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Best of the Blue Ridge 2015

After four weeks and over 5,000 votes, the final results are in. Readers selected their favorite regional races, faces, and places.


Hiking Trail
Art Loeb (N.C.)
With expansive, treeless balds, steep climbs, and some of the most iconic views of Pisgah National Forest, it’s no surprise that the Art Loeb Trail in western North Carolina took the number one spot here. Though popular among the hiking community and often crowded on fair weather days, if you only have one weekend to spend hiking in the high country, this trail is going to give you the most bang for your buck. Start at the southern terminus just outside of Davidson River Campground near Brevard, N.C., and follow its well-trodden path to the end in Shining Rock Wilderness. Those panoramic views won’t come easy, now—in just 30 miles, expect to traverse multiple 6,000-foot peaks like Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet) and Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet). Rich in Cherokee Nation history, the land speaks for itself and beckons to the pioneer in us all. Though it’s possible to knock out the hike in two long days, you might want to play hooky and tack on a third just in case.
Runners-up: Old Rag Mountain (Va.), Tanawha Trail (N.C.), Alum Cave Bluffs Trail (Tenn.)

Appalachian Trail Section
Max Patch (N.C.)
There’s nothing that can quite prepare you for the jaw-dropping scene that will unfold as you step from the lush canopy of the Appalachian Trail into the open bald that is Max Patch. Situated on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this mountaintop is certainly not the highest in elevation (reigning in at 4,629 feet), but it is certainly one of the most scenic. What’s more, you can summit Max Patch via a variety of options—take the family and choose one of two easy-grade loop trails near the top or begin your hike in the nearby town of Hot Springs, N.C., and follow the A.T. south for about 12 miles to the bald.
Runners-up: Roan Highlands (Tenn./N.C.), Mount Rogers + Grayson Highlands (Va.)

Swimming Hole
Midnight Hole
(Big Creek, North Carolina)
Located just inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this swimming hole can afford visitors more than just a cool dip on a hot summer day. Take the Big Creek Trail for almost 1.5 miles until you see Midnight Hole on your left. The trail itself is well established and shaded for the majority of the way, making it a great place to take the kids. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the swimming hole when you see a slew of large boulders nestled in the creek. This is a great pool to jump into, as it is relatively deep and clear enough to see the bottom. When you’re done swimming, make a day of it and continue your hike a short ways to see the nearby 45-foot Mouse Branch Falls.
Runners-up: Blue Hole Falls (S.C.), Turtleback Falls (N.C.)

Running Trail
Shut-In Trail (N.C.)
Originally built by George Vanderbilt in the 1890s, the Shut-In Trail has gained a regional reputation as one of the toughest climbs around. In just over 16 miles, the trail undergoes almost 3,000 feet in elevation change from its start near the Buck Spring Gap Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway to its end at the base of Mount Pisgah. The trail is so challenging, in fact, that the region’s top runners gather annually in the fall to test their merit at the Shut-In Ridge Run. The trail is now part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and though the trail itself never strays farther than a ½ mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are few day hikers who feel up to the task of retracing Vanderbilt’s ridge walk in its entirety.
Runners-up: Greenbrier River Trail (W.Va.), Iron Mountain Trail (Va.), Moses Cone Trails (N.C.)


New River (W.Va.)
Despite what its name might suggest, the New River is the oldest river in North America and second only to Africa’s Nile River as the oldest river system in the world. Needless to say, a float down (or should we say up, as this is one of the few rivers in the country that flows north) this iconic waterway is like floating through time. Idling along as a mere trickle of a stream at its headwaters in North Carolina, the New’s calm flow picks up gradient and power as it enters West Virginia. The class III-IV New River Gorge is perhaps one of the most recognized sections of the New and is a favorite among whitewater enthusiasts worldwide. For the non-adrenaline junkies though, a float down any stretch of the New is sure to provide unparalleled beauty, exposed cliff lines, and some of the best freshwater fishing in the region.
Runners-up: Chattooga River (Clayton, Ga.), Nolichucky River (Erwin, Tenn.)

Climbing Mecca
Seneca Rocks (W.Va.)
Situated in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, Seneca Rocks juts from the earth in a towering row of fins made of white Tuscarora quartzite. It’s a surreal sight, and for a moment, you might forget you’re in West Virginia. Chossy, multi-pitch trad routes and old-school ratings that date back to World War II are found here, and the crag’s diversity in climbing grades makes Seneca Rocks one of the most popular climbing destinations in the East. Beginner trad climbers can summit via the easy grade routes like Old Man’s Route (5.2) while moderate climbers can try their hand at any number of 5.9 to 5.10 routes like Cottonmouth—Venom, a 200-foot, two-pitch route on the west face. Along the way, be on the lookout for soft steel pitons left over from the days of the United States army’s Mountain Training Group (MTG). Seneca Rocks was the sight of the army’s only low altitude assault climbing school back in the 1940s and 50s, and many of the MTG’s mountaineers were responsible for putting up the area’s first ascents.
Runners-up: New River Gorge (Fayetteville, W.Va.), Red River Gorge (Slade, Ky.), Linville Gorge (Morganton, N.C.), Looking Glass Rock (Brevard, N.C.)

