Are you already feeling a little tired of wall-to-wall election coverage? Since many of us are attached at the hip (literally!) to our smartphones, it can be hard to get away from the news.
We’ve solved the problem for you, with a list of places that don’t just tempt you to turn off your phone – they force you to!
The Virginia Creeper Trail
Even though it’s an easy, mostly downhill ride on this famous trail, texting and biking is still a bad idea. Plus, large sections of the trail within Jefferson National Forest have no cell reception. Keep your phone with you for taking pictures of the gorgeous mountains and trestle bridges, but wait to update your Instagram feed until you get back to town. #latergram #creepertrail Find out more>
Green Cove Station, Virginia Creeper Trail – Sam Dean Photography
Escape into the world of imagination with a play or musical at Barter Theatre. Best of all, the use of cellphones or other electronic devices is not allowed during the show. So pay attention to the pre-show announcement, and turn it to airplane mode, unwrap your candy, and enjoy two hours of news-free entertainment. Find out more>
Courtesy of Barter Theatre
Adventure Mendota Kayaking
Located just outside of Abingdon on the North Fork of the Holston River, this outfitter’s slogan is “Get off the grid and into the river!” You’ll be out of cell range for most of your trip, while you lazily paddle down the river (this section is generally rated Class 1 or Class 2, great for beginners and families). Find out more >
Courtesy of Adventure Mendota
The Spa at The Martha
The Martha Washington Inn & Spa actually has excellent cell reception, and free wi-fi for guests. But you won’t want to use it when you sign up for a day of pampering at the spa. This grand old hotel in downtown Abingdon offers massage, facials, mani/pedis, body treatments, a heated salt-water pool and outdoor hot tub and fire pit. Put that phone on silent, slip on a robe and bliss out.
Indoor swimming pool at the Martha Washington Inn & Spa – Jason Barnette
Cradled by the Blue Ridge and the massive Jefferson National Forest, historic Abingdon is an outdoor wonderland. The nearly 250-year-old Appalachian town has a richly colorful past— and a long history of welcoming visitors. A longtime Cherokee hunting ground, the area was christened Black’s Fort when Europeans began trickling into the region in the middle of the 18th century. It was redubbed “Wolf Hills” when, according to local lore, Daniel Boone was attacked by wolves while hunting nearby. For decades the town served as a final outpost for settlers heading westward on the Great Wilderness Road—and featured the very first Post Office west of the Blue Ridge. The town’s name was changed once again—this time, to Abingdon—as a homage to First Lady Martha Washington’s ancestral home, Abingdon-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire.
Today, natural wonders and vivid history still abound in Abingdon. Hike, bike, or paddle Southwest Virginia’s vast wild spaces. Take your time wandering the historic streets of Abingdon, discovering the region’s rich cultural heritage, and all the while soaking up the town’s legendary hospitality. After 48 hours in Abingdon, you’ll leave wishing you were staying much longer than just the weekend.
Begin at the bountiful Abingdon Farmers Market (Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Swing by the Balkan Bakery stall and grab some freshly baked croissants to nosh while you peruse the market’s locally raised produce, baked goods, crafts and handmade delicacies. After the market has piqued your senses, head over the trailhead for the Virginia Creeper Trail to get your heart racing too. Hike, bike, or run a stretch of the leafy 34-mile trail, named for the sluggish locomotives that once chugged through town on the way to North Carolina. On the way from Abingdon to the midway point in Damascus, the trail rambles past sunlight-dappled meadows, rolling horse pastures—and for an extended stint, it also hugs the best trout fishing stream in Virginia, Whitetop Laurel Creek.
If you didn’t bring your bike, rent a pair of wheels at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop, just a few steps from the trailhead in Abingdon. The bike shop can also arrange shuttle transport to accommodate a ride of any length. If you need to break up your hike, ride, or run on the Virginia Creeper, you can always pop into the Abingdon Vineyard and Winery for a tasting (or an excuse for a breather). The inviting winery is located just a half-mile from the trail.
Spend the afternoon relishing in some well-deserved, post-trail pampering at the Martha Washington Inn & Spa in the center of town. The exquisite accommodation has been hosting guests since 1935. Opt for a private couples massage or just regroup with a round at the inn’s cozy bar. After “the Martha” has rejuvenated you, meander down Main Street to the Tavern, the oldest, and according to local lore, one of the most haunted establishments in town. Functioning as everything from a roadside inn to a post office during the Civil War, the Tavern was even converted into a hospital, accepting both Confederate and Union wounded. Today, the Tavern’s bar is still the oldest in Virginia. Peruse the lengthy wine list and be sure to try the brie-filled bread bowl—coated with honey, brown sugar and toasted almonds. If the place isn’t too busy, you can even ask for a tour. Look for the charcoal bed numbers still adorning the walls of the attic, a lingering testament to the Tavern’s time as a Civil War hospital.
