Category Archives: Abingdon Blog

20180207-Virginia-Abingdon-Grayson Highlands State Park-Wild ponies

5 More Awesome Day Hikes in Southwest Virginia

Home to the state’s highest peaks and wildest spaces, Southwest Virginia is a wonderland for trail lovers, from hardened weekend warriors to casual day-hikers in search of a little fresh air. The region is overlaid with some of the country’s best-known trails—like the Virginia Creeper and the Appalachian Trail—in addition to countless regional footpaths in the massive Jefferson National Forest. You don’t have to look far to find amazing hiking opportunities that showcase tumbling waterfalls, cloud-puncturing peaks, and wild ponies grazing in upland meadows. With pristine natural areas, federally designated wildernesses, and family-friendly state parks, there are plenty of awesome day hikes in Southwest Virginia, but these are a few of the best.

1. Elk Garden to Buzzard Rock on the Appalachian Trail

Follow Elk Garden along the Appalachian trail.

Jason Riedy

Named for the animals that once roamed the highlands, Elk Garden features wind-swirled grasslands on Balsam Mountain, providing a picturesque snapshot of Southwest Virginia’s stunning portion of the Appalachian Trail. From the Elk Garden trailhead located along Whitetop Mountain Road (SR 600) just outside Konnarock, trekkers can embark on some of the most extensive tours of the stunning high country of Mount Rogers. Or you can opt for short excursions, like the hike to Buzzard Rock. Straddling on one of the crests of Whitetop Mountain (the second highest peak in the state) Buzzard Rock offers views stretching all the way to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. On the 6.6-mile, out-and-back hike to the rock jumble perched at 5,095 feet, trekkers are treated to a taste of high country scenery as the trail meanders through a leafy hardwood forest and over a natural southern Appalachian bald.

2. Cabin Creek Trail

Grayson Highlands State Park might be the most picturesque portal to the high country of Mount Rogers, but the pony-grazed recreation area is also stocked with scenic hiking loops for less ambitious trekkers—like the Cabin Creek Trail. The gradual, 1.9-mile circuit leads hikers through a forest of rosebay rhododendron, mountain laurel, and bigtooth aspens, a rarity in Southwest Virginia. For a spell, the trail parallels Cabin Creek, a hotspot for native trout, and ultimately leads hikers past the stream’s 25-foot twin cascade. All along the way, especially while heading to the trailhead from the parking area at Massie Gap, hikers have the chance to spot the park’s free-ranging wild ponies. The wide-roaming herd of nearly 100 ponies roves both Grayson Highlands State Park and adjacent Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and are regularly encountered on windswept Wilburn Ridge.

3. Molly’s Knob

The hike to 3,270-foot Molly’s Knob leads hikers along panoramic ridgelines.

Virginia State Parks

The highest point in Hungry Mother State Park, Molly’s Knob is named for an early settler who perished from hunger on the slopes of the pinnacle. According to local lore, after fleeing a Native American raid on settlements near the New River, a pioneer by the name of Molly Marley starved to death while traveling through what is now Hungry Mother State Park. As the legend goes, the child Molly had in tow could utter only one phrase to rescuers—hungry mother.

While the park’s name may be the result of the a tragic tale, today the hike to 3,270-foot Molly’s Knob leads hikers along the shore of 108-acre Hungry Mother Lake, through mixed forests peppered with Catawba and rosebay rhododendron, and along panoramic ridgelines. A loop through the park linking the Lake Loop, Molly’s Knob, Ridge, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Vista trails—including an ascent of Molly’s Knob—is an approximately 5 miles round-trip. For summer visitors, the hike has an added perk of ending with a refreshing dip in Hungry Mother Lake.

4. Chief Benge Scout Trail in the High Knob Recreation Area

One of the best kept secrets in Southwest Virginia is the High Knob Recreation Area, stashed away in the Jefferson National Forest, above the city of Norton. The lofty recreation area is endowed with a high-elevation lake, amenities constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the loftiest campground in the region, and an observation tower offering views of five states.

For hikers, the High Knob Recreation Area also has a number of options, including short strolls around the 4-acre lake, or longer hauls on the Chief Benge Scout Trail. Named for the Chicamauga warrior Chief Benge, son a Scottish trader who spent time living among the Cherokee, the 18.7-mile trail runs from the High Knob Recreation Area to the Hanging Rock Day Use Area near Dungannon, taking in highlights like tumbling falls of Stony and Bark Camp Lake.

For a bite-sized taste of the distance trail, tackle the first 2.5 mile section skirting High Knob Lake and paralleling Mountain Fork stream. For detailed maps of the route, pick up National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Map of the Clinch Ranger District, or refer to the series of section maps of Chief Benge Trail developed by High Lonesome Trails, a website created by the Southwest Virginia Citizen Science Initiative.

5. Big Falls

Scope out Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve’s treasures like Big Falls.


Located between the towns of Cleveland and Lebanon in Russell County, the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve might be compact, but the 776-acre protected area is loaded with natural wonders. Spread along the banks of Big Cedar Creek (recognized as a state scenic river), the natural area is punctuated with waterfalls, striking geological formations, and some the rarest plants on the planet, including rock-dwelling species like Canby’s mountain-lover and Carolina saxifrage, which live nestled in the craggy crevices of the preserve’s precipitous limestone cliffs.

Aside from rare plants, eagle-eyed hikers can also spot plenty of unusual animals in the natural area, too, including hellbender salamanders, which can grow to be over two feet long, and Big Cedar Creek millipedes, which are only found in the preserve and a handful of nearby locations. Hikers can scope out the bulk of the preserve’s treasures—including Big Falls and the namesake "pinnacle," a dolomite spire soaring to almost 400 feet—with a short 3.25 mile trek along Big Cedar Creek to its confluence with the Clinch River, linking the Big Cedar Creek and Pinnacle View trails.

If you’re looking for a base camp during your exploration of Southwest Virginia, the town of Abingdon is located at the epicenter of the area’s best trails. The western terminus of the Virginia Creeper Trail is downtown, while it’s a short drive to all the other major trails in the region. Plus you can enjoy abundance of lodging options, restaurants, theater, and all the other amenities you could need for a weekend getaway.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170919-Virginia-Abingdon-Martha Washington Inn

How to Have the Perfect Health and Wellness Weekend in Abingdon

Seeking an enchanting getaway with friends? A place that has engrossing activities, exceptional food, creative shopping opportunities and lovely scenery? A weekend in Abingdon, Virginia, can leave you and your friends feeling invigorated and refreshed. Visitors will find both outdoor attractions that highlight the incredibly scenic mountains of Southwest Virginia and some of the region’s best music, theater, and other cultural attractions. Throw in one of the state’s most historic inns and you’ve got everything you need for a memorable getaway.

Dinner and a Show

Start with the perfect accommodations—The Martha Washington Inn and Spa, an historic Four Diamond-rated property located in the heart of downtown Abingdon. After you arrive, relax on the hotel’s expansive porch with a drink. After cocktails, walk to dinner at 128 Pecan, a Southern-style American bistro for a casually elegant dining experience. The restaurant serves a wide array of local wines and teas and small plates perfect for sharing.