Douthat State Park (Va.)
One trip to Douthat State Park and you’ll have no doubts about why our readers selected this Virginia campground as the best in the Blue Ridge. Tucked away in the George Washington National Forest, Douthat State Park is the perfect mountain getaway for families and core mountain bikers alike. With a 50-acre trout-stocked lake, ample access to stream fishing, and over 43 miles of multipurpose trails that connect to the surrounding national forest’s trail systems, there’s a little something for everyone in the park’s 4,493 acres. The campground itself offers a variety of options, from secluded primitive sites overlooking the lake to pull-throughs with gravel pads and full hook-ups. With access to hot showers, free swimming and boat launches, and the option to upgrade to any number of the park’s spacious log cabins, a weekend spent exploring Douthat is a weekend well spent.
Runners-up: Hot Springs Campground (Hot Springs, N.C.), Sherando Lake (Lyndhurst, Va.)

Bike Trail
The Gauntlet (Carvins Cove, Va.)
If you’re looking for a fast and furious descent coupled with the occasional rock garden and a few jumps (and a one-foot drop thrown in for good measure), look no further than The Gauntlet in Carvins Cove. The trail itself is 2.5 miles long and if you’re not too busy watching the trail ahead of you, you’ll be able to catch some amazing views of the Carvins Cove lake. With a gradient of -10%, this beast is a long, technical, pure-screaming-hell type of ride. Once you’re at the bottom, you can jet up Horse Pen and check out the view of the lake. If you’re trying to punish yourself and earn your descents, you can reverse The Gauntlet and push 1000 feet to the top. Either way, this trail is one of the gems of Carvins Cove, which boasts about 40 miles of singletrack just outside of Roanoke, Va.
Runners-up: Greens Lick, Bent Creek (Asheville, N.C.), Plantation Trail (Davis, W.Va.)

Urban Park
James River Park (Va.)
For the ultimate multisport, urban life adventure, Richmond’s James River Park tromps all. From mountain biking to climbing, fishing, paddling, and even birdwatching, it’s amazing how much outdoor recreation is available right in the heart of the metropolis. Blessed with a Saturday of glorious weather and can’t decide what to do? No worries. The close proximity of trails and take-outs make it easy to squeeze in the best of all worlds in just a day. Start by kayaking the Lower James, a 2.5-mile stretch of class III-IV whitewater that runs right through the heart of town. When you’re finished paddling, ditch the boat and grab a bike. The park’s Buttermilk and North Bank Trails are pretty awesome given that the total elevation change is only about 50 feet. The XTERRA East Championships are held here every year, a testament to the quality of singletrack available in Richmond.
Runners-up: Mill Mountain Park (Roanoke, Va.), Freedom Park (Charlotte, N.C.), Rivanna Trail (Charlottesville, Va.)

Ski Run
Salamander Run
(Timberline Four Seasons Resort, W.Va.)
Skiing in the East is often overshadowed by the stuff out West, but if there’s one place that gets reliable powder from December thru March, it’s the high country of West Virginia. Timberline Four Seasons Resort is located smack dab in the heart of Canaan Valley, an area notorious for its harsh winters. If you can stick through the cold temps and frequent rainfall though, you’ll be rewarded with a long ski season full of knee-deep powder days and an annual snowfall that averages close to 180 inches. At two miles long, Timberline’s Salamander Run brings downhill skiers and riders every year to get a taste of the longest run in the Southeast. Telemark skiing is big in Canaan country too, and some of the most legendary telemark skiers in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast journey every year to Timberline for its glade skiing and annual Telemark Festival.
Runners-up: Cupp Run (Snowshoe, W.Va.), Cliffhanger (Wintergreen, Va.)

Terrain Park
Wisp Resort (Md.)
From first-timers to terrain park wizards, Wisp has something for everyone. With three separate parks for three separate skill levels, a handle tow for more park time, four rail jam events per season, and a local freestyle team, the wintertime scene at Wisp is bumpin’. What’s more, the resort staff keeps the terrain park features fresh and new, completely redesigning the park several times a month so you never get bored with the same flow.
Runners-up: Appalachian Ski Mountain (N.C.), Seven Springs Mountain Resort (Penn.)

SUP Spot
Fontana Lake (N.C.)
Tucked away at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake offers visitors more than just epic scenery. At 29 miles along, this 11,700-acre Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lake is home to more than 240 miles of largely undeveloped shoreline awaiting exploration—what better way to do that than by stand-up paddleboarding? Even when TVA draws down the lake from September through November, the waters are still entirely navigable. Bring some fishing gear on your paddle too, as Fontana Lake is said to have some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country. Record sizes of muskie and walleye have been found here, so keep your eyes peeled and your rod at the ready.
Runners-up: Lake Chatuge (Ga.), Summersville Lake (W.Va.)

Blue Ridge Parkway Spot
Peaks of Otter (Va.)
For nearly 8,000 years, the scenic peacefulness and solitude that is characteristic of this little mountain paradise has brought travelers from near and far to soak in its natural beauty. Situated amid the Jefferson National Forest, the Peaks of Otter Recreation Area was initially home to a large population of American Indians and eventually became the site for European settlement in the mid-1700s. The visitor center at milepost 86 gives a more comprehensive glimpse into the past, so be sure to start there before you hit the trails. Sharp Top Trail is a must-do if you’re in the area. Though steep and moderately challenging in nature, hikers who conquer this 1.5-mile trail will be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the surrounding Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Allegheny mountain ranges.
Runners-up: Craggy Gardens (N.C.), Rocky Knob (Va.), Graveyard Fields (N.C.)