Seize the day with a cup of fresh, locally roasted coffee at Zazzy’z Coffee House and Roastery before making your way to the spectacular Grayson Highlands State Park, driving along the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway. If you are itching to stretch your legs on route, make a pit stop at Elk Garden, in the stunning Lewis Fork Wilderness section of the vast Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. For a brief but picturesque 3-mile loop, loaded with views of the famed high Appalachian balds, hop on the Appalachian Trail for 2-miles, heading toward Deep Gap, and return on the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, hiking a mile back to the Elk Garden Park Area.
After Elk Garden, continue winding toward the Grayson Highlands and head for the park’s overnight backpackers lot. For a scenic out-and-back hike, hop on the Appalachian Spur Trail (which connects to the Appalachian Trail after about a mile). Follow the Appalachian Trail as it rambles through tunnels of Rhododendron, over scenic saddles, and through expansive alpine meadows. Keep your eyes peeled for the park’s illustrious wild ponies—several grazing herds have been roaming the highlands for just over 40 years, first introduced by the National Park Service to reduce the risk of forest fires. When you are ready for a break, stop and linger over the seeming endless views of the rippling Blue Ridge before retracing your steps back to the parking area.
Back in Abingdon, recount the highlights of your hike over another cherished Appalachian tradition—perfectly smoked barbecue—at the BoneFire Smokehouse. After lunch, stroll over to the Wolf Hills Brewery. Sample some of the establishment’s outdoor inspired craft beers, like the Creeper Trail Ale or the White Blaze Honey Cream Ale. Learn about the brewery’s commitment to sustainability, including donating excess brewing grain to area farmers to use as animal feed.
Cap off your weekend at one of Abingdon’s most enduring treasures—the Barter Theatre. Established in 1933, performers like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, and Kevin Spacey have all graced the Barter Theatre’s stage. The venue even famously survived opening in the midst of the economic turmoil of the Great Depression by accepting farm produce in exchange for theatre tickets. Today, the Barter Theatre still showcases performances on two different stages. Shows typically begin at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays.
The mountain towns of Southwest Virginia have long been a destination for their outdoor experiences. But places like Abingdon, Damascus, Marion, and Galax are undergoing a cultural renaissance, where old world Appalachia marries green, outdoorsy and hip small town. These areas are leveraging their natural resources to cater to the growing demand of outdoor enthusiasts hungry to explore Appalachia. Craft breweries, fly-fishing outfitters, bluegrass venues, farm-to-table restaurants, old-world bakeries, artisan coffee shops, and mountain bike trail centers are just a few of the new things that are defining the new face of Southwest Virginia. Here are just eight of the many reasons why you should plan a vacation to the region.
Abingdon, tucked amid the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, serves as an excellent starting point for any trip to the region, allowing easy access to both cultural amenities and outdoor adventure. Here are just eight of the many reasons why you should plan a vacation to the region.
1. The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail
The Crooked Road runs more than 300 miles through the breathtaking mountains of Southwest Virginia and connects the dots between historic country music sites and current musical offerings. You’ll find old-time Americana venues, museums dedicated to preserving the music’s historical and cultural legacy, and music festivals that showcase the local music scene. Places like the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, the Rex Theatre in Galax where live bands play regularly, and the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in downtown Galax are just a few of the sites along this banjo and mandolin tuned road. You’ll also find the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, Va., which honors the music legend and provides a history of traditional mountain music.
2. Small Town, Main Street America
Southwest Virginia hosts some of the most quaint, yet progressive downtown districts around, and they are only getting better with age. Towns like Abingdon, Damascus, Galax, and Marion all have turn-of-the-century charm with a modern twist. The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, which opened in 1929, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it regularly hosts musicians and plays. Other highlights of these downtown districts include the bi-weekly Abingdon Farmers Market, Mojo Trailside Café and Coffee in Damascus, and the historic Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon. Also expect to find local breweries, many farm-to-table restaurants that specialize in locally sourced food, and old-time ice cream shops surrounded by turn of the century architecture.