After dinner, head over to The Barter Theatre for a show. The Barter opened on June 10, 1933, making it the nation’s longest running professional theater. It’s so named because during the depression when money was tight, the theater’s founder allowed patrons to enter by bartering food, livestock or other goods. For 40 cents—or the equivalent in goods—you could enjoy a live show. In 1946, it was designated as the State Theatre of Virginia, and it’s one of the last year-round professional resident repertory theaters remaining in the country. Today it’s packed season offers musicals, comedies, and dramas—there’s something to see nearly every day on two different stages.

Restore and Recharge

Take a dip in the hotel pool and relax in your beautiful room.

Renee Sklarew

Saturday morning, get a jump on the day, with some laps in The Martha’s therapeutic heated, salt-water pool, kept at the perfect temperature for a loosening up of those tired muscles. Now you’re ready to take on the hotel’s traditional Virginia hot breakfast included in your room rate. The menu features pancakes, waffles, eggs, Virginia Ham, breakfast potatoes, pork sausages, bacon, grits, pastries and the chef’s fruit smoothie of the day. Schedule one of The Martha’s legendary spa treatments, choosing among a hot stone massage, botanical skin resurfacing, or aromatherapy soak.

Another option is the Healing Waters Day Spa, which caters to groups and features holistic and Ayurvedic practices, along with personalized service. Girls Day Out is a package that allows you and your friends to relax together in robes, enjoy lunch and try out the steam room and sauna. Check out their Godiva’s Delight package, which begins with a visit to the steam room followed by a Body Polishing Exfoliating Massage Treatment. Godiva’s Delight ends with a mini facial and hydrating hand treatment.

Exercise Together

The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the premier rail-to-trails in the country. Rent bikes and take a shuttle to the start—and enjoy the mostly downhill ride back into town.

Renee Sklarew

Game for a bike ride along the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail? The 34-mile trail is one of the best rails-to-trails in the country. The former railroad tracks were transformed into this running, hiking, and biking path, which stretches from Whitetop Station near the North Carolina border to Abingdon. The Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop is just a few blocks from The Martha at the terminus of the famous trail. Rent a bike there and you can take an easy ride on the trail, or take a shuttle to Whitetop Station and enjoy a mostly downhill ride to Damascus or all the way back to Abingdon. Along the way, you’ll see some of the prettiest scenery in the area, including trickling waterfalls, roaring rivers and thick forests. For anyone who enjoys cycling, it’s a must-do ride when you’re in town.

If yoga is more intriguing to you, take a class at Whitetop Yoga, located in downtown Abingdon. Catering to every skill level, this beautiful and serene studio is a great way to stretch and meditate with experienced instructors.

Sample Southwest Virginia Cuisine

The Harvest Table Restaurant is on the forefront of the local food movement.

Renee Sklarew

Take a drive to Harvest Table, the restaurant owned by bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver and her family, which moved to the region seven years ago and began farming—a calling that inspired Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. On the forefront of the local food movement, the family serves dishes created from the bounty of local farmers who harvest their produce and raise their animals according to Appalachian heritage farming techniques. Their $50 per person farm tour includes a look at their sustainable practices, a multi-course chef-selected menu and signed copy of Kingsolver’s book.

Another foodie option is The Market, a new café that was formerly Allison’s Diner on Lee Highway. The young owner showcases products from Southwest Virginia’s abundant farms, including fresh breads, recently harvested produce, and grass-fed beef.

You won’t want to miss out on Abingdon’s weekly Farmers Market on Saturdays, where you can pick up seasonal produce, jams, horseradish, honey, eggs, molasses and other treats. From April through Thanksgiving, the market is outdoors, but moves inside, turning into a Winter Market in December. Abingdon Market is a great place to find gifts such as goat milk soaps, dried flowers, Virginia peanuts, soy candles, and pottery. Appalachian mountain artisans sell their hand-crafted alpaca woolen mittens and hand painted wine bottles there, too.Sometimes you’ll catch musical performances, cooking demonstrations and festivals on the grounds of historic Fields-Penn House.

Exploring Main Street and Beyond

Jerroleen’s Shed stocks both old and the new merchandise, with whimsical furnishings that enchant every shopper.

Renee Sklarew

What’s a rejuvenating weekend without a little shopping? Downtown Abingdon’s Persnickety boutique offers a curated selection of fashion forward designer clothes and jewelry you might not expect to find in a small town. Don’t miss their French vintage medallion necklaces. Down the road, the Forget Me Not shop caters to the youthful and youthful at heart with exuberant tops, dresses and accessories. They also sell scented products, shoes, and boots.

Abingdon is an antique and home decor lover’s dream with multiple stores stocking rare, vintage and reclaimed collectibles and gifts. Zephyr Antiques has an eclectic collection of period furniture, dishware, china, rare books, coins and other historic memorabilia. Jerroleen’s Shed stocks both old and the new merchandise, with whimsical furnishings that enchant every shopper. The Candy Shed carries a mouthwatering assortment of treats, from chocolates, Virginia peanuts, to colorful gummies and suckers—and they have samples.

Abingdon is located in the heart of Appalachian Mountain country, and the town’s galleries showcase many fine examples of heritage crafts. Stop at Holston Mountain Artisans to shop for silk and alpaca woven scarves, patchwork quilts, hand-carved wooden boxes and wicker baskets to name a few treasures in this cooperative gallery. They also offer classes; so check the calendar in advance to see if your group wants to learn a new craft together.

The Arts Depot is a gathering place for seven Resident Artists creating in a variety of mediums right here in their studios, including clay, paint, folk art and weaving. Many of their creations are available for purchase. Heartwood is Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway, with a stunning selection of high quality fine arts, clothing, home goods, and furniture. While you’re there, grab lunch in the Heartwood Café and enjoy sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains.

No matter how you like to relax, you’re certain to find a way to do so in Abingdon.

Originally written by RootsRated Media for Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Renee Sklarew

20170919-Virginia-Heart of Appalachia Bike Route

5 Incredibly Scenic Road Biking Rides Near Abingdon

The scenic backroads and byways of Southwest Virginia showcase a landscape found no place else in the state, serving up a mélange of mountains and meadows, vast expanses of national forest, gently rolling hills, and inviting towns. Sure, driving these byways is plenty splendid—but the best way to soak up the scenery is on two wheels, relishing both the grating climbs and gleeful descents. For road cyclists, Southwest Virginia offers a smorgasbord of options, but these are a few of the best rides around the historic town of Abingdon, a cozy and convenient launch pad for a whole host of regional adventures.

1. Heart of Appalachia Bike Route

Make a pit stop along the route in the town of St. Paul to spend a day trading pedaling for paddling on the Clinch River.