Crabtree Falls (VA.)
For ease of accessibility, stunning vistas, and a moderately challenging hike, head to the heart of Nelson County to Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The key to hiking Crabtree Falls is to take your time—from parking lot to upper falls, the trail is only three miles, but it’s all uphill and well-groomed with stone steps, wooden handrails, and informative signs. Choose your adventure and hike all the way to the top or stop at any of the four lookouts along the way that afford visitors sweeping views of the surrounding Tye River Valley. Located just six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27, a trip to this iconic waterfall can easily be capped off with an evening at any number of the area’s craft breweries along VA-151, fondly referred to as the Brew Ridge Trail.
Runners-up: The Cascades (Va.), Triple Falls (N.C.)

Wilderness Area
Shining Rock Wilderness Area (N.C.)
Shining Rock Wilderness is the crown jewel of Pisgah National Forest, expanding for over 18,000 acres in the mountains of western North Carolina. One of the first wilderness areas in the country, Shining Rock is named for the white quartz outcropping that bedazzles the crest of its mountain namesake. Popular stretches of the Art Loeb Trail run through the heart of Shining Rock, and section 3 of the trail from Black Balsam to Deep Gap in particular affords hikers the best-of experience. During this 6.8-mile hike, you can summit three 5,000+ peaks, see the actual Shining Rock itself, and soak in the views from one of the region’s most picturesque grassy ridgewalks.
Runners-up: Dolly Sods (W.Va.), Linville Gorge (N.C.)

Kid-Friendly Destination
Virginia Creeper Trail (VA.)
This rail-trail is perhaps one of the most recognized in the region and with good reason—running for 34 miles from its beginning near Whitetop Station at the Virginia-North Carolina border all the way through the town of Damascus, Va., and on to its ending terminus in Abingdon, Va., this bike trail is well-maintained and mostly downhill. You’ll barely have to pedal! The most popular section is the 17 miles from Whitetop back to Damascus, a ride that a number of the local bike shops arrange shuttles for daily. Though 17 miles sounds like a hefty ride, remember, you have gravity on your side. What’s more, the trail runs alongside Whitetop Laurel Creek and often crosses the creek via a number of historic trestles. Bordered with thick groves of rhododendron, this is a cool and shady ride even on the hottest of summer days. With ample opportunities to hop off the bike and take a side trail down to the creek, the kids are sure to love spending all day exploring this corner of southwest Virginia.
Runners-up: U.S. Whitewater Center (Charlotte, N.C.), Discovery Center (Wintergreen, Va.)


Pet-Friendly Destination
Bent Creek Experimental Forest (N.C.)
Established in 1925 as a place to conduct research on forest management, Bent Creek covers nearly 6,000 acres within Pisgah National Forest just outside of Asheville, N.C. It’s the locals’ go-to for a post-work ride or run, so expect crowded parking lots if you’re arriving after 5pm. Although it acts much like the Central Park of Asheville, Bent Creek has over 50 miles of singletrack and doubletrack, making it relatively easy to find solitude on your hike, ride, or run. Pets are technically supposed to stay on a leash, but you’ll occasionally come across a wandering pup out on the trail, so be aware, especially if you’re riding downhill. The wide gravel roads that weave in and around Bent Creek are perfect for walkers or joggers and their canine companions who are looking to escape the heavy afternoon traffic and narrow trails.
Runners-up: Coyner Springs Park (Waynesboro, Va.), Pandapas Pond (Va.)

Place for Outdoor Singles
Asheville (N.C.)
This mountain city of more than 80,000 people is well known as a hub of adventure and culture, but what exactly is it about Asheville that has outdoorsy singles flocking to its streets? For starters, the Blue Ridge Parkway is just a ten-minute drive away as is a number of municipal parks, greenways, and trail systems like that at Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Another 45 minutes on the road will get you access to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak on the East Coast, as well as the class IV-V Green River Narrows, the Rumbling Bald climbing area, and an impressive system of technical singletrack that weaves throughout Pisgah National Forest. With more than 20 craft breweries, a sprawl of restaurants ranging from fine cuisine to mom-and-pop diners, and live music practically every night of the week, the downtown vibe in Asheville, N.C., can only be described with one word – bumpin’. If you don’t mind a guy or gal who reeks of wet neoprene, sweat, and Patchouli, then Asheville is the place for you.
Runners-up: Roanoke (Va.), Lewisburg (W.Va.), Charlottesville (Va.)


Place to Raise an Outdoor Family
Brevard, N.C.
Like its big city neighbor to the north, Brevard offers all of the accessibility and diversity in adventure as Asheville but with the safety and comfort of a small town community. With a population just shy of 8,000 people, Brevard has an impressive array of quality restaurants, nightlife, and art. Because Brevard College is located right in the heart of town, the city has a youthful, energetic vibe that keeps the year-round atmosphere bustling even through the cold, wet, dark months of winter. For young, outdoorsy couples looking to start a family, Brevard is conveniently situated at the base of Pisgah National Forest and is just a short drive from other outdoor playgrounds like DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park. The area is also home to a number of summer adventure camps and alternative education programs like Montessori establishments and outdoor-focused semester programs for high schoolers.
Runners-up: Boone (N.C.), Damascus (Va.), Charlottesville (Va.)

