Author Archives: RootsRated

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

20160803_Virginia_SWV Tourism RR-30

Trail Town, USA: Your Guide to a Weekend in Abingdon and Damascus

Tucked into the hills of Southwest Virginia, and connected by the famous Virginia Creeper Trail, the neighboring towns of Abingdon and Damascus have all the essentials of a weekender’s paradise. From charming restaurants and storefronts to endless outdoor adventures, these charming small towns have the perfect combination of activities for a well-rounded weekend getaway. Visitors will find rich history, unique outdoor recreation, fine dining, and much more. Though Abingdon and Damascus are small, their wealth of culture and lively atmospheres will make you think you’ve discovered a whole new world hidden in the beautiful landscapes of Southwest Virginia.

A stroll down Abingdon’s delightful Main Street is a great way to start your excursion, with its brick sidewalks doubling as a viewing platform for two centuries of architecture. Here, you can peruse local art galleries, visit Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet, Abingdon Olive Oil Company, and stop in for a root beer float at the 1950s-style soda fountain. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can find the farmer’s market nearby, offering fresh local produce and baked goods.

The front porch of the historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon is a great place to sit and relax after a day on the trails.
The front porch of the historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon is a great place to sit and relax after a day on the trails.

Cody Myers Photography

The Martha Washington Inn and Spa stands elegantly on Main Street, inviting guests to experience its well-preserved 19th century architecture, or enjoy a meal at Sisters, its American grill.

Abingdon offers a wealth of dining options, perhaps most notably The Tavern, which was built in 1799 and is the oldest of Abingdon’s historic buildings. A few blocks off Main Street, visitors can enjoy craft beer at Wolf Hills Brewery in a more laid-back atmosphere, often with live music from local artists.

The Heartwood is filled with works from area artists and includes a cafe that focuses on using locally sourced ingredients to create traditional dishes. Renee Sklarew
The Heartwood is filled with works from area artists and includes a cafe that focuses on using locally sourced ingredients to create traditional dishes.
Renee Sklarew

The hub of Abingdon’s music and art can be found a few minutes out of downtown at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway. Here visitors can admire unique crafts from dozens of carefully selected regional artists before enjoying a meal or a drink at the cafe. Heartwood’s chef is passionate about reinterpreting traditional dishes of Southwest Virginia, and upholds Heartwood’s commitment to the community by using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.

Heartwood is also home to The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, an organization dedicated to sharing and celebrating traditional music. The Crooked Road spans 19 Virginia counties and includes 60 venues that showcase the music of Southwest Virginia, from bluegrass to gospel. At Heartwood, The Crooked Road presents live music every Thursday night— plus some good ol’ southern barbecue!

Abingdon remains in touch with its roots through more than music, with many preserved sites where people can interact with the area’s rich history. Visitors can spend hours at the Abingdon Muster Grounds, which has a museum on colonial and revolutionary history, reenactments, a visitors center, and hiking trails. If that doesn’t scratch your history itch, visit the Old Mollie Steam Engine, or take an Abingdon Spirit Tour and learn the town’s lore.

The Barter Theatre dates back to the Depression, and it attracts more than 160,000 people each year for its live performances.
The Barter Theatre dates back to the Depression, and it attracts more than 160,000 people each year for its live performances.

Cody Myers Photography

At the heart of Abingdon is the Barter Theatre, a locally operated theatre situated on Main Street across from the Martha. The Barter Theatre opened its doors at the height of the Depression in 1933 under the ownership of the actor Robert Porterfield, who had the idea to let people barter their way into the theatre. Townspeople would offer up whatever they could: cow’s milk, eggs, unsellable produce, homemade jam and so on. The business was wildly successful and today the Barter sees more than 160,000 guests per year.

Damascus, a few miles eastward, is equally full of character, wrapping small-town charm and thriving tourism into one funky little package. The lively atmosphere cleverly disguises that the population of Damascus, the gateway to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, is less than a thousand. What it lacks in people, though, it makes up for in trails, trees, and beautiful Virginia scenery.

The Appalachian Trail runs directly through Damascus— literally, right down Main Street, making Damascus the resting place of thousands of thru-hikers every year. In May, the town hosts the Trail Days festival, with parades, talent shows, concerts and more for hikers and other visitors. Other nearby trails include the Trans-America National Biking Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail and, of course, the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail.

The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the region’s gems. Cyclists of all abilities can start at Whitetop Station and enjoy a downhill ride into Damascus—with stunning scenery the entire route.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the region’s gems. Cyclists of all abilities can start at Whitetop Station and enjoy a downhill ride into Damascus—with stunning scenery the entire route.

Cody Myers Photography

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile, rail-to-trails path that begins in Abingdon and terminates near Whitetop Station. Biking the famous trail is a popular activity for visitors to the area, with options to bike parts or all of it. Abingdon and Damascus bike shops offer rentals and shuttle services for the Creeper Trail. Take the shuttle to Whitetop Station and enjoy the incredibly scenic ride back to Damascus, which is almost entire downhill. It’s also a great area for fishing, horseback riding, birdwatching, and hiking or running.

Damascus offers various lodging options, including B&Bs, hostels, campgrounds and inns. The Old Mill Inn is located in the heart of Damascus and is a historic grist mill perched on the banks of Laurel Creek. Visitors can stay overnight in the 12 rooms, or drop by and enjoy a meal from the inn’s spacious restaurant on one of the three back decks overlooking the creek and the mill waterfall.

Other restaurants in Damascus include Mojo’s Trailside Cafe and Coffeehouse, a great breakfast spot, and Bobo McFarlands, a not-so-Irish pub that’s a favorite hangout for thru-hikers. For a variety of delicious beer, there’s Damascus Brewery, a one-man operation located on the outskirts of town that offers up 47 fantastic micro-brews.

Damascus is also a wonderful locale for horseback riding, as it’s near the Virginia Highlands, the Virginia Creeper Trail and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Several local outfitters offer guided horseback riding trips in the area.

Whether you visit for a few hours or a few days, on two wheels or four, you’ll find yourself immersed in Virginia tradition and surrounded by some of the Southeast’s most spectacular scenery. Abingdon and Damascus are bursting with recreation and entertainment for people of all ages, and the fusion of modern luxuries and historical marvels will make you feel uniquely welcome in these charming communities.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

20170609_Virginia_Virginia Creeper Trail_Biking

Virginia Creeper Trail – Mountain Biking

Intro

Following the route of an old railroad bed, the Virginia Creeper Trail is named for the steam engine that once chugged along it and for the Virginia Creeper vine that populates the area. With the abandonment of many railroads in the 1970s, a national movement gained momentum to convert train tracks into trails. A coalition of local citizens, government and the US Forest Service banded together to acquire the old railroad right-of-way, and thus the Creeper Trail was born in 1987. The 34-mile multi-use trail begins in Abingdon, a popular access point at Mile 0, and then carries on through rolling farmland to Damascus at Mile 15.5. From there, the Virginia Creeper winds up to its highest point at Whitetop Station, offering plenty of amenities and activities along the way. Visitors can make their time on the trail as leisurely or as strenuous as they please, spending anywhere from a few relaxing hours to several exploratory days in the area.

