17 of the BEST small-town adventures in Southwest Virginia
Not your typical Virginia Landmarks
Usually, when travelers think of visiting Virginia, they defer to popular Virginia landmarks and destinations like: Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Shenandoah National Park, etc. But after touring Southwest Virginia in partnership with Visit Virginia for their 50 years of Love celebration, we're excited to help you discover a new side of Virginia that you may not have considered before.
Take a tour of the LOVEworks (love + artworks) signs whenever you're in Virginia.
Here's a map of the over 150 LOVEworks signs around Virginia. Keep an eye out for these pieces of art, which represent each community in a special way. While we toured Southwest Virginia, we decided to do a Fortnite dance at every LOVEworks sign we encountered...because when you're traveling with kids...these are the #ThingsYouDoForLove.
Hidden gems in Virginia
In this article, we're going to take you off the typical tourist trail and into the small towns of the Appalachian mountain region. Buckle up, because it's going to be a curvy ride.
Here's what you'll find in this article:
- 17 small-town adventures for every traveler
-a bonus pilgrimage for any bluegrass or country music fan
-Southwest VA festivals you can't miss
-2 zip lines the traveling thrill seeker can't miss
-3 romantic getaways in VA
-books to read with your kids before your visit
-the epic route to take if you want to do it ALL
-LOVEworks signs scavenger hunt
Don't call me, hillbilly.
When you think of the Appalachian region, what comes to mind? Beautiful Virginia landscapes? Rich traditions of art and music? Remote, rural living? Virginia mountain getaways? Or a caricature of the Appalachian people?
Travel affords us the ability to confront the IDEA of a people (or a region) we may hold in our heads with REALITY. Here's what I found.
In my travels throughout Southwest VA, I met people who were content and found peace being tucked away in the slower pace of mountain life. I witnessed a culture that was immensely proud of their heritage. And I discovered a sincere commitment in the hearts of many to continue the art and musical traditions of the past.
When you visit Southwest Virginia, worse case scenario: you leave with a few pretty pictures of Virginia nature.
Best case scenario: you take the stories of the people you meet and let it chip away at everything you ever thought you knew about the region. After all, this is the beauty of travel, allowing your new experiences to build connection, understanding, and a respect for a culture you may have previously misunderstood, or even discounted.
Want to do them all 17 of the adventures below in one trip? Here's the route we recommend.
Here are 17 small-town adventures for every traveler
1. Chairlift to Natural Tunnel State Park
Want an exciting getaway activity that's full of awe-inspiring sights? Take the chairlift straight down into the forest and explore the Natural Tunnel State Park.
Camp, if you plan to stay longer, or sign up for a cave tour or canoe trip on the Clinch River, the 2nd most bio-diverse river in the world after the Amazon River!
Want to know more about the area and what there is to do?
Contact Pam Cox, Director of Tourism, 276-386-6521, if you're planning to visit the area. She is an enthusiastic ambassador for Scott County, and she can answer any questions you may have about planning your trip.
3. Creation Kingdom Museum
A local zoo and conservatory, take the family here to experience exotic animals and learn about their natural habitats.
4. Devil's Bathtub
Made famous thanks to Instagram culture, this natural wonder was catapulted into social media stardom. With its gorgeous aquamarine waters and luscious landscapes, travelers make the pilgrimage to the Devil's Bathtub, crossing 13 creeks to take a plunge in the icy spring waters.
5. Elk Safari
Want a chance to see Virginia the same way the pioneers did in early America, beautiful and untouched? Sign up for an Elk tour in the fall with Breaks Interstate Park rangers. They will usher you to a mountain-top wildlife preserve and provide you with a sunset picnic overlooking the most outstanding views of Southwest Virginia nature.
6. Lord of the Fork Race
Every fall in October, expert kayakers converge at Russell Fork Gorge for class 4-5 rapids in a race entitled: Lord of the Fork Race. There is also an accompanying festival called Russell Fork Rendezvous with music and camping and paddling culture that helps support the endangered river area of Russell Fork. You don't have to be a kayaker to enjoy the festivities. Sitting along the river surrounded by the changing colors of the mountain, watching the kayakers navigate the dangerous waters can be thrilling as well.
7. Birch Knob Tower
High atop a mountain in Dickenson County, Virginia, is Birch Knob Tower. A curvy and precarious drive is required to attain the views from the summit, but for the adventurous traveler, the reward of seeing up to 6 neighboring states at once is completely worth it.
Contact Rita Surratt, rsurratt@dcwinorg, Director of Tourism for Dickenson County, if you plan to visit the area. She is a knowledgeable ambassador and long-time local that can answer any questions you may have about the region and things to do.
8. TransAmerican Bike Trail
If cycling through curvy mountain roads under the canopy of green trees is your kind of getaway, you may be interested to know that the TransAmerica Bike Trail goes right through Southwest, Virginia. Here are some maps detailing some of the terrain to explore.
9. Half marathon race: The Varmint
For travelers who love marathoning (is that even a word?), the Varmint should be your next race! Named after a large coyote who terrorized local villagers' sheep farms decades ago, the Varmint's course takes you along the farmlands and rolling hills of Burke's Garden.
10. Burke's Garden
What is Burke's Garden? It isn't an attraction or botanical garden (ahem, like I originally thought), but rather a rural community located in the highest valley in Virginia, 3,000 ft above sea level. Known as God's Thumbprint, you can drive or bike the two-lane road throughout the village, stopping at Amish general stores along the way. For a leisurely experience, you can rent bikes and stop for a home-cooked lunch at Matties Place.