3. A Growing Foodie Culture
Once again you might be surprised to find that the towns of Southwest Virginia are becoming a destination for foodies in the know. Appalachia inspired restaurants, local craft breweries, and old-world bakeries are found throughout the region. Harvest Table Restaurant, located in Meadowview, began as an extension of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, written by Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp, in which they chronicled their experiment to eat only in-season, locally grown food for an entire year. The book was instrumental in the growth of the local food movement, and the restaurant now follows those practices, providing a healthy and tasty menu built around seasonal crops. You won’t find lemons in the water (since they’re not grown locally) or tomato sauce on pizza when tomatoes are out of season. What you will find is an inspirational and unique meal any time of the year.
4. Craft Breweries
Local craft breweries, specializing in artisan recipes and creating new takes on the classic styles of beer, are all the rage these days. Southwest Virginia has tapped into this trend with a growing assortment of local breweries. Wolf Hills Brewing Co., The Damascus Brewery, and Studio Brew are a few that are worth a look. Beers like Wolf Hill’s Creeper Trail Ale and White Blaze Honey Cream Ale and Damascus Brewery’s Backbone Bock and Beaver Rage IPA are local favorites.
5. Swimming Holes
If your idea of a water park includes a more natural setting, rest assured that Southwest Virginia has you covered. Popular swimming holes can be found in most towns and parks within the region. All along the New River Trail State Park you can find great places to swim in the mostly flat New River. Much of the Virginia Creeper Trail follows Whitetop Laurel Creek, where there are great little pools to soak in between the rapids. Cascades Falls Recreation Area, which is famous for its 66-foot waterfall, has a large, refreshingly cold swimming hole underneath it. Spring fed lakes such as Cave Springs in Wise, Virginia, serve as beautiful outdoor pools. If you’re willing to hike, the Devil’s Bathtub in Ft. Blackmore, Virginia, has become an area favorite. Be prepared: It’s a difficult 7.2-mile round trip hike with lots of creek crossings and rugged terrain. But if you’re willing to put in the work, the reward is excellent.
6. Green Spaces Galore
Southwest Virginia is home to many great state parks, local county parks, and protected green spaces making it an outdoor lover’s paradise. Well known spots such as the Virginia Creeper Trail and New River Trail have long been considered two of the finest rail trails on the East. State parks such as Grayson Highlands State Park and Hungry Mother State Park are well developed and have been popular for some time as well. But other areas are still very much off the radar for most folks and worth mentioning. Jefferson National Forest near Wytheville, the Iron Mountain Trail and adjacent Beartree Gap Recreation Area outside of Damascus, Hidden Valley, a climbing area outside of Abingdon, and Crystal Springs Recreation Areain Wytheville are just a few beckoning for exploration.
7. World Class Fly Fishing
Southwest Virginia is home to some of the best fly-fishing in the world. The southern Appalachians are considered a mid-latitude rainforest, and because of that they yield many mountain streams and creeks fed by the abundant rainfall and winter run-off. Native trout can be found in just about any creek or river in the region. Check the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheriesfor stocking dates and locations. With that said, you can’t go wrong with basing yourself in Abingdon or Damascus for a fly-fishing trip. Both towns have local outfitters and numerous locations to fit your needs.
8. Rails to Trails
Southwest Virginia has become synonymous with world-class rail trails. The Virginia Creeper Trail, which travels through Damascus and Abingdon, is widely considered one of the best of its kind in the country. Featuring insanely gorgeous Appalachian topography, the trail offers easy logistics (including bike rentals and shuttles to various trailheads) that make it a winner with families and recreational cyclists. The New River Trail comes in at a close second with 57 miles of rail trail that mostly follows the New River and runs through the old timey music town of Galax, Virginia. It is worth mentioning that Southwest Virginia is home to some pretty amazing mountain bike trails as well.
Steam locomotives and railroads conjure up images of a mostly bygone era. What was once the heartbeat of the Industrial Revolution, has now been reborn and repackaged, ironically enough, as an environmentally sustainable green space for outdoor recreation. Around the 1970s many railroads were abandoned leaving an industrial scar on the land and a vacant resource in desperate need of a renaissance. Stepping in to fill that void, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was formed in 1986 and began to convert old railroad tracks into multi-use paths. It is in this storyline that the Virginia Creeper Trail (VCT) was born.
The history of the VCT is as long and twisty as a railroad itself. Where the VCT lies today was once part of the Norfolk & Western Railway’s Abingdon Line. Starting in the 1800s, trains began transporting timber from old-growth forests located atop Whitetop Mountain to a lumber mill in Damascus, Virginia. The line earned the nickname of “The Virginia Creeper” due to the sluggish speed it traveled up and down the steep mountain grades. In fact, rail workers were able to walk beside the train and pick berries before hopping back on. By the late 1920s the local lumber industry had shut down, and for the next 50 years the line served as a passenger train helping to connect the isolated mountain towns in the region.
