Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Abingdon Shorts competition!
The short film competition was created to promote and support the creative talents in our region, while celebrating the unique people, places and events that make Abingdon a tourist destination.
Films had to be less than three minutes long, and embody the spirit of Abingdon’s tag line: “It’s Always Play Time in Abingdon.”
There were several short films submitted, of which the judging committee selected the top three to receive awards. The winners will be used in promotional content on the Visit Abingdon website and social media channels.
Abingdon has just announced the next round of competition, with submissions due July 19, 2017. To enter or learn more, visit AbingdonShorts.com
First Place: “Like a Kid Again” by J.R. Linkous
J.R. Linkous is a Bristol based designer and filmmaker. “Like a Kid Again” was filmed entirely on location on Abingdon’s Main Street. See more of his work at jayarelinkous.com.
“When I first read the details for the Abingdon Shorts film competition, I knew in about 20 minutes what I was going to do. When trying to put together an idea for a video or film, I have these “easy ideas” that come to me right away. You know, the ones that make sense. I typically try to bypass any of those and come up with something that goes the extra mile and looks at communicating the same point or story in a completely different way. When I read the line “it’s always playtime in Abingdon”, my initial thought was to highlight the Creeper Trail, fishing, backpacking, all the elements that easily communicate “playtime”. However, I decided that I wanted to connect Main Street Abingdon with “playtime”. As always, I’m working with no budget and little time. What I had to come up with would have to be simple but communicate the point just as well. I decided that I wanted to use my 5-year-old daughter because she’s cute and she didn’t charge me a dime to act. At this point, I have to connect shopping and tourism with a 5 year old. It was all downhill after this! The phrase “makes me feel like a kid again” came to mind. That idea combined with the desire to have a twist at the end resulted in my Abingdon short film entry “Like a Kid Again”.
Second Place: “The Shoot” by Jon Phelps/Nice Marmot Productions
Jon Phelps of Nice Marmot Productions is an IT professional in Abingdon, Virginia. For more from Nice Marmot Productions, visit their Youtube channel.
“Because we had to use the tagline “It’s always play time in Abingdon” I thought it would be amazing if we were shooting a commercial centered around that one line and the actor just couldn’t get it right. I pitched it to my friend Ryan Henderson, the main star of the short, and we wrote it in an evening and shot it the following day in the upstairs of the Barter Theatre. I think I decided to go with a comedy narrative because I have always enjoyed making people laugh and once I had that central idea the script really wrote itself. We went super meta with the ending, having his girlfriend be the actual star of the commercial, but in the end I think it worked well and was a nice little button on the whole thing.”
Third Place: “Playtime” by J.R. Linkous
“Playtime,” also produced by J.R. Linkous, took home the third place price.
Spread over a pocket of Appalachian high country, Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park is an alpine Eden. The lofty landscape is embellished by airy mountain meadows, gushing trout streams, rhododendron-filled forests, and a conglomeration of high peaks. Best of all, more than 100 wild ponies roam Grayson Highlands and the neighboring Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is a 200,000-acre swath of the massive Jefferson National Forest. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night without camping, the nearby town of Abingdon has a wide variety of options from hotels to bed & breakfasts.
Established in 1965, the 4,502-acre park was originally called the Mount Rogers State Park—long known for providing a portal to the state’s highest peak. Besides offering a route to the forest-shrouded summit of Mount Rogers, today Grayson Highlands is a lofty trail hub with a network of 13 different trails inside the state park, and access to the 2,150-mile Appalachian Trail and 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
Peak baggers won’t be able to resist the temptation to tackle Virginia’s highest peak, the 5,729-foot Mount Rogers. Fortunately, the shortest and arguably the most scenic route to the summit comes courtesy of Grayson Highlands State Park. The approximately 8.5-mile out-and-back route begins on the aptly named Rhododendron Trail in Grayson Highlands, beginning from the Massie Gap parking area. It links with the Appalachian Trail and Mount Rogers Spur trail outside the park. Cherish the views along the way—the actual summit of Mount Rogers is in the midst of a moss-cloaked forest.
The park also has plenty to offer less ambitious hikers, with many of the shorter trails in Grayson Highlands loaded with iconic Appalachian vistas. The easily accessible Twin Pinnacles Trail begins at the park’s visitor center and takes hikers on a 1.6-mile loop with sweeping views of Wilbur Ridge and Mount Rogers. The equally short-and-sweet Cabin Creek Trail is a 1.8-mile riverine ramble, leading visitors along a trail framed by rhododendron and mountain laurel that features a 25-foot waterfall.