Outdoor Scene
The Ledges (N.C.)
Maybe you’re not the type to hit the bar after work, but you’d still like to entrench yourself in some sense of a social setting. The Ledges section of the French Broad River is just a quick 15-minute drive outside of Asheville and is a regular hangout spot for local paddlers. Bring your kayak, SUP, inner tube, whatever you have. It’s the perfect place to practice attaining and, if the level’s right, a little surfing. Bring a six-pack of local craft brews and before you know it, you’ll be everyone’s best friend.
Runners-up: New River Gorge (W.Va.), James River Park (Va.), Bent Creek Hard Times Trailhead (N.C.)

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Outdoor Shop
Walkabout Outfitter (Lexington, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Richmond, Va.)
A former Eagle Scout and longtime outdoorsman, Walkabout Outfitter founder Kirk Miller always dreamed about hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. In 1999, he decided to quit his day job and do just that. Fast-forward six years to 2005 when Kirk and his wife Tina decided to open up the first Walkabout Outfitter in downtown Lexington. Their mission was to provide quality advice and gear for all-things-hiking, and they’ve stayed true to that in the decade they’ve been in operation. Walkabout has since expanded to five locations throughout the Commonwealth and is a well-recognized outfitter among thru-hikers in particular.
Runners-up: Diamond Brand Outfitters (new locations in downtown Asheville and South Asheville, N.C.), Rockfish Gap Outfitters (Waynesboro, Va.), Half Moon Outfitters (various locations)

Running store
Ragged Mountain Running Shop (VA.)
When long-time accomplished runners Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni first opened up shop in 1982, they would have never guessed that their business would grow to the extent that it has in over 30 years. Now, Ragged Mountain Running isn’t just the oldest running store in central Virginia, it’s the oldest one in the state. The shop hosts over 15 races a year, offers specialized training programs, and has raised over 4 million dollars for various causes through its events.
“We just wanted to get people involved with running, not to sell shoes necessarily,” Mark says.
“That’s why we get up in the morning.”
Runners-up: Jus’ Running (N.C.), Crozet Running (Va.), Fleet Feet (Va.)

Bike shop
Blue Ridge Cyclery (VA.)
For four years, Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville, Va., has offered central Virginia cyclists top-notch advice on all-things bikes. Founded in 2010 by elite ultra-endurance mountain biker Shawn Tevendale, the bike shop serves as a one-stop-shop for all cyclists, from road bikers to beach cruisers.
“Built upon the idea that we are ‘bicyclists running a bike shop,’ that is truly where we have come from and where we continue to go,” Shawn says. “We would rather teach you what your options are rather than just hand you an item and say it will work for you.”
Runners-up: Liberty Bikes (N.C.), Rocktown Bicycles (Harrisonburg, Va.), The Hub (N.C.)

Environmental Organization
Southern Environmental Law Center
For nearly three decades, the SELC has been the leading advocate for protecting the South’s air, water, and natural playgrounds. This nonprofit is supported entirely through donations from private individuals, families, and foundations, and features a staff of over 60 attorneys in 9 offices across the region. SELC works on on everything from setting carbon pollution standards to fighting natural gas pipeline proposals and has recently won a number of environmental battles—in 2014, the organization prevented gas drilling and fracking in the George Washington National Forest, set up protective measures for the endangered species of wild red wolves that live in eastern North Carolina, and provided a voice for local citizens outraged by the Duke Energy coal ash spills. Through the “power of the law,” the SELC is breaking down barriers and pushing toward positive progress for our environment—thank you.
Runners-up: Appalachian Voices, WNC Alliance, Wild South, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society

Outdoor Club
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Originally founded as the Appalachian Trail Committee in 1922, the present-day Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) may operate under a different name but still promotes the same mission and values as the organization did over 90 years ago—preserve the A.T. and maintain a sustainable future for hikers. Headquartered at the trail’s unofficial halfway point in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the ATC not only helps organize maintenance of the trail but also educates youth about the trail and environmental ethics, works with local communities to help trail town economies, and actively seeks permanent land protection along the A.T. corridor.
Runners-up: Asheville on Bikes, Sierra Club, Carolina Canoe Club, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club

Adventures on the Gorge (W.VA.)
Mountain biking, climbing, rappelling, horseback riding, caving, whitewater rafting, ziplining, disc golf, hiking. Whatever adventure you’re after, Adventures on the Gorge can supply it. Located just outside of Fayetteville, W.Va., this conveniently located outfitter is the perfect getaway for single vacationers and families alike. With firewood delivery and an onsite swimming hole and bar, you might never want to leave this mountain oasis.
Runners-up: NOC (Wesser, N.C.), River and Trail Outfitters (Md.)

Raft Guide Company
Nantahala Outdoor Center (n.c.)
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) has been committed to providing a quality adventure experience for all since its opening in 1972. The original outfitter is located in the heart of western North Carolina on the banks of the Nantahala River, but the NOC currently has a multitude of other locations and outposts, from Mountain Rest, S.C., to Erwin, Tenn. With guided rafting trips down seven of the Southeast’s most notable rivers (like the Nolichucky River in Tenn., and the Chattooga River in Ga.), kayak instruction sessions, bike rentals and repair, and course offerings in wilderness medicine and swiftwater rescue, the NOC truly goes above and beyond your ordinary raft guide company.
Runners-up: Wildwater (N.C./Tenn./Ga.), ACE (W.Va.)