By the late 1970s, Abingdon dentist Dr. French Moore Jr. began to champion the idea of converting the defunct rail line into a trail. He met fierce opposition from some of his neighbors and locals in other towns along the line who feared the change that this new resource might bring. Moore persevered. With help from his state senator, Rick Boucher, and the backing of the National Park Service, he was able to see his vision come to fruition in 1987 when the entire 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail was opened to the public.
Today the VCT is considered one of best rail trails in the eastern United States, regularly attracting thousands of visitors each year. That tourism traffic has turned the towns of Abingdon and Damascus into recreation hubs, providing a base of operations not just for the Creeper Trail but for Southwest Virginia’s other outdoor hidden gems. Areas like Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Grayson Highlands State Park, and Iron Mountain Trail are all easily accessible from these towns and offer plenty of options for a multi-day trip to the region.
The VCT is tucked into a sparsely populated corner of Virginia and runs from Abingdon to Whitetop Mountain on the Virginia/North Carolina border. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians share the crushed-limestone and hard-packed dirt trail. It’s extremely popular with families looking to have an all-day, or even overnight, bike trip. Kids will love the downhill, coasting friendly nature of the trail from Whitetop to Damascus. At times the trail parallels Whitetop Laurel Creek through a deep narrow gorge where there are both spectacular whitewater rapids and the occasional quiet swimming hole. At other times the trail crosses trestles, some of which are more than 500 feet high and afford insanely beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. White steeple churches and homes from an early era dot the landscape as you enter and exit towns.
Another draw of the VCT is the availability of rental bikes and shuttles. How does a 17-mile downhill ride sound? Several outfitters will rent you the bikes and shuttle you to Whitetop Station where you can cruise back to Damascus, aided significantly by gravity. Or take the full 34-mile ride all the way back to Abingdon to experience the entire trail. In Abingdon the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop will provide everything you need. In Damascus, you’ll find a half dozen outfitters providing shuttle services and bikes to help you enjoy the trail.
Piggybacking on the popularity of the VCT, local fly fishing, rafting, and zipline outfitters have sprung up making the area even more vacation-worthy. If you are an avid mountain biker who seeks out backcountry adventure, you would be hard pressed to find a better area to ride. There are tons of gnarly ridgeline trails (Iron Mountain being the most popular, but only one of many) that are kept in great shape by motorbikes, but are just as fun on mountain bikes.
Boulderers will find a few gems along the VCT and a lifetime’s worth of projects in Grayson Highland State Park. Sport climbers and trad climbers will be amazed at the quality of the sandstone found at the recently re-opened Hidden Valley, near Abingdon.
The VCT is growing in popularity and every year more and more visitors discover what this region of Southwest Virginia has to offer. Folks like Lawrence “The Legend” Dye, who has spent the better part of 25 years advocating for the Virginia Creeper trail by riding it daily, logging nearly 200,000 miles on it. The trail has replaced the locomotive culture that once was the lifeline of the region. The famous steam locomotive photographer O. Winston Link chronicled the Norfolk and Western line, with his most famous photograph titled, “Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper.” This photo documents the definitive end of the horse-drawn buggy era and showcases the new “steel horse” era. Coincidentally, I’d like to think if Link were still around today he would snap another photograph highlighting one of the many steam locomotive relics alongside the VCT, bowing to the human-powered transport found on the trail today.
Virginia’s expansive woodlands, famously blue-tinged mountains, and rambling scenic byways are the place to be when colorful autumn leaves are at their fiery peak. Fortunately for seasonal color seekers, the Old Dominion state is also sprinkled with state parks, national forests, and vast wilderness areas. For those to prefer to do their leaf-peeping on foot, Virginia boasts a staggering 554 miles of the Appalachian Trail—more than any other state. When you are ready to seek out some fall color, take to the state’s wild spaces, and cherish the seasonal transition at these 10 stunning Virginia locations.
Southwest Virginia serves as an excellent starting point to explore the foliage. Abingdon is one of several small mountain towns that offers easy access to both cultural amenities and stunning outdoor vistas, perfect for a weekend getaway. Take the time to enjoy the spectacular transition of fall at these 10 Virginia locations.
