The Southwest Virginia Road Trip: The Local Food Quest

29 Jul 13
The Southwest Virginia Road Trip: The Local Food Quest
The rugged Grayson Highlands State Park.

Guide to the Southwest Virginia Road Trip:

BRING: Mountain bike, camping gear, your appetite

HIGHLIGHT: Getting as high as you can in Virginia

SOUVENIR: Photo of you kissing a pony

Day One

Kick off this trip with some cardio by running the crest of North Mountain, aka “The Dragon’s Back,” 15 miles northwest of Roanoke in the George Washington National Forest, where rocky terrain and bitchin climbs lead to views of McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. After an immediate 1,000 foot climb on Deer Trail (park off FS 224), follow the North Mountain Trail as it rolls for 4.5 miles along the narrow ridge over jagged, gray rocks offering views to your left and right. Take Turkey Trail back to your car for an 11-mile loop.

Before leaving town, grab a Smoked Trout Melt ($10) at The River and Rail, a Southern café in a restored pharmacy with a seasonal menu that changes weekly.

Head southwest to Pandapas Pond/Brush Mountain, a recreation area in Jefferson National Forest outside of Blacksburg with more than 20 miles of singletrack that’s lovingly maintained by local mountain bikers and trail runners. Start at Pandapas and take Poverty Creek Trail to the top of Brush Mountain, then drop down Jacob’s Ladder and Old Farm for a three-mile burly descent.

Get a campsite on the New River at Eggleston Springs Campground ($20) and head to the Palisades Restaurant for dinner. Housed inside an old general store, the Palisades serves hand cut steaks and rainbow trout sourced from local farms and streams. If you time it right, you’ll catch one of the local string bands playing live on weekend nights.

Day Two

Keep trucking south to Grayson Highlands State Park, where you’ll bag the state high point, 5,729-foot Mount Rogers. Rogers often gets dissed because it doesn’t have a big view from its summit, but it’s the only state high point east of the Mississippi that doesn’t have a paved road to its summit. Start inside the state park at Massie Gap, hiking the A.T. four miles to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail to the summit. You’ll get long-range views from grassy meadows along the way, probably see a feral pony or two on Wilburn Ridge, and get to immerse yourself in the dank spruce-fir forest that dominates the top of Rogers. Retrace your steps to your car for an eight-mile round trip in Virginia’s High Country.

Post-hike, cruise into Abingdon, which is rapidly becoming Southwest Virginia’s hub of local food. Grab dinner at The Harvest Table (276-944-5142), where the menu changes daily depending on what they can source from their own farm and partner farms. If it’s on the menu, get the Salad Pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Finish the day at Wolf Hills Brewing, with a White Blaze Honey Cream Ale (or two), which uses four pounds of local honey in each barrel.

Head south across the border and get a campsite at Backbone Rock Recreation Area, known for the “shortest tunnel in the world,” the 20-foot long hole that was blasted through a rock wall to accommodate a timber train. ($10 a site; 423-735-1500)

Want more adventure? Check out our full list of road trip guides!

1 Comment

  • From BRO Reader Carrie: “As the weekly question goes, “what’s on for the weekend?” And just in time was your edition of Blue Ridge Outdoors and the featured article based on the two favorite American words – Road Trip. I was taking notes and writing down destinations as I covered all of your suggestions. Southwest Virginia seemed to be the best trip to cover since my husband and I would be heading down from Alexandria, Va. I called ahead to ask about available cabins at Eggleston Spring Campground and to my surprise they had their only cabin open for Saturday night – perfect, we’ll take it! When I get a recommendation or suggestion from a reliable source I usually don’t ask questions. What is the point of an adventure if you’re checking reviews!? So we packed what was needed, the dog some food, and south bound we went with your magazine leading the way.

    Day One:

