hospital during the Civil War.
Renee Sklarew

The [Martha Washington Inn & Spa](themartha.com), affectionately known as The Martha, began as a private home for General Robert Preston after his success in the War of 1812. Preston and wife Sarah raised their nine children in this regal brick residence in the heart of downtown Abingdon. The property was purchased in 1858 and transformed into a college for young women—then named after George Washington’s wife, Martha. Studies were interrupted when, during the Civil War, the school served as a makeshift hospital, and students helped provide nursing care to injured soldiers.

After the school closed in 1932, the Martha became a hotel for visiting actors appearing at the famous Barter Theatre across the street. In 1984, The Martha underwent large-scale renovation while maintaining its architectural details and original splendor. Today, the Martha stands as a thoroughly modern marvel with exquisite accommodations, delicious Southern cuisine and an elegant spa. The therapeutic, heated salt-water pool encased in a glassed atrium is its crowning glory, along with lush gardens, multi-level outdoor hot tubs, and 18-hole miniature golf.

The staff is all-in when it comes to friendly helpful service, and don’t miss the complimentary Southern breakfast at Sisters featuring Virginia ham, sausage, and cheesy grits. The Martha lies at the end of the awe-inspiring Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile, rails-to-trails mountain biking path that begins at Whitetop Station. Surrounded by Southwestern Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, the town of Abingdon is close to majestic Mount Rogers, the largest peak in Virginia.

The Martha has shops and farm-to-table restaurants within walking distance, and down the road is Heartwood, a spectacular facility that showcases regional crafts, music, and food. The Martha’s décor is elegant with fine linens and antiques, and the front porch is a delightful place to sip cocktails under the shade of giant oak trees. Rates start at $215 per night.

Primland Resort

Primland Resort is full of surprises. When you drive down the 10-mile driveway, what a revelation to find this super-luxurious resort so far off the beaten path. But it’s a path worth taking, where guests are treated to an idyllic setting and breathtaking landscapes. French businessman Didier Primat originally founded Primland as a sporting lodge. He relished the wide-open spaces and cherished the nature. This led him to choose eco-conscious building materials and employ sustainable resources. In 2015, Condé Nast Traveler recognized Primland as a top ten resort in the world, with accommodations that include standard mountain rooms, suites, mountain homes that sleep six, romantic tree houses, and cottages on the golf course.

Primland’s staff will eagerly connect you with the activities found on the property—ATV driving, skeet and clay shooting, fly fishing, golf, paddle boarding, and horseback riding. Primland also offers yoga, afternoon tea, as well as distillery tastings. The spa’s natural spaces include the hydro spa, steam room and sauna.

While it’s tempting to indulge in Primland’s creature comforts, the mountain vistas beckon you outdoors. So along with hiking, mountain biking and carriage rides around the 12,000 acres of wilderness, guests make s’mores by the fire pits and go stargazing. Nightly, Primland’s guests huddle in the Observatory under wooly blankets as the silo’s roof slides open, and a telescope reveals the Dark Sky—Primland’s altitude and unusually clear skies, allow guests to see celestial bodies millions of miles away. Rates for mountain rooms start at $324.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

Creeper Trail Pumpkins JR S flickr account

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Southwest Virginia in the Fall

Southwest Virginia’s natural beauty and abundance of outdoor activities make it a prime destination for anyone seeking a break from the stresses of daily life. Fall is one of the best time to visit, with the autumn colors on full display. Here are 10 of the most scenic places to take advantage of the incredible outdoor opportunities and enjoy the show.

1. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park

Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.
Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.

Virginia State Parks

Well known for its wild ponies, alpine meadows, and high peaks, Grayson Highlands is Virginia’s crown jewel. Although a very popular destination for backpackers seeking breathtaking views, Grayson is also one of Virginia’s best bouldering destinations. In addition, Grayson Highlands provides access to Virginia’s highest peaks through the Mount Rogers Recreational Area. Whether you want to horseback ride, hike, camp, backpack, or climb, Grayson highlands is one of the most incredible destinations in Virginia.

2. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.
Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.

JR P

This former railroad bed goes through the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus creating one of the best bike trails in the country. Numerous outfitters with rental and shuttle services make riding the Creeper trail a breeze. Along the trail you will enjoy peaceful creek crossings on rustic bridges with nearly unlimited spots to pull over and capture stunning photographs. For the best experience this fall, shuttle up to Whitetop Station and ride to the town of Damascus—you’ll find the entire trip is downhill. While visiting the Creeper Trail be sure and stop by the Wolf Hills Brewing Company in Abingdon and enjoy local music and craft beer.

3. Ride ATVs on the Mountain View Trail System

The Mountain View Trail System in St. Paul, Virginia, is well known to off-road enthusiasts hosting roughly 100 miles of pristine trails. St. Paul is an ATV-friendly town, allowing off-road vehicles legal road access to local shopping, lodging, and dining. After a long day riding the trails, there is no better place to refuel and relax than the Sugar Hill Brewing Company where local eats and craft brews are sure to fulfill you after a long day of heart pounding action.

4. Experience Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park is situated on the border of Kentucky and Virginia along the western-most continuous ridge of the Appalachians. Recognized as the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi, the park and surrounding areas are an incredible place to visit for all types of adventure including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, birding, rafting, and more recently rock climbing. Its incredible beauty offers a perfect island of wilderness to escape to. Be sure when you visit Breaks this fall to arrange a tour to see Virginia’s newly restored Elk herd located just 25 minutes outside the park on a local nature preserve.

5. Hike the Channels

The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.
The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.

Cody Myers Photography

Recognized as the eastern form of the famous Utah slot canyons, the Channels are one of Virginia’s most biologically diverse and fascinating areas. The 6.6-mile, moderate out-and-back trail offer a one of a kind way to experience one of Virginia’s most unique features. Located 15 miles north of Abingdon, Virginia, the Channels State Forest doesn’t offer camping, but you can spend a day exploring the trails and head back to Abingdon to spend the night.