What Makes It Great

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a dream come true for anyone who wants to become immersed in the beautiful scenery of the Southwest Virginia and get a firsthand look at its unique history and landscapes. The trail winds its way through airy forests alongside the bubbling Beaver Dam Creek, with opportunities to stop and explore quaint towns and historic buildings. Cruising down the Virginia Creeper Trail on a bicycle is a unique way to experience the mountains of Virginia, and cycling is the perfect medium between hiking and driving, allowing you to cover a lot of ground while still being intertwined with your surroundings.

While technically considered a mountain biking trail, the Virginia Creeper is well-maintained and consists mostly of crushed stone, so it can be easily navigated on a hybrid or road bike.

The most popular way to complete the trail is to take a shuttle from Damascus or Abingdon to Whitetop Station, the highest point on the the Virginia Creeper. From there, visitors can bike 17 miles down to Damascus to be picked up. The gentle downward slope on this section of the well-marked trail makes it a breeze for even the most inexperienced cyclists. Along the way, visitors can stop to enjoy panoramic views of the rolling mountains, cool off in the creek. and even break for snacks and restrooms. (There are no facilities actually on the trail, but there are 11 access points to towns, forest service centers, water and toilets.) The 47 trestle bridges on the path provide a bird’s-eye view of the forest floor and eliminate the ups and downs as the route navigates the hilly terrain.

Beyond Damascus, the trail continues another 17 miles to Abingdon, a charming little town with lots to see and do.

While most people complete the trail in this relaxed way, those looking for a challenge can opt to climb the 1,600 feet up to Whitetop Station, either on foot or on two wheels.

Who is Going to Love It

Anyone looking to see spectacular scenery and cover a lot of ground with minimal effort, especially families seeking an outdoor activity that everyone can enjoy. With options to make this trail extremely easy or very difficult, anyone can find their perfect activity and have a great time on the Virginia Creeper Trail. For families and people with less mobility, the 17-mile ride from Whitetop to Damascus is a gentle downward slope that everyone can complete. Even inexperienced cyclists can ride the trail’s full 34 miles in one day. Those looking for a more serious day on the Creeper Trail can reverse the route and climb all the way to Whitetop Station. While it’s primarily a biking trail, it’s also a popular destination for hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and horseback riding.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The trail has access points in Whitetop, Alvarado, Damascus, Creek Junction, and Abingdon. Many people choose to take a shuttle from Damascus or Abingdon up to Whitetop Station, the highest point on the trail. From there, you can ride the 17 miles to Damascus to be picked up, or all the way into Abingdon. In any of these towns, the trail is signed and easy to locate.

Virginia Creeper Trail – Mountain Biking

Tips

Difficulty 1 star

Time to Complete 4.0 hours

4 Hours to 1 Day
Distance 34.3 miles

Seasonality
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter
Land Website Virginia Creeper Trail
Topo Map
Fees/Permits False

Access to the trail is free, but most people choose to pay for a shuttle service so as to only ride the trail in one direction.
Dog Friendly Yes

Destination Highlights
  • Most of a day
  • Great for families

Featured image provided by Mark Peterson

20170310-Virginia-Damascus Brewery

Adventure and Beer: Where to Unwind After a Day on the Trails in Southwest Virginia

A craft beer on a warm summer day tastes great. But after a day spent slaying singletrack with buddies, swapping out leads with a climbing partner, or hiking with the family, that beer tastes even better. Long ago, some brilliant outdoor enthusiasts paired beer with outdoor adventure and ever since it’s been a marriage made in heaven. In fact, the same thing could be said about food. Towns like Abingdon, Damascus, and Bristol have capitalized on this après-adventure market, growing their microbrewery and restaurant profile dramatically. Here is your guide to the best trail-to-tavern pairings in the region.

Virginia Creeper Trail, Wolf Hills Brewery

Enjoy a long day of pedaling along the 34 miles of Virginia Creeper Trail. Jay Young
Enjoy a long day of pedaling along the 34 miles of Virginia Creeper Trail.
Jay Young

Established in 2009 and named after Daniel Boone’s original name for the surrounding area that became Abingdon, Wolf Hills Brewery has turned into the place to visit for craft beers and live music after a long day pedaling the Virginia Creeper Trail, the renowned 34-mile bike trail with its western terminus in Abingdon. Wolf Hills’ Creeper Trail Pale Ale is a perfect post-ride brew that will have you reliving the highlights of the day and sharing stories and laughs with fellow adventurers in the region.

Appalachian Trail, Damascus Brewery

Damascus is known as Trail Town USA thanks to its proximity to the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, and the Trans American National Bicycle Trail. It’s also the gateway town for the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which features the highest peak in the state. Hikers and cyclists in the know head to Damascus Brewery to sample the small-batch craft beers after a long day in the woods. Damascus Brewery’s, D-town Brown Ale, The Rye Crosser Rye Pale Ale, and Backbone Bock have helped to soothe many sore legs and ignited future adventures in the region.

Hidden Valley Climbing, Bristol Brewery

The newly opened Hidden Valley is located about halfway between Abingdon and Bristol, Virginia. Joe DeGaetano
The newly opened Hidden Valley is located about halfway between Abingdon and Bristol, Virginia.
Joe DeGaetano

Bristol Brewery, located a little more than 15 miles south of Abingdon on I-85 in downtown Bristol, makes the perfect stop after trashing yourself climbing on the newly opened sandstone crag, Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley, located about halfway between Abingdon and Bristol, hosts more than 200 routes on bullet sandstone. The climbing runs the gamut from overhanging thuggery to thin delicate crimp work. Regardless of what and how much you climb, Bristol Brewery beers like the Vanilla Imperial Porter, Piedmont Pilsner, Bearded Goat Bock, and the heady Double Loco Imperial IPA are sure to soothe those worked tendons and back muscles. You’ll soon be hatching future plans to send that one route that shut you down.

Hiking the Channels Trail, Harvest Table

Harvest Table sources is food locally and features an ever-changing seasonal menu.
Harvest Table sources is food locally and features an ever-changing seasonal menu.