    Heading off of 81 moving closer to the mountains I was ready for what was coming our way – a good ol’ adventure. A narrow winding road forced us to slow down and creep along the mountain side. Tight hairpin curves became more frequent as we climbed and then stopped at points when the trees opened to a view of the farms below which was already worth the drive. We came to a crossroads and the directions confirmed passing over the railroad tracks and to the river ahead. The murky river was swollen and moving fast, but then my attention was forced to notice another sight, an unwelcome site of the campground. Old busted RVs that I imagine came here once to see the river, to spend the weekend, never moved and rickety porches were added on instead. An idea that inspired others to bring their trailers, pick a sliver of land on the rivers edge and add their porch with cheap boards complete with a grill and fire pit. But where was our cabin? Did we miss it from the distraction of RVs with missing wheels blocking the river view? I wrote down the very simple instructions from the sweet lady who owns the campground…first cabin on the left with a huge screen porch once you cross the fork. And there it was. A screen porch they did right, but attached to that was a mobile/trailer home. We entered with caution as if we were mistaken and at any given moment the real owners would appear and ask what we were doing there. But we weren’t mistaken. This was the cabin on the river. The walls were as thin as the sole of my flip flop, the floor was a sponge, the air sour, but it did have a chandelier over the dinning room table – nice touch. And then I heard a distant screech, a low rumble and then it grew louder. The thin walls began to shake and a screaming whistle warning that in two seconds a fright train would appear. Barreling down the tracks and just behind the trees a train appeared. I could spit and hit the tracks from the window in the kitchen of this mobile home. And that was just the beginning. A train would appear almost every hour on the hour for the entire night. The rumble would start, the walls would vibrate and then the train. Nothing like a quiet night on the river.

    THE GOOD – The recommendation for Palisades Restaurant was everything the website and your article promised. I would highly recommend. The staff was knowledgeable, friendly and great service. We ordered a pizza to go with two bottles of wine. And would absolutely go back.

    Day Two (what you missed and should add to the next one)-
    We decided this weekend needed a tune up and turn around. A terrible night sleep demanded coffee and a new plan. We found the coffee and the plan come together as the warm caffeinated liquid worked its magic. Cascade Falls only about 10 minutes from Eggleston Campground. A moderate hike of about 4 miles (but a loop half way gave the choice for 2 miles if that is all you wanted). The park requested $3.00 to park in the lot and hike (can’t complain about that). Plenty of spaces which filled up quickly as the day wore on. We arrived early with just a light mist of rain. The trail took us into deep woods with a coolness that felt refreshing from the heaviness of humidity. We climbed rocks and navigated around slabs of stone following the clear river that was moving fast and crashing over dead tree limbs and jagged stones from the river bottom. The further we climbed the echo of falls came closer. At the 2 mile mark a waterfall greeted us with spraying mist. We craned our necks back to see the top of the falls. Water cruising over a smooth edge and then plummeting to the river below. You couldn’t help but take a minute to take it in. The trek back was an easy decent. A wide trail where several folks decided to take this route up to the falls and back.

    Where to Stay: The day always feels better after a hike. Even a short hike. So now we could focus on where to stay. We pulled up a few places in the area and started down the list. I had a feeling finding a cabin for one night was going to be tricky but on the second call we had a promising lead and off to another unknown destination. New River Retreat has over 33 properties scattered along the New River, Claytor Lake and the surrounding area with options ranging from massive homes to tiny cabins (incase you are vacationing with a huge group or just yourself and even pet friendly). Last minute called for ‘you get what you get’ and that turned out to be just perfect. The road to our cabin named “Shaman’s Cure” turned off the highway to a narrow paved road snaking through the country side. Cows filled the fields, old trees scrapping the sky outlined our path and I noticed a peaceful hum of being in this landscape. Soon we saw our landmark at the river and a dirt road which we were told to take and stop on the 2nd cabin on the left. This time it was a welcome site. A cozy A-frame on stilts with a deck that felt as if you were floating on top of the river below. Everything you need to enjoy a night or a few nights, decorated with trinkets and nice touches that sent the message that someone loved this spot. This place. Shelves filled with board games and books the walls with little notes of friendly thoughts and reminders to relax and enjoy. A dining room table complete with church pews to sit had an information book packed with things to do, places to explore and where to eat. Just a few miles down the county road in the opposite direction was a an old grocery store and cafe. We went, we shopped and we brought back all the essentials – pasta, local cheese, local fresh bread and a mixed six pack of local brew. Talking to the store owner, as she bagged my new purchases, made sure I was informed about the New River Trail that could be seen from the stores full front porch. An activity for the next day. Bikers take note. “New River Trail is a 57-mile linear park that follows an abandoned railroad right-of-way. The park parallels the scenic and historic New River for 40 miles and passes through four counties. The trail’s gentle slope makes it great for visitors of all ages to hike, bike and ride horseback.” New River Trail State Park Website
    After exploring just a short piece of this very long trail we had to head back. With heavy hearts and hesitation, like trying to resist a force wanting to pull us back to the water and the cabin and the county, we drove north. Back home but a great adventure – a great road trip to remember.

    Thank you for the thoughts and ideas of the Road Trip. Just wanted to share our experience.”

    Jack Murray   29 Jul 13, 10:13 am

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