5 Scenic Fall Drives in Southwest Virginia

Abingdon is a mecca for fall leaf peeping, and offers plenty of opportunities to see gorgeous autumn color, by foot, bike, or car. Make Abingdon your home base for a perfect fall weekend getaway, then plan a day trip to check out one of these five scenic drives. You'll see plenty of fall color without even leaving your car. 

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Road to the wild ponies David Allen color enhanced
Photo by David Allen

Abingdon is the perfect launching pad to explore Southwest Virginia's scenic drives. This artsy mountain town is the home of the famous Barter Theatre, where Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine and other entertainment giants have performed. For those whose idea of play time includes shopping, nightlife or live music, fun is always on tap. Main Street and the historic downtown district is filled with great restaurants and unique shops and galleries. A craft beer brewery and winery are nearby. 

Mount Rogers Scenic Byway

Southwest Virginia is home to the two highest peaks in Virginia, Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain. Get spectacular views of both with a trip down the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway.  This scenic drive treats you to an incredible visual experience as it laces back and forth over whitewater streams and . Mt. Rogers, at 5,729 feet, is the highest point in Virginia and the focal point of the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.

The route follows US Route 58 through Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, skirting the southwest slopes of Whitetop Mountain.  

Whitetop Station Tonya Bevard

Start in nearby Damascus, VA, and head east on Route 58, through Konnarock, VA and ending in Troutdale, VA. From there, retrace your route, or head north on Highway 16 to Marion, VA, and hop back on I-18 South to Abingdon.

Bonus, get out of the car and stretch your legs on The Virginia Creeper Trail, a spectacular 34.3 mile long rail-trail.

Abingdon to Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands ponies
Grayson Highlands State Park near Abingdon, VA. Photo by Bob Diller

For a scenic drive with a spectacular payoff, head to Grayson Highlands State Park.  While Mt. Rogers Scenic Byway will also lead you here, for a shorter, less winding route, take a quick drive north on I-81 to exit 35 in Chillhowie, VA.  Once you leave the freeway, you'll head south on State Route 600.  Your destination is Grayson Highlands, a spectacular alpine ecosystem filled with trout streams, high mountain balds, and the park's famous wild ponies.  

The park contains several easy and moderate hikes, with maps available at the visitor center. 

The Back of the Dragon

Extremely popular with motorcyclists for its breathtaking scenery and breathtakingly sharp curves. See spectacular views along Route 16 between Marion and Tazewell. Near Tazewell, the fertile Thompson Valley spreads out before you.

The Back of the Dragon offers thirty two miles and 438 curves of knee dragging fun.  Start in Marion, VA, just 30 minutes from Abingdon on I-81. 

The Crooked Road

Combine the sights of autumn with the sounds of Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. This winding road covers 333 miles, but you can make it a day trip from Abingdon by starting at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, and heading west to The Country Cabin II in Norton VA (call ahead to check operating hours). Along the way, stop in at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol and experience the "Big Bang" of Country Music. 

Read more and view a map of The Crooked Road

Banjo music crooked road closeup
Explore the musical traditions of Appalachia along The Crooked Road: Southwest Virginia's Heritage Music Trail

Burke's Garden - one of Virginia's hidden treasures

Known as “God’s Thumbprint,” Burke’s Garden is Virginia’s highest valley and Virginia’s largest rural historic district. This bowl-shaped valley carved out of the top of a mountain offers the most breathtaking scenery this side of New Zealand, with verdant farmland, abundant wildlife, rare bird watching, peaceful biking, and adventurous hiking on the Appalachian Trail. 

Bring a picnic, or grab a simple lunch at Mattie’s Place General Store on Gose Mill Road (restrooms available).

From Abingdon, take US-19 to the town of Tazewell, then follow VA-61 E/Gratton Rd to State Rte 623.  

Get more info at visittazewellcounty.org

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