Harvest Table Restaurant

While hiking and navigating through the rock corridors and labyrinth-like maze of boulders on the 6.6-mile, out-and- back Channels Trail, one will build up a hearty appetite. Luckily for you, the neo-Appalachian inspired, farm-to-table Harvest Table in nearby in Meadowview, Virginia, can help you refuel after your backcountry adventure. Harvest Table sources its food by working with local farmers, breweries and wineries. It tries to keep its carbon footprint as low as possible and chooses seasonal foods to highlight in the ever-changing menu. Expect a healthy, organic, high-quality menu that will be an extension of Appalachia itself.

Sugar Hollow Park Mountain Biking, Studio Brew

Sugar Hollow Park, located within minutes of Studio Brew, is a great place to explore singletrack on two wheels. With the help of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the trail system is getting even better and becoming more mountain bike-specific. Trails like Raccoon Run, Fox Trot, Cave Loop Trail, and Salamander Trail make up a good loop that has just about as much climbing as descending. When you’ve had enough fun for the day, head over to Studio Brew, a brew pub that offers craft beers and artisanal pub fare to go with it. Beers like Dark Rider, The Dragon’s Lair, Mischievous Solstice, and Dancing Monk are all strong brews, yet perfectly balanced and with the suggested food pairing that will have you grinning from ear to ear, reliving the perfect day you’ve just had.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Sarah Hauser/ Damascus Brewery/Virginia Tourism Corporation

20170310-Virginia- Grayson Highlands

48 Hours of Adventure: How to Have an Unforgettable Weekend in Southwest Virginia

outhwest Virginia is loaded with some of the scenic outdoor landscapes in the entire southeastern United States, and towns like Abingdon, Damascus, and Bristol are leading the charge as perfect gateways to both trailside access and Appalachian charm. Nearby trails such as the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and Iron Mountain Trail are world-class. Fly fishing in the region is praised widely as some of the best in the nation. Parks like Grayson Highlands, New River State Park, and Bear Pen Recreation Area offer access to thousands of acres of Appalachian Wilderness. Top notch bouldering is found all throughout Grayson Highlands State Park and its high point Mount Rogers, and high-quality cragging is found at Hidden Valley. Although one weekend isn’t nearly enough to thoroughly soak up all that Southwest Virginia has to offer, the following guide is a good starter to get you acquainted with the region.

Where to Get Caffeinated

Life without coffee is just plain uncivilized. We all need our morning cup (or two) and luckily Southwest Virginia delivers with many options for craft coffee roasted and prepared by professional baristas. In Abingdon you can get your fix at Zazzy’Z Coffee House and Roastery, which roasts its beans from all over the world onsite. It also serves homemade muffins, sandwiches, and quiches to get you fueled up for the day.

Mojo’s Trailside Café and Coffee is located right next to the hugely popular Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus. You’ll find a large assortment of coffees and coffee drinks, each with distinctly different character. The restaurant is also top notch with culinary expertise coming from John Seymore, who has more than 20 years of professional experience as a chef. A full breakfast menu is available ranging from simple staples such as eggs, toasts, bacon, bagel sandwiches, and pancakes, to more decadent dishes such as the French Quarter, a Cajun-inspired omelet made with Andouille, shrimp, and veggies. Mojo’s is also a great place to grab lunch with an eclectic mix of sandwiches and crowd-pleasing favorites such as Seymore’s Pulled Pork, West Coast Reuben, Huevos Rancheros, Crabcake Sammy, and Low Country Shrimp and Grits.

Where to Find nearby Adventure

With such a large variety of outdoor recreation available in the region it will be impossible to do everything on a weekend but luckily for you it’ll still be here for your next visit. Cyclists will want to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail trail that is extremely mellow and a favorite for family rides. There are plenty of outfitters and shuttle services available in Abingdon and Damascus to take you to the trailhead, where you can enjoy a mostly downhill ride back to Damascus. If you want a challenge, make the round-trip on two wheels, with the second half much easier than the first. The mountain biking crowd will want to go ride the classic backcountry ridge trail, Iron Mountain.

Hikers have tons of options but the classic areas are Grayson Highlands State Park, where elevated balds with rocky outcroppings and wild ponies make up the landscape, as well as Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. Other good hiking destinations include the Channels Trail just north of Abingdon and Bristol where the highlight is navigating the labyrinth of house-sized boulders that form corridors and caves on the trail.

Climbers will find the best summer temperatures in the southeast bouldering at Grayson Highlands State Park. More than 500 established boulder problems are found within the park with options still available for first ascents. Sport climbers and trad climbers should head to Hidden Valley, just north of Abingdon, and rope up for single-pitch sandstone routes ranging from 5-easy to 5.13.

The Fly Fishing in the region is arguably some of the best in the entire nation. Whitetop Laurel Creek and the North, South, and Middle Fork of the Holston are the crown jewels of the area, but there are many hidden gems in the backcountry of Grayson Highlands State Park for the more adventurous. Check out any of the local outfitters in the region for more information.

Where to Unwind

After a long day playing in the mountains, treat yourself to a good meal and celebrate with a few beers. Luckily, this area has more than just natural beauty—it also hosts a great selection of restaurants and breweries to complement your outdoor excursions. Wolf Hills Brewery, The Damascus Brewery, Studio Brewery, and Bristol Brewery are all excellent local brewpubs where one can sample a wide variety of small-batch craft beer. Often times on weekends there is live music as an added bonus.

Harvest Table, located in Meadowview, Virginia, is a locally sourced, farm-to-table style restaurant that specializes in healthy Appalachian-inspired cuisine. It’s a must-visit, as you can expect a seasonal menu with an emphasis on clean and simple, yet, refined dishes. Another good option is Jack’s 128 Pecan, a small, casual restaurant located in downtown Abingdon that offers a high quality, eclectic menu that will appeal to everyone in your group.

Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

A post shared by HannaH Jean (@myfriendhannahjean) on

Sure camping is always an option but sometimes you want a little more luxury in your life. The Copper Lantern Boutique Inn, Black’s Fort Inn, and White Birches Inn—all located in Abingdon—are excellent classic, bed-and-breakfast establishments. Expect old Appalachian charm and locally inspired decadence.

If you want more of a communal experience then Damascus has three hiker-friendly hostels worth a visit. Hikers Inn, Woodchuck Hostel, andCrazy Larry’s Hostel are all great inexpensive options where the other guests will be sure to have some great stories. Expect to meet lots of thru-hikers.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170308- Virginia - Southwest Virginia - Hungry Mother State Park

8 Must-Do Family Adventures in Southwest Virginia

Offering scenic recreational trails, historic towns, and expansive outdoor spaces, Southwest Virginia is loaded with options for adventurous families. From scenic hikes and strenuous climbs to relaxing time on the water and cultural experiences, this corner of the state has something for everyone to enjoy. These are just a few of the must-dos for families visiting one of the most stunning parts of Virginia.