Grayson Highlands is also a hotspot for anglers. You’ll find nearly 10 miles of trout streams, featuring brook and rainbow trout, which are part of the Blue Ridge Highlands Fishing Trail. The park’s waterways are designated Special Regulation Wildlife Trout Streams, mandating the use of artificial lures and single hooks, and requiring any trout under 9-inches be released unscathed. The longest stretch of fishable water inside the park is the 3.5-miles along Big Wilson Creek, accessible from either the 1.78-mile Wilson Creek Trail, beginning at the park’s main campground, or via the Appalachian Trail, accessed from the Massie Gap parking area. Sections of Big Wilson Creek are also designated as a “stocked trout stream,” requiring both a Virginia fishing license and a trout license.
Secrets of the Park
One of the park’s highlights is the band of ponies roving the highlands—including a famous, flaxen-maned stallion named Fabio, renowned for his salon-quality locks. The origin of the equines is somewhat mysterious, but one story suggests the ponies were bred by locals to survive the fickle Appalachian high country with minimal human interference. Inside the park, the herd was introduced by the Forest Service in 1974 to provide a natural landscaping service for the highland balds, first cleared by loggers at the end of the 19th century and later grazed by cattle throughout first half of the 20th century.
Today, the free-wandering herd is managed by the Wilbur Ridge Pony Association. The ponies are rounded up every fall for a health check–and so that a few individuals (usually young males) can be selected for auction at the annual Grayson Highlands Fall Festival.
Grayson Highlands is not just a bucket-list trip for hikers in the Old Dominion—the park is also one of the premier bouldering destinations in Virginia. With nearly 1,000 problems scattered throughout the park, there are enough routes to suit all kinds of climbers. The lofty elevation of the park’s bouldering areas, many more than 5,000 feet, also make Grayson Highlands a prime climbing destination during the summer, when temperatures render many popular routes in the Southeast off-limits.
The park features more removed climbing spots, like the Highlands Bouldering Area (accessible after a hike from Massie Gap), but is also scattered with plenty of easily accessible problems, especially along the 1.4-mile Listening Rock Trail. There are also climbable boulders in the vicinity of the park’s contact station, picnic area, and even the main campground. One of the area’s most beloved climbs, the Wilson Creek Boulder, is an easily stroll from any tent site there. Without a doubt, the definitive guide to bouldering opportunities in the state park is Aaron Parlier’s book Grayson Highlands Bouldering.
While the park’s trails are positively bustling in the fall, spring and summer, hosting everyone from day-hikers to thru-hikers, Grayson Highlands also has plenty of potential for hearty souls in the dead of winter. The elevation ensures the high country in Grayson Highlands and the neighboring Mount Rogers National Recreation Area consistently get a generous coating of powder, and the airy alpine meadows are ideal for exploring with cross-country skis.
Several of the park’s trails are open for cross-country skiing, including the 3.7-mile Old Upchurch Road, 1.2-mile Seed Orchard Road, the 3.2-mile Horse Trail (east), and the 0.9-mile Horse Trail (north), which connects to the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
Quick Tips: Getting the Most out of Your Trip
The park’s campground is popular and fills up quickly, especially in the summer and early fall, during peak leaf-peeping. There is no backcountry camping in the park, but Grayson Highlands provides a gateway to a bounty of options for overnights. The state park is sandwiched between two wilderness areas—the 6,076-acre Lewis Fork Wilderness, laced with nearly 30-miles of trails, and the peak-capped Little Wilson Creek Wilderness, a rugged 5,461-acre expanse crowned with three summits above 4,600-feet. Both part of the larger Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
Weather in the park can change rapidly, and temperatures in the highlands ensure hypothermia is a consideration year-round. Snow is possible from September to May, and the barren high-country balds, famously devoid of trees, are also especially prone to powerfully unfettered winds. Rangers close the park in the case of extreme conditions—including air temperatures below 15°F and wind speeds above 35 mph. But that still leaves the vast majority of the year to explore one of Virginia’s most beautiful places.
Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.
Featured image by S.A., courtesy of Grayson Highlands State Park.
‘Tis the season to shop ’til you drop, and we suggest Abingdon as an especially fine choice for buying unique, meaningful gifts. We’re the quintessential “shop small” destination with quaint boutiques lining our historic downtown streets. Let us show you why.