11. Back of the Dragon motorcycle trail
Take your car or your motorcycle (and your Dramamine) down the Back of the Dragon Trail, 438 curves in 32 miles over 3 mountain ranges. With over 60K motorists a year, the Back of the Dragon is a popular attraction with million dollar views.
If you have questions about the Tazewell County area or the Back of the Dragon, A.J Robinson, email@example.com, Director of Tourism and Community Development, is a wonderful resource. When we were there, we caught her out on the trail handing out goodies to bikers and thanking them for visiting.
12. Grayson Highlands State Park
Venture out to this state park to encounter herds of wild ponies grazing the countryside along the Appalachian Trail. This unique experience has hikers and travelers putting Grayson Highlands on their travel bucket lists every year!
13. Hungry Mother State Park
Say what? I was so intrigued and confused by the name, but quickly realized that no matter what it was called, this was a place that outdoor enthusiasts would LOVE. Hungry Mother is one of the original state parks in Virginia where you an do EVERYTHING you ever imagined when it comes to outdoor activities: sandy beach swimming, kayaking, camping, fishing, paddleboarding, boat rentals, and more!
14. Henderson School of Appalachian Art
One of the most endearing stops along our Southwest Virginia tour was the Henderson School of Appalachian Arts. Catherine Schrenker is a one of those people who oozes passion for the work she does. As Executive Director of the school, Catherine has established a number of workshops, classes, and events that help promote the heritage of the Appalachian culture to all generations, but especially to the younger ones. Stop by here, or email her prior to your visit (firstname.lastname@example.org), for a unique Appalachian experience. Engage in workshops or Monday Night Jams with locals or simply tour the school to learn more about the significance of this Virginian mountain culture.
15. Bristol, VA
Bristol is a state divided. Bristol, TN, and Bristol, VA, coexist at a peaceful state line down the center of town. Want to stand in two states at once? You can do that here.
Be sure to save some time for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. After that, take a stroll through the historically significant small town that is finding its boom again. Grab a bite at Burger Bar, where legend has it, Hank Williams was last seen alive. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Blackbird Bakery before you leave town, where their made-from-scratch goodies will blow you away.
16. Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival
An annual celebration of the Bristol Sessions, known for catapulting country music into mainstream, the Rhythm and Roots Music Festival draws thousands every year. Held in the town of Bristol, this multi-stage, multi-day event released some big news this year. Starting in 2020, the festival will be held in conjunction with Bristol TN's Speedway's Fastest Half Mile in Nascar race.
17. Southwest Virginia Cultural Center
When taking road trips, we always appreciate helpful rest stops along the way between where we started and where want to end up. We can absolutely say that this is the BEST visitors center experience in Southwest Virginia for travelers. Not only can you browse the handiwork of local artisans, but you can also enjoy locally sourced food at the cafe. This gem is more like an event space or a cultural museum, with live music and hands-on exhibits, than your typical visitor's center.
3 Small-town romantic getaways in VA mountains
This region is full of opportunities for weekend getaways in VA for couples. From romantic cabins in Virginia to cheap romantic getaways in Virginia travelers won't be disappointed by the options here.
1. Relax on Main Street in Marion, VA, America's Coolest Hometown
Stay at the General Francis Hotel on Main Street, ranked one of National Geographic's Top 150 Hotels in North America, and walk to restaurants, like the Wooden Pickle (best fish tacos I've ever tried) or Sisters Cafe and Gifts (great breakfast spot). It was such a treat to find small-town restaurants that were worthy of the big city foodie status. Add a visit to the Lincoln Theatre while you're there; take in a show or simply browse the historic building.
Ask for a city tour with a local ambassador by contacting Alex Veatch, email@example.com. It's one of the best ways to uncover this small town's gems.
2. Escape the bustle of life in the town of Tazewell, Virginia
Surrounded by stunning trails, hiking, and mountains, the town of Tazewell is a perfect blend of small-town-quaint with a sprinkling of nighttime offerings, like Painted Peak Brewing. You’ll rub elbows with many members of the biking community here, as this is a popular spot for those making their journey across the Back of the Dragon. If you’re looking to escape your cell phone service area and have a quiet and simple couples getaway in VA, this may be your trip.
3. Hide away at one of the most unique places to stay in Virginia, Breaks Interstate Park
When looking for romantic cabin getaways in Virginia, you should consider Breaks Interstate Park. There are five gorgeous log cabins in the park that overlook the water. We think it's one of the most romantic cabins in VA because of the private, screened in porches that boast a hot tub with a view and the remote location of the park! These cabins in the Virginia mountains aren’t luxurious, but they are stunning and extremely comfortable, and provide the secluded mountain retreat that couples on a romantic weekend may be seeking. The Breaks Interstate Park’s cabin rentals in Virginia offer outstanding weekend getaways from DC (7.5 hours), Nashville (6 hours), and Knoxville (3.5 hours).
2 zip lines in Southwest Virginia the traveling thrill seeker MUST try
For the views: Breaks Interstate Park
Soar over the Russell Fork Gorge on a trail of 3 zip lines that provide THE BEST views in Virginia.
For the speed: Hungry Mother Adventures
If you’re looking for a thrill ride, Hungry Mother Adventures has the longest, highest, and fastest zip line in the state of Virginia.