2021 Best of the Blue Ridge

Our Tenth Annual Readers’ Choice Awards

Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s tenth annual Best of the Blue Ridge Awards includes over 100 categories that highlights readers’ favorite destinations, athletes, events, businesses, and food and drink. After nearly a year of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, the support from our region still came in strong with over 62,000 votes, a 50% increase over last year. Now, we get to announce the winners. 

What’s the best bike shop in the Blue Ridge? Who are the top raft guides and most inspiring thru-hikers? Where is the most scenic waterfall? What are the toughest events in the region? And where can you get the best local beer and pizza after a day of adventure? 

The Blue Ridge Outdoors Best of the Blue Ridge Awards celebrate the people and places that readers love most. This year, we are especially excited to spread the word on the best of the best as we all continue to navigate the pandemic. 

“For the tenth straight year our readers passionately shared what they love about the Blue Ridge,” says editor in chief Jedd Ferris. “During the past year, many people have discovered the value of exploring the outdoors, so it’s the perfect time to highlight the best of the region.” 

The Best of the Blue Ridge Awards are the most celebrated outdoor awards in the Southeast, showcasing the very heart of the Blue Ridge outdoor community. Nominees are proud to be recognized for their achievements, with winners displaying the BOTBR winner seal in their windows.

The top three vote-getters in each category are featured in our February issue, which goes live this week in print and on our website – blueridgeoutdoors.com

For more information, contact Blue RIdge Outdoors associate publisher Katie Hartwell (katie@blueridgeoutdoors.com, 434-825-5823) or editor in chief Jedd Ferris  (jedd@blueridgeoutdoors.com, 434-817-2755).

Our region is full of amazing places, friendly faces, challenging races, and awe-inspiring wide-open spaces. During a long period of uncertainty, we’ve had time to pause and appreciate the things we love about Appalachia and the culturally vibrant surrounding states. With that in mind, we’ve once again tallied reader votes to present the tenth annual Best of the Blue Ridge awards, which highlight your favorite athletes, adventures, events, scenic spots, and small businesses in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Read on to discover more about the very best our region has to offer. 


People 

Kim and Claude Walker of Abundant Life Adventure Club. Photo by Tyre Grannemann

Adventurers of the Year
Kim and Claude Walker (Tenn.)

Despite both working essential jobs in the middle of a pandemic, Kim and Claude Walker dedicated their spare time to building up Abundant Life Adventure Club and providing a safe environment for people to get outside. “We’re exposing people and ourselves to a whole bunch of places and things that we wouldn’t normally see,” Claude Walker said. “It’s not just the amount of places we go. It’s the quality of places we go.” Outings range from hikes at nearby parks to kayaking, ziplining, and horseback riding excursions.

In just two seasons, the club has grown to over 180 members. The outings have become so popular that the Walkers went from hosting meetups once a month to hosting an activity almost every weekend, sometimes two at a time. “It’s not what we set out at all to do,” Kim Walker said. “But we feel like we’re here to serve our community, and that’s what they needed to cope with what was going on in their lives. A lot happened with the pandemic, politically, socially, loss of family members, loss of jobs. A lot of people needed ways to escape and heal.” 

The Walkers embody what it truly means to be an adventurer, seeking out new experiences for themselves while creating a welcoming space for others to join. 

Runners-Up 
Jen Garrison (N.C.)
Clark C. Jackson Sr. (Va.)

Regional Athlete
Tina Parsons (N.C.)

North Carolina’s Tina Parsons is a multi-sport competitor, always striving for a new challenge. After her first Spartan race in 2015, she was hooked. “While I thought I was in shape as an athlete, I quickly was humbled,” Parsons said. “After that first race, I had a goal to work for. It made my training more meaningful and I pushed harder than before.” Today, you can find her competing in some of the toughest obstacle race courses and ultraruns across the state and country, including taking first in the 2019 Spartan North American Championship Race in her age group. 

One of Parsons’ favorite places to train is Stone Mountain State Park, a five-minute drive from her house with several trail options. “There’s no easy run there,” she said. “The climbs at Stone Mountain never get any easier nor do the views ever get old.”

Runners-Up
Carla Williams (Va.)
Ayesha McGowan (Ga.)

Fly fishing guide Debbie Gillespie. Photo by David Cannon Photography

Fly Fishing Guide
Debbie Gillespie, Davidson River Outfitters (N.C.)

After years of competitive mountain bike racing and working in the biking industry, Debbie Gillespie said she finally found what she was meant to do with her life when she took up fly fishing. “It slows you down a little bit and makes you focus on your surroundings,” she said. Six years ago, Gillespie made it official when she started working as a guide on the rivers of western North Carolina. Most days in 2020, Gillespie’s busiest year as a guide yet, you could find her floating the Davidson River or leading more experienced anglers on the native trout streams off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Runners-Up
Tommy Lawhorne, South River Fly Shop (Va.)
David Stelling, High Country Guide Service (N.C.)

Raft Guide
Tristan Moore, ACE Adventure Resort (W.Va.)

For the last three seasons, Tristan Moore has been leading whitewater rafting trips down the New and Gauley Rivers for ACE Adventure Resort. He said he comes back year after year because of the epic whitewater and the community of guides he works with on the rivers. Pillow Rock, a rowdy class V on the Upper Gauley, is Moore’s favorite rapid to run.

Runners-Up
Lorhan Tiger, Nantahala Outdoor Center (N.C.)
Matt Zickafoose, Adventures on the Gorge (W.Va.)

Environmentalist
Gene Kistler, Water Stone Outdoors (W.Va.)

Since moving to Fayetteville and opening Water Stone Outdoors in the 1990s, Gene Kistler has been an active member of the New River Gorge climbing community and a proponent of trail development in the area. He helped found the New River Alliance of Climbers to help preserve climbing access and responsible management of the area. As with any kind of advocacy or conservation work, Kistler said it’s not just the individual effort but the coming together of an entire community that makes progress possible.

Runners-Up
Brian Bell, Keep Virginia Cozy (Va.)
Ida Swenson, Virginia Master Naturalist Program (Va.)

Oscar Wong is a pillar of the Asheville craft brewing scene. Photo courtesy of Highland Brewing Co.

Brewer/Winemaker/Distiller
Oscar Wong, Highland Brewing Co. (N.C.)

Not long after retiring to Asheville in the 1990s, Oscar Wong partnered with an award-winning brewer and Highland Brewing was born. In building up the company, one of the South’s pioneering craft beer outposts, he sought to create a business that was truly a part of the local community. “It’s not just the product anymore,” Wong said. “People don’t buy something just because it’s voted as being the best. To really continue to support a business, there has to be a human connection. That’s something we strive to achieve as much as possible.” 