WEST MAIN STREET
Shops on and around Main Street between Cummings and Wall Streets offer a good selection of gift-buying options. Start at Abingdon Mercantile and Frame Shop, two stories of fantastic finds in what used to be an old hotel. Many of your favorite gift brands are found here, as well as home decor and apparel.
Abingdon Mercantile & Frame Shop
Stuff your stockings with sweet treats from The Candy Shed, Abingdon’s candy store. Bulk candies, lollipops, a variety of mint tins, and nostalgic candies can be found here. Want more sugar and old fashioned fun? Be sure to swing by Ellis Soda Shoppe for a float!
The Candy Shed
Looking for local handmade gifts? Check out Necessities, a trove of local love and international delights, too. Find delicious teas and foods, as well as art, kitchenware, and linens.
Those seeking something specific for someone who’s hard to buy for may have luck with a special antique or primitive gift. Try Jerroleen’s Shed, a well curated antiques and primitives store that also carries interesting “man gifts” like beard balm and “bloody knuckles” hand salve.
EAST MAIN STREET
On the other side of The Martha Washington Inn & Spa and Barter Theatre is more great shopping. Start at Forget-Me-Not, a ladies boutique in what was once an old apothecary. Today that building is filled with jewelry, clothes, gift cards, and more, but none of it is the ordinary, run-of-the-mill variety. You’ll find something special here!
Abingdon Olive Oil Companyis the perfect place to find a fine oil for the Betty Crocker in your life. If you don’t know where to start, the knowledgeable staff can give you great recommendations.
Abingdon Olive Oil Company
Katbird’s Wine & Gourmet will probably have you at “complimentary wine and beer tastings every Saturday afternoon,” and if so, we don’t blame you. Sample something new and choose a new favorite to take home for a holiday dinner or to gift a co-worker or friend. A variety of home goods and gourmet delights may even find their way into your bag as well.
Katbird’s Wine & Gourmet
Two blocks back on Park Street sits Wolf Hills Brewing Company. If you didn’t find a craft beer you like at Katbird’s try the local flavor and perhaps take home a growler!
Just down Park is Holston Mountain Artisans, the perfect place to pick up a handmade gift from a local artisan. From photography and pottery to joinery and jewelry, there’s no telling what impressive handcrafted object may be the perfect gift.
Holston Mountain Artisans
There’s moreGREAT SHOPPINGin Abingdon, so don’t stop here. You’ll find music stores, more clothing and jewelry, and LOTS more artisan shops and galleries to peruse this holiday season.
Those who have never experienced the holiday season at Barter Theatre in Abingdon are truly missing out. It’s not your average theater, and it’s not your average “come watch our holiday show and go home” experience. Rather, attending a show at The Barter Theatre during the Christmas season should be a tradition. Indeed, an annual holiday destination.
A Christmas Carol at Barter Theatre
“The Christmas shows at the Barter are one of my very favorite things to do during the holiday season. It has become a tradition of sorts for me and my friends or family to start the season off with one of the favorite holiday classics …” Trip Advisor user Evie H.
Over the River and Through the Woods at Barter Theatre, Christmas 2017
At Barter Theatre during this festive season, patrons can expect elaborate, gorgeous decorations throughout the common areas, as well as hot cocoa to warm you as you come in the door. Holiday trees are here, there, and everywhere! It’s a truly delightful scene.
The gift shops – one at Barter proper and another at Barter Stage II – have souvenirs and gifts to choose from. Perhaps someone on your list needs a gift certificate to share this experience with you next year?
The gift shop in the Barter Theatre is especially festive at Christmas.
2016 CHRISTMAS SEASON AT BARTER
The shows rotate near-daily at Barter and Barter Stage II. Hurry to order your tickets online before they’re sold out!
There’s too much noise in the world today. Too many distractions, and too much chaos. Settle down and settle in with a destination Christmas in Abingdon, Virginia.
Abingdon is a small town that’s big on culture and hospitality. Here, you can escape the hustle and bustle and focus on what’s important: your loved ones. Let us show you the way.
DELIGHTFUL STAYS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
The Martha Washington Inn & Spa is the grand dame of Abingdon. Steeped in history, this hotel was originally the home of the Preston family but has seen life as a dorm for Barter Theatre actors, a women’s college, a makeshift Civil War hospital, and eventually a hotel.