Virginia State Parks

Virginia’s only official state bike route, the 128-mile Heart of Appalachia Bike Route moseys through four counties, weaving in and out of the Jefferson National Forest, and connecting Burke’s Garden, one of Virginia’s most stunning geological anomalies, with the starting point for the 5.8-mile wildlife-rich Guest River Gorge Trail. The route cobbles together smooth stretches of asphalt, gravel roads, and rails-to-trails tracks (meaning wider, knobby style tires or hybrid bike are ideal), and it gains 6,585-feet along the way.

Aside from the spectacular show along the ride, the route also offers plenty of options for scenic side trips and detours, like the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve, distinguished by the eponymous rock massif, dubbed the Pinnacle, which soars 400-feet above Big Cedar Creek. Or make a pit stop along the route to spend a day trading pedaling for paddling on the Clinch River, a global hotspot of biodiversity, harboring more than 50 species of freshwater mussels.

2. Burke’s Garden Century

A bike trip in Burke’s Garden is like taking a step back in time.

Malee Oot

George Vanderbilt’s first choice for the location of his Biltmore Estate, Burke’s Garden serves as the beginning—or the end—of the Heart of Appalachia Bike Route. But the gorgeous geological gem is worth exploring further. The crater-like depression is fully encircled by Garden Mountain. It claims being both Virginia’s loftiest valley and the state’s largest rural historic district. There only road to take you into the punchbowl valley, where you’ll find a patchwork of farms and pastures. Navigation skills are unnecessary and traffic is virtually non-existent.

The New River Valley Bicycle Association has routed a popular ride dubbed the Burke’s Garden Century, a loop with little elevation gain that makes it an ideal initiation to distance rides for cyclists attempting their first 100-miler. Competitive riders can also tackle the loop every fall during the Burke’s Garden Century, a cycling event staged by the New River Valley Bicycle Association annually on move-in weekend at Virginia Tech. Cyclists can break up the route with a pit stop at the Burke’s Garden General Store, serving up deli-style lunches and offering locally produced goodies.

3. TransAmerica Trail

Hop on the Virginia Creeper Trail for a night of rest and relaxation in Abingdon.

Renee Sklarew

Possibly America’s most epic cycling route, the TransAmerica Trail crosses the entire country, ribboning 4,228-miles from Yorktown, Virginia, to Astoria, Oregon. Virginia claims approximately 533 miles of the renowned route, including a stunning portion in Southwest Virginia. Beginning along the Kentucky border near Breaks Interstate Park—a location dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the East"—the route continues past other regional highlights like Grayson Highlands State Park, featuring a landscape of highland meadows grazed by a free-roaming herd of wild ponies, and winds through the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

In Southwest Virginia, the TransAmerica Trail also bisects one of the state’s premier rails-to-trails – the 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail – in the town of Damascus, a veritable trail junction. Hop on the Virginia Creeper Trail for a night of rest and relaxation in Abingdon, located at the westernmost terminus of the rail-trail.

4. Mount Rogers Scenic Byway

Showcasing the loftiest reaches of the Old Dominion State, the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway threads a 60-mile course through the high country of Southwest Virginia. The route is divided into two portions – one 13.2-mile section linking Troutdale and Konnarock using Highway 603, and the other 32.5-mile portion connecting Damascus and Volney, using Route 58. The entire byway is studded with spectacular high country scenery – but the route also offers plenty of pit stops and detours to entice cyclists. Along the stretch from Damascus to Volney, the route passes adventure hubs like the Beartree Recreation Area, offering a bounty of trails, campsites, and a plunge-worthy lake. Between Konnarock and Troutdale, the byway serves as a portal to some of the region’s most exquisite long-distance hiking trails, including the Iron Mountain Trail, the Mount Rogers Trail, and the Appalachian Trail – and offers cyclists the chance to pitch a tent for the night at the high-elevation Grindstone Recreation Area. Best of all, post-ride the selection of craft beers at the Damascus Brewery will be waiting.

5. Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway

Bike the 16.2 mile Big Walker Scenic Byway.

Malee Oot

The Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway makes for a short but sweet road ride. The 16.2-mile route strings together sections of State Highway 717 and US 52/21 – winding through a leafy swath of the Jefferson National Forest, and linking Wytheville and Bland. Fortunately, after cyclists complete the quad-burning climb to the 3,787-foot crest of Big Walker Mountain, an inviting outpost is waiting – the Big Walker Country Store, offering luxuries like cold drinks, hand-dipped ice cream, and shaded picnic tables — plus a vast assortment of locally made crafts and souvenirs. The summit is also crowned with the 100-foot Big Walker Lookout, the oldest privately-owned observation tower in the state. Riders who need a little time out of the saddle can also hop on one of the handful of trails splintering off the scenic byway, like the eastbound, 4.9-mile Walker Mountain Trail (which begins just behind the Big Walker Country Store) or the 5.5-mile Seven Sisters Trail, tracing the spine of Little Walker Mountain (accessible from Route 52). Make the ride an overnight outing and crash at the Forest Service run Stony Fork Campground, adjacent to the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway, offering campsites spread along the trout-stocked waters of the East Fork of Stony Fork Creek.

Originally written by RootsRated Media for Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Malee Oot


Dining, Shopping, and More: Your Guide to In-Town Exploration in Abingdon

Abingdon is the scenic town that serves as the home base for many on a trip to see the outdoor charms of Southwestern Virginia. Yet is also stands on its own as a cultural destination worth exploring. It was settled in the early 1700s, and its Main Street retains the town’s historic charm with its red brick sidewalks and cultural icons like The Martha Washington Inn and Barter Theatre. But Abingdon is also renowned for its early embrace of local food and the many community artists inspired by their Appalachian mountain roots.

Downtown Abingdon has a wide array of contemporary and traditional eateries where you can taste the region’s bountiful foods. A lovely place to stroll and window shop, Abingdon features exclusively independent shops and retailers— many selling merchandise you can only find in this region. It’s one of the stops on The Crooked Road music trail, which unites other small towns in the region dedicated to the preservation (and enjoyment) of heritage music. It’s the start (or finish) of the wildly popular Virginia Creeper Trail, considered one of the best rail-to-trail conversions in the country. The 34-mile path from Whitetop Station to Abingdon is a popular cycling destination, as many visitors take a shuttle to the top of Whitetop Station and enjoy the mostly downhill ride back into town. In short, Abingdon is filled with options for both spending time outdoors and enjoying the cultural amenities around town.

Eat Like the King of France

The oldest Building in Abingdon is The Tavern Restaurant, which was built around the founding of the town in 1779..

Jason Riedy

Abingdon’s founding begins about the same time The Tavern Restaurant opened back in 1779. This fine dining restaurant contains more than 80 percent of the original furnishings including the wooden beams. At first glance, the restaurant resembles a movie set during the Revolutionary War. Notable guests of The Tavern include Louis Philippe, the King of France, President Andrew Jackson, and Pierre L’Enfant, the architect behind the design of Washington, D.C. Over the centuries, the Tavern has functioned as a post office, bank, barbershop. and a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Today the restaurant features continental cuisine prepared in traditional fashion. It’s also a popular place to stop in for cocktails or after-dinner drinks.

