Category Archives: RootsRated

20170308- Virginia - Southwest Virginia - Hungry Mother State Park

8 Must-Do Family Adventures in Southwest Virginia

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

1. Lake Lounging

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

2. Hike the Highlands

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

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

Virginia State Parks

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

3. Sleep Under the Stars

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

4. Family Float Trips

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

5. Saddle Up

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

6. Catch a Show

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

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

Jay Prickett

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

7. Cruise the Creeper

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

8. Cultural Tours*

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

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

Doug Kerr

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

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170309-Virginia- Hungry Mother State Park

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

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

1. Head for the Backcountry

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

2. Flavors of the Season

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

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

3. High Country on Horseback

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

4. Seek Out Legendary Country Music Spots

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

5. Get Artsy

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

6. Find the Perfect Picnic Spot

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

7. Take an Old-Fashioned Fishing Trip

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

8. Dogs Days of Summer

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

9. Hike the Appalachian Trail

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

10. Coast the Creeper

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

11. Hit the Water

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

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170217-Virginia-Breaks Interstate Park

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

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

1. Grayson Highlands State Park

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

2. The Newly Re-Opened Hidden Valley Climbing Area

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

3. The Atkins Boulderfield

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

4. Breaks Interstate Park

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

5. Guest River Gorge

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

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

6. Après-Climb Perks

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

7. Cultural Detours

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

8. Sweet Campsites and Cabins

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

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

9. Multisport Options

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

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

10. Bouldering Bike Trips

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

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170221-Virginia-Southwest Virginia-Virginia Creeper Trail

The 7 Toughest Outdoor Adventures in Southwest Virginia

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

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

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

1. Summiting Mount Rogers

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

2. Sport Climbing at Hidden Valley Lake!

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

3. Trail Running the Seven Sister Trail

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

4. Mountain Biking the Iron Mountain 100k

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

5. Running the Entire Virginia Creeper Trail

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

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

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

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

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

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Mark Peterson

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

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

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

1. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail!

Rent bikes to explore the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Rent bikes to explore the Virginia Creeper Trail.

David Joyce

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

2. Explore South Holston Lake

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

3. Scale the rocky heights of Backbone Rock Recreation Area

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

4. Visit the Wild Ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park

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

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

Virginia State Parks

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

5. Enjoy Springtime Blooms

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

6. Day Hike the Appalachian Trail!

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

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

Jason Riedy

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

7. Paddle the North Fork of the Holston River

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

8. Mingle with Locals at the Abingdon Farmers Market

The Abingdon Farmers Market has nearly 100 vendors.

The Abingdon Farmers Market has nearly 100 vendors.

Villain Media, LLC.

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

9. Music and Festivals

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

10. Eat at a Farm-to-Table Restaurant

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

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

Harvest Table Restaurant

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

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Harvest Table Restaurant

20170221_Virginia_Abingdon_Virginia_Creeper_Trail_Bridge_Biking

The 8 Best Biking Trails in Southwest Virginia

Simply put, riding a bike is a smile-inducing escape from the stress of everyday life. And no matter how you like to ride, Southwest Virginia is filled with a wide variety of options to put a smile on your face. The centrally located Abingdon, Virginia, is the logical hub in this region to launch your two-wheel adventure. It’s close to several major bike trails, and offers bike rentals and outfitters, hotels and bed & breakfast spots, downtown shops and restaurants, and post-ride entertainment options to make for a fine cycling getaway. Here are eight of the best biking routes in the region to get you acquainted with the near endless cycling possibilities found here, whether you’re looking for mountain biking trails, a road ride or a mixed-use bike path.

1. Iron Mountain Trail

Distance from Abingdon: 14 miles

Mileage: Approximately 24 miles one way

Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

The Iron Mountain Trail is an amazing backcountry ridge trail that, when shuttled one way from Hurricane Mountain to the trail town of Damascus, makes for more than 20 miles of technical downhill-trending singletrack. Big oak forests, rocky and root-laden technical sections, au-natural berms, scenic vistas, and even a few rollers make this one of the best mountain bike trails in the entire state. You’ll also find a lot of options for loops using various other trails and forest service roads found in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

2. Seven Sisters Trail

Distance from Abingdon: 65 miles

Mileage: 5.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

The Seven Sisters Trail is a well-guarded secret among local mountain bike aficionados. Although there are lots of options in the area for creating big loops using forest service roads, jeep tracks, and some pavement to tie into Seven Sisters; the real prize of the area is the 5.5-mile trail named for the seven mini peaks that one will ride up and down along the ridge. Expect steep, punchy climbs that sometimes test your ability to get traction, coupled with just as steep and feverishly fast descents split up by backcountry flow sections that separate the peaks.

