8 Best-Kept Secrets in Abingdon, Virginia
Staff picks from the Abingdon Visitor Center
If you are a repeat visitor to Abingdon, Virginia, I don’t need to tell you there is a lot to love about Barter Theatre, The Martha Washington Inn and Spa, The Virginia Creeper Trail and The Tavern. Chances are, you’ve got those awesome attractions on your agenda already. What about the hours that you’ve left open for something new, something a bit more spontaneous?
As an Abingdon Ambassador working in the Visitor Center, I hear two questions repeatedly, “What do I not already know about Abingdon, Virginia?” and, “What do YOU do on your day off?” So, I’ve compiled a list that combines those two ideas. Here are eight of my picks for Abingdon’s best-kept secrets: these are the places I like to eat, shop and enjoy on my days off.
- Donita Kennedy, Abingdon Ambassador
Only 25 minutes from Abingdon sits regal Backbone Rock. The tunnel was drilled through the rock in 1901 to allow railroad access between Shady Valley, TN and Damascus, VA. Motorists can still pass through it (and the truly adventurous can walk over the top!) The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) developed the recreation area, which consists of two picnic shelters and hiking trails that incorporated native stonework. The campground was added in the 1960s and had new life breathed into it in the mid 90s. This is the perfect adventure if you love nature but don’t have the time or energy to hike back into the mountains.
From Abingdon, VA, take US 58 east for 15 miles to Damascus. Turn right onto VA 716 for five miles to the recreation area (VA 716 becomes TN 133 at the state line).
In case you missed it, Abingdon was voted Best Small Town Food Scene 2019 by USA Today, and I’m here to tell you, Chick-N-Little (401 W. Main St.) helped us out with that! We have over 30 restaurants that you can’t find at every exit going up the interstate, and one of the “must-try”s is Chick-N-Little.
Their claim is "an easygoing, time-tested joint, dishing up home-style American plates from morning to night.” And I’ll second all that.
Chick-n-Little is a family-owned business and was included in a list of noteworthy hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Virginia, by Only in Your State in 2015, which surprised exactly zero of our locals.
Their "chicken cordon bleu sandwich", "fried green tomato BLT" and "beef barley soup" keep people coming back for more, but my heart loves them for their breakfast (served all day!). This is one of the few places where I can get biscuits and gravy like Momma makes and coffee that lives up to my standards. I like my eggs over easy, but they will be happy to scramble yours; eggs are made to order. If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, grab a burger or a hot plate of meat loaf, chicken and dumplings, pot roast, or a delicious salad. They’ve got something for every appetite.
Mendota Fire Tower
The Mendota Fire Tower is on the National Historic Lookout Register. No longer manned, it is now a hot spot for birdwatching as well as a hiking destination for many. The Mendota Fire tower sits atop Clinch Mountain, in Washington County, VA. You are not allowed to climb the 100-foot steel tower, but you don’t need to climb it. The view is more than sufficient from the foot of the tower.
It’s a half mile hike that I recommend to people who are looking for something new to them. I tell people, “It isn’t far, but it isn’t easy." Watch your step on the hike. If it’s been raining, the rocks you have to navigate are going to be extra slippery, and there are cliffs with sharp drop-offs.
It's pretty hard to take your eyes off the patchwork of Moccasin valley, the Holston River Valley, and across to the spine of Clinch Mountain. If you travel with your pupper, he or she is welcome, just keep them on the leash. Take your binoculars and a bottle of water.
To find this treasure, from Abingdon, take US-19 N/US-58 Alt W, and go approximately 7 miles. Watch for Mendota Rd on your left. Go about 14.2 miles on Mendota Rd. then turn right onto Pinnacle Rd. It's approximately 2.8 miles more to your hike. Allow a few hours for this. The drive alone is 45 minutes or one way (if you don’t stop several times for photos like I do). But it’s a beautiful drive and a splendorous view at the top of the hike. You can thank me later.
Hidden Valley/The Channels
Hidden Valley is well known around here for its beauty. After all, how often do you find a lake nestled on top of a mountain? Mostly it is frequented by rock climbers and hikers, but I go there for the fishing. You may pull out a northern pike, a largemouth bass, a bluegill, or a black crappie. I usually take a picnic basket, a blanket, and a fishing pole. You may see deer, squirrels, and rabbits.
If you need something more adventurous than watching a line (IS there such a thing?) Brumley Mountain Trail is there and runs through the climbing area. From there you can head to the Channels State Natural Area Preserve and into a 20 acre labyrinth of sandstone. This is an amazing sight, but it is certainly not for the faint of foot. The 6.6 mile out-and-back hike takes you down into a network of maze-like crevices formed in soft sandstone. It looks more like something out of a fantasy book than the Virginia woods.
To Hidden Valley Lake: From Abingdon, take US-19 N/US-58 Alt W, and go approximately 10 miles. Watch for Hidden Valley Rd on your right. It's a good climb up the mountain from that point but well worth the crawl once you reach the lake.
To The Channels: From Abingdon, take Whites Mill Road north for approximately 4.5 miles. Take a right on Rich Valley Road, go approximately 5.5 miles to a left on Hayters Gap Road (aka Highway 80). Go approximately 5 miles then bear left to stay on Highway 80. Go approximately 3.5 miles. Parking lot and trailhead will be on your left. About an hour drive from downtown Abingdon, VA.
Don’t forget your camera!
Abingdon’s Meditation Labyrinth
Sometimes you just need a quiet moment with nature but you don’t have all day to hike back into the mountains. The Abingdon Meditation Labyrinth is perfect for those moments.
On Valley Street, between Court Street and Tanner Street, is a meditation labyrinth, kindly provided by Jan and Sam Hurt. The Medieval design was inspired by the famous labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, and is thus a “Chartres labyrinth.” It is made of all pavers. The location itself is a green oasis in the spring and summer, and if you’d like a moment to sit in contemplation, take a blanket and rest in the grass. It’s the perfect spot for some reflection and the peace and quiet your soul is crying for.
You can access the labyrinth from Valley Street (with free street parking across the street on the north side of the street) or by foot from Plumb Alley, home of our famous Plumb Alley Day, held the Saturday on Memorial Day weekend.
Abingdon Farmers Market
The Abingdon Farmers Market is one of my favorite haunts and a secret too well kept. You'll find it on the corners of Remsburg Dr. and Cummings Street, teeming with local farmers and artisans alike. You might see a stand of fresh grown vegetables, one of local grass fed meats, and another featuring fragrant homemade soaps and lotions.
Need a special souvenir for someone back home? This is the spot to find it. I've purchased many expected offerings at amazingly reasonable prices, including baked goods from our Balkan Bakery, home canned apple butter, pumpkins for carving and eating, and so many varieties of organic vegetables that I could not name them all. Fresh and local are more nutritious, and they taste better too!
Now and then I find something unexpected like the ground cherries I hadn't had the pleasure of since I was a child, or elderberries for making my own healthy syrup, or chestnuts just in time for Christmas roasting, or morel mushrooms for that local delicacy known as "dry land fish'. (Fried morel mushrooms taste similar to fried fish and are a much anticipated spring treat in Southwest Virginia.)
The market is open year round! May I recommend some fresh pressed juice from White Birch Restaurant and a gallon of lavender ice tea from Camella's Remember When Tea Room? Both will blow your mind. Bring a basket, you may carry away cage free farm fresh eggs, plants for transplanting into your own flower beds and gardens, and so much more.
Greeko’s Grill and Café
I love Mediterranean food like a mouse loves peanut butter. (Don’t listen to the rumors, mice love peanut butter most of all. Feed the cheese to your cat!) Toward that end, I often darken the door of Greeko’s Grill and Café. They are home of the GIANT PITA (lamb gyro, Greek chicken, hummus, lettuce, tomato, onion, and creamy, dreamy made-in-house tzatziki). Greeko's offers vegetarian options such as falafel, dolmades, and spanakopita, all of which I love.
I generally get Greeko's Platter which has those plus hummus, tzatziki, and Pita Bread. A kids menu is available, and you can call ahead pick-up at the drive-through window, just in case you don't want to eat out exactly, but you're craving good Mediterranean food. I recommend the Baklava Cheesecake or the tiramisu, if your sweet tooth is screaming. Come and get your Greeko's on!
Abingdon Olive Oil Company
I’m not much of a shopper. If I go shopping, it’s usually at the farmers market or a unique little shop and tasting gallery called Abingdon Olive Oil Company (152 E Main St.) They feature over 52 varieties of the freshest organic, extra virgin, and naturally fused and infused olive oils from around the world. You can experiment with your taste buds, pairing olive oils with balsamic vinegars until you find just the right taste for you. You’ll find the staff super knowledgeable and so friendly you’ll want to come back again and again. And remember that unique gift you need to carry home for the house sitter or a favored relative? This is a great place to find something thoughtful. They have artistic delights by local artists, such as gorgeous signature serving ware by talented local potter, Debbie Grim. My go to comment for Abingdon Olive Oil is, “I go in to buy a gift and also get two bottles for myself.”