1. Lake Lounging

Swimmable lakes are preciously scarce in much of Virginia. Fortunately, the southwest corner of the Old Dominion state offers both sandy beachfront and enticingly placid waters. Hungry Mother State Park, just outside the town of Marion, boasts a plunge-worthy 108-acre lake with plenty of paddling access, 17 miles of trails, rustic campsites, and cabins available for rent. In the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the Beartree Recreation Area is bedecked with a 14-acre lake, circled by the 0.8-mile Beartree Lake Trail, the perfect way for budding hikers to warm-up for a swim in mountain waters.

2. Hike the Highlands

Southwest Virginia’s most famous residents are the wild ponies wandering the high country of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park.

Southwest Virginia’s most famous residents are the wild ponies wandering the high country of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park.

Virginia State Parks

Arguably, Southwest Virginia’s most famous residents are the wild ponies wandering the high country of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park—including a now famous steed dubbed Fabio for his healthy golden mane. Now managed by the Wilbur Ridge Pony Association, the animals were introduced to the park in 1974 to graze the mountain meadows and thwart reforestation of the area’s bald summits. Although still wild, the ponies are hardly shy. At Grayson Highlands State Park, the 0.5-mile Rhododendron Trail (easily accessible from the parking area at Massie Gap), offers hikers a good chance to catch a glimpse of the roving equines—and the trail is short is enough for even the shortest legs to tackle.

3. Sleep Under the Stars

Ditch the devices and unplug for the night with an old fashioned family campout. Head for secluded spots like the Stony Fork Campground in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which offers access to the trout-filled waters of the East Fork of Stony Fork Creek. The camping area also has access to one-mile interpretive forest trail, ideal for young hikers. Rather have more amenities? Head for the Hickory Ridge Campground at Grayson Highlands State Park. The family-camping area has an adjacent playground for young campers with energy to burn, and is located conveniently close to The Country Store, which offers snacks and other camping essentials.

4. Family Float Trips

Possibly the best way to soak up Southwest Virginia’s sylvan scenery is with a float trip—and there are several options for family-friendly river runs. The North Fork of the Holston River is a slow-moving Class I and II waterway fringed with blooming bluebells in spring and early summer. Adventure Mendota, located about 25 miles from Abingdon, rents kayaks and offers shuttle services for float trips. Southwest Virginia is also home to one of the most biologically diverse rivers in America—the Clinch, which boasts more than 50 different species of freshwater mussels. There are several access sites for paddlers dotting the waterway, and Clinch River Adventures in St. Paul can outfit paddling trips.

5. Saddle Up

For equestrians, Virginia is literally loaded with trails—but the mountain-laden corner of the state is extra special. A network of bridle paths provide riders access to some of Southwest Virginia’s most stunning high country, including 200 miles of equestrian trails in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, and nearly 10 miles of riding trails in Grayson Highlands State Park (with overnight facilities for campers with horses). Equestrian-friendly campgrounds—like the waterside Fox Creek Horse Camp and the remote Hussy Mountain Horse Campground—also dot the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, allowing seasoned riders to plan extended horse-packing adventures. First time in the saddle? Southwest Virginia is also the ideal place for newbies to get a taste of trail riding. Appalachian Mountain Horseback Riding Adventures in Troutdale arranges guided outings for riders of all skills levels, from two-hour excursions to full day trips.

6. Catch a Show

Abingdon, Virginia is home to one of the country’s longest-enduring theatres, the Barter Theatre.

Abingdon, Virginia is home to one of the country’s longest-enduring theatres, the Barter Theatre.

Jay Prickett

Abingdon, Virginia, is home to one of the country’s longest-operating theatres—a venue that sprang from unlikely beginnings. Opening in 1933, the Barter Theatre was the brainchild of actor Robert Porterfield, a Southwest Virginia native who returned home because of the Great Depression and conceived of opening a theatre in which patrons could use locally grown produce to pay for admission to performances. The venue has since showcased iconic performers like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, and Kevin Spacey. Today the Barter Theatre offers an array of weekly performances at both the Gilliam Stage at the Barter Theatre in downtown Abingdon and across the street at the Barter II.

7. Cruise the Creeper

Once a rail line charged with hauling freight and passengers through mountainous Southwest Virginia and into North Carolina, the route of the Norfolk & Western Railway has been transformed into a nationally recognized rail trail, delighting everyone from cyclists to equestrians. The Virginia Creeper Trail runs 34.3-miles from historic Abingdon to Whitetop Station, near the North Carolina border. The famously trail-friendly town of Damascus serves as the mid-point for the recreational thoroughfare. Punctuated with leafy picnic spots, points of interest like Green Cove Station, and nine different trailheads, the Virginia Creeper also makes for a family-friendly ride for bicyclists of all skill levels. Best of all for reluctant riders, the 17 miles from Whitetop Station to Damascus is almost entirely downhill. Outfitters like Adventure Damascus Bicycle and Outdoor Company in Damascus and the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon can arrange both bike rentals and trail shuttles.

8. Cultural Tours*

The Crooked Road Music Trail is a 330-mile driving route connecting local artists, exhibits, and performing venues.

The Crooked Road Music Trail is a 330-mile driving route connecting local artists, exhibits, and performing venues.

Doug Kerr

Southwest Virginia is regularly heralded as the birthplace of country music—and rightfully so. The region is home to legends like the Carter family, dubbed the "First Family of Country Music." The family-friendly (alcohol-free) Carter Family Fold, a music center in Hiltons, Virginia, preserves the legacy of the Carter Family and offers weekly performances on Saturday nights. Or take a road-trip showcasing Southwest Virginia’s musical heritage on the Crooked Road Music Trail, a 330-mile driving route connecting local artists, exhibits, and performing venues like the Heartwood in Abingdon, which serves up BBQ and offers live shows on Thursday nights.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

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The 11 Best Ways to While Away the Spring and Summer in Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia is the perfect place to while away the spring and summer. Bestowed with the state’s loftiest peaks, expansive wilderness areas, and a large chunk of the massive Jefferson National Forest, the southwest corner of the state is loaded with potential for outdoor adventure. The area is also a cultural hub, offering everything from artisan-fueled markets to legendary performing venues like the Barter Theatre. There are plenty of ways to spend to the sun-kissed days of spring and summer in Southwest Virginia, but these are a few of the best.