A photo posted by Abingdon, VA (@visitabingdonva) on
The Martha’s appeal for families are numerous: an on-site restaurant where kids under 12 eat free, the spa and heated pool, the fire pit, the beautiful decorations, the history, and of course, the ghost stories! Depending on the number of family members getting away with you, your accommodation options range from Martha’s Residence, a two king suite with fireplace seating areas and an optional connecting Deluxe King room, to the Family Friendly Suite, a two bedroom apartment with a king and two double beds.
“Our family, as well as other relatives, recently stayed at the Martha. We all had a fabulous time! This hotel is elegant, charming, and beautiful both inside and out. We found the rooms spacious compared to other historic hotels we’ve stayed in. The pool is also quite large for a hotel and it was so relaxing to sit in a jacuzzi outside in the middle of the winter. We also enjoyed the library and could have spent hours inside reading all the interesting books.” – TripAdvisor user Jennifer S.
Abingdon’s bed and breakfasts are stunning. Inquire with an innkeeper about renting the whole house if your family wants a private, more intimate environment.
Summerfield Inn is a 1920s Colonial Revival with plenty of room for the whole gang. Seven guestrooms with en suite are in the main house while three additional suites are available in the Carriage House. You’ll want to choose your room carefully as some sleep up to three people and at least one has its own special perk: the Rose Room has a two-person whirlpool tub!
“This location was central for widely separated family members. Lots of room for a gathering …” – TripAdvisor user Tim11502
While breakfast is not served at A Tailor’s Lodging, morning beverages are available and the location is top-notch. Tucked away within the historic downtown, the property offers three queen suites with fireplaces and en suite. The Tailor’s Shop is a sweet little cottage with private entrance and kitchenette.
“This is a great place to stay have stayed here several times of the last few years. This is a place you can rent the whole house for you and your guests. Very quiet and close to the Barter Theaters.” – TripAdvisor user M7735XUgregb
Copper Lantern Boutique Inn is also a centrally located bed and breakfast that consistently receives incredible guest reviews. The 1873 Georgian Colonial boasts five immaculate suites with fine linens and shower amenities.
“We traveled from Colorado to join family members in Abingdon. The Copper Lantern Inn was our home base for a 5-day stay in Abingdon. The Inn’s central location was perfect for hiking, shopping, dining … It was a delightful meeting place for our family.” – TripAdvisor user Carol K.
Have you considered a cabin or cottage? It’s the ultimate “away from it all” Christmas destination, and we happen to have a few options within historic downtown Abingdon.
Creeper’s End Lodging is two new cottages built in a Colonial style and offering two rental spaces in one of them and three in the other. Each cottage can sleep up to 10 guests and each unit has its own kitchenette, which means everyone gets a turn at cooking!
“What a fabulous place for a family reunion! We took over the place and were in heaven. Lovely furnishings and very comfortable. They thought of everything a traveler might need. Close to trail, park, good food, the Barter, and a wonderful yard to play in!!”- TripAdvisor user Cathryn T.
Another excellent collection of cabins is that of Crooked Cabin Properties, a trio still within the historic downtown of Abingdon. The largest and most accommodating for a full-family getaway is The Brook House with sleeping arrangements for eight in 3,000 square feet. Need more room? The Creekside Hatch is an adjacent two-bedroom cottage that sleeps four more people.
“A wonderful experience in a lovely historic town. We had a 20 year reunion at the Brook House and it could not have been more perfect. Spacious, clean, we had everything we needed for a perfect weekend.” – TripAdvisor user Alice P.
Abingdon, Virginia is located smack dab in the middle of Southwest Virginia, a part of the state that’s so far to the west, it’s practically Tennessee. Our next door neighbor is the city of Bristol TN/VA, a unique place that straddles the state line between Virginia and Tennessee.
The hills of Southwest Virginia are filled with breathtaking Appalachian scenery and quirky small towns. The winding roads are great for scenic drives by car or motorcycle, and in small towns you’ll find charming Main Streets that highlight a new emphasis on Appalachian culture: food, spirits, music and art like no where else in the country.
Want to stand in two states at once?
The famous Geico Gecko is just the latest visitor to participate in this tradition. For decades, visitors have taken pictures on State Street, one foot on each side of the state line. In the road you’ll find bronze markers indicating the state line. Take your picture as you stand in two states at once, right in the middle of Virginessee – no gecko required.
Be safe! Look both ways and obey local traffic laws as you take your photo.
To get there
From Abingdon, it’s less than 17 miles to State Street in Bristol. Take Exit 3 on I-81, and follow signs to downtown Bristol. Park on the north side (Virginia) or the south side (Tennessee). Either way, parking is free!
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.