At Highland Brewing, this is seen in their community partnerships, sustainable business practices, and the smiling faces in the taproom. 

Runners-Up
Derek Hornig, Basic City Beer Co. (Va.)
Chris Ewok Carswell, Moonshiners (Tenn.)

Photographer 
Leslie Restivo (N.C.)

Although she’s been a landscape photographer for years, Leslie Restivo said 2020 was a year she really turned to the outdoors for refuge. As COVID-19 limited in-person interactions and activities, she relied on an online community of photographers and outdoor enthusiasts to help her think outside of the box and grow as an artist. You can most often find Restivo hiking in Linville Gorge with her camera in hand. “The Gorge is where I sneak off to get a little bit of peace,” she said. 

Runners-Up
W. Curry Photography (Va.)
Douglas Hurdle (N.C.)

Food Personality
Ashley Cuoco (Va.)

Ashley Cuoco wears many hats in the kitchen—cook, photographer, stylist, and editor—as she creates dishes and captures the essence of a well-loved meal. Much of her blog (ashcuoco.com) focuses on the relationship between people, food, and hospitality. “I like to think of it as much more than just service or entertainment,” Cuoco said. “It’s an attitude of the heart, something you can bring with you wherever you go. Food can be an offering, a gift—and the sharing of a meal a great unifier.”

Cuoco’s favorite dish to make is fresh pasta, which, she says, is much easier than you might think and very much worth the effort. “Oftentimes, especially with food, it’s the process—the molding and shaping of something—that really brings out its beauty,” she said.

Runners-Up
Lewis Rhinehart, Secret Sandwich Society (W.Va.)
Johnny Shaw, Mountain Mama’s Kebab Shop (Va.) 

Bike Mechanic
Youngblood Haske, Youngblood Bicycles (N.C.)

Bikes have always been a part of Youngblood Haske’s life, from riding for transportation, fun, and competition to working as a bike messenger and bike mechanic. After briefly trying a different career path, he realized bikes were really what he loved and decided to open his own shop in 2006. “The folks that I meet in the bike shop or out riding are so happy to be doing what they’re doing, whether we’re fixing their bike or they’re a new beginner to riding,” Haske said. “It’s fun to share that passion with people.”

Runners-Up
Curtis Shaver, Peloton Station (Va.)
Max Hammer, Hammer Cycles (W.Va.)

Coach 
Shanna Powell, EndlessBikeGirl MTB Skills (N.C.)

Whether it’s working with new riders on the basics of mountain biking or teaching a group skills clinic, Shanna Powell is most at home helping riders feel more confident, safe, and efficient on the trails. “I really love seeing people do the thing that three minutes ago they told me they couldn’t do,” she said. “It’s one of the best feelings to show someone the power that they have in them that they didn’t know they had.” 

Powell, who operates in Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Forest, and Ride Kanuga, recommends lessons to riders of every skill level to get the most out of their bikes. 

Runners-Up
Peter Hufnegal, Miller School (Va.)
Aaron Saft, MR Runningpains (N.C.)

Physical Therapist
Miriam Salloum, Runner’s Mechanic Physical Therapy (N.C.)

For Miriam Salloum, treating a running injury is about more than just rehabbing and strengthening the muscles. Her whole runner approach, looking at everything from gait analysis to psychological and emotional factors, helps runners examine the ways in which their patterns may lead to inefficient movements and repetitive injuries. 

Runners-Up
Eric Magrum, University of Virginia (Va.)
Scott Eutsler (Va.)

Sports Doc
Bob Wilder, University of Virginia (Va.)

In addition to serving as the chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UVA, Dr. Bob Wilder also serves as medical director of the Runner’s Clinic, team physician for Ragged Mountain Racing, and medical director for several local races. 

Runners-Up
Aaron Vaughn, Mountain Area Family Health Center (N.C.) 
Mark Rodgers, Virginia Tech (Va.)

Lauren Gay’s podcast Outdoorsy Diva explores her solo travels and stories from the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Gay

Podcast 
Outdoorsy Diva

Lauren Gay started Misadventures of an Outdoorsy Diva as a blog, writing about her personal adventures, as well as tips for traveling and getting outside. She decided to expand the brand with a podcast to reach a new audience and uplift other voices in the outdoors. As with all of the work she does, Gay hopes listeners see themselves in the stories she tells and know they have a place in nature. “I want people to be inspired to live their whole entire, very best lives,” she said. “Even though I may seek to highlight particular voices, our stories are still very common and very human.” 

Runners-Up
GJBeat
Broken Ground

Solo Musical Artist
Darby Wilcox (S.C.)

Through her raw and emotional lyrics, Darby Wilcox seeks to build community and make people feel welcome with honest messages about the complexities of life. “I value intimacy and connection,” she said. “I love a big bright stage, but, I’m just as happy in a small, intimate setting whether it be a campfire or a house show.” Touring regionally since 2005, some of her favorite memories are playing the Albino Skunk Music Festival in upstate South Carolina and Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard, N.C. Be on the lookout for Wilcox’s latest EP coming out in 2021. 

Runners-Up
Morgan Wade (Va.)
Andrew Alli (Va.)

Band
Chad Nickell & The Loose Change (Va.)

Playing at venues and breweries across the Virginias, Chad Nickell & The Loose Change get crowds going with a range of original Americana ballads, honky tonk hits, and pop-rock anthems. 

Runners-Up
The Kind Thieves (W.Va.)
Frog & Owl Revival (N.C.)

Instagram Account
Roam Outdoors

Roam Outdoors started as a way for creatives to connect and share information in a supportive environment. Since their first in-person meetup two years ago, the group of outdoor enthusiasts and photographers have formed bonds that are bigger than an Instagram account. “What is unique about this group is the wide range of shooting styles and experience,” the group said, in a statement. “Seeing how other people shoot has opened our eyes to look at scenes with a different perspective than we typically would on our own. We all learn so much from one another in so many ways, even beyond photography.” 

Check out their feed @roam_outdoors_ for inspiring images of the Blue Ridge.

Runners-Up
Experience Charlottesville
Booneview

On his Woodness Goodness channel, Graeme Jenvey broke down each step of building a cabin from scratch. Photo courtesy of Jenvey

YouTube Personality
Graeme Jenvey, Woodness Goodness (Va.)