Grayson Highlands State Park
One of Virginia’s most unique places, the highland meadows, dense forests, and panoramic summits of Grayson Highlands State Park are still the domain of roaming bands of wild ponies. The park also straddles the massive Mount Rogers National Recreation Area – offering color-seeking autumn visitors sweeping views of some of the largest undisturbed wild spaces in the state. For a short hike with endless Blue Ridge vistas, trek the mile-long Rhododendron Trail—you are also likely to be sharing the path with the park’s famous hoofed residents.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
One of the most spectacular corners of Virginia, the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, part of the massive Jefferson National Forest, is spread over a picturesque, high-elevation pocket of Southwest Virginia, sprinkled with alpine meadows, vast tracts of mixed hardwood forest, and the famed “bald” peaks of Appalachia. The Mount Rogers Scenic Byway, flanked by towering forests, winds gracefully through the massive wilderness area. However, if you prefer a self-propelled leaf-peeping tour, 60-miles of the Appalachian Trail meander through the highlands of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which boasts views of the two highest peaks in Virginia—the 5,729-foot Mount Rogers and the 5,518-foot Whitetop Mountain.
Channels State Forest
Spreading into Washington and Russell counties, 4,836-acre Channels State Forestis one of Virginia’s best kept secrets—and a most exceptional natural space. In the fall, visitors can admire not only the fiery reds and burnt oranges of the protected area’s mixed hardwood forests but also can hike to the namesake channels. The 400-million-year-old sandstone formations are nestled into the southern slope of Clinch Mountain, near the summit of Middle Knob. For shutterbugs, the labyrinth-like, ice-age-era geological formations provide a singular backdrop for any attempt to photograph seasonal color.
Hidden Valley Lake
The rapidly changing fall foliage looks perhaps even more stunning in the glassy surface of the 60-acre Hidden Valley Lake, which is snuggled into the crown of Brumley Mountain, just outside the town of Abingdon, Virginia. Admire the vibrant seasonal transition on foot, hiking the wilderness management area’s network of trails, or set out from the boat launch along the northern part of the lake. If you are so inclined, the high-elevation lake is also popular with anglers in pursuit of smallmouth bass and northern pike.
Hungry Mother State Park
Boasting a 108-acre lake framed by a woodland-blanketed mountain backdrop, Hungry Mother State Park in Southwest Virginia is hardly short on scenery. The park is named for an early colonist, Molly Marley, who perished in the area while escaping Native American raiders targeting newly formed settlements along the New River. Admire the flaming hardwood forests shrouding the park with a 5.7-mile hike on the water-hugging Lake Trail loop. Or head for the 1.9-mile Molly’s Knob Trail, with the option to tack on the aptly named 0.4-mile Vista Trail.
Potomac Heritage Trail
The bustling, urban, Washington, D.C., area may seem unlikely place to see autumn’s annual foliage fireworks, but the Northern Virginia section of the 710-mile Potomac Heritage Trail rambles through some of the most striking scenery in the northern part of the state, hugging the mighty Potomac River. For a stunning seasonal tour, hike the leafy 10-miles from Great Falls Park to Algonkian Regional Park, stopping to admire the river as it churns and tumbles through Mather Gorge.
Shenandoah National Park
Virginia’s 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park is always a sure thing for fall color. The park’s primary artery—the 105-mile Skyline Drive—is one of the most breathtaking roadways in the state, meandering past a staggering 75 scenic overlooks. However, some of Shenandoah’s best viewpoints can only be reached by foot via the park’s nearly 500 miles of trails. Try hiking to Mary’s Rock, in the northern section of the park, with sweeping panoramic views of Thornton Gap, or make the grueling climb to the summit of Old Rag (just outside the park boundary, in Sperryville), one of the only free-standing mountains in the Blue Ridge. Summit-baggers will be rewarded with undisturbed 360-degree views.
Sky Meadows State Park
Spread over the rolling hills and lush pastures of Virginia’s “hunt country,” where weekends are still filled with horse shows and polo matches, historic Sky Meadow State Park is wedged between the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains and the Virginia Piedmont. Once a functioning family-farm, the 1,864-acre park is actually appropriately named for Scotland’s ruggedly breathtaking Isle of Skye. Scramble up the half-mile Piedmont Overlook Trail for seemingly infinite views of the Blue Ridge. You can build a longer circuit by linking the Ambassador Whitehorse Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the North Ridge Trail. Sky Meadows is also in the heart of Northern Virginia wine country, and tasting opportunities abound in the area surrounding the park.
Ribboning through the Blue Ridge from Virginia south to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the East’s most picturesque drives—and in the fall, also certainly one of the most colorful. Just 5-miles south of the very first milepost on the parkway, the Humpback Rocks Recreation Area boasts some of the best vistas in the entire northern section of the Blue Ridge. Although the hike from the parkway to Humpback Rocks is only a mile, the trail ascends rapidly, gratifying climbers with views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia Piedmont.