If you’re looking for something more casual, consider White Birch Juice Company. Here’s where the emphasis on local products shines brightly. Along with cold-pressed juices, you can try its flavorful breakfast items like the Veggie Heaven Sandwich or during lunchtime, their Gourmet Grilled Cheese. The restaurant lists where each of its products is sourced and features a selection of local beers and ciders.

Those with a sweet tooth must save room for Anthony’s Desserts, known for the menu’s exquisite crème brulee and cheesecake. Visitors and locals rave about Anthony’s signature roast coffee from Costa Rica along with the hand-dipped ice cream. Anthony’s is a perfect place to go for a romantic date night or special occasion. Another popular dessert destination is 149 Sweets offering irresistible desserts baked in the Southern tradition of scratch baking. Some favorites include their lemon meringue pie, brownie bars and coconut pound cake. Everything tastes like your grandmother made it. Looking for something more exotic? Check out Abingdon’s Balkan Bakery where you can find both savory and sweet pies and international treats like spanakopita and baklava.

Unique Shopping

Find beautiful, regionally made art at Heartwood.

Renee Sklarew

Abingdon is known for its Appalachian Mountain crafts, and you can find them in abundance in the town’s local galleries near Main Street. Holston Mountain Artisans is a gathering space where people take classes to work with various media. The cooperative gallery also sells woodworking, pottery, quilts and hand-woven baskets. Down the street, the Arts Depot is located inside an 1890s freight station. Today the community-based gallery hosts seven Resident Artists who you can observe while they create in their studios.

The artwork is displayed in an elegant environment, and much of it is for sale, including the photography, jewelry, sculpture, paintings, folk art, and weaving. If you’re in the market for home furnishings, stop in Shady Business where they stock an eclectic selection of lampshades, home décor and lighting options. Crafty folks should visit A Likely Yarn to be inspirited by their colorful stock of sewing, crocheting, weaving, and knitting products. Connoisseurs can stock up on wine, beer, and cheese at Katbird’s Wine & Gourmet, housed in a traditional brick building on Main Street. Whether you’re entertaining or treating yourself, order a cappuccino while you peruse this excellent collection of fine foods.

That’s Entertainment

Check out Wolf Hills Brewing where live bands play while you sample their tasty craft brews.

Jason Riedy

Live music is a way of life in Southwest Virginia, and Abingdon is an incubator for performing artists. Check out Wolf Hills Brewing, where live bands play while you sample their tasty craft brews. This festive microbrewery is housed in an old barn. Heartwood is the headquarters of The Crooked Road, and it’s the best destination to truly absorb what makes this Appalachian Mountain culture popular with fans around the world. This architectural marvel is the place to hear musicians playing bluegrass, gospel, and old-time tunes. There’s a wine and coffee bar, and if you do bring your own instrument, you might get to jam with the musicians.

JJ’s Restaurant and Sports Bar features an impressive number of draft beers, many from the region, and the chef turns out some imaginative twists on comfort food. Try JJ’s Loaded Potato Soup, Pig Wings, and the unforgettable JJ’s Special Burger with fried jalapenos and Pimento Cheese. That burger is life changing. Watch a game on one of their 10 big-screen TV’s, and feel like a local.

Abingdon hosts a well-known festival that showcases music and other live entertainment. Time your trip around the Main Street BuskerFest, where you’ll see circus acts, mimes, sword swallowers, acrobats, and magicians converging at this beloved annual event held over Labor Day Weekend.

Heartwood is one of the stops on The Crooked Road music trail.

Renee Sklarew

If you miss that, every Thursday evening during the summer you can attend Thursday Jams at the Abingdon Market Pavilion. Each week, popular regional performers come out to entertain guests sipping on craft beer. It’s a fun time for every age group. During the month of January, notable talents grace Abingdon audiences at January Jams held in the Barter Theatre. This is an opportunity to see musical legends perform an intimate concert in this luxurious historic theatre.

These are just a few memorable experiences you’ll find on a visit to Abingdon. Take advantage of this charming historic town’s special brand of hospitality and liveliness in any season.

Originally written by RootsRated Media for Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Renee Sklarew

20170919-Virginia-Great Channels

A Guide to the Great Channels: A One-of-a-Kind Maze of Boulders and Crevices in Southwest Virginia

Tucked away in the verdant depths of the 4,836-acre Channels State Forest is one of Virginia's best kept secrets and most singular natural wonders. Located in the heart of the vast state forest, in the designated 721-acre Channels Natural Area Preserve, the Great Channels are a 20-acre labyrinth of sandstone formed during the last ice age, stashed away along the 4,208-foot crest of Middle Knob, the high point of Clinch Mountain.

Formed 400 million years ago during the last ice age, the geological formations are likely due to permafrost and ice wedging, which split large seams in the soft sandstone. The Great Channels are an otherworldly experience, like no other place else in the state and reminiscent of the slot canyons and gorges of the American Southwest.

Once off-limits for even the hardiest of hikers, today the Great Channels are accessible courtesy of two different approach routes.

Alan Cressler

The trek to the Great Channels is also one of the newer hikes in the state. In 2004, the Nature Conservancy purchased the nearly 5,000-parcel of land housing the Great Channels from a private owner, and just four years later, through a collaboration with the state, the Channels State Forest was created. Adventure-seeking members of the public have only been able to hike the area for a little over a decade—and until just a few years ago, there was only one route into the hidden sandstone labyrinth.

Classic Adventures

Once off-limits for even the hardiest of hikers, today the Great Channels are accessible courtesy of two different approach routes through the Channels State Forest. Both options end at the top of Middle Knob and offer sweeping 360-degree vistas of the surrounding ridge and valley defined landscape. From there, both descend along the same path into the elaborate network of sandstone formations.

The Channel Trail features an a 11-mile, out-and-back trip with about 2,600-feet of elevation gain.

Alan Cressler

The Channels Trail is the older of the two routes into the Great Channels, and it features an 11-mile, out-and-back trip with about 2,600-feet of elevation gain beginning from the trailhead on Route 689 (just across from Fletcher's Chapel). Along the 5.5-mile trip to the Great Channels, hikers are treated to a lengthy haul through a leafy swath of the Channels State Forest, a wilderness roamed by black bears and white-tailed deer.

The newer (and significantly shorter) route into the Great Channels is along the 14.6-mile Brumley Mountain Trail. Orchestrated largely by the local non-profit group Mountain Heritage, the four-year-old trail traces a course along the spine of Clinch Mountain, running from Hayters Gap on Route 80 to Hidden Valley Lake, moseying through the Channels Natural Area Preserve, the Channels State Forest, the Brumley Cove Baptist Camp, and the Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area.

Tackling the Great Channels on the Brumley Mountain Trail, beginning at the parking area on Route 80, requires hikers to traverse the easternmost 3-miles of the regional trail. From Route 80, trekkers have a 6.6-mile out-and-back trip featuring about 1,219-feet of elevation gain. Hikers are delivered to the portal into the Great Channels after about 3 miles of walking.

