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
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.
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)