Climbing Guide Company
Fox Mountain Guides (n.c.)
Founded in 2003 by British expat Adam Fox, North Carolina-based Fox Mountain Guides (FMG) has maintained the utmost professionalism when it comes to providing a solid, well-rounded climbing experience. From sport climbing in Sandrock, Ala., to ice climbing in the North Carolina Piedmont, these American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) guides do it all. “We take great pride and satisfaction in showing the Southeast’s treasures to all of our guests and students,” says head FMG guide Ron Funderburke. “North Carolina, especially, is one of the great gems in American rock climbing, and we love to show everyone in the country what they’ve been missing.”
Runners-up: Pura Vida Adventures (N.C.), Climbmax (N.C.), Adventures on the Gorge (W.Va.)

Climbing Gym
River Rock (Roanoke, Va.)
You may have been climbing at an indoor rock wall before, but chances are, you’ve never seen anything like this. With over 4,500 square feet of bouldering routes, an additional 4,000 square feet of roped climbing with more than 30 routes set up for both top-rope and lead, and the knowledgeable staff to help you train, River Rock is a one-stop-shop for beginner and veteran climbers alike looking to learn skills and train hard.
Runners-up: Peak Experiences (Richmond, Va.), Rocky Top (Charlottesville, Va.), Climbmax (Asheville, N.C.)


Ski Resort
Snowshoe Mountain (W. Va.)
One trip to Snowshoe and you’ll see where this resort gets its reputation for quality snow and one helluva good time. Home to 251 acres of powder goodness with three separate ski areas, 57 trails, and two runs in particular—Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge—with 1,500 feet of vertical rowdiness, Snowshoe’s isolated mountaintop resort is a haven for powder hounds.
Runners-up: Wintergreen (Va.), Beech Mountain (N.C.), Wisp (Md.)

Yoga Studio
Uttara Yoga (Roanoke, Va.)
Hatha, restorative, power, vinyasa, and prenatal and triathlete-specific yoga classes. Wherever your skillset, whatever your need, Roanoake’s Uttara Yoga studio has a class, a teacher, a workshop, built for you. You can even join the experienced staff from Uttara on a yoga retreat to India, where you’ll be immersed in Sadhana for two weeks. Namaste y’all.
Runners-up: Hot Yoga Charlottesville (Va.), Asheville Yoga Center (N.C.)

Zip Line
Navitat (N.C.)
Just 20 minutes north of Asheville, Navitat Canopy Adventures offers tree-based zipline adventures that give visitors a unique perspective on the mountains of North Carolina. Glide side-by-side with your friend or family member and take in the 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains together or race each other to the finish to see who’s the fastest zipper. With the longest, highest, and fastest ziplines in the South, you will not be disappointed with your Navitat tour.
Runners-up: NOC Mountaintop Zip Line (N.C.), Treetops Canopy Tour (New River Gorge, W.Va.), The Gorge Zip Line (N.C.)
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Local / Regional Female athlete: Adriene Levknecht (Greenville, S.C.)

Upbeat, strong, and inspirational to all, this talented lady might as well be dubbed the Queen of Whitewater. With six Green Race wins under her belt (a record she shares with only two other paddlers—Tommy Hilleke and Keith Sprinkle), Adriene has been an icon in the paddling community for over a decade. Despite having traveled around the globe in search of the best whitewater, with a backyard run like the Green River Narrows (which flows over 300 days a year) in addition to reliable rainfall and a number of dam-controlled rivers, it’s no wonder Adriene has chosen the Southeast as home base.

“I love kayaking because it gives me a freedom that I have not been able to experience in any other aspects of my life,” Adriene says. “I can go as fast or as a slow as I want, I can go where I want to go, and if I am overstepping my limits the river lets me know!”

Local / Regional Male athlete: Ben King (Charlottesville, Va.)

Ben King is a beast on two wheels. He’s a two-time Junior National Champion, a two-time U23 National Champion, a two-time U23 Pan American Champion, and a USA professional National Champion (2010). Ben is easily one of the most competitive cyclists in the industry, regularly placing in the top 10 at some of the world’s most challenging multiday stage races. His stomping grounds in central Virginia may seem like an odd choice for training, but according to Ben, there’s no where better in the world to ride.
“I have trained and raced all over the world and in my opinion the Blue Ridge offers some of the best terrain, road density, and scenery out there,” he says. “Riding and racing make me feel alive. Even when it hurts, you are aware of yourself.”

Inspiring outdoor person: Bob Peoples (Hampton, Tenn.)

A small man with a solid build, big heart, and a thick Boston accent, Bob Peoples is a legend among hikers. He owns the cozy Kincora Hiking Hostel in Hampton, Tenn., and annually hosts hundreds if not thousands of hikers from around the world. Peoples himself is an avid hiker, knocking off treks of both the Camino Portugués and the traditional Camino de Santiago in the last decade. His love for the hiking community inspired him early on to get involved with trail maintenance. He’s the lead trail maintainer for the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club and the brains behind Hard Core, the largest hiker-fueled trail maintenance event in the country.
In an interview with BRO last spring, Peoples explained why the hiker community inspires him: “It’s such a good community because basically age, sex, country of origin, language you speak, money in your bank account, means absolutely nothing. The white blazes don’t care. Everybody’s equal out here.”