1. Head for the Backcountry

Blanketed by a generous swath of the Jefferson National Forest, dappled with an eclectic patchwork of wilderness areas, Southwest Virginia is a veritable backpacker’s buffet—with plenty to offer trail-lovers after more than a mere day hike. Just north of Marion, Virginia, the rugged Beartown Wilderness showcases one of area’s most singular anomalies: Burke’s Garden, a four mile by seven mile crater framed by 4,710-foot Garden Mountain. South of Marion, the Lewis Fork Wilderness and smaller Little Wilson Creek Wilderness offer access to less-frequented trails and a string of peaks, including 5,729-foot Mount Rogers, the state’s highest summit. Lewis Fork and Little Wilson Creek wildernesses are both part of the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, a lofty portion of the Jefferson National Forest. The area is laced with more than 500 miles of high country trails, including 60 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

2. Flavors of the Season

"A glass of the best you're going to feel all day." #wolfhillsbrewing #craftbeer #sinkingspring #hops #sessionbeer

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Usher in warmer weather, longer days, and the seasonal rotation of flavors in Southwest Virginia. First peruse the bounty of fresh, locally sourced offerings available at the Abingdon Farmers Market. In addition to the local harvest, the market also features crafts produced by local artisans, including handmade soaps, candles, and home decorations. From the third weekend in April through Thanksgiving the market is open two days a week—on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. After the market, head over to the Wolf Hills Brewing Company. Trade the heavy stouts and porters of winter for light, crisp warm weather brews like the White Blaze Honey Cream Ale, the Blackberry Wheat, or the Creeper Trail Amber Ale. The brewery also plays host to a regular entertainment line-up, including everything from live music to trivia nights.

3. High Country on Horseback

One of the most memorable ways to explore the high-country wilderness of Southwest Virginia is on horseback. The area is also especially conducive to equine escapes. A network of bridle trails includes the 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, and you’ll find equine-friendly campsites like the Fox Creek Horse Camp and the Hussy Mountain Horse Campground scattered spread throughout the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. For greenhorns, Appalachian Mountain Horseback Riding Adventures in Troutdale, Virginia, offers guides trips for riders of all experience levels as short as two hours.

4. Seek Out Legendary Country Music Spots

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Aside from the smorgasbord of outdoor adventures, Southwest Virginia also has a rich musical history. Sprinkled with everything from hole-in-the-wall joints to iconic country music venues, Johnny Cash even famously gave his last public performance in the area in 2003 at the Carter Family Fold. The Hiltons, Virginia-based venue still offers weekly shows on Saturday nights. Delve deeper into Southwest Virginia’s musical roots on the 330-mile Crooked Road Music Trail, linking a string of musicians, roadside exhibits, and performing venues like Heartwood in Abingdon.

5. Get Artsy

In Southwest Virginia, you can mingle with an array of local artisans—such as members of Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia Artisan Network, artisan demonstrations at Heartwood in Abingdon, or the Arts Depot, a community-based gallery for local artists also located in Abingdon. Patronize the performing arts instead and catch a show at the Barter Theatre, one of the country’s longest-operating playhouses.

6. Find the Perfect Picnic Spot

Seek out the perfect picnic spot and get an eyeful of southwest Virginia’s mountain-silhouetted vistas with a cruise on the nearly 50-mile Mount Rogers Scenic Byway. The scenic roadway showcases woodland-blanketed slopes, bucolic meadows, and gushing trout streams all while skirting Whitetop Mountain, the second highest summit in the state. The byway also bisects both the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Appalachian Trail, making it easy to stop and stretch your legs.

7. Take an Old-Fashioned Fishing Trip

An old-fashioned fishing trip is arguably the best way to spend a warm weather day—even if you don’t get a single bite. Luckily, the chances of coming up empty-handed are slim in Southwest Virginia. The region is loaded with some of the premier fishing spots in the state, from icy trout streams lacing mountain forests to massive lakes. The Blue Ridge Highlands Fishing Trail highlights 18 different fishing destinations, including locations like secluded Laurel Bed Lake, a hotspot for smallmouth bass sitting atop Clinch Mountain, and Whitetop Laurel Creek, which has been hailed as the state’s premier trout stream featuring brook, brown, and rainbows. The Virginia Creeper Fly Shop in Abingdon can arrange and outfit guided fishing trips in the area.

8. Dogs Days of Summer

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Does your favorite road-trip buddy have four legs and a tail? The wild spaces of Southwest Virginia are ideal for exploring with your favorite outdoor-loving canine. Best of all, dogs are allowed in all Virginia State Parks—and Southwest Virginia is home to several of the most stunning recreation areas in the state. Grayson Highlands State Park is loaded with more than a dozen trails and provides a portal to the high country of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is punctuated with alpine meadows and quintessential southern Appalachian balds. The park also offers plenty of dog-friendly campsites for overnight adventures.

9. Hike the Appalachian Trail

Ask almost any Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and they will tell you the stretch in southwest Virginia is one of the highlights of the entire 2,190-mile footpath. But the region is not just home to some of the trail’s most stunning scenery, Southwest Virginia is also loaded with backpacker-friendly towns and their renowned "trail angels." At the Partnership Shelter along the Appalachian Trail just outside the town of Marion, Virginia, hikers can even have pizza delivered. The Southwest Virginia town of Damascus, touted as the “friendliest town on the trail” hosts an annual Trail Days celebration every May.

10. Coast the Creeper

Explore Southwest Virginia on wheels on one of the state’s most stunning bike trails. Tracing the route used by the steam locomotives of the Norfolk & Western Railway, the Virginia Creeper Trail runs 34.3-miles from Abington to Whitetop Station. If steamy weather makes the idea of a bike trip unappealing, consider this—the 17-mile stretch from Whitetop Station to the town of midpoint town of Damascus is almost entirely downhill. Outfitters like the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon and the Adventure Damascus Bicycle & Outdoor Company in Damascus offer bike rentals and can arrange trail shuttles for riders so you can enjoy that one-way journey downhill.

11. Hit the Water

Lakes are the ultimate warm weather escape—a refreshing dip makes for the perfect finish to a hike, ride, or run. Luckily, Southwest Virginia is not only filled with trails, the region is also scattered with several sprawling lakes. Hit the water at Hungry Mother State Park, just outside Marion, Virginia, or at the Beartree Recreation Area, part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the South," the Breaks Interstate Park, straddling the border of Virginia and Kentucky, features Laurel Lake (great for paddling) plus an extensive water park open Memorial Day to Labor Day. Looking for moving water instead? Southwest Virginia is also braided with runnable rivers. Paddle or float the North Fork of the Holston River with Adventure Mendota, located outside Abingdon. Or head for the Clinch River, a hub of aquatic diversity once paddled by Daniel Boone. Clinch River Adventures in St. Paul can arrange trips and boat rentals.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

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10 Reasons Why You Should Plan a Trip to Southwest Virginia If You’re a Climber

Southwest Virginia is loaded with adventure potential, drawing outdoor lovers of all kinds. But for climbers, the region is truly special. Blessed with some of the state’s premier climbing areas, southwest Virginia is also peppered with secret spaces and newly re-opened treasures, like the Hidden Valley Climbing Area. Options are abundant for climbers of all styles and skill sets. Adding to the appeal, the region is also infused with a rich cultural tradition, providing plenty of post-climbing perks, from bluegrass jam sessions to scrumptious craft brews. Here are 10 reasons why Southwest Virginia needs to be on every climber’s go-to list.