3. Crystal Springs Recreation Area

Life is oh so joyful.

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Distance from Abingdon: 59 miles

Mileage: 13 miles of trails

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate/Difficult

The Crystal Springs Recreation Area, located in Wytheville, Virginia, is a relatively new town-owned park that caters to mountain bikers. Along with its stellar trail portfolio, the park features a bike wash station and plenty of spots for a post-ride picnic. The trails run the full gamut from very technical riding found on the Boundary Trail and the High Rocks Spur Trail to easier riding found on the Crystal Springs Loop Trail and various other spur trails. There’s a little bit of everything out here—rocks, rhodo-tunnels, creek crossings, technical rooty sections, and loamy dirt sections.

4. Heart of Appalachia Bike Trail

Distance from Abingdon: 39 miles

Mileage: 128 miles

Difficulty: Difficult

The Heart of Appalachia Bike Trail is a bike tour through some of the most amazing scenery found in Southwest Virginia. Along the way cyclists need to be prepared for a bit of everything including back roads, rail-trails, gravel roads, and singletrack. Riders will cross over scenic rivers, through Jefferson National Forest, by countless tracts of mountain valley farmland and even over a swinging bridge. There are ample spots to resupply and even make a mid-ride pub stop. Camping or lodging is available along the route if one wants to break this up into two days. It is truly a tour-de-force of the best of the region and widely praised as a must-do adventure tour by many cyclists in the state.

5. Virginia Creeper Trail

Today's been creepy

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Distance from Abingdon: 0 miles

Mileage: 34 miles

Difficulty: Easy

The Virginia Creeper Trail is considered one of the best rail-trail bike routes in the entire nation, and for good reason. The trail is extremely beginner friendly and with the abundance of resupply points, outfitter shuttle services, and post-ride dinner options, it has become a favorite vacation of many families and recreational cyclists. Along the way, riders will have their senses dazzled by the beautiful pastoral farmlands, the rolling Appalachian hills in the distance, and the hum of the beautiful White Top Laurel Creek. Many cyclists will take a shuttle to the end of the trail at Whitetop Station and take the mostly downhill route back to the pick up point.

6. New River Trail

Distance from Abingdon: Approximately 80 miles

Mileage: 57 miles

Difficulty: Easy

The New River Trail is located within the linear New River State Park. It is a classic rails-to-trails bike path that parallels the New River for most of the trail. Like the Virginia Creeper Trail, this ride is a good option for family outings and recreational riders. Along the way bikers will cross many bridges and a couple of tunnels. Access points are easy to find, and there are options for primitive camping along the trail for those that are interested in an overnight adventure.

7. Burkes Garden Century

Distance from Abingdon: 62 miles

Mileage: 100

Difficulty: Moderate

The Burkes Garden Century is an actual event that is put on by the New River Valley Bicycle Association each August, but many cyclists ride this route on their own. The route is notoriously novice-friendly for folks seeking out their first century. Expect gentle grades for most of the ride with the exception of moderately steep climbs and descents in Burkes Garden. Along the way, riders will get long-range views of rolling farmlands and be pleasantly surprised by the interesting topography found in the crater like valley of Burkes Garden.

8. Big Walker National Scenic Byway Ride

What a view from Crystal Springs Recreation Area! #Wytheville #outdoors #hike

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Distance from Abingdon: 55 miles

Mileage: Approximately 50 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

The Big Walker National Scenic Byway ride uses Jefferson National Forest, the Stony Fork Recreation area, and both Little Walker and Big Walker Mountains. Expect a fair amount of rollers climbing up from Stony Fork to Little Walker and then a tough climb up onto Big Walker. At the top of Big Walker Mountain there is a general store with great food and an old observation tower that is worth climbing up to soak up the 360 degree views of the region. The descent off Big Walker Mountain is fast and twisty making for a riotous good time.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Joe DeGaetano

20170127 Virginia Ponies

10 Tips from Locals on How to Make the Most of a Mini-Vacation in Southwest Virginia

Featuring a landscape dappled with mammoth swaths of wilderness, laced with free-flowing rivers, and crowned by high peaks—including the loftiest summit in the state, 5,728-foot Mount Rogers—southwest Virginia is like no place else in the state. For outdoor lovers, this ruggedly wild corner of the state is not to be missed, but the bounty of recreational opportunities can be overwhelming. Luckily, we have the inside scoop from locals in the know—including outdoor outfitters, trail clubs, and thru-hikers— offering some of the best bets for an adventure-filled mini-vacation in southwest Virginia.

