Spending a long weekend in Giles County, Virginia

Mountain Lake Lodge serves as a great base of operations for exploring Giles County.
Mountain Lake Lodge serves as a great base of operations for exploring Giles County. Adam Fagen
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Giles County is an undiscovered, adventure destination located 20 minutes from Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. The mountainous region is a pristine playground for outdoor enthusiasts, including those who love hiking the Appalachian Trail and boating in the New River. So if you’re interested in a fun-filled weekend enjoying the outdoors, pack your gear and head for the hills of Southwest Virginia.

Friday Afternoon: River Exploration

Kayaking; canoeing; and tubing are all popular on the New River.
Kayaking; canoeing; and tubing are all popular on the New River. Virginia State Parks

Start your visit to Giles County at Tangent Outfitters & Cascade Cafe, just outside of the town of Pearisburg. Tangent offers multiple excursion options such as guided river trips and fly-fishing instruction on the New River. This wide and powerful river winds its way through the county drawing enthusiasts to fish, kayak, and tube. The most popular kayak trip is the seven-mile stretch between Eggleston and Pembroke where it’s mostly flat with some class II rapids. Choose to navigate from a tandem kayak, individual kayak, or canoe.

Friday Night: Dancing With the Stars

One of the rustic cabins at Mountain Lake Lodge. 
    Renee Sklarew
One of the rustic cabins at Mountain Lake Lodge. Renee Sklarew

Head up the six miles of switchbacks to your luxury accommodations overlooking the New River Valley. If you’re familiar with the 1980s movie Dirty Dancing then you’ve had a glimpse of this resort’s pastoral beauty. In the movie, historic Mountain Lake Lodge served as a summer camp for families, and the 1987 classic is still so popular that the Lodge hosts Dirty Dancing Weekends several times each year. The event includes dancing lessons and the opportunity to revisit landmarks from the movie.

Stay in the original Main Stone Lodge or one of the secluded, rustic cabins. After checking into your room or cabin, all with microwave, fridge and views of the mountains, dine where Baby first spied Johnny (in Dirty Dancing), in the Harvest Dining Room. It really hasn’t changed much except for the food choices—today, modern southern comfort food is prominently featured on the menu. Try the Lodge’s legendary barbecue short ribs with pimento cheese macaroni (yes, it’s as good as it sounds). The menu changes seasonally as the Lodge sources its produce and meats from local farms. After dinner, stop in Mary’s Market Café for homemade ice cream, and then challenge each other to a game of lawn chess or checkers. Hang out by the bonfire or in the Tavern for local craft brews.

Saturday Morning: Rails to Trails Cycling

After a hearty breakfast at the Lodge featuring pancakes, cheesy grits, and Virginia ham, head back to Tangent Outfitters to rent mountain bikes. Tangent provides transportation to the New River Trail, an old rail bed that is mostly flat and scenic. Tangent offers both guided and unguided tours (up to 57 miles long) that start in Galax and ends in Pulaski. Tangent’s Specialized Hardrocks and Rockhopper bikes are perfect for this rugged terrain.

Saturday Afternoon: Playtime

Check out the Adventure Center at Mountain Lake Lodge, with its five-story inflatable Sky Slide or Treetop Adventure course. Try your hand at archery tag or don a giant inner tube to play Bubble Ball, a new-fangled version of soccer in an inflatable beach ball. Check out Zorb Racing, where you climb into a giant bubble ball and race each other. There’s also disc golf, basketball, horseshoes, badminton, croquet, tennis, and shuffleboard. The Lodge also offers yoga classes at the fitness center, a sauna, and 22 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Saturday Night: Live Music

Palisades Restaurant is the place to be on Thursday to Saturday nights to enjoy local music on the Crooked Road Trail.
Palisades Restaurant is the place to be on Thursday to Saturday nights to enjoy local music on the Crooked Road Trail. Adam Fagen

That night, check out Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston to hear local balladeers from this Crooked Road region, known as the birthplace of Bluegrass music. Performances are Thursday through Saturday nights.

Sunday Morning: Hike to the Waterfalls

Drive to Mill Creek Nature Park to find 145 unspoiled acres in the heart of Jefferson National Forest. On the way, you’ll pass the tiny town of Narrows and see the high cliffs of the "Narrows" section of the New River. At the parking lot, begin your ascent up the rocky trails that meander along Mill Creek on the blue ridges of Pearis Mountain. You’ll come to 1.25-miles of cascading waterfalls. A the top, take the flat Grassy Road 1.35 miles to Sentinel Point for a 360-degree view of the New River Valley, or detour onto the Old Rhodie Trail, named for the rhododendron tunnels, where you can access a section of the Appalachian Trail.

For more of a challenge, scale the steep trails of Angels Rest, with its two panoramic overlooks of the New River Valley, and to the east, Buffalo Mountain. Head up the shady North Slope through boulder fields and mature hardwood trees until you reach the summit. From the town of Pearisburg, join the Appalachian Trail at Cross Street. The popular hike is 5.5 miles roundtrip with more than 1,550 feet of elevation change.

Sunday Afternoon: Trail Riding

Off-road vehicles are another fun way to explore the trails in Giles County.
    Renee Sklarew
Off-road vehicles are another fun way to explore the trails in Giles County. Renee Sklarew

The new Giles County resort called Kairos Wilderness Resort gives visitors the opportunity to explore the trails in many different ways. The property consists of 1,515 acres with 40 miles of trails perfect for horseback riding, hiking, boating, dual sport riding, mountain bikes, ATV’s, UTV’s, and dirt bikes (you need to supply your own). The property accommodates 50 RV’s and offers 23 luxury yurts for overnight stays in what had been an equestrian center in the 1970s. You can also sign up for a guided motorcycle tour with GearHead Moto in downtown Pearisburg.

No matter how you want to spend your time outside, you’ll find plenty of scenic options to enjoy—and that a weekend isn’t enough time to do it all.

Originally written for Southwest Virginia.

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