At the crown of Middle Knob, the Channels Trail and the Brumley Mountain Trail meld in the shadow of a lofty lookout tower and merge into a single route into the Great Channels. If the weather cooperates, views atop Middle Knob can stretch into the high country of North Carolina, as well as showcasing closer summits, like the string of pinnacles along the Clinch Mountain, including 4,689-foot Beartown Mountain.

Secrets of the Park

The Hayters lookout was built by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939.

Malee Oot

The soaring Hayters Knob Fire Tower, perched atop Middle Knob, may be out of commission for now, but the looming structure has a rich history. The lookout was built by Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939, one of many fire towers constructed throughout the country in that decade at the behest of the Division of Forestry, the forerunner of the Forest Service. The fire tower was operational for just over three decades, finally retired in 1970.

The Channels State Forest and Channels Natural Area Preserve are just two patches on a vast quilt of contiguous wilderness, which includes the adjacent 6,400-acre Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area and the 25,477-acre Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The vast expanse of wilderness surrounding the Great Channels offers endless opportunities build an even bigger outdoor adventure out of the trip, including options like fishing the trout-stocked waters of Big Tumbling Creek or paddling Hidden Valley Lake.

Quick Tips: Getting the Most of Your Trip

Hikers should get their bearings – and take note of their route – when delving into the sandstone labyrinth of the Great Channels.

Alan Cressler

Whether hiking to the Great Channels along the Channels Trail or the Brumley Mountain Trail, plan to make a day of the out excursion—and don't rush. Allow for the added travel time required to navigate gravel backroads and byways, and most importantly, budget ample time to adequately explore the mountain-entombed sandstone labyrinth and to soak up the scenery from Middle Knob.

Both trailheads are on fairly remote stretches of roadway, so be sure to stock up on any last minute essentials for the trail in the nearby town of Saltville.

The trek from the crown of Middle Knob down into the channels is a steep section of trail. Plan to wear shoes with reliable tread and ankle support, and anyone who regularly uses hiking poles may be happy to have the extra stability during the descent.

Hikers should get their bearings and take note of their route when delving into the sandstone labyrinth of the Great Channels. Although the mountain-entombed maze is fairly condensed—spread over just 20 acres—the formations can begin to look familiar and possibly confuse some hikers trying to backtrack to the entrance route.

If tacking on a trip to the Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area or the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, keep in mind both are fee areas requiring a $4 access permit, available for purchase from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

For hikers hoping to make an overnight escape out of their foray into the Great Channels, camping is not permitted in the Channels State Forest, the Channels Natural Area Preserve, or anywhere along the Brumley Mountain Trail. However, there are opportunities for primitive camping in both the Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area and the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

Originally written by RootsRated Media for Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Alan Cressler

20170901_SWV Tourism RR-102

Is This the Most Scenic Section of the Appalachian Trail?

Southwest Virginia has become a tourist destination for many reasons—scenic mountains, heritage music, farm-to-table restaurants, and Appalachian culture, just to name a few. But many people are passing through on a much larger journey: Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Thousands of hikers each year set out on the 2,200-mile long trail that connects Springer Mountain in Georgia with Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Of course, not everyone is taking the full trek across the country. The Appalachian Trail is filled with scenic sections that make for excellent day and weekend hikes, attracting people from across the country. For long-distance hikers, hitting Southwest Virginia is a mixed blessing: It is indeed considered one of the most scenic sections of the trail, following both ridges with sensational views and tree-covered wilderness. You’ll find the wild horses of Grayson Highlands and Damascus, Virginia, known as the "friendliest town on the trail."

But with those highlights come the unavoidable fact that you’re in for a lot of climbing. The trail crosses the state line from Tennessee into Virginia at an altitude of 3,302 feet, and from there it’s up and down along the 167 miles of trail that go through the region. You’ll hit the highest point of Virginia, Mount Rogers—technically just off the trail, but not by much—at an altitude of more than 5,700 feet, along with many several other high points along the route.

Of course, these climbs are also part of the fun, especially for day hikers who aren’t covering the full 550 miles of the trail that go through Virginia. For those looking for for the best of Appalachian Trail experience in the state, here are some must-hit sections in Southwest Virginia.


Damascus is one of the most popular trail towns on the AT. It also features several other regional trails that are good for day hiking, including the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Damascus is one of the most popular trail towns on the AT. It also features several other regional trails that are good for day hiking, including the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Perry Smyre

Those doing the full AT hike look for hiker-friendly towns along the route, and Damascus as become known as one of the best. Travelers on the AT will find restaurants, laundry facilities, a post office, pharmacy, outfitters, plus several hostels and B&Bs where they can take a break. For day hikers, Damascus is also the epicenter of several opportunities for exploring the region, as seven major trails pass through the town. In addition to the AT, you can access the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, the Crooked Mountain Music Heritage Trail, and Virginia’s Birding and Wildlife Trail. You’ll also find loads of recreational opportunities in the adjacent to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

After crossing the Virginia/Tennessee state line, the Appalachian Trail reaches downtown Damascus in only about three and a half miles. Here, you have a wide variety of options, whether you plan on sticking to the trail or incorporating some of the other trails as well. Some routes that can be done in a day include:

Loop Hike on the Appalachian and Iron Mountain Trails : From Damascus, start on East 4th Street and the trailhead to the Iron Mountain Trail, which is blazed with yellow markings. After about two miles, you’ll find a short, blue-blazed connecter trail, which will connect you to the Appalachian Trail (with white blazes). The return trip over a ridge features excellent views of the city. You’ll also enjoy some easy stream crossings and some manageable climbing.

Loop Hike on the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper Trail : Once again, start in Damascus for this 8-mile, easy-to-moderate hike. Start heading east on the Appalachian Trail/Virginia Creeper Trail. Follow the signs for the Appalachian Trail when they separate after you cross Route 58/91. Here you’ll enjoy the ridged view for about four miles, before you’ll cross a small log bridge and turn right on the Beech Grove Trail, where you’ll descend over about a quarter mile to the Straight Branch Virginia Creeper Trail parking lot. From there, you can hop on the Virginia Creeper Trail and head back into town.

Damascus is also home to the annual Appalachian Trails Days festival each May, which brings nearly 20,000 outdoor enthusiasts to the town each year to take advantage of workshops, outdoor outfitters, food, and entertainment.

Mount Rogers

The trail to Mount Rogers offers some of the most stunning views in the region.
The trail to Mount Rogers offers some of the most stunning views in the region.

Ryan Somma

You can reach Virginia’s highest point with a very scenic but challenging nine mile, out-and-back hike, mostly on the Appalachian Trail, which starts at Grayson Highlands State Park. While it’s great to reach the summit, one of the draws of this hike is viewing the wild ponies that live in the area. They help keep these bald mountains bald—that is, without significant tree cover—by eating the grasses and underbrush, which also is helpful in preventing wildfires. It also means that you get excellent panoramic views as you ascend the trail.