1. Epic Day Hikes

The Channels State Forest is a must-see in southwest Virginia.
The Channels State Forest is a must-see in southwest Virginia.

Dan Grogan

“If I were to pick just one long, all-day hike, I would choose the Channels State Forest,” says Karen Moore of the Highlands Ski and Outdoor Center in Abingdon, Va. “Park off Route 80 and hike to the fire tower. At the top of the mountain, there are crevices in the sandstone and on a hot day it is natural air-conditioning down in the maze under the rocks. This is a jewel.”

2. Secret Spaces

One of most stunning anomalies on the Appalachian Trail is in southwest Virginia. Burke’s Garden, also known as “God’s Thumbprint” is a massive crater, 5 miles wide and 10 miles long that from an aerial view does indeed resemble a thumbprint. The Appalachian Trail traces the ridges ringing the crater for 8 miles, and for thru-hikers, the Chestnut Knob shelter provides stellar views of Burke’s Garden.

3. High-Country Rambles

Backpacking at Grayson Highlands State Park.
Backpacking at Grayson Highlands State Park.

red, white, and black eyes forever

The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is a trail mecca loaded with jaw-dropping routes, including the hike up to the highest point in the state. While options are abundant, according to Anne Maio of the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club, the group tasked with maintaining 60-miles of the trail in the region, the HIgh Country Loop is one of the favorites. Beginning from the Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, the nearly 11-mile route cobbles together trails including the Rhododendron Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Pine Mountain Trail. For an even more stunning, and more challenging option, the trail club suggests using the Wilburn Ridge Trail instead of the Appalachian Trail for 0.8-mile on Wilburn Ridge. Be sure to keep an eye out for the wild ponies roving the highlands.

4. Clandestine Crags

Experienced climbers can head for the recently reopened Hidden Valley Climbing Area. Closed in 2004 after concerns about vandalism, thanks to joint-efforts of the Access Fund and the Carolina Climbers Coalition, the area reopened in 2014. Featuring nearly a mile of scalable sandstone bluffs, reaching heights of nearly 70 feet, the area includes almost 200 routes, primarily sport climbs peppered with traditional and mixed routes, with grades ranging from 5.5-5.13 (the bulk being 5.10s, 5.11s and 5.12s). Access permits required for the climbing area can be acquired online. For even more information, Gus Glitch has recently written guidebook to the climbing area, Hidden Valley Rock Climbs.

5. Trail Magic

Some of the Appalachian Trail’s best views are in southwest Virginia.
Some of the Appalachian Trail’s best views are in southwest Virginia.

Dzmitry (Dima) Parul

Itching to tackle a spectacular stretch of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail? Head for the high-country of southwest Virginia. “I had a lot of magic from trail angels in southwest Virginia,” says Tommy Safranek, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and ranger with the National Park Service. “The community really supports the Appalachian Trail.” For thru-hikers in the region, Safranek suggests planning an overnight at the Partnership Shelter, just outside the town of Marion. “It’s really well-built, and because it’s just outside town, you can even have pizza delivered.”

6. Local Strummers

Music is a cornerstones of Appalachian culture—and southwest Virginia is one of the best places to experience the region’s rich heritage. The region is home to the Crooked Road Music Trail), a 330-mile driving route showcasing Appalachia’s rich musical tradition that links performing venues, local musicians, roadside exhibits, and more than 50 towns. Heartwood in Abingdon, Va., is part of the Crooked Road Trail and features live music every Thursday, including open jam sessions three times a month. For a low-key event, catch the Saturday night jam at Capo’s Music Store in Abingdon. Moore also recommends the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons. The nonprofit is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Carter family—the “first family” or country music—and offers performances on Saturday nights.

7. Paddle an Ecological Treasure

Paddling on the Clinch River, which is filled with diverse plant and animal life.
Paddling on the Clinch River, which is filled with diverse plant and animal life.