Growing up in a lumber family, Graeme Jenvey began working with wood at a young age. A video producer by trade, he started Woodness Goodness to showcase DIY tutorials for building furniture pieces. When he decided to build a cabin from scratch, Jenvey knew he wanted to document the entire process online, from the pouring of the concrete foundation and installing windows to breaking down the cost of supplies and adding insulation. “The online community might as well be a real community right in front of you,” he said. “The back and forth questions and remarks people make, the emails I get showing me their project they’ve built, it’s pretty fun.” 

Since he completed the cabin in December, you can now follow along on Woodness Goodness as Jenvey renovates a 1970s horse trailer into a mobile bar. 

Runners-Up
Peyton Love (W.Va.)Miranda Peterson, Namaste in Nature (N.C.)

Businesses

Raft Guide Company 
Nantahala Outdoor Center (Bryson City, N.C.)

No matter what adventure level you’re looking for, the Nantahala Outdoor Center offers a variety of rafting and float trips on the Nantahala, Ocoee, Chattahoochee, Chatooga, and French Broad Rivers to fit your idea of an adventure.

Runners-Up 
ACE Adventure Resort (Oak Hill, W.Va.)
Rivanna River Co. (Charlottesville, Va.)

Zipline 
The Gorge (Saluda, N.C.)

Starting at the edge of the Green River Gorge, this aerial adventure spans 11 zip lines over 1.25 miles as you fly above the treeline and descend into an old growth forest. 

Runners-Up 
Navitat (Asheville, N.C.)
Adventures on the Gorge (Lansing, W.Va.)

Spa/Wellness Center
Eupepsia Wellness Resort (Bland, Va.)

Located right on the edge of Jefferson National Forest, Eupepsia offers a relaxing sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains with personalized retreats tailored to your needs. On the property you’ll find a wellness spa, fitness facilities, and a vegetarian restaurant. 

Runners-Up 
The Spa at the Grove Park Inn (Asheville, N.C.)
Salt Cave and Spa (White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.)

Climbing Guide Company
Blue Ridge Mountain Guides (Nellysford, Va.)

With the help of these AMGA guides, take your climbing skills to the next level with gym to crag courses, trad leading, private guiding, and ice climbing instruction. The company takes climbers to some of the best rock the East Coast has to offer, with guided trips available in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. 

Runners-Up 
New River Mountain Guides (Fayetteville, W.Va.)
Fox Mountain Guides (Brevard, N.C.)

Climbing Gym
The Riveter (Fletcher, N.C.)

From a lead-only climbing cave and autobelays to a bouldering area and dedicated kids’ space, there’s something for every climber in the Riveter’s 16,000-square-foot facility. The fitness studio also includes hangboard and pulley systems to help strengthen your limbs. 

Runners-Up 
Rocky Top Climbing (Charlottesville, Va.)
Climbmax (Asheville, N.C.)

Teens take to the outdoors to learn a variety of life skills. Photo courtesy of Adventure Treks

Educational Outdoor Recreation Program
Adventure Treks (Hendersonville, N.C.)

Adventure Treks takes teens on inspiring outdoor trips while helping prepare them to take on life’s toughest challenges. Young adventurers can choose duration, from a few weeks up to a gap semester in western North Carolina, to focus on leadership skills, communication, and community building, as well as an introduction to hiking, backpacking, biking, paddling, and wilderness first aid. 

Runners-Up 
Sugar Hollow Day Camp (Crozet, Va.)
WVU Tech Adventure Recreation Management Program (Beckley, W.Va.)

Environmental Organization
Keep Virginia Cozy (Richmond, Va.) and Southern Environmental Law Center (Charlottesville, Va.)

Keep Virginia Cozy is a volunteer group dedicated to helping clean up the commonwealth. Between their monthly Trashy Tuesday meetups and other cleanups, the organization has removed more than 45,000 pounds of trash from Virginia parks, trails, waterways, and neighborhoods since 2017. 

In this tied category, readers also recognized the Southern Environmental Law Center. Whether it’s going to court to stop industrial chemical pollution at the source, helping to preserve public lands and wildlife habitat, or looking to the future of renewable energy sources, the SELC’s team of more than 80 attorneys works to protect the people and places across the region that we love. 

Runners-Up 
Wild Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.)
MountainTrue (Asheville, N.C.)

Local Gear Company
Eagles Nest Outfitters (Asheville, N.C.)

The company that created your favorite hammocks for chilling in your backyard and sleeping under the stars is headquartered in the Blue Ridge Mountains. ENO’s lightweight systems are designed with comfort and adventure in mind. 

Runners-Up 
Blue Ridge Overland Gear (Bedford, Va.)
Diamond Brand Gear (Fletcher, N.C.)

Running Store
Ragged Mountain Running Shop (Charlottesville, Va.)

Every foot is unique, and the staff at Ragged Mountain Running Shop makes sure you get the shoe that works best for your gait. The personalized attention ensures your feet are happy, whether it’s during a walk around the neighborhood or the race that’s been on your bucket list for years. 

Runners-Up 
Fleet Feet (Various Locations)
Jus’ Running (Asheville, N.C.)

Consign your gently used items at Second Gear. Photo by Erin McGrady

Outdoor Shop 
Second Gear (Asheville, N.C.)

Help your used gear find a new home, while also picking up a few things you might need for your next outing from Second Gear. One percent of sales from the consignment shop go back into the Asheville community. 

Runners-Up
Walkabout Outfitters (Va.)
Great Outdoor Provision Co. (Va./N.C.)

CBD Company
Asheville Hemp Farms (Asheville, N.C.)

Set in downtown Asheville, this shop sells a variety of hemp and CBD products, from edibles and topic balms to hemp flower and tea blends. 

Runners-Up
Shenandoah Hemp Supply (Waynesboro, Va.)
Albemarle Hemp Company (White Hall, Va.)

Ski Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort (Snowshoe, W.Va.)

There are endless ways to experience winter at Snowshoe with 60+ trails and five terrain parks, plus epic night skiing. When you get off the slopes, explore more of the area with off-road adventures, snowmobile tours, and tubing. 

Runners-Up
Wintergreen Resort (Nellysford, Va.)
Beech Mountain Resort (Beech Mountain, N.C.)

Fly Fishing Outfitter 
Fly Fishing the Smokies (Bryson City, N.C. and Gatlinburg, Tenn.)

Let the guides at Fly Fishing the Smokies take care of all the details with guided wade and float trips on the Tuckasegee, Nantahala, and Little Tennessee Rivers, as well as the trout streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

Runners-Up
Davidson River Outfitters (Pisgah Forest, N.C.)
Albemarle Angler (Charlottesville, Va.)

Resort
The Omni Grove Park Inn (Asheville, N.C.)

The Grove Park Inn features five-star accommodations, a variety of dining options, an extensive spa, and easy access to outdoor activities, all in Asheville’s surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Runners-Up
Fort Lewis Lodge (Millboro, Va.)
The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.)

