As Interstate 81 winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, the tree-covered ridges beckon you to the outdoors—and Wytheville is the perfect town to use as your homebase for exploring the region. The revitalized downtown features excellent lodging, dining, and shopping, and it’s surrounded by beautiful natural areas for outdoor adventure. In Wythe County, you’ll find more than 58,000 acres of public lands, 240 miles of lightly used trails for hiking, mountain biking, and running, and 20 miles of the New River.
Outdoor lovers enjoy the area year-round, as temperatures vary seasonally but are rarely extreme. Late May and early June bring generous swatches of colorful rhododendron and azaleas, while wildflowers bloom throughout spring and summer. Flora varies with elevation and slope aspect: creek-side foliage, mosses and ferns, old growth white pines and hardwoods. And of course the fall colors make for an incredible show—making it one of the most popular times to visit.
Navigate the New
The [New River Trail](DCR.virginia.gov/state-parks/new-river-trail), a converted railroad right-of-way maintained by Virginia State Parks, stretches 57 miles from Pulaski to Galax. The New River (ironically, one of the world’s oldest rivers) runs alongside Wythe County’s 17 miles of the trail, skirted by cliffs and forests. The wide, well-maintained trail and gentle grade provide for pleasant pedaling, walking, and running. Paddling in the Wythe County portion of the river features flat water, riffles, and ledges, and class I and II rapids. Shuttles operate out of the Foster Falls park headquarters to Austinville (for a 4-mile float down the river) and to Ivanhoe (a 6-mile trip).
The Foster Falls park headquarters also offers bike, canoe, kayak, and horse rentals; an equestrian area; camping; and an amphitheater. The Jackson Ferry Shot Tower, rising above the trail near Foster Falls, is worth a stop. The early-1800s stone structure was used to by one of the oldest lead-shot manufactories in the U.S. to make ammunition.
Scoot Along the Ridgeline with Seven Sisters
Steep climbs and descents define the 4.8-mile out-and-back Seven Sisters Trail, which challenges users along the ridges of Little Walker Mountain. The summertime forest canopy limits the grand views that wintertime affords, until it opens up at the 3,310-foot summit. The trail can be accessed from Stony Fork Campground inside the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests or from the parking lot at the east end of the trail. Make the trail a loop by returning 3.5 miles along the paved road.
The Walker Mountain Trail
Rock gardens add to the challenge (and beauty) of the Walker Mountain Trail, which follows the ridgeline of Big Walker Mountain in Jefferson National Forest for 12 miles at about 3,400 feet in elevation. The out-and-back trail starts at the Big Walker Lookout Tower and ends at the Crawfish Trail. It was once part of the Appalachian Trail, and it’s only about one mile from the current AT.
Pre- or post-hiking or mountain biking, you can soak up some of the best scenic views at Big Walker Lookout, featuring the BW Country store, which has been family-owned for 70 years. Meet local authors, watch artisan demonstrations and tap your feet to traditional mountain music. Stock up on locally created jams and relishes, crafts, CDs, and books. With the trailhead and the store located on the Big Walker Mountain National Forest Scenic Byway, your drive will afford memorable views, too.
Explore Crystal Springs
The 1,800-acre Crystal Springs Recreation Area was established around a modest, century-old, spring-fed reservoir—the perfect place to soak after a vigorous hike, bike, or run. A mere 10 minutes from the town of Wytheville, the property contains a series of seven trails for pedestrians and mountain bikes.
Four easy trails at the foot of the mountain offer an overview of the park’s natural beauty and the historic reservoir. Boundary Trail, a 7-mile loop to the summit, challenges hikers, runners, and mountain bikers with creek crossings, rocky sections, 1,200 feet of elevation gain and meanderings along the 3,400-foot ridgeline. A spur trail takes you to the scenic 3,640-foot outcropping at High Rocks, located in the Big Survey Wildlife Management Area. (High Rocks can also be accessed on a 2.7-mile out-and-back trail from a permitted trailhead parking lot in Big Survey.)
And More Trails
Wythe County’s 240 miles of trails include 3.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the western tip of the county and the Iron Mountain Trails in the Jefferson National Forest to the south. For road cyclists, U.S. Bicycle Route 76 also cuts through Wytheville.
If the weather keeps you indoors, stay active at the Wytheville Community Center. Operated by the Town of Wytheville Parks and Recreation Department, the center offers day rates for visitors to use the fitness center, pool, basketball gym, walking track, racquetball court, and indoor climbing wall.
When the sun sets, recharge your batteries at the boutique Bolling Wilson Hotel or at one of the many B&Bs, hotels, cabins or campgrounds. Restock your metabolism at Graze on Main (contemporary Southern cuisine) or the Log House Restaurant (traditional Southern fare); put down a "world famous" hotdog from Skeeter’s; or pack a lunch from Flourz. Wytheville offers over 50 restaurants to delight your tastebuds.
You’ll find Wytheville has everything you need to get the most out of your time in the outdoors.
Originally written for Southwest Virginia.