Clinch River

Running through southwest Virginia for 135 miles, the Clinch River is one of the most unique waterways on earth. Once explored by Daniel Boone, the river is known for its ecologically diversity. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Clinch is now home to more than 50 different species of freshwater mussels—more than any other waterway on the planet. The plethora of aquatic life also makes the Clinch the most biologically diverse river in the country, and the abundance of freshwater mussels also contributes to water quality, as the tiny bivalves act as sediment filters. The Clinch even attracts snorkelers. Paddlers can hit the water courtesy of a number of access sites, including Mathews Park, in St. Paul. Clinch River Adventures) in St. Paul, can organize and outfit paddling or float trips on the river. Locals celebrate the waterway at the Clinch River Days Festival the first week in June.

8. Wonderful Wildlife

Birders, anglers, and wildlife lovers should head to Laurel Bed Lake at Big Tumbling Creek. “The fishing is great and there are places you can camp or horseback ride,” Moore says. “This is spectacular country, rivaling scenes out west. Waterfalls, rare plants, bears and cubs, eagles, snakes, and beavers. I’ve been camping and playing there since I was in college at Emory & Henry.” The area is also easily accessible, ideal for car campers or family weekends. For birders, the woodlands fringing the lake are a hub for songbirds, including colorful rarities like black-throated blue warblers.

9. Winter Wonderland

The highlands of southwest Virginia is the one part of the state that regularly gets snow in the winter.
The highlands of southwest Virginia is the one part of the state that regularly gets snow in the winter.

Virginia State Parks

Snow is often scarce in the southeast, making the highlands of southwest Virginia even more special. The area’s lofty peaks feature a micro-climate, often seeing snow from October to May. (A few decades ago, the Southern Division of the National Ski Patrol even used the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area for training courses.) Under a blanket of fresh powder, the 67-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail becomes an inviting option for exploring on skis or snowshoes. At Grayson Highlands State Park, trails like 3.7-mile Old Upchurch Road and 1.2-mile Seed Orchard Road are also open to skiers. In Abingdon, the Highland Ski and Outdoor Center rents cross-country skis for just $15/day during the week, $20/day on weekends.

10. A Night at the Corral

The Scales is the high country between Massie’s Gap and Elk Garden on the Appalachian Trail. The area was used by ranchers for grazing cattle early in the 20th century, and because the animals were weighed in the highlands, before making the pound-shedding trek back down, the area has long been known as “The Scales.” It’s a great spot for camping, especially in “the corral” when the highbush blueberries are ripe in August. Blackberries are also abundant. Even if you don’t find any berries, the panoramic views are among the best in the state.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Dzmitry (Dima) Parul

00-20170127 Virginia Fly Fishing

An Overview of the Fly Fishing Scene in Southwest Virginia: Some of the Best in the State

Southwest Virginia has been a well-guarded secret among outdoorsmen in the know for decades. However, with so much of the region accessible from the I-81 corridor and the increased demand for outdoor recreation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the secret is out. It’s no exaggeration to say that in the past few years the region has seen unparalleled attention and growth, and it is currently in the midst of a vibrant renaissance that is putting its outdoor resources, Appalachian culture, and small-town charm on full display.

Destinations like Grayson Highlands State Park, the connected Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the iconic Virginia Creeper Trail, and the nearby outdoorsy hubs of Damascus and Abingdon have been on the radar for quite some time, and for good reason. But every year new areas of the region are starting to be explored and “discovered” by recreationists, and in doing so many folks are realizing the vast outdoor recreation potential of southwest Virginia. Along with numerous hiking, mountain biking, birding, rock climbing, and paddling possibilities—there’s also great fishing. And to be specific here, I’m talking about mountain stream fishing.

The Blue Ridge Highlands that form the topography of this pocket of Virginia create many deep valleys and and natural drainages that the amount of fly fishing possibilities in the region is staggering. Sound management practices, diverse fishing experiences, and quality outfitters and guide services only add to the allure. When you add in the fact that southwest Virginia gets an annual rainfall of nearly 50 inches, surging many of the smaller creeks and streams to fishable levels, you begin to realize that this area is an anglers’ paradise. Here are just some of the best rivers and streams to fish in southwest Virginia.

Whitetop Laurel Creek

Whitetop Laurel Creek is considered the best trout stream in the state.
Whitetop Laurel Creek is considered the best trout stream in the state.