Raft guide: Linc Stallings (Endless River Adventures, N.C.)

This guy’s been around. From the West Virginia classics like the New and Gauley Rivers to the gorges of Colorado, Linc is a man of whitewater. He’s made the river his life, raft guiding for over a decade and deciding in 2012 to create his own SUP guide service near his home in northeastern Georgia. So what is it that draws Linc to any and all forms of water? Well—we’ll have to wait for him to get back from paddling through the Grand Canyon to answer that one.

A woman is lowered off a rock climb in the New River Gorge, West Virginia.

Climbing guide: Elaina Arenz (New River Mountain Guides, W.Va.)

From her hometown crags at the New River Gorge to the remote walls of El Potrero Chico in Mexico, professional climber and guide Elaina Arenz knows her happy place is on the rock. She’s the founder and head guide of New River Mountain Guides in Fayetteville, W.Va., and she brings her two decades of climbing experience to every trip she leads and every student she instructs. She’s a sponsored climber for La Sportiva and an Access Fund athlete ambassador. Her numerous first ascents in North America have made her an icon among women climbers worldwide. Despite having traveled around the world to climb, she says she enjoys coming back to West Virginia to guide and share her passion with other people.
“I am reminded every day what it was like to discover climbing for the first time,” Arenz says. “I see the psych in the people I teach and it makes me thankful I can help others reach their climbing goals.”

Fly fishing instructor: Reba Brinkman (Hunter Banks, Asheville, N.C.)

Reba Brinkman’s love affair with the river is tangible to the students she teaches every year. She’s been fly-fishing since 2001 and says when she first felt the flyrod in her hands all those years ago, she never wanted to go back.
“Fly fishing allows you to submerse yourself in a moment,” Reba says. “Being a part of the surroundings and actively trying to emulate nature brings total focus and serenity.”
Reba helps newcomers to fly-fishing learn everything from how to read a river to knot tying, fly selection, and even trout habits. She says one of her favorite things about her job isn’t just the actual instructional sessions—it’s the things she learns from her students that keep her inspired.
“Every student is different and fly fishing allows oneself to develop their own connection and perspective.”

Male A.T. thru-hiker: Matt Kirk (N.C.)

Strong, tough, yet humble, one would never guess that Matt Kirk’s slender frame and quiet resolve were the key ingredients for a lean, mean, hiking machine. He’s the record holder for the fastest unsupported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in the summer of 2013. The trail, which normally takes hikers anywhere from five to six months, took Matt a mere 58 days and 40 minutes. What’s more, he chose to go southbound instead of taking the traditional approach and following Spring north.
“The softer we walk on this Earth, the closer we are to flying,” Matt says.
Matt is a true minimalist and completed his record setting hike with a homemade pack. He says that “travelling fast, light, and free” is primarily what he loves about hiking, and it’s clear that Matt truly has found a freedom in the woods not unlike the liberties of a bird in flight.

Female A.T. thru-hiker: Jennifer Pharr Davis (N.C.)

“I love my relationship with the A.T. because it has really met me at every phase of life,” says three-time thru-hiker and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis. “It allowed me to find out who I was as a 21-year-old in 2005, it allowed me to grow closer to my husband in 2008, and it challenged me as an athlete in 2011. Now it’s the best place to take my daughter and I’ll be happy when I’m older just going and sitting on a rock.”
At 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, Jennifer currently holds the record for the fastest supported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, a feat she accomplished in 2011. She’s hiked all over the world, from summiting Kilimanjaro to thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but she says the community, biodiversity, and accessibility of the A.T. make it her favorite trail in the world.

Outdoor legend / pioneer: Payson Kennedy (N.C.)

Over four decades ago, Payson Kennedy and his wife Aurelia decided to move from their comfortable home and jobs in Atlanta, Georgia, to the outskirts of Bryson City, N.C. Their reason? Adventure. When Horace Holden approached Payson about starting an outdoor recreational business on a piece of property he’d recently purchased (conveniently located on the banks of the Nantahala River), Payson jumped at the opportunity. The year was 1972 and that business was the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC).
“We took a total of about 1,200 people downriver,” Payson says. “People came off the river so exhilarated and so excited that I knew we’d be able to see this through the long run.”
Payson’s hunch was spot on. The NOC now takes over 100,000 people rafting on seven different rivers in the Southeast. The center offers more than just whitewater adventures too—from ziplines to mountain bikes, the NOC can provide a wraparound adventure vacation for everyone from families to young adults.
“I really believe in the concept of ‘flow’ and that’s what I’ve tried to emphasize in our activities here,” Payson says, “to have people have these experiences when they’re completely focused on the moment and perform beyond their normal ability. These are moments that can last a lifetime.”

Coach: Randy Ashley (N.C.)

Running is Randy Ashley’s life. From an early age, Randy always knew that he wanted to run. Inspired by and with the help of his high school coach Richard Westbrook, Randy decided to take his passion for running to the next level. Randy would go on to run competitively after high school, eventually landing himself a spot at the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1996 and 2000. He now trains runners of all ages and has helped his prospects achieve such feats as winning the USATF 50K National Trail Championship and qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. So what’s a competitive racing veteran with over two decades of experience have to say to up-and-coming athletes?
“Believe in yourself. Remember that training is simply the method to stronger racing. And always keep running in perspective. Failure is part of the process of growth. Running provides a freedom that not all have, so lighten up on yourself.”