The Priest Wilderness
The 5,726-acre Priest Wilderness, part of the massive George Washington National Forest, is one of the wildest spaces in central Virginia. The vast swath of pristine wilderness is crowned by the 4,062-foot Priest, part of Virginia’s “Religious Range,” and just one of eight peaks over 4,000-feet strung throughout the rugged section of Appalachian high-country. For ambitious hikers, the summit of the Priest can be reached on the Appalachian Trail either via a brief 1.5-mile climb from the Crabtree Falls trailhead, or by beginning at the Tye River trailhead—a route that ascends more than 3,000 feet in just 4 miles, making it one of the most grueling climbs on the entire Appalachian Trail.
Southwest Virginia has built a reputation as one of the top hiking mecca’s on the east coast. Towns such as Abingdon, tucked amid the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, serve as an excellent starting point for any trip to the region, with easy access to both cultural amenities and outdoor adventure. You’ll find craft breweries, bluegrass venues, farm-to-table restaurants, old-world bakeries, and artisan coffee shops in addition to the phenomenal trails. To help you discover what the area has to offer, here are 10 of the best hiking trails in Southwest Virginia (though, one could argue, this list could be much larger).
1. Virginia Creeper Trail
This 34-mile rail trail runs from Whitetop Mountain on the North Carolina/Virginia border to Abingdon, Virginia, and is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. One can expect to see pastoral countryside views filled with turn of the century farm houses, white plank-board churches, and the remnants of a bygone railroad culture along the route. At the same time one can take a look around and immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of the mountains and creek that the VCT runs through. You’ll hit a town every 8 miles on the VCT, with Abingdon and Damascus being the main hubs making logistics easy.
2. Iron Mountain Trail
Once a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail before they rerouted it slightly south in 1972, the IMT is just as heavenly as ever, albeit a bit less trafficked. This 24-mile ridge hike is filled with all the makings of a Tolkien landscape. Every hue of green is found along the trail from the dark, forest-green pine trees to the electric neon-green moss clinging to the rocks that litter the hillside. Expect typical Appalachian topography with a fair amount of elevation. Rhodo-tunnels, creek-crossings, and rock gardens are all present. There are plenty of side trails to go explore off the IMT, making it a great destination for a backpacking trip. Damascus, Virginia, is the gateway town.
3. Appalachian Trail-Pine Mountain Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park
Let me start off by saying that Grayson Highlands State Park is a must visit for any hiker. And I mean any hiker, not just someone looking to explore Southwest Virginia. This place is something special and every one of the trails offer amazingly beautiful and diverse scenery that will deliver soul-cleansing serenity to all those that explore them. The AT- Pine Mountain Trail loop embodies all that is great about GHSP—wide-open vistas reminiscent of big-sky country out west, wild ponies, and rocky outcroppings that resemble a Mongolian steppe. Thickets of rhododendron, mountainside creeks and waterfalls, and beautiful wildflowers in season are all par for the course here.
4. The Channels Trail
Located near Elk Garden, Virginia, on top of Clinch Mountain lies one of the most unique and unknown hiking trails in the state. Although one gets 360-degree views and the standard Appalachian mountain fare on the The Channels Trail, the highlight of the trial is undoubtedly navigating the maze-like rock corridor system. This portion of the TCT is part cave and part slot-canyon with rocks reaching nearly 50 feet high and forming tight corridors and slots for more than 50 yards. You’ll enjoy exploring this “rock fort,” which makes a perfect mid-hike excursion and lunch spot.
5. New River Trail
The New River Trail State Park is a 57-mile trail/park that parallels the New River for most of its way and crosses through four counties and the city of Galax, Virginia. Once a rail line, this converted trail is mostly flat and perfect for families and folks looking for an easy excursion. Hiking, picnicking, biking, and fishing are all popular activities on the NRT.
6. Seven Sisters Trail
The Seven Sisters Trail is right off of Route 52, also known as Virginia’s Scenic Byway, between Bland and Wytheville, Virginia. This 5-mile “ridge” is named for the seven mini-peaks that you will go up and down as you hike along the SST. Rocks, rhodos, creek crossings, pine trees, and moss make up the scenery along the way. You’ll find a few places to soak up long-range views of the surrounding Big Walker Mountain. It is important to note that this trail is not a loop and requires walking back from either terminus (the Route 52 trailhead or Stony Fork Campground trailhead) or shuttling vehicles.