James St. John

Whitetop Laurel Creek, widely regarded as the best trout stream in the Old Dominion, is both stunningly beautiful and extremely accessible. By using nearby Abingdon, Va., as a launching off spot, and utilizing the Virginia Creeper Trail to get to some of the best holes, an angler is set up for a great day. Its location within the Mount Rogers NRA means that this area is taken care of, and more than seven miles of this waterway are stocked with both rainbow and brown trout. For the angler looking for a more remote setting, the small nearby tributaries such as Beaverdam Creek and Tennessee Laurel Creek are great alternatives and allow one to go after native brookies and soak up the beautiful backcountry of the region.

South Fork Holston River

The South Fork Holston River originates in Smyth County near the community of Sugar Grove. This portion of the Holston River is formed by several cold-water streams, and it has been called by some the best trout fishery east of the Mississippi. In fact, this waterway has produced the Virginia state record for the biggest brown trout caught at over 15 pounds. Although many will enjoy the stocked trout sections, the SFHR also contains many special regulation areas where native brookies thrive and provide the experienced angler a tougher challenge. “The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has done a great job of preserving wild trout sectors in this area,” says Bruce Wankel, a fly fishing guide at the Virginia Creeper Fly Shop. “The stream raises its own.” This highlights that local agencies recognize the importance of keeping things as naturally sustainable as possible.

Middle Fork Holston River

The Middle Fork Holston River is a popular spot for smallmouth bass and sunfish.
The Middle Fork Holston River is a popular spot for smallmouth bass and sunfish.

Dan Grogan

The Middle Fork Holston River is a medium-sized river that contains many different sport fish species. With the headwaters located near the Smyth-Wythe County line, the river flows approximately 56 miles and then connects with the South Fork Holston River to form South Holston Reservoir. Many anglers choose to float sections of this river to maximize their experience. Along with smallmouth bass and sunfish, this river has two designated stock trout areas around the towns of Atkins and Marion.

Wild Trout Streams in Grayson Highlands

Special regulation trout streams in Grayson Highlands State Park include Big and Little Wilson Creeks, Quebec Branch, Mill Creek, Wilburn Branch, and Cabin Creek. These “Blue Line Creeks,” according to Wankel, are for the real fly fishing connoisseur. He explained that these high-country streams require solid backcountry skills. Yet with a little information, these areas easily accessed by most folks. If the idea of hiking into rugged mountain streams, surrounded by Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, mature hardwoods, and large rock outcroppings sounds like fun, you’ll want to do some exploring.

New River

The New River is actually one of the oldest rivers in the world, and it’s an excellent spot to fish from your canoe or kayak.
The New River is actually one of the oldest rivers in the world, and it’s an excellent spot to fish from your canoe or kayak.

Virginia State Parks

The New River, considered to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, offers a variety of fishing opportunities in southwest Virginia. Some of the most popular access spots are along New River State Park, that stretches from Pulaski to Galax. This stretch is mostly slow-moving and provides great opportunities to fish off of a canoe, raft, or kayak and contains real trophy fishing potential. Walleye, muskellunge, catfish, crappie, sunfish, perch, and bluegill, along with many varieties of bass are all found here.

Trout Steams around Wytheville

Within both George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and the surrounding towns found around Wytheville are a handful of great fly fishing spots. Cripple Creek and East/West Fork Dry Run, both located near Speedwell, are two popular wild trout destinations. Cripple Creek is stocked, whereas East/West Fork Dry Run is a special regulated trout area. Venrick Run, located in the Wytheville town-controlled Crystal Springs Recreation Area, is another great example of an area where you’ll find abundant native brookies. Higher up in the mountains, near Big and Little Walker Mountain, there are a handful of remote mountain streams that can be fished.

It is the quality of Virginia’s mountain streams that makes this region so great. “Folks need to plan to come down for more than a day,” Wankel says. “(You need) a long weekend, or even a week, to soak up the natural flavor of southwestern Virginia.” As much as Wankel would love to have this place to himself, he knows it’s just too good not to share.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Lally Laksbergs/Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

20170119 mount-roger-s-hike

Hiking to Mount Rogers: The Best Day Hike in Southwest Virginia?

Reaching the tallest peak in each state is a goal for some people, who need to develop the mountaineering skills to conquer Denali in Alaska as well as the patience to drive through the cornfields to Charles Mound in Illinois. Reaching all 50 provides impressive bragging rights—but there are a lot of “peaks” that wouldn’t be worth the trouble except for the fact that it happened to be the tallest in the state.