1. Grayson Highlands State Park

Known for the free-roaming ponies wandering its lofty meadows, Grayson Highlands is possibly the most climber-friendly state park in Virginia—and arguably the premier bouldering destination in the state. Loaded with nearly 1,000 problems, the park’s routes are scattered among three main boulder fields—the Listening Rock Trail Loop, the Boneyard Area, and the Highlands Bouldering Area—and throughout several smaller areas. The bulk of the park’s boulders are located above 4,900-feet, making them climbable even in the summer. Some of the park’s most coveted climbs are also among the most accessible, like the routes along the Split Rock Trail. The first official bouldering trail in the state, the Split Rock Trail begins at the park office and links the Contact Station and Alchemy boulders, providing access to nearly 60 routes. You’ll even find tent-side boulders accessible from the park’s campground. To accommodate climbers, the park also rents crash pads, chalk bags, and brushes. Without a doubt, the most comprehensive climbing guide is Aaron Parlier’s Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guide.

2. The Newly Re-Opened Hidden Valley Climbing Area

After being closed for nearly a decade, the beloved Hidden Valley Climbing Area reopened in 2014 thanks to the joint efforts of the Access Fund and the Carolina Climbers Coalition. Defined by a towering band of sandstone rising to heights of nearly 70-feet, the Hidden Valley Climbing Area offers primarily face climbing, the bulk of which are sport climbs, sprinkled with some trad and mixed routes. Since the reopening, Gus Glitch has written a guidebook, Hidden Valley Rock Climbs, highlighting nearly 500 different routes. Today, the area is accessible by permit, and parking is available in the Carolina Climbers Coalition lot. The climbing area is also adjacent to Hidden Valley Lake and the Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area), making it easy to enjoy a hike on the Brumley Mountain Trail or a fishing trip on 61-acre lake.

3. The Atkins Boulderfield

Tucked away on a lofty stretch of ridgeline atop Big Walker Mountain, in a sliver of the Thomas Jefferson National Forest outside the community of Atkins, the Atkins Boulderfield is an easily accessible conglomeration of nearly 67 climbs (the bulk being V4-V5). There are actually four different climbing areas sprinkled over the mountain’s saddle: the Roadside Boulders, the Drop, Hidden Heights, and the Atkins Wall. Climbers will find a diversity of challenges, from cliff bands to clusters of blocks and boulders. Just 10-miles west of the bouldering area is Hungry Mother State Park, featuring a picturesque 105-acre lake and 17 miles of trails, providing the perfect stop for a leg-stretcher either before or after a climbing stint.

4. Breaks Interstate Park

Straddling the border of Virginia and Kentucky, Breaks Interstate Park is one of the Southeast’s most singular recreation areas. The park is home to the honorary "Grand Canyon of the South," a wonder carved by the Russell Fork River and framed by grey sandstone walls reminiscent of West Virginia’s New River Gorge. While the potential of “the Breaks” has long been known to stone-seeking locals, climbing was off-limits until last May, when after the efforts of the Access Fund, the Southwest Virginia Climbers Coalition, and local climber Kylie Schmidt, the park opened several areas to climbing and new development, including Pinnacle Rock, Satellite Overlook, the Notches, Prospector Trail, the Pavilion, and Grey Wall. There are currently about 75 routes established in the park, offering a mix of sport and trad routes (the bulk within the 5.9-5.12 range). For warm-weather visitors, even during the height of summer, the park’s climbing routes are conveniently shaded by bands of old-growth forest.

5. Guest River Gorge

Ride bikes, bushwhack to cliff, climb, rappel, repeat. #guestrivergorge

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Featuring nearly 200 routes in just three miles, the Guest River Gorge combines a stunning hike with a bounty of climbing opportunities. The gorge features plenty of sport and trad options, plus an abundance of blocks and boulders, all accessible courtesy of a converted rail-trail paralleling the Guest River—one of Virginia’s Scenic Rivers. The very first mile of the hike is peppered with nearly a half-dozen boulders, allowing for a drawn out warm-up. The Guest River Gorge rail-trail is also sprinkled with pieces of local history, like the coal train tunnel still adorning the route.

6. Après-Climb Perks

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Cap off a day of climbing with a local microbrew at the Wolf Hills Brewing Company in Abingdon. The purveyor offers a rotating seasonal selection, including adventure-inspired beers—like the Creeper Trail Amber Ale and the White Blaze Honey Cream Ale. Beyond just beers, Wolf Hills Brewing Company also features nightly entertainment, from live music to trivia, and even a Tacos and Troubadours Night every Tuesday.

7. Cultural Detours

Beyond outdoor adventure, Southwest Virginia is a region with a rich cultural heritage infused with a vibrant musical tradition. The 330-mile Crooked Road Music Trail celebrates this musical heritage, linking performance venues, local artists, and roadside exhibits. One of the trail’s highlights is the Heartwood in Abingdon, offering live music every Thursday, including occasional open jam sessions, and serving up a special barbecue menu on show nights. Or head to Abingdon’s Barter Theatre, another local institution. Established in 1933, the Barter managed to draw audiences despite opening during the Great Depression, and it has hosted performers like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, and Kevin Spacey. The theatre still showcases weekly performances on two stages.

8. Sweet Campsites and Cabins

After a day of climbing, crash at one of Southwest Virginia’s stunning campgrounds that are abundant in the mountain-crowned corner of the state. The 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is scattered with 11 different campgrounds, with options like the lake-studded Beartree Recreation Area or the Raccoon Branch Campground, adjacent to the Raccoon Branch Wilderness. For solitude, serenity, and wandering wildlife, set up camp beside Big Tumbling Creek, which is punctuated with plenty rushing falls and deep pools.

Rather have four walls and a roof? The Forest Service also rents three cabins in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, or grab one of the cottages along Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon from Cottages on the Creeper or Crooked Cabin Properties.

9. Multisport Options

Trekking on the AT with @kateface1! Thanks for sharing with us!

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Climbing isn’t the only way to spend time outdoors in Southwest Virginia. The area is home to one of the most stunning segments of the entire Appalachian Trail—the 60-miles meandering through the high-country of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. You’ll also find a plethora of paddling opportunities, including the North Fork of the Holston River, the biodiversity-rich Clinch River, and the stunningly wild 330-acre Laurel Bed Lake.