Budget-Friendly Lodging
Adventures on the Gorge (Lansing, W.Va.) and Basecamp at Nantahala Outdoor Center (Bryson City, N.C.)

Adventures on the Gorge has a lodging option for every travel budget and vacation style, from platform tents and RV sites to bunkhouses and cabins with a jacuzzi on the porch. Book a room in the off season for even better deals with less crowds. 

Located on the Appalachian Trail and Nantahala River, lodging Basecamp at NOC starts at just $39.99 a night. The hostel-style bunkhouses are perfect for families and large groups with special accommodations available for A.T. thru-hikers. 

Runners-Up
Beech Grove Cabins (Roseland, Va.)
Best Western Plus (Waynesboro, Va.)

Narshara Tucker, left, and Nicole Boyd hike Natural Bridge State Park. Photo courtesy of Black Girls Hike RVA

Outdoor Start Up
Black Girls Hike RVA (Richmond, Va.)

Since Nicole Boyd and Narshara Tucker started Black Girls Hike RVA last May, they’ve hosted meetups across Virginia to connect women of color with nature and each other. “While we started this as a hiking group, it’s becoming much more than we thought,” Tucker said. “We’re glad that we started the fire and sparked a lot of people to think about hiking.”

What started as a Facebook group and an Instagram account to promote hiking in Richmond quickly reached people across the country. “We’re confident women,” Boyd said. “But we didn’t expect it to grow this fast.” 

In 2021 and beyond, the two friends and colleagues are looking forward to holding more events to connect youth with the outdoors. 

Runners-Up 
Riveter (Fletcher, N.C.)
Carolina Bound Adventures (Bryson City, N.C.)

Outdoor Club 
Trail Sisters (Asheville, N.C.)

Trail Sisters is a place for women to come together and find camaraderie in the outdoors through trail runs, hikes, and community service. 

Runners-Up
Abundant Life Adventure Club (Nashville, Tenn.)
Keep Virginia Cozy (Richmond, Va.)

Bike Shop
Blue Ridge Cyclery (Charlottesville, Va.)

With two convenient locations, Blue Ridge Cyclery can handle all of your bike needs for a day out on the road or the trail. Bring in your bike for a tune up, dial in your fit for ultimate performance, or rent a bike while you’re in Charlottesville. 

Runners-Up
Sycamore Cycles (Hendersonville and Pisgah Forest, N.C.)
Motion Makers Bicycle Shop (Asheville, Cherokee, and Sylva, N.C.)

Mind/Body Studio
Asheville Community Yoga (Asheville, N.C.)

At Asheville Community Yoga, there is a class for everyone from gentle flow to core strengthening. Plus, they are currently offering virtual classes you can take from the comfort of your home. 

Runners-Up
Fly Dog Yoga (Charlottesville, Va.)
New River Yoga (Fayetteville, W.Va.)

Events

Music Festival (Overall)
FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)

It doesn’t get much better than 100 bands on nine stages over five days. FloydFest is a celebration of all things music and mountains, also featuring outdoor adventures, delicious food, and activities just for kids. 

Runners-Up 
Front Porch Fest (Stuart, Va.)
LOCKN’ Festival (Arrington, Va.)

Family-Friendly Festival
Front Porch Fest (Stuart, Va.)

Gather the whole family for a weekend of music and art at the Front Porch Fest. Grab a single day ticket or plan to camp out for a few nights to get the most out of your family time. The kids will love making crafts and marching through the festival grounds with band members.

Runners-Up 
FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)
State Fair of West Virginia (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

Rowdiest Festival
LOCKN’ Festival (Arrington, Va.)

This Grateful Dead-centric festival takes place at the scenic Infinity Downs Farm, featuring a wide range of jam bands and roots music acts. 

Runners-Up 
Gauley Fest (Summersville, W.Va.)
FloydFest (Floyd, Va.)

Weirdest Festival 
Roadkill Cook-Off (Pocahontas County, W.Va.)

In the Roadkill Cook-Off, chefs compete to create the tastiest and most unique dishes using animals found on the side of the road. Wandering from stall to stall, you’ll come across dishes made with squirrel, snapping turtle, deer, and bear. 

Runners-Up
Bigfoot Festival (Marion, N.C.)
Virginia Faery Festival (Stuart, Va.)

Music Festival Missed Most in 2020
FloydFest (Va.)

An annual tradition for many looking to gather around music and friends, FloydFest was sorely missed this summer. But don’t worry. The festival producers are optimistic about 2021 and already announced the lineup for July 2021, which includes the Avett Brothers, Sturgill Simpson, and Old Crow Medicine Show. 

Runners-Up 
Front Porch Fest (Va.)
Rooster Walk (Va.)

Running Event (13.1+ miles)
Blue Ridge Marathon (Roanoke, Va.)

Between the beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the block party-like aid stations, the Blue Ridge Marathon is more than just a race. It is a celebration of community and runners testing their limits together on a tough course. 

Runners-Up 
Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon (Alleghany Highlands, Va.)
Moonbear (Danbury, N.C.)

Running Event (less than 13.1 miles)
Blackwater Canyon Half Marathon (Thomas to Parsons, W.Va.)

Run the Blackwater Canyon and Allegheny Highlands Trails as you descend about 1,300 feet on a rail trail. Made up of paved and natural trails, this point-to-point half marathon will test your endurance as you move through the scenic Monongahela National Forest. 

Runners-Up 
Asheville Turkey Trot (Asheville, N.C.)
Rabid Squirrel (Danbury, N.C.)

Race Missed Most in 2020
Blue Ridge Marathon (Roanoke, Va.)

The Blue Ridge Marathon began in 2010 as a way to highlight the outdoor recreation opportunities in the Roanoke area. In 10 years it has become a full weekend affair with six events and over 3,500 runners. With little time to adapt the event last April, race organizers canceled what would have been the tenth anniversary race, although competitors could choose to virtually complete the distance they signed up to run.

Julia Boas, events director for the Roanoke Outside Foundation, said almost a third of race participants chose to donate their race entries instead of running virtually or deferring to 2021. “I do think that speaks to the people and how committed they are to the race and to the foundation,” she said. “We got a lot of supportive notes and people writing about how important they think everything we’re doing is.” 

Boas said they are planning to hold the race in person for 2021 with a more high-tech virtual option, possibly including elevation gain requirements. 

Runners-Up 
Animal Upper Gauley Race (Summersville, W.Va.)
Alpine Loop Gran Fondo (Harrisonburg, Va.)

Toughest Race 
Blue Ridge Marathon (Roanoke, Va.)

There’s a reason the Blue Ridge Marathon earned the nickname “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.” Over 26.2 miles runners face more than 7,430 feet of elevation gain and loss, crossing Roanoke Mountain and taking on the challenging hills of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Runners-Up 
Blackwater Canyon Half Marathon (Thomas to Parsons, W.Va.)
7 Sisters Trail Race (Montreat, N.C.)

Mud Run/Adventure Race 
Mad Anthony Mud Run (Waynesboro, Va.)

At the Mad Anthony Mud Run, be prepared for ankle-deep mud as you take on obstacles and challenges that will get your clothes dirty and your heart pounding. 

Runners-Up 
King of the James (Richmond, Va.)
The Search for Tola Mufu (Danbury, N.C.)

Triathlon 
Ironman 70.3 Virginia Blue Ridge (Va.)

In 2021, the Virginia triathlon will move from Williamsburg to Roanoke where competitors will swim Carvins Cove Reservoir, bike part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and run the Roanoke River Greenway. 

Runners-Up 
New River Trail Challenge (Max Meadows, Va.)
Lake Lure Sprint Triathlon (N.C.)

Costumed Event
Stuart Spooktacular (Patrick County, Va.)

This annual Halloween event features candy, games, inflatables, a giant movie screen, and, of course, a costume contest. This event is perfect for the whole family as the community and local businesses come out for a spooky night of fun. 

Runners-Up 
The BIG What? (Pittsboro, N.C.)
Mad Anthony Mud Run (Waynesboro, Va.)

Bike Race
Canaan Mountain Bike Festival (Canaan Valley, W.Va.)

If you love mountain biking, this festival is the place to be for a weekend full of group rides, competitions, skills instruction, and trail work all taking place on Canaan Valley’s legendary terrain. 

Runners-Up 
Tour de Valley (Waynesboro, Va.)
Storming of Thunder Ridge (Lynchburg, Va.)

Climbing Event
Craggin’ Classic (New River Gorge, W.Va.)

American Alpine’s Craggin’ Classic is a great way for climbers to come together at a world-class destination. Celebrate all things climbing with clinics taught by professional climbers, stewardship projects, film showings, and stories around the campfire.

Runners-Up 
Boulder Bash at Riverrock (Richmond, Va.)
Deep Water Solo at Tuck Fest (Charlotte, N.C.)

Paddling Event
The Green Race (Henderson and Polk County, N.C.)

Year after year paddlers from around the world try to post the fastest time on the rugged Green River. The brutal course is less than a mile long, but challenges expert paddlers as they take on class V rapid after class V rapid through the tight narrows.

Runners-Up 
James River Batteau Festival (Amherst County, Va.)
Rooster Walk Float Trips (Martinsville, Va.)

Fly Fishing Event 
Greenbrier River Fly Fishing Classic (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

Break out your flies for this smallmouth bass fishing event on the beautiful Greenbrier River. Tournament entries support Project Healing Waters and the Greenbrier River Watershed Association. 

Runners-Up 
Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival (Doswell, Va.)
We’re So Fly Festival (Bath County, Va.)

The “Cooking with Chandra” segment hosted by Chandra Puckett during the Front Porch Fest Variety Show. Photo by Christina Swanson

Virtual Event
Front Porch Fest Variety Show (Va.)

When festival organizers had to cancel Front Porch Fest 2020 due to COVID-19, they knew they wanted to find a way to honor the spirit of the festival. Since all proceeds from the festival go to the Patrick County Community Food Bank and Caring Hearts Free Clinic, they also wanted to provide some much-needed support to organizations doing important work during the pandemic. 

From there, the idea for the Front Porch Fest Variety Show was born. “I wanted it to be the strangest, wackiest, but most wholesome thing that people could see on a livestream,” team member Christina Swanson said.  

The eight-hour show, modeled after the classic telethon, featured everything from musical guests and comedic skits to hoop tutorials and cooking segments. “What was really magical about the whole thing is that we were able to still bring some of the Front Porch Fest experience to life and to provide some joy to folks,” said festival co-founder Sarah Wray. 

At the end of the day, the event raised over $4,500 for the two organizations.

Runners-Up 
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Live from the LOCKN’ Festival site (Arrington, Va.)
Summer Games, The Rabid Squirrel (Lewisville, N.C.) 

Food and Drink

Vineyard/Winery
Veritas Vineyard and Winery (Afton, Va.)

Surrounded by rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising in the distance, sit back and relax with a glass of wine at Veritas. With a wide range of red, white, and sparkling wines, try a flight of four or order a glass of your favorite. Spread out on the lawn, reserve a fire pit, or grab a bottle to go. 

Runners-Up 
Biltmore Estate Winery (Asheville, N.C.)
Afton Mountain Vineyards (Afton, Va.)

Wine
Crosé, King Family Vineyard (Crozet, Va.)

Touted as a rosé for all seasons, King Family’s Crosé is a crisp, Merlot-based wine that pairs well with light dishes and stands well on its own. 

Runners-Up 
Claret, Veritas Vineyard and Winery (Afton, Va.)
Riesling, Shelton Vineyards (Dobson, N.C.)

Cidery 
Bold Rock (Nellysford, Va.)

As Bold Rock has grown into one of the region’s most popular hard cider companies, they’ve expanded their selection of craft beverages to include hard seltzers, canned cocktails, and hard tea and lemonade. Visit one of their tasting rooms in Virginia and North Carolina or pick up a six pack from your local grocery store. 

Runners-Up 
Hawk Knob Cidery and Meadery (Lewisburg, W.Va.)
Potter’s Craft Cider (Charlottesville, Va.)

Cider
IPA, Bold Rock (Nellysford, Va.)

Made with a blend of five hops, the India Pressed Apple is a refreshing cider where tart apple flavors mix with sweet notes of passionfruit, grapefruit, and citrus. 

Runners-Up 
Grapefruit Hibiscus, Potter’s Craft Cider (Charlottesville, Va.)
Elderberry Infused Hard Cider, Hawk Knob Cidery and Meadery (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

Brewery/Brewhouse
Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

Kick back in the shadow of the Blue Ridge at Blue Mountain’s scenic brewpub in central Virginia for cold beers on tap and high-quality food. Visit on a Saturday for a complimentary tour of the brewery to see how the magic gets made. 

Runners-Up 
Basic City Beer Co. (Waynesboro, Va.)
Highland Brewing Co. (Asheville, N.C.)

Beer 
Full Nelson, Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

This classic Virginia pale ale is a mainstay at Blue Mountain Brewery for those looking for a hoppy brew with citrus and floral hints.

Runners-Up 
Get Bent Mountain IPA, Parkway Brewing (Salem, Va.)
Bask DIPA, Basic City Beer Co. (Waynesboro, Va.)

Beer List
Beer Run (Charlottesville, Va.)

You can’t beat the selection at Beer Run. With thousands of choices in cans, bottles, six packs, beers on tap, and growlers to go, everyone can find a brew to enjoy at this well-stocked Charlottesville bottle shop and eatery. 

Runners-Up 
Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint (Multiple Regional Locations)
The Bier Garden (Asheville, N.C.)

Distillery 
Silverback Distillery (Afton, Va.)

The lineup at Silverback Distillery features distinct, flavorful spirits like their honey-liqueur infused Blackback Rye Whiskey and butterscotch Blackback Bourbon. 

Runners-Up 
Smooth Ambler Spirits (Maxwelton, W.Va.)
Virginia Distillery Co. (Lovingston, Va.)

Spirit 
Contradiction, Smooth Ambler Spirits (Maxwelton, W.Va.)

Most of the straight bourbon whiskies blended into the Contradiction are aged for more than nine years, with only the finest grains sourced and mashed into one delicious bottle. This bourbon works well when you’re making an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. 

Runners-Up 
Defiant, Blue Ridge Distilling Co. (Golden Valley, N.C.)
Rye Whiskey, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company (Purcellville, Va.)

Canned Cocktail
Gin & Tonic, Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Roseland, Va.)

This modern take on the traditional gin and tonic is ready to drink wherever your adventure leads you with a crisp, citrus taste in a refreshing can. 

Runners-Up 
Belle Isle Blood Orange, Belle Isle Moonshine (Richmond, Va.)
Bold Fashioned, Bold Rock (Nellysford, Va.)

Beer/Wine/Spirits Trail
Nelson 151 Trail (Va.)

Featuring six wineries, three breweries, two cideries, and a distillery, the Nelson 151 Craft Beverage Trail in Nelson County, has a little bit of everything. Set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll find an abundance of opportunities for fishing, hiking, biking, and skiing, with easy access to places to kick back and relax at the end of the day. 

Runners-Up 
Mountain Maryland Tap and Pour Tour (Md.)
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Cheers Trail (Va.)

Blue Ridge Bucha offers a variety of Kombucha flavors, made in Virginia. Photo by Cary Conwell

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Blue Ridge Bucha (Waynesboro, Va.)

Grab your reusable bottle and fill up on your favorite handcrafted kombucha flavor from Blue Ridge Bucha. Their menu includes delicious blends like black raspberry and jasmine grape that will awaken your taste buds. 

Runners-Up 
Trager Brothers Coffee (Afton, Va.)
Buchi Kombucha (Marshall, N.C.)

Pizza
Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie (North Garden, Va.)

From a classic pepperoni to a specialty pie, the mouthwatering pizza at Dr. Ho’s will have you coming back time and time again. Try something new, like the Annie Oakley with spicy buffalo chicken, pineapple, and jalapeno peppers or the Bellisima with country ham, arugula, and lemon vinaigrette. 

Runners-Up 
Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. (Asheville, N.C.)
Pies N’ Pints (Various Locations)

Farmers Market 
Nelson County Farmers’ Market (Nelson County, Va.)

With pre-order pickup and onsite vendors, the Nelson County Farmers’ Market adapted this year to safely enable visitors to get the freshest produce and local products. 

Runners-Up 
Charlottesville City Market (Charlottesville, Va.)
Roanoke City Market (Roanoke, Va.)

Post-Adventure Hangout
Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

Located just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, Wintergreen Resort, and miles of trails and waters, Blue Mountain Brewery offers an inviting and laid-back atmosphere where you can get off your feet with a delicious meal and well-earned brewski. 

Runners-Up 
Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Roseland, Va.)
The Hub (Pisgah Forest, N.C.)

Burger 
Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint (Multiple Regional Locations)

Spread across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, you’ll find delicious burgers at every Jack Brown’s, with toppings that go beyond lettuce and tomato, like mac n’ cheese, peanut butter, and spinach-artichoke dip. 

Runners-Up 
Jim’s Drive-In (Lewisburg, W.Va.)
The River Burger Bar (Waynesboro, Va.)

Coffee Shop
Trager Brothers Coffee Roasters (Afton, Va.)

Get your morning started or add a pep to your afternoon with a cup of coffee from Trager Brothers, a certified organic and ethically sourced shop with a range of blends to fit your palate. 

Runners-Up 
The Wild Bean (Lewisburg, W.Va.)
Farmhaus Coffee Co. (Waynesboro, Va.)

Festival Food
Blue Ridge Pizza Co. (Charlottesville, Va.)

In between sets, there’s nothing better than a wood-fired pizza pie fresh from the oven. Keep an eye out for the Blue Ridge Pizza Co. food truck at your favorite local breweries, vineyards, and regional festivals. 

Runners-Up 
Maple Doughnuts, Highland County Maple Festival (Highland County, Va.)
Sugar Shack (N.C.)

Restaurant
Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Va.)

From simmering chili in a beer-based broth and nachos overflowing with black bean and corn salsa to smoked pulled pork on a fresh roll, tastes and sights unite at Blue Mountain Brewery for a delightful dining experience. 

Runners-Up 
Secret Sandwich Society (Fayetteville, W.Va.)
Curate (Asheville, N.C.)

Local Roots’ autumn harvest soup. Photo courtesy of Local Roots.

Farm-to-Table
Local Roots (Roanoke, Va.)

The ingredients at Local Roots are carefully selected by the guiding principles of sustainable, organic, local, and ethical, leading to seasonal dishes inspired by the farms of southwest Virginia.

Runners-Up 
The Shack (Staunton, Va.)
Stardust Cafe (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

Ice Cream
Homestead Creamery (Wirtz, Va.)

Get a taste of the Homestead Creamery’s award-winning ice creams at the Farm Market in Burnt Chimney or at a local grocery store, including flavors like peanut butter and double dark chocolate to fruity delights like lemon crunch and blueberry pomegranate. 

Runners-Up 
Kline’s Dairy Bar (Multiple Locations)
Blue Cow Ice Cream (Roanoke, Va.)

Brunch Spot
The French Goat (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

You can sleep in and still enjoy Sunday brunch at the French Goat, the perfect way to start off your day with seasonal omelets, prosciutto benedict, or french toast served with a side of cheese grits and potato hash. 

Runners-Up 
The Little Grill Collective (Harrisonburg, Va.)
Sunny Point Café (Asheville, N.C.)

Burritos or Tacos
White Duck Taco Shop (Multiple Regional Locations)

Load up your tacos with just about any kind of filling, like Korean beef bulgogi, banh mi tofu, mushroom potato, lump crab, and jerk chicken. Pair your meal with a fresh lime margarita and Mexican chocolate pot du creme for dessert. 

Runners-Up 
Thunderbird Taco (Lewisburg, W.Va.)
Alex’s Taco Truck (Waynesboro, Va.)

Barbecue
The Blue Ridge Pig (Nellysford, Va.)

With all of the meats smoked on site, the Blue Ridge Pig is a must try for all barbecue lovers. Whether you order a classic pulled pork sandwich, rack of ribs, or turkey croissant with the works, you’ll see why locals keep coming back for more. 

Runners-Up 
Road Hog’s BBQ (White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.)
Paulie’s Pig Out (Afton, Va.)

Vegetarian Menu
The Wild Bean (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

Hit up the Wild Bean for a vegetarian breakfast or lunch, featuring dishes like the fakin’ bacon BLT, blackened tofu on whole wheat, a barbecue seitan sandwich, and black bean burger. 

Runners-Up 
Laughing Seed Café (Asheville, N.C.)
Juice Laundry (Charlottesville, Va.)

Destinations 

ADA-Accessible Experience 
Abbott Lake Trail (Peaks of Otter, Va.)

At just under a mile, this paved loop encircles Abbott Lake for stunning views of the Peaks of Otter. Through a woodland forest and open field, this is a great stop for a scenic outing or a picnic by the water. There is a wooden bridge section, but at four feet wide it will accommodate a wheelchair or stroller. Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are countless other accessible overlooks with mountain views and waterfalls to experience. 

Runners-Up 
Sandstone Falls Boardwalk (New River Gorge, W.Va.)
Roan Mountain Gardens Upper Trail (Pisgah and Cherokee National Forest, N.C./Tenn.)

Bike Park
Snowshoe Mountain Resort (Snowshoe, W.Va.)

In the warmer months, the slopes of Snowshoe Mountain offer an extensive trail system of berms, jumps, drops, and epic flow. Whether you’re a pro or a first timer, a downhiller or cross country speedster, there are more than 40 trails and 1,500 vertical feet of descent for multiple days of world-class riding. Test your skills at the site of the 2019 and 2021 Mountain Bike Cup Finals, including a pump track, multiple skills development areas, and a drop park. 

Runners-Up 
Ride Kanuga Mountain Bike Park (Hendersonville, N.C.)
Bryce Resort (Basye, Va.)

Biking Trail
Greenbrier River Trail (W.Va.)

Once a part of the C&O Railway, this rail trail runs 78 miles as it parallels the Greenbrier River from Caldwell to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park with numerous access points. Bikers can ride for a few hours or a few days past small towns, over 35 bridges, through two tunnels, and into a National Radio Quiet Zone. 

Runners-Up 
Virginia Creeper Trail (Va.)
Carvins Cove (Va.)

Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory is a destination year round. Photo by Charlie Kahle

Birdwatching Spot
Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory (Monroe County, W.Va.)

Built in 1956 as a fire tower, the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory offers outstanding 360-degree views of Jefferson National Forest and is one of the best spots around to view migrating hawks, eagles, falcons, and osprey. Continue your exploration of the area on the nearby Allegheny Trail. 

Runners-Up 
Raven’s Roost (Blue Ridge Parkway, Va.)
High Point City Lake (High Point, N.C.)

Campsite/Campground
Devils Backbone Camp (Roseland, Va.)

Nestled in the valley just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, Devils Backbone Camp, adjacent to Devils Backbone Brewing Company, is perfectly located near adventure and craft brews. Whether you’re looking for a full RV hookup or primitive tent site, you’ll be close to the action in a fun and relaxing camping environment. 

Runners-Up 
Adventures on the Gorge (Lansing, W.Va.)
Roan Mountain State Park (Carter County, Tenn.)

Climbing Crag
Seneca Rocks (Monongahela National Forest, W.Va.)

Rising 900 feet above the North Fork River, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view from the towering Tuscarora quartzite formation, featuring multi-pitch routes for climbers of all abilities. 

Runners-Up 
Linville Gorge (Pisgah National Forest, N.C.)
Hanging Rock State Park (Danbury, N.C.)

Hiking Trail 
Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine)

Hikers from around the world will recognize the iconic white blaze marking the Appalachian Trail as it winds through the mountains 2,180+ miles from Georgia to Maine. With options to hike for a few hours or a few months, you’ll experience a wide variety of terrain, ecosystems, parks, and wildlife along the way. 

Runners-Up 
Greenbrier River Trail (W.Va.)
Crabtree Falls Trail (Nelson County, Va.)

Instagrammable Spot
McAfee Knob (Catawba, Va.)

A bucket list stop on the Appalachian Trail and part of Virginia’s Triple Crown, McAfee Knob offers breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys from the recognizable ledge. 

Runners-Up 
Sandstone Falls, New River Gorge (W.Va.)
Humpback Rocks, Blue Ridge Parkway (Va.)

Kid-Friendly Adventure 
ACE Adventure Resort (Oak Hill, W.Va.) 

There’s something for the whole family at ACE Adventure Resort, from overnight whitewater rafting trips to a waterpark, zipline, mud obstacle course, and paddleboarding. 

Runners-Up 
Virginia Creeper Trail (Va.)
Virginia Safari Park (Natural Bridge, Va.)

Lake
Smith Mountain Lake (Va.)

With 500 miles of shoreline, there are endless boating and fishing opportunities at Virginia’s second largest body of freshwater. Smith Mountain Lake State Park offers cabins and campsites, miles of hiking trails, and a public beach for a full weekend of fun. 

Runners-Up 
Summersville Lake (W.Va.)
Nantahala Lake (N.C.)

National Forest 
Pisgah National Forest (N.C.)

In the mountains of western North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest is an oasis filled with unforgettable experiences around every corner. Whether you’re looking for rugged singletrack, thrilling whitewater paddling, towering waterfalls, or scenic byways, this national forest has it all. 

Runners-Up 
George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (Va.)
Monongahela National Forest (W.Va.)

National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (N.C./Tenn.)

Frequently topping the most-visited national parks list, Great Smoky Mountains is a scenic wonderland no matter the time of year. Walk through blooming wildflowers, hike among the changing leaves, and view the signature foggy mornings that give the park its name.  

Runners-Up 
Shenandoah National Park (Va.)
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (W.Va.)

Overlook
Waterrock Knob (Blue Ridge Parkway, N.C.)

Located at milepost 451.2 on the parkway, you’ll have 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain chains from Waterrock Knob, making it a must-see stop no matter the time of day.  

Runners-Up 
Lover’s Leap (Meadows of Dan, Va.)
Falling Spring Falls (Alleghany Highlands, Va.) 

Pet-Friendly Adventure 
Hungry Mother State Park (Smyth County, Va.)

Located on a picturesque lake, this is a quiet getaway with plenty of space to wander the trails during the day and curl up by the fire at night with your furry friend by your side. 

Runners-Up 
Mountains-to-Sea Trail (N.C.)
Bluestone State Park (Summers County, W.Va.)

Place for Outdoor Singles to Live
Asheville, N.C.

In the mountains of western North Carolina, Asheville provides the perfect mix of easy access to outdoor adventure, a vibrant arts district, and a booming craft beer scene. 

Runners-Up 
Roanoke, Va.
Fayetteville, W.Va.

Place to Raise an Outdoor Family
Roanoke, Va.

Voted a Top Adventure Town by our readers for the second year in a row, Roanoke has a wide variety of recreation opportunities to enjoy as your kids grow up. Start them out on the paved greenway trails that connect downtown, the river, and local parks before moving them up to hiking on the A.T. and mountain biking at Carvins Cove. 

Runners-Up 
Lewisburg, W.Va.
Charlottesville, Va.

Researchers use radio wavelengths to study the universe at Green Bank Observatory. Photo by GBO PR Specialist Jill Malusky, NSF-GBO

Place to Stargaze
Green Bank Observatory (Green Bank, W.Va.)

Step into the world of radio astronomy at the Green Bank Observatory with state-of-the-art telescopes as researchers dive into black holes, universe expansion, and all that we do not yet understand. 

Runners-Up 
Mount Mitchell (Burnsville, N.C.)
Lake Moomaw (Alleghany Highlands, Va.)

Place to Watch the Sunset
Dolly Sods Wilderness (Monongahela National Forest, W. Wa.)

Make your way to the highest plateau east of the Mississippi to take in the mountain views, sandstone boulders, and dazzling colors as the sun dips below the horizon at Dolly Sods. 

Runners-Up 
Humpback Rocks (Blue Ridge Parkway, Va.)
Raven’s Roost (Blue Ridge Parkway, Va.)

Running Trail 
Greenbrier River Trail (W.Va.)

With several access points and campsites along the 78-mile path, the Greenbrier River Trail makes for a scenic run through the woods of West Virginia. The rail trail is fairly flat as it follows the river, but does provide some areas of elevation change. 

Runners-Up 
Fonta Flora Trail (N.C.)
Jackson River Scenic Trail (Va.)

Ski Run
Cupp Run, Snowshoe Mountain Resort (Snowshoe, W. Va.)

Featuring a 1,500-foot drop over 1.5 miles, experienced skiers and snowboarders will enjoy the black diamond Cupp Run, designed by Olympian Jean-Claude Killy.

Runners-Up 
Cliffhanger, Wintergreen Resort (Nellysford, Va.)
Diamond Jim, Massanutten Resort (Massanutten, Va.)

State Park 
Douthat State Park (Va.)

Take in the beautiful mountain scenery and calming waters of Douthat State Park, one of the original Virginia parks built in 1936. It features 43 miles of hiking and biking trails, boat rentals, lake fishing, and scenic camping. 

Runners-Up 
Blackwater Falls State Park (W.Va.)
Elk Knob State Park (N.C.)

Summit
Mount Rodgers (Va.)

Hike to the highest point in Virginia from Grayson Highlands State Park or the A.T. to view thick spruce forests, blooming wildflowers, and wind-swept grassy balds on the way to the 5,729-foot summit. 

Runners-Up 
Looking Glass Rock (N.C.)
Pilot Mountain (N.C.)

Swimming Hole
Devil’s Bathtub (Scott County, Va.)

The emerald waters of the Devil’s Bathtub make for a refreshing dip in the summer heat. Be prepared with sturdy footwear for more than a dozen creek crossings and a rocky trail on the hike to the swimming hole. 

Runners-Up 
Blue Bend (Greenbrier County, W.Va.)
Skinny Dip Falls (Transylvania County, N.C.)

Terrain Park
Snowshoe Mountain Resort (Snowshoe, W.Va.)

Home to five terrain parks, Snowshoe offers the perfect environment to hone your freestyle skills. The Progression, Whitewater, and Evolution parks will help you get a feel for the features before you work your way up to the technical prowess required at Timberjack.

Runners-Up 
Wintergreen Resort (Nellysford, Va.)
Beech Mountain Resort (Beech Mountain, N.C.)

The 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail was named after the steam engine that once crept up the rails into the Iron Mountains. Photo by Sam Dean, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Urban Park/Greenway
Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail (Va.)

One of the original and most successful rails-to-trails projects in the country, the Virginia Creeper Trail has left a lasting impact in the world of transportation and outdoor recreation infrastructure. Running 34.3 miles from Abingdon to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the trail attracts hikers, runners, and cyclists from around the world. It has also led to an economic revitalization for the nearby towns with bike shops, shuttle services, and restaurants opening to accommodate visitors. 

Long before Lisa Quigley joined the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy, her youngest child learned to ride a bike on the trail. Now as executive director of the conservancy, she helps ensure others will be able to enjoy the trail for years to come. When the trail closed down for five weeks last spring due to the pandemic, Quigley said their office received more than 1,100 calls from people wanting to get out on the trail. Even with the closure, the trail saw about a 30-percent increase in trail users for 2020 as people turned to local outdoor recreation as indoor activities were shut down. “We realized what an integral part of people’s lives the trail actually plays,” Quigley said. “We knew it but to see it in action was pretty awe-inspiring.” 

Runners-Up 
Roanoke Greenway (Va.)
Swamp Rabbit Trail (S.C.)

Whitewater
Gauley River (W.Va.)

Whitewater fanatics from all over the world flock to the Gauley every fall for some of the best whitewater releases around. For six weeks starting the weekend after Labor Day, the river’s 26+ miles of whitewater are chock full of more than 100 class III, IV, and V rapids and epic scenery that gives families in rafts and adrenaline junkies in kayaks big thrills. 

Runners-Up 
New River (W. Va.)
Nantahala River (N.C.)

Waterfall 
Blackwater Falls (Davis, W.Va.)

Several access points and an observation deck allow visitors to view the cascading Blackwater Falls as the water drops 57 feet into a class V river from a variety of angles. The amber waters are tinted by the tannic acid released from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.

Runners-Up 
Crabtree Falls (Nelson County, Va.)
Cascade Falls (Giles County, Va.) 

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