6. Conquer the Back of the Dragon

This winding route—known for its zigzagging turns and unparalleled vistas—attracts sports-car drivers and motorcyclists from all over the country. The route stretches 32 miles from Marion to Tazewell, Virginia, with more than 300 curves and three mountain crossings along the way. Once you reach Tazewell, be sure to stop for lunch at Seven, a local eatery serving American-style food with a great community atmosphere before hitting the road.

7. Raft the Russell Fork

During the fall season, whitewater enthusiasts flock to the Russell Fork to experience some of the most intense whitewater on the east coast. In the month of October, water is released from a nearby dam making the experience even more exciting. October also happens to be the most beautiful time to raft the Russell fork, showcasing Virginia’s brilliant fall colors and cooling temperatures. During the October releases, the Russell Fork should only be run by experienced paddlers or with the accompaniment of a professional guide.

8. Backpack the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail

See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.
See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.

Virginia State Parks

For those audacious backpackers looking for a more remote adventure this fall, the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail is a must do. Backpackers can conquer more than 40 miles of wilderness with incredible views the entire way. In order to complete this trek, you will need to set up a shuttle between Breaks Interstate Park and US 119. Eventually, this section of trail will traverse the entire 150-mile stretch of Pine Mountain and someday be a part of the Great Eastern Trail, an initiative to create a more remote sister to the Appalachian Trail.

9. Float the Clinch River

Although known as Virginia’s forgotten river, the Clinch River will give you memories that last a lifetime. The Clinch, the most bio-diverse river in North America, offers a multitude of opportunity for exploration, snorkeling, fishing, and relaxation. Floating the Clinch gives visitors a taste of the beauty of Southwest Virginia and all of its incredible natural resources. Kayak, canoe, and tube rentals—plus shuttle service—are available at Clinch River Adventures, located in the town of St. Paul.

10. Explore Norton, Virginia

Known recently as one of Virginia’s top adventure towns, Norton provides easy access to unlimited outdoor activities in surrounding areas such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, camping, and various water sports. In addition to Norton putting itself at the top of the list for many rock climbers, the flag rock area trails (FRAT) are becoming a top-class mountain bike destination.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by JR P

20170727_Virginia_Fly Fishing

Special Spots and Solitude: Learning to Fly Fish in Southwest Virginia

I fly fished for the first time in Southwest Virginia. I was guided by a local fisherwoman to a special spot that just a few fly fishers in the area have access to. When we pulled up to the remote spot just outside of Marion, Virginia, we opened the horse gate and were immediately greeted by a couple of chipper farm pups. They happily trotted alongside us as we made our way down to the creek a few paces from the entrance.

Once you wade out far enough into the flowing stream, it’s hard to hear anything besides the sound of the water babbling across rocks around you and the chirp of birds in the trees. All I caught that day were a couple of rocks and a tree branch, but it’s one of the most meditative sporting experiences I’ve had.

Fly fishing is like the sophisticated cousin of the spin fishing (the kind that has a mechanical spinner and endless streams of translucent line). When fly fishing, there’s work to be done and it’s constant—no dropping a line and taking a nap. But the motions are so finessed and repetitive that you get lost in the moment with just you, the water, the line, and the great outdoors.

There’s nothing else like fly fishing and nowhere else like Southwest Virginia. Here’s your guide to combining the two.

When to Go and What to Know

Trout fishing is available year-round in Southwest Virginia.

Trout fishing is available year-round in Southwest Virginia.

Virginia State Parks

Before you hit the water you’ll need to know whether or not you need a license to fish in Virginia. If you’re not a resident, chances are you do. You can figure it out on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ website and they’re easy to buy online. The limit is six trout per day per person and they all have to be bigger than seven inches in length.

The trout season is always open in Virginia, but there can be exceptions that are listed here. Even though you can drop a line any time, you’ll have the most success with trout in the spring, fall, and mild winter months. The summertime usually means more difficult fishing thanks to warm water temps and low stream flows but, hey, if you want a challenge go for it.

Where to Get Supplies and Services

Whether you don’t want to haul your own gear around, end up needing extra line or other supplies, or simply want a bit of inside information to improve your experience, there are a host of local guide services and shops to choose from.

• Richie Hughes runs New River Trips LLC. He used to teach chemistry and physics to high schoolers in his previous life, so he’s got instruction in his bones. Kids can fish for a discounted price.

Tri-State Angler Guide Service is based in North Carolina but they guide through Virginia as well, specializing in trips to Whitetop Laurel Creek.

• A master at tying flies, Mike Smith of New River Fly Fishing has been doing this for over 20 years. They’ve got lodging options to boot.

Grassy Creek Outfitters are masters of the Upper New River and are expanding to offer a variety of paddling and other aquatic adventures on the Little River.

• The Virginia Creeper Fly Shop in Abington is a one-stop shop for everything fly fishing. They’ve got guides, information, and supplies coming out of their ears. You can tell they do it because they love it.

Where to Go

Hungry Mother Lake is one of the area’s most popular fishing spots.

Hungry Mother Lake is one of the area’s most popular fishing spots.

Virginia State Parks

The only problem you’ll run into when fishing Southwestern Virginia is deciding where to go. The silver lining is that you really can’t go wrong because each spot is not only nestled in picturesque natural surroundings but serves up a variety of fish like bass, walleye, sunfish, and plenty of different trout. Here’s a general overview, but have a read through this handy guide or peruse the Blue Ridge Highlands Fishing Trail website for all the details on the type of fish you can snag in each spot as well as exact locations. You can also use this online fish finder if you want to decide where to go that way.

Public Fishing Lakes

  • South Holston Reservoir

  • Hidden Valley Lake

  • Beartree Lake

  • Laurel Bed Lake

  • Hungry Mother Lake

  • Rural Retreat Lake

Rivers and Streams

  • Whitetop Laurel Creek

  • The North, Middle, and South forks of the Holston River

  • Wild Trout Streams in Grayson Highlands

  • Big Wilson Creek

  • The New River in both Grayson and Wythe counties

  • East/West Fork Dry Run

  • Venrick Run

  • Fox Creek

Fee Fishing Areas

  • Clinch Mountain Fee Fishing Area

  • Stocked Trout Waters on Cripple Creek

Where to Stay

The historic Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon is one of the area’s gems. 

    Renee Sklarew

The historic Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon is one of the area’s gems.