Start at Massie Gap in the state park, where you’ll pass through a horse gate and begin going up on the wide, gravel path. It isn’t long before you’ll reach the Appalachian Trail, which heads south and takes you most of the way to Mount Rogers. The wide open terrain is much different from the rest of the Appalachian Trail in the region, with little tree cover, rocky terrain and exposure to the elements. The final spur to the summit leaves the Appalachian Trail, where you enter a fairly thick evergreen forest. There’s a marker on the top of the mountain, but no view to speak of. This is truly a case of the journey being better than the destination.

Chestnut Ridge and Burke’s Garden

For those looking for a hike even more off-the-beaten path, Burke’s Garden is one of the more interesting geographic formations in the state features a section of the Appalachian Trail that doesn’t get a lot of day hikers. Located near Tazewell, Virginia, Burke’s Garden is a low valley surrounded 360-degrees by mountains. From above, it looks as if massive being pushed a finger down and created the valley, which has lead to the area’s nickname as "God’s Thumbprint." The lush valley is a throwback to another time, occupied mostly be family farms. The Appalachian Trail wraps around the ridges, and while it is mostly tree covered, you do get a few gaps that allow for some spectacular views.

For those not on a thru-hike, however, this section of the trail isn’t widely promoted. You won’t find signs for the trail in Burke’s Garden, which is made up almost entirely of private farmland. The easiest way to access the trail is through an entry point at Walkers Gap, which is located in Burke’s Garden. From there, take the trail (mostly uphill, with some significant climbs) for a bit over a mile to get to Chestnut Ridge and the stone shelter at the top. The trees open up and you’ll find excellent views of the valley below. Continue on the trail along the ridge to extend the hike. Chances are, the only hikers you’ll meet will be those doing either the full trail or at least a multi-day trek through the state.

Of course, these are just some of the options. Nearly any section of the trail offers something for day hikers to enjoy. And it won’t take long to figure out why so many thru-hikers view Virginia as the most scenic section of this 2,200-mile trail.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

Abingdon’s urban trout stream: the restoration of Wolf Creek

Urban trout fishing? The idea is surprising, but that’s exactly what Abingdon offers, thanks to a multi-year restoration of Wolf Creek, a spring-fed creek that runs through the historic Abingdon Muster Grounds.

Now that the restoration is complete, the stream will be stocked with trout, and visitors can cast a line while they take in the beauty and historic significance of the Muster Grounds. (Catch and release only, find more information on Virginia fishing licenses here.)

The Abingdon Muster Grounds are a 9-acre historical park located within the town limits of Abingdon, just 5 minutes from downtown.

Abingdon Muster Grounds aerial view Jesse Burke

Aerial view of the Abingdon Muster Grounds, photo by Jesse Burke

The restoration focused on the stretch of Wolf Creek which runs through the Abingdon Muster Grounds, a site which is owned by the Town of Abingdon and is certified by the National Park Service as the northern terminus of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.  This restoration project helped stabilize the stream bank, improve the hydrology, create habitat and re-introduce native species of plants and trees.  Now that the restoration is done, this section of Wolf Creek is a prime location to support the “Trout in the Classroom” program.

Rainbow trout

Biologists are experimenting with stocking native brook trout as well as brown trout and rainbow trout. Photo by Lisac Mark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

During the Revolutionary War, 400 Virginians set out to join patriot militia from modern-day Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  After a two week campaign, the Overmountain Men fought the Battle of Kings Mountain with overwhelming success, helping turn the tide of the war. As they gathered, or “mustered,” they would have camped on the banks of Wolf Creek. The new restoration, in addition to providing habitat for trout, helps recreate the look of the creek as the Overmountain Men would have known it.

Every year, reenactors celebrate the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780 with living demonstrations at the Abingdon Muster Grounds.

Every year, reenactors celebrate the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780 with living demonstrations at the Abingdon Muster Grounds.

A ribbon cutting will be held September 23, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., celebrating the completion of the Wolf Creek Stream Bank Restoration.  Many partners came together to restore the Wolf Creek stream bank, including: Town of Abingdon Virginia, Mountain Empire Chapter-Trout Unlimited, Virginia Department Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Forestry, Upper Tennessee Roundtable, National Park Service-Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, Carter Land and Water and the Virginia Chapter-Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

For more information,  call Leigh Ann Hunter at (276) 525-1050 or email

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Southwest Virginia in the Fall

Southwest Virginia’s natural beauty and abundance of outdoor activities make it a prime destination for anyone seeking a break from the stresses of daily life. Fall is one of the best time to visit, with the autumn colors on full display. Here are 10 of the most scenic places to take advantage of the incredible outdoor opportunities and enjoy the show.

1. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park

Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.
Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.

Virginia State Parks

Well known for its wild ponies, alpine meadows, and high peaks, Grayson Highlands is Virginia’s crown jewel. Although a very popular destination for backpackers seeking breathtaking views, Grayson is also one of Virginia’s best bouldering destinations. In addition, Grayson Highlands provides access to Virginia’s highest peaks through the Mount Rogers Recreational Area. Whether you want to horseback ride, hike, camp, backpack, or climb, Grayson highlands is one of the most incredible destinations in Virginia.

2. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.
Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.


This former railroad bed goes through the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus creating one of the best bike trails in the country. Numerous outfitters with rental and shuttle services make riding the Creeper trail a breeze. Along the trail you will enjoy peaceful creek crossings on rustic bridges with nearly unlimited spots to pull over and capture stunning photographs. For the best experience this fall, shuttle up to Whitetop Station and ride to the town of Damascus—you’ll find the entire trip is downhill. While visiting the Creeper Trail be sure and stop by the Wolf Hills Brewing Company in Abingdon and enjoy local music and craft beer.

3. Ride ATVs on the Mountain View Trail System

The Mountain View Trail System in St. Paul, Virginia, is well known to off-road enthusiasts hosting roughly 100 miles of pristine trails. St. Paul is an ATV-friendly town, allowing off-road vehicles legal road access to local shopping, lodging, and dining. After a long day riding the trails, there is no better place to refuel and relax than the Sugar Hill Brewing Company where local eats and craft brews are sure to fulfill you after a long day of heart pounding action.

4. Experience Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park is situated on the border of Kentucky and Virginia along the western-most continuous ridge of the Appalachians. Recognized as the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi, the park and surrounding areas are an incredible place to visit for all types of adventure including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, birding, rafting, and more recently rock climbing. Its incredible beauty offers a perfect island of wilderness to escape to. Be sure when you visit Breaks this fall to arrange a tour to see Virginia’s newly restored Elk herd located just 25 minutes outside the park on a local nature preserve.

5. Hike the Channels

The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.
The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.

Cody Myers Photography

Recognized as the eastern form of the famous Utah slot canyons, the Channels are one of Virginia’s most biologically diverse and fascinating areas. The 6.6-mile, moderate out-and-back trail offer a one of a kind way to experience one of Virginia’s most unique features. Located 15 miles north of Abingdon, Virginia, the Channels State Forest doesn’t offer camping, but you can spend a day exploring the trails and head back to Abingdon to spend the night.