7. Crystal Springs Trail Loop
This trail is part of the Crystal Springs Recreation Area that is managed by the town of Wytheville. This 1,800-acre area hosts more than 20 miles of trails that butt up against the 7,500-acre Big Survey Wildlife Management Area, which is slated to have quite a bit more mileage of trail in the near future. The CST loop is a 2.1-mile moderate hike that is great for anyone. It is obvious that the town takes care of the trail system evident by the great signage, well-built lean-tos and bridges, and well-maintained trail. Creeks, pine tree groves, rhodo-tunnels, wooden bridges, and picnic lean-to shelters, make up the ambience of this great local trail.
8. Chestnut Ridge, Appalachian Trail
The Chestnut Ridge section of the Appalachian Trail that is located near Burkes Garden, Virginia, is one of the best-kept secrets among the state’s hikers in the know. This portion of the AT offers remarkable mountain meadows and excellent long-range views of Virginia’s highest peak, Mt. Rogers. In season, the wildflowers are unbelievably gorgeous and a good enough reason alone to hike the trail.
9. High Points Trail
This 2.1-mile, point-to-point hike located in the Big Survey Wildlife Management Area takes you to a large rock overlook that affords great views of the surrounding mountains. Expect fairly steep uphill hiking through a dense forest filled with various plants and fungi scattered on the ground.
10. Cascades National Recreation Trail
Located near Pembroke, Virginia, the Cascades National Recreation Trail is a 4-mile loop that works its way alongside the aptly-named Little Stony Creek until it deposits you at the base of a breathtaking 66-foot high waterfall. The trail work is ingenious and is in perfect harmony with the natural setting. Expect lots of rock steps that have been carved into the bedrock and numerous wooden bridges that allow you to cross the creek and get close to the waterfall and feel its spray. The return hike is much easier as it follows a mostly flat grade in the forest.
The small town of Abingdon has been welcoming visitors for nearly 250 years, ever since it was a stop for weary travelers heading west on the Great Wilderness Road. Thousands of tourists are attracted to Abingdon each year to visit Barter Theatre, the Virginia Creeper Trail, and the beautiful historic downtown shopping district. Now, the town’s official Visitor Center has gotten a new paint job that restores its historic charm.
The Abingdon Visitor Center is located at 335 Cummings Street, in a former private residence built in 1906. The house was in need of exterior painting, and town officials decided to try to determine the home’s original Victorian colors, in order restore the building to its original appearance. Using tiny core samples, a historic conservator was able to analyze the layers of paint and find the original 1906 colors.
The Abingdon Visitor Center before restoration.
The Hassinger House, also known as The Grove, is a late Victorian clapboarded and decoratively shingled house built in 1906 by William Hassinger, who owned Hassinger Lumber of Konnarock, VA.
The project used cross-section microscopy analysis techniques to determine the original exterior paint palette. The study showed that the house had gone through at least 17 to 18 paint jobs throughout the years, with up to 25 generations of paint in some areas. The earliest paints were then color matched for replication, and the results were dramatically different from the building’s 21st-Century appearance.
Victorian homes were often affectionately called “Painted Ladies,” for their vivid, multi-colored appearances. The report found that the Hassinger House originally had a much more intense color scheme, “painted with an earth tone palette of deep red-brown, olive green and cream-color. No other colors were found during this research, but it is possible there could even have been a fourth color (based on suggested commercial palettes of the period.”
Newly painted in green, red-brown and cream, the Abingdon Visitor Center will now give visitors a preview of the many historic sites the town has to offer.
A tray with three homemade ice cream treats, Hot Fudge, Raspberry Cheesecake, and Death By Chocolate at Anthony’s Desserts on Main Street in Abingdon, VA
Ice cream is a great treat anytime of the year, but in the summer months ice cream holds a special place in the hearts of kids and adults. Abingdon is chock full of family-owned ice cream eateries that cater to tastebuds of all kinds and all ages. During the Virginia Highlands Festival (July 29 – August 7) take a break from the heat and chill down in one of these unique ice cream shops on or near Main Street.
This elegant shop offers house-made ice cream, coffee, and a multitude of baked goods like cookies, brownies, crème brulee and cheesecake. Walking into Anthony’s Desserts, you can smell all of the amazing things being cooked in the kitchen. Each week they create homemade ice cream in house with no preservatives or artificial coloring. selections change every week.
Located in one of Abingdon’s historic buildings on Main Street, Camella’s has been transformed into a tea parlor and ice cream shop. Upon entering the adorably quaint shop you’re immediately pulled back in time to a more genteel era.