Bike shop personality: Paul Hoover (Blue Ridge Cyclery, Va.)
What’s it take to be voted the “best bike shop personality” in the Blue Ridge? You guessed it—personality. If there’s one thing aside from Jedi-bike-fitting skills that Blue Ridge Cyclery’s Paul Hoover has, it’s personality. Friendly, helpful, and ever-so-patient, Hoover will get you hooked up at the shop, whether it takes five minutes or five hours.
“You meet some really enriching, creative, and fun folks working in the bike industry,” Hoover says. “No matter where I’ve been, I truly believe [central Virginia] is the most beautiful, interesting place in the world.”

Bike mechanic: Matty Smekowich (The Recyclery, N.C.)

Canadian-born Matty Smekowich loves bikes. From mountain biking in the early ‘90s to working as a bike messenger for seven years in Vancouver, Matty’s life runs on two wheels.
“Working as a bike messenger, I got a lot of bikes stolen, got hit a lot, so I learned how to build bikes through necessity just so I could go to work the next day,” Matty says.
Matty’s worked at a number of community bike shops across North America, so when he moved to the Asheville area 12 years ago, the first thing he did was get involved with The Recyclery, a volunteer-run bike shop that upcycles old bike parts.
“People can come to The Recyclery and learn how to maintain their bikes that they already own, they can build bikes from scratch, or some come down to buy bikes that we’ve already refurbished,” he says. “I think it’s great for folks to get the skills to maintain the things they use. It helps them feel a little more confident about life in the process.”

Sports physical therapist: Amira Ranney (Asheville, N.C.)

We all know how frustrating it is to be sitting on the sidelines recovering from an injury while your friends rip it up. That’s why it helps to have a physical therapist who knows her stuff. Amira Ranney certainly didn’t get #1 sports physical therapist for nothing. With over three decades of experience in physical therapy, Amira chose Asheville’s outdoor hub to open up her own practice so she could cater to her own love of the mountains as well as help others get back to the woods as soon as possible.
“I love working with people to help them keep and improve their mobility and strength and to play a part in keeping them doing what they want to do,” Amira says. “Our tag line is ‘we keep bodies in motion’ and that is what I love doing.”

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Blue Mountain Brewery
(Afton, Va.)
Supporting local is a hot ticket item these days, but Blue Mountain Brewery was supporting its local central Virginia farmers before supporting local was “in.” From their hand-crafted food to their quality brewed beer, picturesque mountain setting, and on-site hop farm, this place embodies everything that we love about the Blue Ridge.
Runners-up: Wicked Weed (Asheville, N.C.), Devils Backbone (Roseland, Va.), Highland Brewing Co. (Asheville, N.C.)

Pies and Pints (W.Va)
Who doesn’t love gourmet, handmade pizza and delicious craft beer, especially after a day of rafting on the New River Gorge or Gauley Rivers? Top off a hard day of play with a grape and gorgonzola pie or perhaps 16 inches of mozzarella caprese goodness. With locations in Charleston, Morgantown, and Fayetteville, W.Va., there’s no excuse to not grab a slice.
Runners-up: Clementine (Harrisonburg, Va.), Papas and Beer (Asheville, N.C.), Knife and Fork (Spruce Pine, N.C.), Continental Divide (Charlottesville, Va.)

Riverside pub
The Bywater (Asheville, N.C.)
This is not the uppity private country club your rich Uncle Dan used to go to. With 18 beers on tap, a high quality selection of liquor, a cozy indoor setting, and a large backyard adjacent to the French Broad River that has, among other items, a number of corn hole stations, The Bywater is the place to be when the weather’s nice and the livin’s good. Make a day of it by floating the section of the French Broad upstream of the pub in your inner tube, kayak, or SUP and take out right at the Bywater!
Runners-up: Legends Brewing Co. (Richmond, Va.), The Wedge (Asheville, N.C.), River’s End (Wesser, N.C.)

Coffee shop
Mudhouse (Charlottesville, Va.)
Owners Lynelle and John Lawrence love mud—both the kind you drink and the kind that splatters across your bike chain. Adventure seekers who lived in Alaska, the Lawrences settled in the Blue Ridge and opened Charlottesville’s Mudhouse Coffee Shop, which appeals to the mud lover in us all. Grab your eco-friendly coffee thermos, fill ‘er up, and post up shop in the cozy confines of the Mudhouse café. Free WiFi, edgy artwork on the walls, and delicious brews. What more could you want?
Runners-up: Shenandoah Joe’s (Charlottesville, Va.), Sweet Donkey (Roanoke, Va.), Land of a Thousand Hills (Roswell, Ga.)

Outdoor hangout
Miguels, Red River Gorge
(Slade, Ky.)
Trek all the way to the Red River Gorge only to have every one of your climbing buddies bail last minute? Never fear. One night at Miguels should get you squared away with a climbing crew in no time. A small, gourmet pizza shop located right in the heart of the Red, Miguels turns into a cultural melting pot in the fall. Nearly every weekend in October, this one-room pizza parlor becomes overcrowded with climbers from every walk of life, from amateur college kids to the world’s most elite route setters like Daniel Woods and Sasha DiGiulian. But Miguels also does more than act as a pizza shop—with a selection of climbing gear, cheap camping (we’re talking $2 a night), free WiFi, and an endless amount of climbing beta from the pizza shop employees, it’s no wonder this place has an international reputation for being one of the coolest outdoor hangouts ever.
Runners-up: The Hub (Brevard, N.C.), Cathedral Café (Fayetteville, W.Va.)