6. Conquer the Back of the Dragon

This winding route—known for its zigzagging turns and unparalleled vistas—attracts sports-car drivers and motorcyclists from all over the country. The route stretches 32 miles from Marion to Tazewell, Virginia, with more than 300 curves and three mountain crossings along the way. Once you reach Tazewell, be sure to stop for lunch at Seven, a local eatery serving American-style food with a great community atmosphere before hitting the road.

7. Raft the Russell Fork

During the fall season, whitewater enthusiasts flock to the Russell Fork to experience some of the most intense whitewater on the east coast. In the month of October, water is released from a nearby dam making the experience even more exciting. October also happens to be the most beautiful time to raft the Russell fork, showcasing Virginia’s brilliant fall colors and cooling temperatures. During the October releases, the Russell Fork should only be run by experienced paddlers or with the accompaniment of a professional guide.

8. Backpack the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail

See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.
See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.

Virginia State Parks

For those audacious backpackers looking for a more remote adventure this fall, the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail is a must do. Backpackers can conquer more than 40 miles of wilderness with incredible views the entire way. In order to complete this trek, you will need to set up a shuttle between Breaks Interstate Park and US 119. Eventually, this section of trail will traverse the entire 150-mile stretch of Pine Mountain and someday be a part of the Great Eastern Trail, an initiative to create a more remote sister to the Appalachian Trail.

9. Float the Clinch River

Although known as Virginia’s forgotten river, the Clinch River will give you memories that last a lifetime. The Clinch, the most bio-diverse river in North America, offers a multitude of opportunity for exploration, snorkeling, fishing, and relaxation. Floating the Clinch gives visitors a taste of the beauty of Southwest Virginia and all of its incredible natural resources. Kayak, canoe, and tube rentals—plus shuttle service—are available at Clinch River Adventures, located in the town of St. Paul.

10. Explore Norton, Virginia

Known recently as one of Virginia’s top adventure towns, Norton provides easy access to unlimited outdoor activities in surrounding areas such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, camping, and various water sports. In addition to Norton putting itself at the top of the list for many rock climbers, the flag rock area trails (FRAT) are becoming a top-class mountain bike destination.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by JR P


10 Must-Do Adventures in Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia was once dominated by the coal industry. Mining in the region peaked in the late 1990s, but has been on the decline since. The slow disappearance of the once-dominant industry has given way to something that people might not expect: outdoor tourism. The natural beauty was always there, of course, it just wasn’t the focus while coal was the backbone of the economy. If you head to the far left corner of Virginia today, you’ll find a huge number of natural adventures awaiting you. Here are 10 of the best ways to see this incredibly scenic corner of the state.

1. Hike on the AT

Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.
Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.

Perry Smyre

The best place to start a top ten list is with an activity that is both famous and area-specific—hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Of course the whole thing is a whopper that stretches for 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine, but a significant slice of it passes right through Southwest Virginia. The AT runs right into Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is one of very few places on the trail that has a free public shower readily available to hikers (a rare, rare luxury when you’re on a long hike). The park also has a shuttle that costs 50 cents to go between the visitor center and Marion, Virginia, so it’s an accessible place to start or stop a shorter stint on the trail. If you want to be adventurous, pick it up where it enters the region in Cherokee National Forest across the border in Tennessee and trek it all the way to the West Virginia border in Giles County near Pearisburg. It’s a challenging and unforgettable way to experience the region.

2. Climb Mount Rogers

Mount Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak, so naturally it has to be on your bucket list. Taking off from Grayson Highlands State Park (you can park at Massie Gap), the peak can be reached through a nine-mile stint on none other than the AT itself. The big bonus is that there are wild ponies that fill the park so there’s a chance that your hike could bring you up-close and personal with these adorable and majestic little creatures.

3. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.
The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.

Perry Smyre

While the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile beauty densely surrounded by trees, is a multi-use trail, you’ll mostly find it occupied by mountain bikers. The beauty of the trail is that it’s approachable in a variety of ways. You can take a shuttle to the start at Whitetop Station and make your way to Damascus to get an easy, downhill experience pretty much the entire way. The trail levels off a bit from Damascus to its endpoint in Abingdon, but it’s still a relatively leisurely ride. Make it a round-trip and challenge yourself by riding to the top on the way out and relaxing on the way back. The path is well kept, with incredible water views as the path crosses back and forth across Whitetop Laurel Creek. You’ll find plenty of options for bike rentals throughout the region, most of whom also provide shuttle service to the trailhead.

4. Paddle the Clinch River

St. Paul, Virginia, is the homebase for paddling on the Clinch River. Clinch River Adventures is right there to take you on guided, group floats and kayak trips that range from 45 minutes to seven hours. Tubing, on the other hand, lasts for two hours and is perfect for families—three year olds and up are welcome. The Clinch River is also home to one of the best overnight paddling spots in the state.

5. Rock Climb at the Grand Canyon of the South

Otherwise known as Breaks Interstate Park, or "The Breaks" for short, this spot constitutes the largest gorge east of the Mississippi River. Because the spot only officially opened to rock climbers in May 2016, there aren’t too many established routes, which just means there are plenty to be discovered. Expect Sandstone cliffs like what you’d find at Obed.

6. Ride the Back of the Dragon

The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.
The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.

Virginia State Parks

Part of the larger Dragon Series that includes the Head, Tail, and Claw of the Dragon sections, the Back of the Dragon is not to be missed if you’re anywhere near Southwest Virginia. It’s a winding road full of switchbacks that illuminate vast views of the land below the cliff that the road follows for its entirety. Flanking the Back of the Dragon are the towns of Marion and Tazewell—both quaint spots worthy of a visit in their own right.

7. Run the New River Trail

Running along an abandoned railroad the entire way, this 57-mile route is wide, well-maintained, and characterized by a gentle slope that makes it just a bit of a incline challenge. The New River Trail passes by three major bridges and traverses two major tunnels, creating a visually interesting trip throughout.

8. Fly Fish in Whitetop Laurel Creek

Whitetop is one of the premier streams for fly fishing in Southwest Virginia. In these waters you’ll have the chance to snag rainbow trout and brown trout. While wild trout swim throughout the 10-mile creek, seven miles of it are stocked waters, upping your chances for a catch.

9. Take a Ghost Tour

The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia, is exquisite—one of the very few Art Deco Mayan Revival Theatres left in the states. It’s also supposedly haunted along with a few other notable buildings like the Collins House Inn and the Abijah Johnson House, a octagon-shaped dwelling turned non-profit. Take the ghost tour led by paranormal investigators around town and decide for yourself.

10. Taste Moonshine

The Davis Valley Winery started with crafting local wines from their vineyards, but has since progressed to distilling vodka, whiskey, and moonshine. They’ve got original recipe ’shine as well as fruity flavors like Cherry Pie for those with more particular tastes. Not only is enjoying moonshine a rare event for most, the winery is located on a pretty plot of land with great views that warrants a visit on its own.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Perry Smyre

20170628_Virginia_SWV Tourism RR-14

The Undiscovered Trail Towns of Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia is one of the most overlooked adventure epicenters in the Southeast. The region is blanketed with massive tracts of national forest, capped with cloud-parting summits, and airy expanses of high country found no place else in the state. The vast network of trails draped over Southwest Virginia’s wild spaces provides a portal to countless outdoor adventures—and links an array of picturesque mountain towns, each with a unique vibe. Best of all, these are still plenty of undiscovered gems to explore. Here are some of the small towns in the region that serve as an excellent base of operations as you explore the outdoors.