Renee Sklarew

The best places to stay when fly fishing in Southwest Virginia are Abingdon, Glade Spring, Marion, and Wytheville. They’re all located along Interstate 81 so getting to fishing spots is easy. Because Southwest Virginia enjoys a variety of visitors every year from AT hikers to retirees, there are places to stay across the region that allow you to save on accommodations or splurge on something fancy depending on your style.

For those looking to treat themselves, go for the Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon. In Marion there’s the Collins House Inn and the General Francis Marion Hotel and Wytheville offers the Bolling Wilson Hotel. If you’re looking to spend money on fishing rather than a room, there’s a well-rated Econo Lodge in Glade Spring and and Best Western and a Ramada in Wytheville. Abingdon offers a Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, and a smattering of other budget-friendly choices. And, of course, camping opportunities are plentiful in the area as well.

If you’ve never tried fly fishing, Southwest Virginia is the place to learn—and fall in love with—the sport.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Lally Laksbergs/Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

20170628_Virginia_SWVA_Abingdon-35

10 Must-Do Adventures in Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia was once dominated by the coal industry. Mining in the region peaked in the late 1990s, but has been on the decline since. The slow disappearance of the once-dominant industry has given way to something that people might not expect: outdoor tourism. The natural beauty was always there, of course, it just wasn’t the focus while coal was the backbone of the economy. If you head to the far left corner of Virginia today, you’ll find a huge number of natural adventures awaiting you. Here are 10 of the best ways to see this incredibly scenic corner of the state.

1. Hike on the AT

Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.

Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.

Perry Smyre

The best place to start a top ten list is with an activity that is both famous and area-specific—hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Of course the whole thing is a whopper that stretches for 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine, but a significant slice of it passes right through Southwest Virginia. The AT runs right into Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is one of very few places on the trail that has a free public shower readily available to hikers (a rare, rare luxury when you’re on a long hike). The park also has a shuttle that costs 50 cents to go between the visitor center and Marion, Virginia, so it’s an accessible place to start or stop a shorter stint on the trail. If you want to be adventurous, pick it up where it enters the region in Cherokee National Forest across the border in Tennessee and trek it all the way to the West Virginia border in Giles County near Pearisburg. It’s a challenging and unforgettable way to experience the region.

2. Climb Mount Rogers

Mount Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak, so naturally it has to be on your bucket list. Taking off from Grayson Highlands State Park (you can park at Massie Gap), the peak can be reached through a nine-mile stint on none other than the AT itself. The big bonus is that there are wild ponies that fill the park so there’s a chance that your hike could bring you up-close and personal with these adorable and majestic little creatures.

3. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.

The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.

Perry Smyre

While the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile beauty densely surrounded by trees, is a multi-use trail, you’ll mostly find it occupied by mountain bikers. The beauty of the trail is that it’s approachable in a variety of ways. You can take a shuttle to the start at Whitetop Station and make your way to Damascus to get an easy, downhill experience pretty much the entire way. The trail levels off a bit from Damascus to its endpoint in Abingdon, but it’s still a relatively leisurely ride. Make it a round-trip and challenge yourself by riding to the top on the way out and relaxing on the way back. The path is well kept, with incredible water views as the path crosses back and forth across Whitetop Laurel Creek. You’ll find plenty of options for bike rentals throughout the region, most of whom also provide shuttle service to the trailhead.

4. Paddle the Clinch River

St. Paul, Virginia, is the homebase for paddling on the Clinch River. Clinch River Adventures is right there to take you on guided, group floats and kayak trips that range from 45 minutes to seven hours. Tubing, on the other hand, lasts for two hours and is perfect for families—three year olds and up are welcome. The Clinch River is also home to one of the best overnight paddling spots in the state.

5. Rock Climb at the Grand Canyon of the South

Otherwise known as Breaks Interstate Park, or "The Breaks" for short, this spot constitutes the largest gorge east of the Mississippi River. Because the spot only officially opened to rock climbers in May 2016, there aren’t too many established routes, which just means there are plenty to be discovered. Expect Sandstone cliffs like what you’d find at Obed.

6. Ride the Back of the Dragon

The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.

The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.

Virginia State Parks

Part of the larger Dragon Series that includes the Head, Tail, and Claw of the Dragon sections, the Back of the Dragon is not to be missed if you’re anywhere near Southwest Virginia. It’s a winding road full of switchbacks that illuminate vast views of the land below the cliff that the road follows for its entirety. Flanking the Back of the Dragon are the towns of Marion and Tazewell—both quaint spots worthy of a visit in their own right.

7. Run the New River Trail

Running along an abandoned railroad the entire way, this 57-mile route is wide, well-maintained, and characterized by a gentle slope that makes it just a bit of a incline challenge. The New River Trail passes by three major bridges and traverses two major tunnels, creating a visually interesting trip throughout.

8. Fly Fish in Whitetop Laurel Creek

Whitetop is one of the premier streams for fly fishing in Southwest Virginia. In these waters you’ll have the chance to snag rainbow trout and brown trout. While wild trout swim throughout the 10-mile creek, seven miles of it are stocked waters, upping your chances for a catch.

9. Take a Ghost Tour

The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia, is exquisite—one of the very few Art Deco Mayan Revival Theatres left in the states. It’s also supposedly haunted along with a few other notable buildings like the Collins House Inn and the Abijah Johnson House, a octagon-shaped dwelling turned non-profit. Take the ghost tour led by paranormal investigators around town and decide for yourself.

10. Taste Moonshine

The Davis Valley Winery started with crafting local wines from their vineyards, but has since progressed to distilling vodka, whiskey, and moonshine. They’ve got original recipe ’shine as well as fruity flavors like Cherry Pie for those with more particular tastes. Not only is enjoying moonshine a rare event for most, the winery is located on a pretty plot of land with great views that warrants a visit on its own.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Perry Smyre

20170626_Virginia_Blue Ridge Music Center

Heritage Music from the Mountains: Experiencing The Crooked Road in Southwest Virginia

Stop by Barr’s Fiddle Shop in downtown Galax, Va., and, likely as not, you’ll find yourself in the midst of an impromptu jam session. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get pulled out on the dance floor for a bit of flatfooting. Fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, upright bass, mandolin—the Appalachian string musicians bounce cadence and key off each other to create something all their own. Even if you’re new to the town and the music, you feel like you’ve just come home.