10. Bouldering Bike Trips

The 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail isn’t just one of the most stunning rail-trails in the state—the historic thoroughfare is also a portal to nearly two dozen trailside climbing routes. Running from Abingdon to Whitetop Station, the Virginia Creeper is famously strewn with trout-fishing spots along Whitetop Laurel Creek and is peppered with a handful enticing boulders. Trailside opportunities include everything from easier climbs like the Creeper Slab (V0), looming directly beside the trail between Green Cove and Whitetop Station, to more challenging options like the John Henry Wall (featuring V1 and V4 routes). Grab a bike at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon, or at Adventure Damascus or the Creeper Trail Bike Rental in Damascus.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170221-Virginia-Southwest Virginia-Virginia Creeper Trail

The 7 Toughest Outdoor Adventures in Southwest Virginia

What constitutes a tough outdoor challenge varies greatly by person. Everyone has differing visions of what constitutes an extremely tough—yet realistic—challenge. But generally with regards to outdoor sports, the longer the distance, the higher the mountain, and the more difficult the terrain, the tougher and more adventurous things become.

The Appalachian Mountains often get overlooked when people think about epic, hardcore adventures. What many don’t realize is that when comparing the mountain chain to the Rockies, Sierras, or Cascades, the Appalachians actually have more elevation throughout the range than the mountains out west. In fact, the old, eroded Appalachians are so scrunched up with ripples and wrinkles that the amount of terrain needs to be examined on a closer level. These micro features create some of the gnarliest, steepest trails; some of the toughest, runnable whitewater creeks; and some of the most technical, bullet-hard rock faces in the nation.

Southwestern Virginia, like the much of the Appalachian range, contains a lifetime’s worth of extremely tough outdoor adventures that are on par or surpass anything out west. Below you will find a brief introduction to seven of the toughest challenges found in Southwest Virginia.

1. Summiting Mount Rogers

Standing at 5,729 feet, Mount Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia and the fourth highest peak east of the Mississippi. Although calling this a peak is a bit of a misnomer—as it’s probably better described as a high-elevation knob. No matter what you call it, making the approximately 9-mile, out-and-back hike starting from Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park is a challenge. Hikers follow the Rhododendron Trail and Appalachian Trail, passing through windswept plains with hearty alpine-esque shrubbery and large exposed rock formations, wild ponies, and possible erratic weather. Many compare the terrain to the famous Scottish Highlands.

2. Sport Climbing at Hidden Valley Lake!

Hidden Valley is a sandstone crag located just north of Abingdon, Virginia. Although Hidden Valley has a storied past going back more than 30 years, it only recently was officially opened to the public. The routes here are similar to what you’d find at the climbing mecca of the New River Gorge. Expect about 200 established single-pitch routes that are mostly clip-ups, but there are a handful of high-quality trad lines as well. (And there’s still some open projects and room for more development.) Thin face climbs, aretes, roofs, and even a few slab climbs are all found at the crag.

3. Trail Running the Seven Sister Trail

The Seven Sisters Trail, located on Little Walker Mountain just outside of Wytheville, Virginia, is a hidden gem that packs a huge punch in a relatively short distance. The 4.8-mile ridge trail is aptly named for its seven peaks that it covers. Trail runners looking for a hard hill workout with a heavy dose of backcountry adventure should tackle the Seven Sisters Trail loop. Start at either the trailhead off of the Scenic Byway or use the Stony Creek Nature Trail (a 1-mile spur trail that intersects the western end of the Seven Sisters Trail) found inside the Stony Fork Campground. Trail runners can create an approximately 10-mile loop with five hard trail miles and five easier road miles on the minimally trafficked Scenic Byway.

4. Mountain Biking the Iron Mountain 100k

The Iron Mountain 100k is organized by Shenandoah Mountain Touring, which also hosts the Shenandoah 100, one of the most popular ultra-distance mountain bike races in the nation. Simply put, these guys have their act together and put on great events. The Iron Mountain 100k, although not as big as the Shenandoah 100, is one of the best mountain bike races on the East Coast. The June race uses the classic Iron Mountain Trail (formerly part of the AT) along with a handful of other amazing trails found in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. This race is well-supported with four fully stocked aid stations. Expect gnarly downhills, big climbs, and wilderness riding along the challenging 62-mile course.

5. Running the Entire Virginia Creeper Trail

The Virginia Creeper Trail is best known as a beginner-friendly rail trail popular with cyclists. However, for hardcore runners out there looking to rack up some serious miles, the 34-mile trail is the perfect challenge. It runs from Abingdon to Whitetop Mountain and is perfect for a high tempo workout—whether you complete the entire length of the trail or not. The multiple access points, ease of refilling water and food, and availability of bathrooms make this a perfect location for those looking for a no-hassle. ultra-distance run.

6. Rack Up a 100-Point Day Bouldering in Grayson Highlands State Park!

Grayson Highlands State Park, located within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, has a lifetime’s worth of established bouldering routes. In fact, there are more than a thousand problems there. One challenge many boulderers like to set for themselves is to complete a 100-point day. Boulder problems are rated from V0-V16 and based on a problem’s rating, you earn points. For instance you would need to complete 5 V5s, 10 V3s. 20 V2s, and 5 V1s to reach a total of 100 points. No matter how you slice it, this power-endurance day is not an easy task.

7. Backpacking 20-miles through Grayson Highlands State Park!

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Grayson Highlands State Park is the perfect destination for backpacking in Southwestern Virginia, and many options of loops are available. Using the Appalachian Trail (in addition to others), you can create a 20-mile overnighter that will have you hiking through rhododendron tunnels, traversing windswept plains with wild ponies, crossing rocky creeks, and climbing high-elevation knobs. Plan for crazy weather swings and expect cold temperatures at night even in the summer. If possible, plan to take in the stars at night on one of the open plains. It’s a backpacking trip you’ll never forget.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Mark Peterson

00-20170217-Virginia-Southwest Virginia-Springtime-blooms

10 Reasons Why Spring in Southwest Virginia is an Exceptional Time to Visit

Springtime in Southwest Virginia is particularly flashy—fields and valleys are filled with scarlet and gold wild flowers, while towering oak and maple trees display soft green buds on their gnarly branches. Towns like Abingdon in Southwest Virginia are experiencing a renaissance thanks to their embrace of visitors drawn here for the world-class country music and abundant outdoor activities. They’ve infused rural Appalachian culture into their brewpubs and farm-to-table restaurants. If you crave small-town friendliness and adventures in the great outdoors, there’s no better time to explore this vibrant region. Here are ten ways to enjoy a trip to Southwest Virginia this spring.

1. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail!

Rent bikes to explore the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Rent bikes to explore the Virginia Creeper Trail.

David Joyce

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile, rails-to-trails bicycle path that travels from the town of Abingdon to Whitetop Station, Virginia. The well-maintained path offers a shady ride on a warm day, and in some places you’ll ride through a tunnel of mountain laurel bushes. You can rent bikes in Abingdon and take a shuttle to Whitetop Mountain. From there it’s mostly downhill for 17 miles as the trail crosses Whitetop Laurel Creek over historic trestles.

2. Explore South Holston Lake

Mountain ridges and thick forest make up the undeveloped shoreline of South Holston Lake. It’s a popular place to rent a pontoon or kayak and spend the day enjoying pristine scenery. Experts at the Virginia Creeper Fly Shop rent fishing gear and lead guided excursions chasing catfish, bluegill, or bass. You’ll find water sports gear for stand-up paddleboarding and jet skiing at Sportsmans Marina. Pitch a tent at one of the well-equipped campgrounds and relax under the star-filled sky.

3. Scale the rocky heights of Backbone Rock Recreation Area

Backbone Rock Recreation Area is part of the Cherokee National Forest that straddles the border of Virginia and Tennessee. The most notable feature is Backbone Rock, which features a 20-foot long hole that was blasted through it to make way for the railroad back in the early 1900s. Today there’s a road that passes through the black shale with a hand-chiseled archway. At its highest, Backbone Rock is more than 100 feet above ground. It’s sight to see, and while you’re there, try rappelling on the sheer cliffs or hike to Backbone Falls, an impressive 45-foot high cascade of water.

4. Visit the Wild Ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park

Walk along the Rhododendron Trail to see wild ponies at Grayson Highlands.

Walk along the Rhododendron Trail to see wild ponies at Grayson Highlands.

Virginia State Parks

The biggest attraction at Grayson Highlands State Park is its wild ponies, which were first introduced to the park in 1974 to graze on the grassy balds. During the spring you’re most likely to see foals taking their first steps while the mares look on protectively. To find them, follow the Rhododendron Trail up to Wildburn Ridge where the ponies feed. Along this trail, you’ll take in some breathtaking views. Situated between the peaks of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, this peaceful park is popular for backpacking, bouldering, and hiking. Nicknamed Virginia’s Land of High Peaks (with elevations around 5,000 feet), the Highlands may turn cold and windy quickly. Be prepared and wear layers. Other points of interest include a 200-year-old pioneer cabin and a waterfall. After Memorial Day, visitors can sign up for a six-hour guided canoe trip through lush woodlands and soaring cliffs.

5. Enjoy Springtime Blooms

Roads through this neck of the woods are winding, but you’ll be glad for the slower pace thanks to the eruption of color on either side. White and pink laurel and magenta rhododendron grow to enormous heights here. Look for the yellow lady slippers in the orchid family. Dwarf crested lilies stretch their stems sideways toward the sun. Honeysuckle blossoms fill the air with the smell of sweet candy. Along hiking paths look for Canada violets, fleabane from the daisy family, wild red geranium, and the showy dwarf crested iris. Flowering azalea bushes come in many colors, including crimson, purple, and ivory. The most graceful of trees, the flowering dogwoods, have white and pink flowers growing on their delicate branches. The combination is dizzying in its beauty.

6. Day Hike the Appalachian Trail!

The Appalachian Trail goes through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

The Appalachian Trail goes through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Jason Riedy

The storied Appalachian Trail covers a 167-mile stretch of Southwest Virginia. Abingdon is an official AT Community partner, and some hikers on the AT take the 12-mile detour to visit the town where they’re welcomed with a variety of lodging options, access to outfitters, and lots of friendly restaurants. You’ll find several trailheads located in Southwest Virginia’s portion of the AT, including the town of Damascus. Plus you can visit Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia at 5,729 feet. Follow along for a few miles with these hardy thru-hikers as they face the challenges and rewards of hiking the 2,180-mile footpath across the Appalachian Mountains.

7. Paddle the North Fork of the Holston River

The Class I/II rapids make for a relaxing ride along a remote section of this scenic river flanked by rocky bluffs. The launching point is under a swinging rope bridge. The boating season kicks off in May, and it’s the perfect setting to learn kayaking techniques—kids as young as eight can navigate the river on their own. For experienced kayakers with their own boats, there’s an alternate course upriver with more vigorous rapids created from a rock dam. Pack your water shoes and book a trip with Adventure Mendota, a locally owned outfitter with a focus on customer service.

8. Mingle with Locals at the Abingdon Farmers Market

The Abingdon Farmers Market has nearly 100 vendors.

The Abingdon Farmers Market has nearly 100 vendors.

Villain Media, LLC.

Open from the third week in April until Thanksgiving, the Abingdon Farmers Market sells local produce, meats, cheeses, and wine directly to the consumer. At the corner of Remsburg Drive and Cummings Street in downtown Abingdon, this market has vendors who’ve sold their wares here since the Great Depression. Today, you’ll find nearly 100 vendors in addition to entertainment in the form of local music, cooking demonstrations, crafts, and events like the TomatoFest and SquashtoberFest.

9. Music and Festivals

Southwest Virginia is filled with places to listen to live music. Wolf Hills Brewing features musicians performing on Friday and Saturday nights, in addition to various events during the week. Spring is also the start of festival seasons. The annual Earth Day celebration, organized by Sustain Abingdon, is held at the Fields-Penn House and features food, kids activities, and other fun centered on environmental issues. The Virginia Creeper Fest at the end of April features a wide variety of outdoor activities surrounding the area’s most famous trail. You’ll find yoga in the park, kids games, bike rides, scavenger hunts, stand-up paddleboard demos, food trucks, and live music throughout the day. It’s a great opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to discover everything that the area has to offer.

10. Eat at a Farm-to-Table Restaurant

The Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia, sources nearly all its ingredients from nearby farms, including its own.

The Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia, sources nearly all its ingredients from nearby farms, including its own.

Harvest Table Restaurant

Avid readers know Barbara Kingsolver for her many bestselling books, but she and her husband Steven Hopp are also advocates for the local food movement. The couple opened The Harvest Table restaurant after moving to a farm in Southwestern Virginia. Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life, which focused on her family’s pact to only buy food raised in their own neighborhood or grown in their own garden for one year. The Harvest Table, located in Meadowview, Virginia, sources nearly all its ingredients from nearby farms, including its own. The menu changes daily based on what’s in season or has been "put by" or canned. Spring menus often feature lettuces, asparagus, strawberries, and spinach.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Harvest Table Restaurant