The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.
The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.


Dubbed the "world capital of old time mountain music," Galax, Virginia, is already on the radar of bluegrass connoisseurs. It’s the home of the Old Fiddlers Convention, the largest event of its kind in the world, dating back to 1935. Beyond world-class bluegrass, Galax is also loaded with small town charm and epic trails. The 57-mile New River Trail, cradled by the linear New River Trail State Park, begins in the heart of town, and traces the course of the New River, ironically one of the oldest waterways on the planet, for 39-miles. Plus, the town is just seven miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. After a run, hike, or ride, Galax’s walkable downtown offers everything from BBQ joints to bike shops to boutiques, plus plenty of toe-tapping tunes. Swing by the Stringbean Coffee Shop and Shamrock Tea Room for one of their weekly Tuesday night jam sessions.


One of the most historic locations in Southwest Virginia, Abingdon is also one of the region’s premier trail towns. The westernmost trailhead for the 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail is located in the heart of town. The nationally recognized rails-to-trails route once accommodated the locomotives huffing through the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but it’s now leading cyclists through the Mount Rogers High Country, and along Whitetop Laurel Creek. Aside from the trail, there are plenty of other reasons to stick around Abingdon, like the historic Barter Theatre, which is the nation’s longest running professional theater, dating back to 1933. While you’re there, treat yourself to luxurious comfort at the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa and grab a local beer at the Wolf Hills Brewing Company.

St. Paul

Clinch River Adventures.
    Renee Sklarew
Clinch River Adventures.
Renee Sklarew

Perhaps one of the region’s most overlooked adventure hubs, St. Paul offers an eclectic trail buffet. Stretched along the shores of the Clinch River, the town offers paddling access to one of the most biodiverse rivers on the planet. Above town, the Mountain View Trail System features 100 miles of rugged riding for Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and dirt bikes–showcasing spectacular valley vistas. For a slower ride, there’s the 8-mile Sugar Hill Trail Loop, paralleling the Clinch River with the option to link up with the Guest River Gorge Trail for a 16-mile excursion. Off the trail, riders can recover at the Sugar Hill Brewing Company.


Damascus is hardly a secret to weary thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The renowned footpath goes right through town, and Damascus is known for offering even the smelliest hikers a warm welcome. But it’s not just the Appalachian Trail—the town is a junction for a whopping seven trails total, including the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, and The Crooked Road Music Trail. Plus, plenty of post-adventure perks pepper the town like the Damascus Brewery and Mojo’s Trailside Café.


Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.


Floyd, Virginia, may be famous for Floydfest, the five-day outdoor musical festival, luring reggae and jam bands, but the town has plenty of adventures on tap too. For cyclists, there’s the Tour de Floyd route, a mapped metric century with nearly 6,700-feet of climbing—nearly half of which is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers can head to the trail-laced Rocky Knob Recreation Area with options like the 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge Trail or the 3-mile Black Ridge Trail. Plus, there’s the exceptionally biodiverse Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve. The 3,971-foot summit is blanketed with airy glades and dotted with wildflowers and offers hikers 360-degree vistas.


Marion has made a name for itself as a cultural hub, with highlights like the historic Lincoln Theatre and the town’s monthly Arts Walk, connecting visitors with local artists and musicians. However, beyond the blossoming arts scene, Marion has also has plenty to entertain lovers of fresh air. The town is just minutes from Hungry Mother State Park. Anchored by a 108-acre lake, the recreation area offer paddlers plenty of mountain-shaded water, plus 17-miles of hiking and biking trails. At the end of the day, visitors can toast their outdoor adventures at Headspace Brewing Company, Marion’s first craft brewery, or at The Speakeasy, a Prohibition-themed gastropub housed in the town’s charm-loaded General Francis Marion Hotel.


View of Norton from Flag Rock.
View of Norton from Flag Rock.

Malee Oot

Overlooked by the towering Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton is the ideal basecamp for all sorts of outdoor adventures. Just three miles from town, the Flag Rock Trail System offers 8-miles of singletrack spread over the lower reaches of High Knob. The recreation area is also a designated sanctuary for green salamanders—and for a Sasquatch-esque creature locally dubbed the "Wood Booger." Above Flag Rock, the High Knob Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest is garlanded with routes like the 33-mile High Knob Trail and the leisurely mile-long Lake Shore Loop. Cap off the day in the cozy, subterranean pub at the Inn at Wise.


Wytheville has a little something for everyone. The birthplace of first lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the town is sprinkled with museums—like the Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum—and a smattering of antique shops, art studios, and one-of-a-kind eateries. Plus, there are plenty of ways to head outside. The town-owned Crystal Springs Recreation Area offers an easy escape for hikers and singletrack seekers, and slightly further afield, the Seven Sisters Trail is a birders paradise, offering hikers a 4.8-mile tour of Little Walker Mountain, with the opportunity to spot species like ruffled grouse, Acadian flycatchers, and pileated woodpeckers. Backcountry aficionados can make tracks for the Kimberling Creek Wilderness Area of the Jefferson National Forest—a medley of oak and hickory, punctuated with flowering dogwood and rhododendron, spread along the southern edge of Hogback Mountain. After a day on the trail, stick around for the Davis Valley Winery.


Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.
Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.

Barry Sannes

Tazewell is the perfect jumping off point for one of the region’s most stunning natural features, Burke’s Garden, a mountain-encircled crater aptly nicknamed God’s Thumbprint. The entire crater is designated as a National Historic District, ideal for road riders, and the New River Valley Bicycle Association has even mapped a Burke’s Garden Century route. The group also hosts an annual Burke’s Garden Century event every Fall (on Virginia Tech’s move-in weekend). Meanwhile hikers can get a bird’s-eye view from the Appalachian Trail—and afterwards, there is the Burke’s Garden General Store (6156 Burke’s Garden Road), offering baked goods, sandwiches, and Amish-made gifts.


Nestled at the foot of Draper Mountain, Pulaski is the perfect portal to outdoor adventure. Mountain bikers don’t have to stray far from the historic railroad town to hit the Draper Mountain trail network, featuring 8- miles of precision-crafted singletrack, with enough gritty ascents and rock features to cater to advanced riders. Paddlers can set out for Gatewood Park and Reservoir. The sylvan recreation area anchored by the serene reservoir features 162 acres of water to explore. Aside from outdoor wonders, the town has highlights like The Marketplace, one of the region’s top farmers markets, featuring live music and a varied selection of wine and microbrews (Tuesdays 4 p.m.- to 8 p.m., May through August). For the quintessential summer evening, head to Calfee Park, home of the Pulaski Yankees, and one of the oldest minor league ballfields in the country.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography