Southwest Virginia is loaded with some of the scenic outdoor landscapes in the entire southeastern United States, and towns like Abingdon, Damascus, and Bristol are leading the charge as perfect gateways to both trailside access and Appalachian charm. Nearby trails such as the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and Iron Mountain Trail are world-class. Fly fishing in the region is praised widely as some of the best in the nation. Parks like Grayson Highlands, New River State Park, and Bear Pen Recreation Area offer access to thousands of acres of Appalachian Wilderness. Top notch bouldering is found all throughout Grayson Highlands State Park and its high point Mount Rogers, and high-quality cragging is found at Hidden Valley. Although one weekend isn’t nearly enough to thoroughly soak up all that Southwest Virginia has to offer, the following guide is a good starter to get you acquainted with the region.
Where to Get Caffeinated
Life without coffee is just plain uncivilized. We all need our morning cup (or two) and luckily Southwest Virginia delivers with many options for craft coffee roasted and prepared by professional baristas. In Abingdon you can get your fix at Zazzy’Z Coffee House and Roastery, which roasts its beans from all over the world onsite. It also serves homemade muffins, sandwiches, and quiches to get you fueled up for the day.
Mojo’s Trailside Café and Coffee is located right next to the hugely popular Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus. You’ll find a large assortment of coffees and coffee drinks, each with distinctly different character. The restaurant is also top notch with culinary expertise coming from John Seymore, who has more than 20 years of professional experience as a chef. A full breakfast menu is available ranging from simple staples such as eggs, toasts, bacon, bagel sandwiches, and pancakes, to more decadent dishes such as the French Quarter, a Cajun-inspired omelet made with Andouille, shrimp, and veggies. Mojo’s is also a great place to grab lunch with an eclectic mix of sandwiches and crowd-pleasing favorites such as Seymore’s Pulled Pork, West Coast Reuben, Huevos Rancheros, Crabcake Sammy, and Low Country Shrimp and Grits.
Where to Find nearby Adventure
With such a large variety of outdoor recreation available in the region it will be impossible to do everything on a weekend but luckily for you it’ll still be here for your next visit. Cyclists will want to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail trail that is extremely mellow and a favorite for family rides. There are plenty of outfitters and shuttle services available in Abingdon and Damascus to take you to the trailhead, where you can enjoy a mostly downhill ride back to Damascus. If you want a challenge, make the round-trip on two wheels, with the second half much easier than the first. The mountain biking crowd will want to go ride the classic backcountry ridge trail, Iron Mountain.
Hikers have tons of options but the classic areas are Grayson Highlands State Park, where elevated balds with rocky outcroppings and wild ponies make up the landscape, as well as Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. Other good hiking destinations include the Channels Trail just north of Abingdon and Bristol where the highlight is navigating the labyrinth of house-sized boulders that form corridors and caves on the trail.
Climbers will find the best summer temperatures in the southeast bouldering at Grayson Highlands State Park. More than 500 established boulder problems are found within the park with options still available for first ascents. Sport climbers and trad climbers should head to Hidden Valley, just north of Abingdon, and rope up for single-pitch sandstone routes ranging from 5-easy to 5.13.
The Fly Fishing in the region is arguably some of the best in the entire nation. Whitetop Laurel Creek and the North, South, and Middle Fork of the Holston are the crown jewels of the area, but there are many hidden gems in the backcountry of Grayson Highlands State Park for the more adventurous. Check out any of the local outfitters in the region for more information.
Where to Unwind
After a long day playing in the mountains, treat yourself to a good meal and celebrate with a few beers. Luckily, this area has more than just natural beauty—it also hosts a great selection of restaurants and breweries to complement your outdoor excursions. Wolf Hills Brewery, The Damascus Brewery, Studio Brewery, and Bristol Brewery are all excellent local brewpubs where one can sample a wide variety of small-batch craft beer. Often times on weekends there is live music as an added bonus.
Harvest Table, located in Meadowview, Virginia, is a locally sourced, farm-to-table style restaurant that specializes in healthy Appalachian-inspired cuisine. It’s a must-visit, as you can expect a seasonal menu with an emphasis on clean and simple, yet, refined dishes. Another good option is Jack’s 128 Pecan, a small, casual restaurant located in downtown Abingdon that offers a high quality, eclectic menu that will appeal to everyone in your group.
Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest
Sure camping is always an option but sometimes you want a little more luxury in your life. The Copper Lantern Boutique Inn, Black’s Fort Inn, and White Birches Inn—all located in Abingdon—are excellent classic, bed-and-breakfast establishments. Expect old Appalachian charm and locally inspired decadence.
If you want more of a communal experience then Damascus has three hiker-friendly hostels worth a visit. Hikers Inn, Woodchuck Hostel, andCrazy Larry’s Hostel are all great inexpensive options where the other guests will be sure to have some great stories. Expect to meet lots of thru-hikers.
Written by Joe DeGaetano for RootsRated in partnership with Abingdon.