Category Archives: Abingdon Blog

Announcing the winners of the 2016 Abingdon Shorts competition

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

JR Linkous Headshot

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 headshot
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

JR Linkous Headshot

 

“Playtime,” also produced by J.R. Linkous, took home the third place price.

 

 

For more information about the Abingdon Shorts competition, visit AbingdonShorts.com.

 

00-20161222 Grayson Highlands Ponies

An Insider’s Guide to Grayson Highlands State Park: Virginia’s Land of High Peaks, Grassy Balds, and Wild Ponies

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.

Classic Adventures

The Grayson Highlands State Park features the state’s highest peak, and many surrounding summits to conquer. Mallee Oot
The Grayson Highlands State Park features the state’s highest peak, and many surrounding summits to conquer.
Mallee Oot

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

Hikers have a wide variety of options at Grayson Highlands, with both high peaks to climb and gentle trails to explore. Mallee Oot
Hikers have a wide variety of options at Grayson Highlands, with both high peaks to climb and gentle trails to explore.
Mallee Oot

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

Grayson Highlands offers camping, but reservations fill up quickly, so plan ahead. Mallee Oot
Grayson Highlands offers camping, but reservations fill up quickly, so plan ahead.
Mallee Oot

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.

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Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image by S.A., courtesy of Grayson Highlands State Park.

Holiday Shopping in Abingdon

‘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

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

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.

Jerroleen's Shed

Jerroleen’s Shed

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!

Forget-Me-Not

Forget-Me-Not

Abingdon Olive Oil Company is 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

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

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 more GREAT SHOPPING in 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.

A Very Barter Christmas: Unexpected Delights for the Holiday Season

barter-at-christmas-web

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

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.

overtheriverandthroughthewoods

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.

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!

BEFORE OR AFTER THE SHOW

Downtown Abingdon is especially beautiful this time of year. Stroll Main Street to window shop and appreciate the decorations or get a bite to eat. Some of the nearby favorites are Rain Restaurant & BarSisters American Grill, and Pop Ellis Soda Shoppe & Grille. At Barter Stage II, Political Dogs is serving “gourmet casual comfort food,” including excellent hot dogs, of course!

>> More Places to Eat

STAY THE NIGHT

Walk to the show when you stay the night nearby. Consider the illustrious Martha Washington Hotel and Spa, also glittering with stunning holiday décor. The Park Street Guesthouse is just two blocks away and offers all of the comforts and privacy of home.

>> More Places to Stay

EXTEND YOUR STAY

Expand your footprint beyond downtown Abingdon when you visit “must-see” places like Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway and Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview.

A Christmas Tree, fresh cut from the McDaniel Tree Farm in nearby Konnarock, loaded with artisan ornaments for sale at Heartwood: The Southwest Virginia Artisan Gateway in Abingdon, VA

A Christmas Tree loaded with artisan ornaments for sale at Heartwood: The Southwest Virginia Artisan Gateway

No trip to Abingdon is complete without at least a short jaunt on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Walk a brisk mile or two to work up an appetite for hot soup or a hot toddy.

>> More Ways to Play

 

A Destination Christmas in Historic Downtown Abingdon

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.

Christmas in Abingdon

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.

Merry Christmas Eve!! Cc: @jasonbarnette #abingdonva #themartha #holidays #christmas

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.

A Tailor's Lodging in Abingdon, VA

“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.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO MAKE IT MEMORABLE

Prepare your family for a fantastic Christmas getaway to Abingdon with these resources.

Welcome to Virginessee

Welcome to the state of Virginessee!

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.

bristol-sign

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!

Ready to escape the election news? Go off the grid in Abingdon, VA

Virginia Creeper Trail – Sam Dean Photography

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>

Virginia Creeper Trail, Green Cove Station

Green Cove Station, Virginia Creeper Trail – Sam Dean Photography

 

Barter Theatre

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>

Actors on stage at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA

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

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

Indoor swimming pool at the Martha Washington Inn & Spa – Jason Barnette

Fall colors in Shenandoah National Park. - Kevin Kelley

Where to Find the Best Fall Colors in Virginia

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

Grayson Highlands State Park.
Grayson Highlands State Park. Photo by Rocky Wall Virginia State Parks

 

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

Mt Rogers.
Mt Rogers. US Forest Service – Southern Region

 

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

Hungry Mother State Park.
Hungry Mother State Park.  Virginia State Parks

 

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

Heritage Trail. Malee Oot
Heritage Trail. Malee Oot

 

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

Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah National Park.  Bryon Lippincott

 

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

Sky Meadows Bench. Malee Oot
Sky Meadows Bench.  Malee Oot

 

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.

Humpback Rocks

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.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Kevin Kelley

20160803 Virginia Cascades SW Virginia-01

10 Best Hikes in Southwest Virginia

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).

Grayson Highlands.
Grayson Highlands. Julie Slater/Virginia State Parks

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

Grayson Highlands.
Grayson Highlands. Virginia State Parks

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

Channels Trail.
Channels Trail.  Dan Grogan

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

Cascades adventure.
Cascades adventure.  Merritt Boyd

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.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Merritt Boyd

The Martha Washington Inn & Spa

Looking for a Fall Romantic Getaway? Check Out the Small Southwest Virginia Town of Abingdon

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.

Elegant room in the Martha Washington Inn
Elegant room in the Martha Washington Inn  Jason Barnette

Day One

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.

Virginia Creeper Trailhead. Malee Oot
Virginia Creeper Trailhead.  Malee Oot

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.

Day Two

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.

Wolf Hills Brewing. Malee Oot
Wolf Hills Brewing.  Malee Oot

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.

The Barter. Malee Oot
The Barter.  Malee Oot

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.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Jason Barnette