This small store along Charwood Drive in Abingdon is just the place to go for a quick ice cream stop. The Country Store also provides a place where avid bakers can pick up a rare spice or an Amish ingredient. Reasonably priced cones and cups are available in 5 classic Mayfield flavors.
Pop Ellis Soda Shop is a local eatery along Abingdon’s Main Street. Right in the center of town, it’s located in a former drugstore, and still has an old-fashioned soda fountain. Order one of Ellis’s signature ice cream sundaes or an ice cream float in flavors like Root beer, Coke, Cherry Blossom, Chocolate, and Orange.
The Ice Cream Stop is a hidden gem that’s a favorite with locals. With over 15 different flavors and plenty of options, you can create your perfect custom ice cream cone! A drive through also offers ice cream if you’re on the go.
Abingdon’s newest frozen dessert shop serves 24 different flavors of frozen yogurt and 41 types of toppings. Just start with your own bowl and fill it up with hundreds of different combinations of frozen flavors to ward off the hot days.
Over 8 million people have downloaded the new game Pokémon Go, and downtown Abingdon has been flooded with Pokémon trainers searching for Squirtles, Charmanders, and of course, Pikachu himself.
We’ve put together this handy guide to hunting Pokémon in Abingdon, including where to recharge your phone for free, where grab a bite to eat while you’re hunting, what else to see in town while you’re here, and tips for how to catch ’em all without breaking any laws (or any bones!).
The Abingdon Police Department has an important message for players. “Attention all Pokémon trainers, we need your help. As you pursue Pikachu, or any other Poké-characters, please use caution. Sometimes people do not understand that you are playing in augmented reality. Remember in the real world, laws apply.” Read more here.
So remember, keep your eyes on the road while driving, respect private property, be safe, and have fun! And if you catch a particularly rare Pokémon in Abingdon, take a screenshot and tell us about it with the hashtag #PokemonGoAbingdon.
Pokestops in Historic Abingdon
Known Poke Stops include the Abingdon Farmers Market, Barter Theatre, Washington County Library, the Virginia Creeper Trail and the sidewalk in front of The Martha Washington Inn & Spa.
In addition, wild Pokemon have been sighted all up and down Abingdon’s historic district, at places like The Tavern, and the stores at the Market District, Park Street, and Courthouse Hill.
Put your Pokémon to the test as you battle it out in one of these Gyms. Remember, town parks are closed after dark, and make sure to respect private property. Gyms located in Abingdon include the sculpture garden at the William King Museum of Art, Barter Stage II, Heartwood, the town park at the corner of Tanner St. and Park St., the Arts Depot and Veterans Park
Charge your phone for free
Did you know Abingdon offers two free phone charging stations in downtown? If your battery is running low while you are out hunting, look for the bright red English phone booths in front of the Municipal parking lot on Main Street and at the Creeper Trail Welcome Center. Each phone booth contains a free charging station.
Just in time for the Virginia Highlands Festival (July 29 – August 7, 2016), we have this insider’s guide to how to enjoy a street festival.
Becky Caldwell, Executive Director of the Virginia Highlands Festival says in this month’s Blue Ridge Country magazine, “I have a confession to make – I am a festival junkie…I prefer to eat my food off a stick and a paper plate than a fancy restaurant. Beer belongs in plastic cup, and the best dancing happens on the grass.”
The Virginia Highlands Festival showcases the region’s best art and culture, including fine arts, antiques, music, outdoor adventures, writing workshops, and Appalachian history. See the full schedule at VaHighlandsFestival.org.
Check out her pro tips below, and then make plans to put them in to action at the 68th Virginia Highlands Festival in downtown Abingdon, July 29 – August 7, 2016.
1. Dress for the weather, and plenty of walking. Don’t worry about looking cute, because everyone has the same trickle of sweat running down the small of their back. Just be comfortable! That means good walking shoes, loose, breathable clothing, and sun protection like a hat, visor, or sunglasses.
2. Know that you will spend more on food and drinks at a festival than you probably did for a week’s worth of groceries. Embrace this fact, and enjoy your $10 burger.
3. Leave your diet at home. You know who eats a salad at a festival? No one! It’s time for funnel cake and BBQ – in that order. Besides, you’ll probably walk off all those calories anyway.
4. Loosen up about the schedule. Things in a festival can change all the time because of traffic, weather, or general life craziness. Show up ready to explore, and don’t let yourself be limited to the printed event guide. Which leads us directly to Tip #5….
5. Try something new. The best thing about a festival is the sheer quantity of things happening all at once, that you don’t normally have access to. Check out that new band, play a game you’ve never played before, see some art, explore a park.