Jams have been both entertainment and fellowship on main streets across Southwest Virginia since mountain, or old time music’s inception in the 1920s and ’30s. The Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail, which travels 300 miles through Southwest Virginia, tells the story of how it evolved, what it means to the region, and its impact on music today. It’s both a window on the rich heritage and long-standing traditions of Appalachia and a way for communities to instill hometown pride and a sense of place in future generations.

Hop on and off The Crooked Road as it travels through 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns to visit nine major venues and 60-plus festivals, shops, events, workshops, and other music-related attractions. An additional 26 roadside exhibits are scattered throughout the region. Whether you journey from end to end or stumble upon it on your way to the trailhead, your appreciation for the beauty and people of the region will be deeper for having found it.

Telling the Mountain Music Story

The Crooked Road takes you to nine major venues and countless smaller opportunities to hear traditional music.

The Crooked Road takes you to nine major venues and countless smaller opportunities to hear traditional music.

Susan Sharpless Smith

Nine major venues along The Crooked Road take you on a journey through the colorful history of old-time music. On the trail’s easternmost tip, the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum celebrates the region’s music, crafts, food, and art. The working 1800s farmstead features live performances at the annual October folklife festival, which traces old time music’s roots from Anglo-Irish and African-American immigrants to blues, bluegrass, and gospel music today.

Weekly music jams at Floyd Country Store and County Sales pack the house for old-time, gospel, and bluegrass with a side of pulled pork and hand-dipped ice cream for good measure. Around the corner, County Sales stocks one of the largest collections of old time and bluegrass music in the world. You can even take guitar, banjo, and dobro lessons at the Handmade Music School.

Kick back and relax at the Blue Ridge Music Center’s outdoor jam sessions and evening concerts just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can even learn the percussive art of flatfooting during some performances. Compelling personal vignettes illustrate mountain music’s impact on generations of Appalachian families at the Roots of American Music Museum.

Visit Galax in August for the annual Old Fiddlers Convention. First held in 1935, it’s the world’s largest and oldest fiddlers convention, drawing more than 60,000 mountain-music lovers for a week of dawn to dusk jamming. Celebrities harmonize with amateurs and young and old compete in old time, folk, and bluegrass music and dance competitions. The rest of the year, Galax is home to the historic Rex Theater, where live bluegrass and old-time band performances are broadcast across the Internet every Friday night.

Thursday evenings feature music jams at Heartwood, the regional arts and cultural center in Abingdon. 
    Renee Sklarew

Thursday evenings feature music jams at Heartwood, the regional arts and cultural center in Abingdon.
Renee Sklarew

Thursday evenings are jam night at Heartwood, Southwest Virginia’s hub for regional arts and culture, located in Abingdon, VA. Enjoy live music, local wines, and a farm-to-fork dinner at Heartwood’s restaurant and coffee and wine bar. Exhibits showcase southwest Virginia’s crafts, music, culture, and outdoor recreation.

Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music transports you back to 1927, when recording sessions by music legends Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter family, and others brought country music to the masses and launched the genre. A museum, workshops, and live performances bring the "Bristol Sessions" to life and the annual Rhythm and Roots Reunion packs downtown Bristol with live music on 20 stages in September.

Saturday night feels like homecoming at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons. Descendents of country legends A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter carry on the family’s musical traditions on their homestead at the foot of Clinch Mountain, with live mountain music, clogging, flatfooting, and homemade snacks. While you’re there, tour the Carter Family Museum and A.P. Carter’s log cabin birthplace for a glimpse into the early years of old-time music.

Saturday nights are also jamming at the Country Cabin II in Norton. Why the II you ask? The original cabin, built in 1937-38, was replaced in 2002 with a larger cabin—cabin II—to hold ever-growing crowds for clogging, two stepping and line-dancing classes. Along with weekly bluegrass, country, and old-time music performances, jam sessions, picking workshops, cake walks (dance contest) and broom dances (traditional Irish dance) are all part of the fun.

A large, four-story Victorian homestead on the western end of The Crooked Road in Clintwood houses the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center. A vet by trade, Dr. Stanley’s "Stanley-style" banjo riffs solidified his place in mountain music history. Vintage instruments and exhibits, with audio narrated by Ralph Stanley himself, take you back to the ’40s and ‘50s when the Clinch Mountain Boys made their mark on the Appalachian music scene.

Keeping the Tradition Alive

Abingdon’s Barter Theater regularly attracts touring legends.

Abingdon’s Barter Theater regularly attracts touring legends.

Cody Myers Photography

Regular jam sessions and live performances continue to be a centerpiece of the community across southwest Virginia. Abingdon’s Barter Theatre, in operation since the Great Depression, is the place to see bluegrass legends and rising stars perform intimate concerts throughout the month of January through the January Jams series. At historic Lays Hardware in Coeburn, live bluegrass and mountain music are on tap Thursday and Friday nights all year long. Travel back to the 20’s and 30’s at the Lincoln Theater’s Song of the Mountains, a monthly live concert in Marion. Hit the dance floor at the monthly Blacksburg Square Dance and Blacksburg Market Square Jam, where locals will be more than happy to show you how to swing your partner and do-si-do.

Best Times to Visit

While The Crooked Road is open 365 days a year, check out these annual events for maximum music: the nine-day, 25-community Mountains of Music Homecoming; Smith Mountain Lake’s Lyrics on the Lake; local microbreweries and music at Mountain Lake Lodge’s BrewRidge Festival; and Wytheville’s eight-day Chautauqua Arts & Music Festival.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Susan Sharpless Smith

20170629_Dinner at Mountain Lake Lodge Harvest Room

A Foodie’s Guide to Southwest Virginia

If smokin’ barbecue, moist cornbread, and a tall glass of sweet tea define southern cooking for you, it’s time to expand your horizons. These traditional favorites remain top of the menu, but don’t stop there. Local farmers, chefs, winemakers, and brewers are taking locally sourced products and regional traditions to new levels with stunning dishes and authentically Appalachian dining experiences to satisfy both your hunger and your sense of culinary adventure.