That’s not the case with the Mount Rogers, which at 5,729 feet is the tallest peak in Virginia. But regardless of its position on some list, you’ll find one of the most interesting hikes in the state. The approximately nine-mile, out-and-back hike to the peak features not only incredible views of the surrounding George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, but also wild blueberries, wildflowers, rhododendron, and feral highland ponies that roam the area. The trail is long and challenging enough that it requires some planning and stamina, but not technically difficult, meaning just about anyone can enjoy the trip. While the competition is fierce with many iconic trails in Virginia, the case can be made that the trip up Mount Rogers is the best day hike in Southwest Virginia.

Getting There

The hike is particularly scenic in the fall.

The hike is particularly scenic in the fall.

US Forest Service – Southern Reg

The 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in southwest Virginia. The mountain is named for William Barton Rogers, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first state geologist of Virginia. For visitors to the area, your first stop should be the Pat Jennings Visitor Center, which is six miles off of Interstate 81. There you can pick up maps and learn about the trail systems in the area. You’ll find information on the four designated wilderness areas, as well as the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway, which covers more than 50 miles and offers an excellent way to explore the area by car. Guide services provide shuttles to different trails in the area, and there’s a wide variety of camping available. Or you can stay in nearby Abingdon, which offers everything from historic inns and bed & breakfasts to hotels.

The Hike

On the trail to the top of Mt. Rogers.

On the trail to the top of Mt. Rogers.

Ryan Somma

You’ll find more than 400 mile of trails in the Mount Rogers NRA, including the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, two of the best-known trails in the eastern United State. You have an overwhelming number of options when it comes to designing a multi-day hike or backpacking experience.

For this day hike, however, you’ll want to start at Grayson Highlands State Park, which is located adjacent to the Mount Rogers NRA. It, too features a wide variety of trails, where you can find scenic waterfalls as well as a 200-year-old pioneer cabin. The just over four-mile trail (one way) starting in Massie Gap to the top of Mount Rogers provides incredible views of the wilderness nearly the entire way. Taking the Rhododendron Trail, you’ll start by crossing an open field that follows an old wagon road, and chances are this is where you’ll spot your first wild ponies.

The area supports two herds of free-roaming wild ponies, which are descended from Shetland ponies and were introduced to help prevent reforestation on the highland balds that provide those unobstructed views. The ponies are used to being around people, but visitors are discouraged from getting too close as to avoid getting kicked or bitten, and feeding the ponies is strictly prohibited. For many people hiking among the ponies is just another reason why this hike is so special.

After covering the meadows, you’ll hit the Appalachian Trail and take that through the rocky outcroppings found at Wilburn Ridge. This is followed by passing through the aptly named Rhododendron Gap. Just past the Thomas Knob Shelter, you’ll find the spur trail, which will take you to the summit of Mount Rogers.

One of the more unusual aspects of this trail is that as you achieve higher altitudes, you reach a tree line, rather than the opposite you find in higher altitudes out west. The highland balds give way to thick spruce and fir forests, which actually obstruct your views from the peak. But hiking amid the forest is a welcome addition to the variety found on the trail—and you’ll get those panoramic views back on the way down.

Exploring Grayson Highlands

The highlands around Mount Rogers offer some truly amazing vistas.

The highlands around Mount Rogers offer some truly amazing vistas.

Ryan Somma

If you have a chance to further explore Grayson Highlands and the surrounding area, do so. Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s second highest peak, also features some excellent trails with more stunning overlooks. Mountain bikers can find trails to explore, and equestrians can take advantage of the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.

Keep in mind that weather in this area can change quickly. Read the park’s Severe Weather Policy and follow its rules and trail closures. Signs are posted at the Massie Gap Trailhead when weather forces a closure.

Finally while this is a popular day hike, be sure to take the same precautions as you should anytime you enter the wilderness. Be prepared with food, water, and appropriate clothing for a change in the weather, which can happen quickly.

Hikers who plan ahead and come prepared will be hard pressed to find a more scenic hike. Is it the best day hike in Southwest Virginia? Give it a shot and you’ll understand why it’s certainly in the conversation.

Originally written by RootsRated for AbingdonVA.

Featured image provided by Ryan Somma

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.