Author Archives: RootsRated

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

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

Southwest 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.

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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