Craft Brew Boom

Abingdon's Wolf Hills Brewing Company is a great spot for a post-Virginia-Creeper pint.

Abingdon's Wolf Hills Brewing Company is a great spot for a post-Virginia-Creeper pint.

Perry Smyre

Across southwest Virginia, local breweries are the post-adventure destination of choice, with outdoor patios, live music, cornhole tournaments, great food, and dozens of local craft beers on tap. Stop by Damascus Brewery to sample D-Town Brown Ale, named for the AT hikers who pass directly through town center. Abingdon’s Wolf Hills Brewing Co., just off the Virginia Creeper Trail, is the perfect spot to combine a ride or run with a pint of Creeper Trail Amber Ale. Visit Smith Mountain Lake’s Sunken City Brewing Co. for a flight of flagship brews Dam Lager, Red Clay IPA, and fruity, California-style Steemboat, along with a rotating menu of small-batch seasonals. A VA Tech chemistry grad is behind the taps at Right Mind Brewing in Blacksburg, creating inventive brews like Mandarina Pale Ale, Tartbroken Sour, and Golden Otter ESB. Grab a beer and dine at Lefty’s Main St. Grille, a Blacksburg institution that’s right next door.

Wood-fired pizza and crisp, smoked wings are the stuff of dreams at Galax’s Creek Bottom Brewery. Choose from their rotating selection of 20 beers on tap, including signature Hellgrammite Brown Ale, Porter Wagoneer, Peach Bottom Blonde, and D18 IPA, plus hundreds more in the bottle shop. Ingredients farmed in the fields surrounding the brewery are the star at Blacksburg’s Rising Silo Farm Brewery. Year-round staples Leggy Blonde, Goat’s Eye Rye, and Thunder Snow Stout, plus seasonal brews, pair nicely with salads and home-made breads from Tabula Rasa, the adjacent farm kitchen. St. Paul’s Sugar Hill Brewing Co. dishes ultimate comfort foods like pretzel-crusted chicken with beer cheese and chili-centric Frito Pie with Dark Devil Dopplebock, Warm and Fuzzy Scotch Ale, Spring Fever Maibock, St. Marie on the Clinch Rye IPA and many more on their extensive list of in-house craft brews.

Local Vines and Wines

The Chateau Morrisette Winery offers a relaxing setting to taste its fine wines.

The Chateau Morrisette Winery offers a relaxing setting to taste its fine wines.

Susan Sharpless Smith

Appalachia's rolling mountains, temperate climate, and loamy soil produce ideal conditions for growing grapes, and the region’s extensive network of wine trails showcase some of the best in the state. Abingdon Winery & Vineyard is an easy half-mile side trip off the Virginia Creeper Trail to their tasting room and 12-acre vineyard. For fans of sweeter vino, Brooks Mill Winery and Plum Creek specialize in fruit wines, from blackberry and cherry to semi-dry plum. For dry, white wine fans, there’s a dry white pear to sample.

Enjoy mountain vistas, Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc on outdoor patios at Gile Mountain Vineyard, Whitebarrel Winery, and Vincent’s Vineyard. Sweet, citrusy Virginia Breeze Red and the award-winning oak-aged Autumn Red highlights at Davis Valley Winery, also the spot to sample Davis Valley Distillery’s Appalachian Moonshine, Virginia Frost Vodka, and Samuel Franklin Solera Aged Whiskey. Visit West Wind Vineyard for small-batch wines served in their fourth-generation family homestead or grab a bite and a bottle at Rural Retreat Winery's deli or Chateau Morrisette Winery and Restaurant. Dance and drink to live jazz at Chateau Morrisette’s courtyard concert series.

Barbecue Country

Settle into a booth at the Galax Smokehouse on Main St. to sample their St. Louis-style ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. Be sure to try all five secret sauces and the luxuriously rich banana pudding. Colorful and eclectic Cuz’s Uptown Barbeque in Tazewell County has been serving up barbecue, along with internationally-inspired dishes, for over 30 years. Bluefield’s Savory Flavors makes sauces and desserts from scratch and is a great jumping off point for Spearhead’s Original Pocahontas ATV Trail. Smoking meats for 14 hours is the key to fall-off-the-bone tenderness at Marion’s Wolfe’s BBQ.

Candlelight and Romance

A 1920s general store was transformed into the Palisades restaurant.

A 1920s general store was transformed into the Palisades restaurant.

Adam Fagen

Quaint downtowns, historic surroundings, and creative cuisine transport you back in time at several fine dining establishments across the region. The Tavern Restaurant in Abingdon has hosted kings and presidents since 1779 with intercontinental cuisine and an extensive beer, wine, and specialty cocktail list. Meadowview’s Harvest Table Restaurant serves only seasonal, local produce and meats, and will customize any dish to accommodate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. A 1920’s general store has been transformed into Eggleston’s Palisades Restaurant, known for fresh ingredients, cooked-to-order entrees, and desserts made in-house. The Log House 1776 Restaurant’s rustic and romantic interior sets the stage for sophisticated southern cuisine and hospitality in downtown Wytheville. Graze on Main in Wytheville’s historic Bowing Wilson Hotel serves time-honored favorites like shrimp & grits and fried green tomatoes with an elegant New South twist, alongside an extensive menu of specialty cocktails and bourbons, microbrews, and local wines.

Home Cooking

For local flavor and serious down-home cooking, the Hob Nob Drive-In in Gate City has been serving up burgers, sandwiches, and shakes for more than 60 years. Also in Gate City, Family Bakery's lunch menu of sandwiches and salads is available until they sell out, so get there early. There’s no passing up the muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls, cookies, brownies, and mile-long list of cupcakes in the bakery. Plan lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch at the historic Hungry Mother State Park Restaurant, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. in the 30s.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Renee Sklarew

20170628_Virginia_SWV Tourism RR-14

The Undiscovered Trail Towns of Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia is one of the most overlooked adventure epicenters in the Southeast. The region is blanketed with massive tracts of national forest, capped with cloud-parting summits, and airy expanses of high country found no place else in the state. The vast network of trails draped over Southwest Virginia’s wild spaces provides a portal to countless outdoor adventures—and links an array of picturesque mountain towns, each with a unique vibe. Best of all, these are still plenty of undiscovered gems to explore. Here are some of the small towns in the region that serve as an excellent base of operations as you explore the outdoors.

Galax

The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.

The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.

JR P

Dubbed the "world capital of old time mountain music," Galax, Virginia, is already on the radar of bluegrass connoisseurs. It’s the home of the Old Fiddlers Convention, the largest event of its kind in the world, dating back to 1935. Beyond world-class bluegrass, Galax is also loaded with small town charm and epic trails. The 57-mile New River Trail, cradled by the linear New River Trail State Park, begins in the heart of town, and traces the course of the New River, ironically one of the oldest waterways on the planet, for 39-miles. Plus, the town is just seven miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. After a run, hike, or ride, Galax’s walkable downtown offers everything from BBQ joints to bike shops to boutiques, plus plenty of toe-tapping tunes. Swing by the Stringbean Coffee Shop and Shamrock Tea Room for one of their weekly Tuesday night jam sessions.

Abingdon

One of the most historic locations in Southwest Virginia, Abingdon is also one of the region’s premier trail towns. The westernmost trailhead for the 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail is located in the heart of town. The nationally recognized rails-to-trails route once accommodated the locomotives huffing through the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but it’s now leading cyclists through the Mount Rogers High Country, and along Whitetop Laurel Creek. Aside from the trail, there are plenty of other reasons to stick around Abingdon, like the historic Barter Theatre, which is the nation’s longest running professional theater, dating back to 1933. While you’re there, treat yourself to luxurious comfort at the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa and grab a local beer at the Wolf Hills Brewing Company.

St. Paul

Clinch River Adventures.
    Renee Sklarew

Clinch River Adventures.
Renee Sklarew

Perhaps one of the region’s most overlooked adventure hubs, St. Paul offers an eclectic trail buffet. Stretched along the shores of the Clinch River, the town offers paddling access to one of the most biodiverse rivers on the planet. Above town, the Mountain View Trail System features 100 miles of rugged riding for Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and dirt bikes–showcasing spectacular valley vistas. For a slower ride, there’s the 8-mile Sugar Hill Trail Loop, paralleling the Clinch River with the option to link up with the Guest River Gorge Trail for a 16-mile excursion. Off the trail, riders can recover at the Sugar Hill Brewing Company.

Damascus

Damascus is hardly a secret to weary thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The renowned footpath goes right through town, and Damascus is known for offering even the smelliest hikers a warm welcome. But it’s not just the Appalachian Trail—the town is a junction for a whopping seven trails total, including the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, and The Crooked Road Music Trail. Plus, plenty of post-adventure perks pepper the town like the Damascus Brewery and Mojo’s Trailside Café.

Floyd

Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

julianmeade

Floyd, Virginia, may be famous for Floydfest, the five-day outdoor musical festival, luring reggae and jam bands, but the town has plenty of adventures on tap too. For cyclists, there’s the Tour de Floyd route, a mapped metric century with nearly 6,700-feet of climbing—nearly half of which is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers can head to the trail-laced Rocky Knob Recreation Area with options like the 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge Trail or the 3-mile Black Ridge Trail. Plus, there’s the exceptionally biodiverse Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve. The 3,971-foot summit is blanketed with airy glades and dotted with wildflowers and offers hikers 360-degree vistas.

Marion

Marion has made a name for itself as a cultural hub, with highlights like the historic Lincoln Theatre and the town’s monthly Arts Walk, connecting visitors with local artists and musicians. However, beyond the blossoming arts scene, Marion has also has plenty to entertain lovers of fresh air. The town is just minutes from Hungry Mother State Park. Anchored by a 108-acre lake, the recreation area offer paddlers plenty of mountain-shaded water, plus 17-miles of hiking and biking trails. At the end of the day, visitors can toast their outdoor adventures at Headspace Brewing Company, Marion’s first craft brewery, or at The Speakeasy, a Prohibition-themed gastropub housed in the town’s charm-loaded General Francis Marion Hotel.

Norton

View of Norton from Flag Rock.

View of Norton from Flag Rock.

Malee Oot

Overlooked by the towering Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton is the ideal basecamp for all sorts of outdoor adventures. Just three miles from town, the Flag Rock Trail System offers 8-miles of singletrack spread over the lower reaches of High Knob. The recreation area is also a designated sanctuary for green salamanders—and for a Sasquatch-esque creature locally dubbed the "Wood Booger." Above Flag Rock, the High Knob Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest is garlanded with routes like the 33-mile High Knob Trail and the leisurely mile-long Lake Shore Loop. Cap off the day in the cozy, subterranean pub at the Inn at Wise.

Wytheville

Wytheville has a little something for everyone. The birthplace of first lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the town is sprinkled with museums—like the Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum—and a smattering of antique shops, art studios, and one-of-a-kind eateries. Plus, there are plenty of ways to head outside. The town-owned Crystal Springs Recreation Area offers an easy escape for hikers and singletrack seekers, and slightly further afield, the Seven Sisters Trail is a birders paradise, offering hikers a 4.8-mile tour of Little Walker Mountain, with the opportunity to spot species like ruffled grouse, Acadian flycatchers, and pileated woodpeckers. Backcountry aficionados can make tracks for the Kimberling Creek Wilderness Area of the Jefferson National Forest—a medley of oak and hickory, punctuated with flowering dogwood and rhododendron, spread along the southern edge of Hogback Mountain. After a day on the trail, stick around for the Davis Valley Winery.

Tazewell

Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.

Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.

Barry Sannes

Tazewell is the perfect jumping off point for one of the region’s most stunning natural features, Burke’s Garden, a mountain-encircled crater aptly nicknamed God’s Thumbprint. The entire crater is designated as a National Historic District, ideal for road riders, and the New River Valley Bicycle Association has even mapped a Burke’s Garden Century route. The group also hosts an annual Burke’s Garden Century event every Fall (on Virginia Tech’s move-in weekend). Meanwhile hikers can get a bird’s-eye view from the Appalachian Trail—and afterwards, there is the Burke’s Garden General Store (6156 Burke’s Garden Road), offering baked goods, sandwiches, and Amish-made gifts.

Pulaski

Nestled at the foot of Draper Mountain, Pulaski is the perfect portal to outdoor adventure. Mountain bikers don’t have to stray far from the historic railroad town to hit the Draper Mountain trail network, featuring 8- miles of precision-crafted singletrack, with enough gritty ascents and rock features to cater to advanced riders. Paddlers can set out for Gatewood Park and Reservoir. The sylvan recreation area anchored by the serene reservoir features 162 acres of water to explore. Aside from outdoor wonders, the town has highlights like The Marketplace, one of the region’s top farmers markets, featuring live music and a varied selection of wine and microbrews (Tuesdays 4 p.m.- to 8 p.m., May through August). For the quintessential summer evening, head to Calfee Park, home of the Pulaski Yankees, and one of the oldest minor league ballfields in the country.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

20170710_Virginia_bouldering-at-grayson-highlands

A Climber’s Guide to Southwest Virginia

From mountain-top boulders in meadows shared with wild ponies to adventurous routes high on the sandstone walls of a 1,600-foot deep gorge, Southwest Virginia boasts enough rock and route diversity to attract climbers of all styles and abilities. Although the sandstone kingdoms in West Virginia and Kentucky tend to steal the thunder, they also attract big crowds. If you’re into solitude, adventure, and the opportunity for new route development, you’ll find it here in Southwest Virginia. Although you’ll find plenty of notable crags with a few days’ worth of concentrated climbing, we’ve rounded up beta for the region’s gems. Load up the van and find out for yourself why the crags of Southwest Virginia are worth a visit.

Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands State Park features Virginia’s two tallest peaks and some of the best bouldering in the region.

Grayson Highlands State Park features Virginia’s two tallest peaks and some of the best bouldering in the region.

Virginia State Parks

Situated between Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s two tallest peaks, Grayson Highlands offers alpine-style vistas of forested peaks and sweeping meadows at more than 5,000 feet of elevation. Pepper in the string of over 100 wild ponies, and you’ve got one of the most unique climbing settings east of the Mississippi.

Grayson is widely considered the best bouldering site in Virginia and the best summer bouldering destination in the Southeast. With more than 1,000 problems covering several concentrated areas, there’s tons of rock—according to first ascentionist and guidebook author Aaron Parlier, the initial boulder field before the park entrance alone has nearly 20 problems ranging from V0 to V6, with many more routes waiting to be cleaned and sent. Geology conspired to make Grayson great, and climbers will enjoy the variety of crimpy rails and fingery flakes on the steep, angular rhyolite and quartzitic faces. Several boulder fields are situated at more than 4,900 feet elevation, and highs in the 70s with cool mountain breezes make summer a spectacular time to escape the soul-sucking heat and humidity of lower elevation destinations.

The ponies were introduced in 1974 to prevent reforestation of the highland balds. Because these are wild animals, visitors should not approach, feed, or pet the ponies. They bite and kick when threatened, and a pony kick to the gut will certainly ruin your climbing trip. Because the highlands is a highly sensitive ecosystem, climbers are asked to keep group numbers low and follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics to reduce ecological impacts.

Breaks Interstate Park

With bullet-hard sandstone similar to that of the well-trodden crags at West Virginia’s New River Gorge and Tennessee’s Obed River, the towering cliffs carved by the Russell Fork frame The Breaks, also known as "The Grand Canyon of the South." Recently opened to rock climbing and route development in May 2016, more than 70 documented sport and traditional routes from 5.7 to 5.12d—some up to 125 feet tall—will have you exploring the verticality of the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River.

With sun-bathed crags in the winter, shaded routes in the summer, and the vivid color explosion of the Appalachian autumn, The Breaks offers year-round climbing. Secluded camping and rest-day activities of deep-water soloing, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking may make you consider an extended stay.

Before gearing up for your onsight of Put Your Hand Meat In It (5.9), make sure to swing by the Visitor’s Center and fill out a climbing waiver. Beyond the massive size of the gorge and the blank sandstone canvases awaiting visionary ascentionists, one thing that makes The Breaks so unique is its designation as an interstate park managed by a compact between Kentucky and Virginia.

If you’re into route development, drop your current plans and head to The Breaks while the gettin’s good. Many areas, including Pinnacle Rock, Stateline Overlook, the Notches, the Pavilion, and Grey Wall are open to new route development. Route developers should check with park officials for updates and follow the current protocol of listing new routes on Mountain Project with protection information and a suggested grade. Given the sheer amount of exposed rock, expect the number of established routes to increase exponentially in coming years.

Guest River Gorge

While overshadowed by the amount of concentrated routes and magical settings of Grayson Highlands and The Breaks, stellar boulder problems and a worthy amount of roped routes await climbers along the scenic banks and plentiful rock of the Guest River. Located just outside Coeburn in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, Guest is bit further west than The Breaks and is a great alternative for multidisciplinary climbers carrying ropes and pads.

Guest is broken up into 6 areas designated by order of the mile marker signposts as you walk the approach trail from the parking lot. With hundreds of established routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13 and V0 to V10, Guest is a worthy stop on any road trip. Mile Two currently has the highest concentration of routes, including around 50 roped routes and more than 100 boulder problems. Look for the red tractor before the Mile Two signpost for the approach trail.

The public access lot off of Route 72 just past the Flatwoods Group Picnic Area south of Coeburn is currently the only legal parking lot for Guest River Gorge access. According to the Access Fund, climbing access is currently allowed but tenuous. Respect all private property, rules, and regulations, and help keep it that way. Current land management is welcoming to climbers enjoying established routes and is upholding an active ban on bolting and new route development.

The Breaks, Grayson Highlands, and the Guest River Gorge boast enough quality climbing and breathtaking scenery to satisfy any climber, but plenty of additional crags offer established and new route potential. A little bit of research will produce plenty of beta for other areas including bouldering at McAfee, Atkins, Bluefield Boulders, High Knob, and even the cycling paradise of the Virginia Creeper Trail.

If you’re an Appalachian resident who frequents the bigger regional destinations or a road tripper passing through, don’t pass up the lesser known but just as outstanding climbing awaiting in the stunning mountains and verdant valleys of Southwest Virginia.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170628_Virginia_SWVA_Abingdon-16

How to Have an Adventurous Multisport Weekend (and then Pamper Yourself) in Southwest Virginia

After the grit and grime, the best way to cap off an epic outdoor adventure is with a little well-deserved pampering. Southwest Virginia offers the best of both worlds—it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise brimming with adventure, from mountain-swaddled lakes to wilderness-cloaked trails to cloud-splitting summits with plenty of epicurean delights, engaging cultural heritage, and cozy places to spend the night. Here’s just a sample of how to spend an adventurous weekend in Southwest Virginia while still enjoying the good life.

Day One

The Martha Washington Hotel.

The Martha Washington Hotel.

Cody Myers Photography

Begin your adventure infused weekend in Abingdon. Once one of the last outposts on the Great Wilderness Road for settlers headed to the frontier, the 250-year-old town has a long history of welcoming travelers. For breakfast, peruse the sizeable Abingdon Farmers Market (Saturdays from April to November; 8 a.m.-1 p.m.), where you can grab both indulgent pastries and pick-up picnic fixings for lunch. Head to Zazzy’z Coffee House and Roastery for a quick caffeine infusion, or fuel-up with a healthy brew at the White Birch Juice Company.

Next, choose from the smorgasbord of Southwest Virginia adventures on tap and easily accessible from Abingdon. For a quick hike, ride, or run—without even leaving town—head for the trailhead for the 34-mile Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, in the heart of downtown Abingdon. The nationally recognized rail-trail was once a thoroughfare for the supply-laden locomotives huffing through mountain-rippled Southwest Virginia en route to North Carolina. Rent a bike or arrange a shuttle at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop, just steps from the trailhead.

Grayson Highlands State park is known for its wild ponies.

Grayson Highlands State park is known for its wild ponies.

Cody Myers Photography

Then, pick your adventure from Southwest Virginia’s backcountry buffet. Head for Grayson Highlands State Park, where hikers can hop on the Appalachian Trail and head for the high country of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, touted by thru-hikers as one of the highlights of the entire 2,190-mile footpath. You’ll find roving ponies graze alpine meadows in the shadow of Virginia’s highest summit. Rather climb instead? Grayson Highlands is the state’s premier bouldering destination, with scalable formations scattered throughout the park offering more than 1,000 problems to tackle. Mountain bikers craving singletrack can hit the 2.3-mile Wilburn Branch Trail or the park’s portions of the 52-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.

Rather spend a day on the water? Scope out Southwest Virginia’s mountain-cradled lakes. In nearby Marion, Hungry Mother State Park offers 108-acres of forest-fringed flatwater to explore—and when you need a little time on dry land, hit the 17-miles of trails ringing the lake. Or head for the secluded, 300-acre Laurel Bed Lake, which sits at a celestial elevation of 3,600-feet in the upper reaches of the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, the most biodiverse spot in the state of Virginia.

When you are ready for some rest and relaxation, head back to Abingdon for some well-deserved pampering. Drop your bags at the elegantly luxurious Martha Washington Inn and Spa, and head for the glasshouse enclosed saltwater pool or soak in the expansive, two-tiered hot tub. Cozy up on one of the overstuffed barstools at the hotel’s Sister’s American Grill and don’t forget to swing by the front desk for the inn’s token final nightcap—a "goodnight" glass of port.

Wolf Hill Brewing Company offers a wide variety of locally made beer.

Wolf Hill Brewing Company offers a wide variety of locally made beer.

Perry Smyre

Rather hit the town instead? Mosey over to the Wolf Hills Brewing Company for a pint. The taproom offers an array of flavor-loaded brews, and the place is named for the lively local legend about Daniel Boone’s encounter with a roving wolf pack near Courthouse Hill, now the heart of town. Take a stroll down Main Street to the Tavern Restaurant. Built in 1779, the Tavern is housed in one of the oldest (and purportedly, most haunted) buildings in town. It has served as everything from the first post office on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains to a Civil War hospital. Charcoal-etched bed numbers still adorn the attic walls. Today, the establishment serves up elegant cuisine, including German-inspired fare, and boasts a lengthy libation list.

Day Two

View of Norton from the Flag Rock Recreation Area.
    Malee Oot

View of Norton from the Flag Rock Recreation Area.
Malee Oot

Hit the road and head for the nearby town of Norton, just an hour from Abingdon. Swing by the nostalgic, jukebox-bedecked Corner Diner at the Inn at Wise for a tasty calorie-infusion before beginning your day of outdoor adventure.

After breakfast, head for the forest-cloaked mountains soaring above town to hit the newly carved, 8 miles of singletrack lacing the Flag Rock Recreation Area, which overlooks Norton. Mountain bikers will find trails catering to both seasoned riders and newbies. The gorgeous sweep of land is both a pristine playground for outdoor lovers and sanctuary for rare species—including globally rare green salamanders and, allegedly, a Bigfoot-like critter called the "Woodbooger." Head slightly further afield to the High Knob Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest, which was built by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. If the skies cooperate, hardy hikers can revel in a view encompassing five states and the region’s loftiest peaks from the observation tower crowning the recreation area.

For a more mellow but equally scenic hike, run, or ride, head for the stunning 5.8-mile Guest River Gorge Trail. The trail, constructed from a converted railway bed, hugs the Guest River as it charts a course through Stone Mountain, showcasing the 300-million year old rock formations and ribbons of forest frequented by flycatchers, tanagers and warblers. Or, use the Guest River Gorge Trail as a portal to the Heart of Appalachia Bike Route. The 128-mile road-mapped route meanders all the way to Burke’s Garden—a 10-mile crater aptly nicknamed God’s Thumbprint.

Cap off the day in comfort back at the century-old Inn at Wise in Norton. Reminisce about your day on the trail over craft brews at the inn’s cozy basement pub, and tuck into a spread of Southern-inspired comfort food, like fried green tomatoes or chicken and waffles. After dinner, you can decide for yourself if the colorful tales of the inn’s lingering ghostly guests are genuine.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Perry Smyre