Sirianni’s (Davis, W.Va.)
There’s no better finish to a day on the slopes than a pie from Sirianni’s Pizza Café. Founded in the late 80s, this authentic Italian restaurant has been serving up unique, handcrafted pizzas for over 20 years. If you can’t decide what to order, popular pies include The Wedge, Triple X, and the Artery Clogger. Get you some, but bring cash.
Runners-up: Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie (Charlottesville, Va.), Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company (Asheville, N.C.), Machiavelli’s (Bristol, Tenn.Va.)

Citizen Burger Bar
(Charlottesville, Va.)
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a good burger. That’s what you’ll find at Citizen Burger Bar in downtown Charlottesville. This burger joint boasts a menu designed around locally sourced products and takes pride in serving burgers (and yes, even vegan burgers, too) that do not contain hormones. Build your own or let the chefs do their magic—either way, you’re bound to go home satisfied and slightly stuffed.
Runners-up: Farm Burger (Asheville, N.C.), Secret Sandwich Society (Fayetteville, W.Va.), Universal Joint (Asheville, N.C.)

South-of-the-border fare
Hellbenders (Davis, W.Va.)
Work up an appetite before you head to Hellbenders—you’re going to need it. Burritos here are no joke. Stuffed to the brim with tasty ingredients like cilantro lime rice, olive tapenade, and homemade bleu cheese dressing (not all together, unless you want it that way), Hellbender burritos weigh at least as much as their namesake (~3-4lbs). Need a suggestion? Go with the Goofy Foot.
Runners-up: Neo Burrito (Asheville, N.C.), Mamacitas (Asheville, N.C.), Loco Burro (Gatlinburg, Tenn.), Mono Loco (Charlottesville, Va.)

12 Bones (Asheville, N.C.)
Two barbecue spots tied for this year’s crown. Combine traditional-style BBQ with contemporary flavors (like blueberry-chipotle), reasonable prices, insanely long lines, but an all-around homey atmosphere and you’ve got yourself 12 Bones. This place is so good, in fact, that Mr. Obama himself eats here every time he’s in town. The White House seal of approval—what more could you ask for?

Green River Barbecue
(Saluda, N.C.)
This is about as authentic of a southern BBQ experience as you can get. We recommend the Saluda Stuffer, a ½ loaf of homemade Italian bread hollowed out and stuffed with the famous Green River pork BBQ and a side of slaw. Don’t forget to start off with a stack of fried green tomatoes to complete the southern experience. Your arteries can worry about processing that later.
Runners-up: Due South (Christiansburg, Va.), Blues Barbecue (Roanoke. Va.), Moonlite BBQ Inn (Owensboro, Ky.)

Sugar Fix
The Hop (Asheville, N.C.)
Blueberry kale? Açai pomegranate? The guys at The Hop have literally thought of every possible ice cream flavor you can imagine. Since 1978, this ice cream shop has gone above and beyond the call of duty, making everything from standard dairy ice cream to vegan, sugar free, gluten free, local goat milk, and sorbet-style ice cream variations. Being bad never tasted so good.
Runners-up: Klines Dairy Bar (Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, Va.), Dolly’s Dairy Bar (Pisgah Forest, N.C.), Pop’s (Roanoke, Va.), Southern Churn (Bristol, Tenn. / Va.)

Blue Ridge brew
Devils Backbone Vienna Lager (Roseland, Va.)
In 2012, Devils Backbone won a gold for the Vienna Lager in the World Beer Cup, and it’s since become one of the brewery’s most popular beers. A chestnut colored lager with subtle notes of caramel-malty-toasty-goodness, this lager is as subtly sweet as the mountains that surround its birthplace. Located in the heart of central Virginia in Nelson County, the Devils Backbone Outpost is where all of the magic happens. Take a tour, try a taste, and while you’re at it, buy a growler and break it in with the Vienna Lager.
Runners-up: Blue Mountain Full Nelson (Afton, Va.), Parkway Gent Bent IPA (Salem, Va.), Catawba Firewater IPA (Morganton, N.C.), Starr Hill Jomo (Crozet, Va.)


Road running race
Blue Ridge Relay (Va./N.C.)
Team up and crank out this burly 208-mile relay race, one of the longest running relay races in the United States. With your team of 6-12 people, you’ll begin at Grayson Highlands State Park at the base of Mount Rogers, the tallest peak in Virginia. From there you’ll wind along scenic backcountry roads and experience some of the most iconic spots in the region like Grandfather Mountain, the New River, and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the East, until you arrive at the finish line in Asheville, N.C.
Runners-up: Smoky Mountain Relay (N.C.), Hogpen Hill Climb 18K (Helen, Ga.)

Trail Running race
Mount Mitchell 40M Challenge (Black Mountain, N.C.)
As if gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation to the East’s highest peak in the first 20 miles of this race wasn’t demanding enough, try doing that in the dead of winter and starting out at the crack of dawn. The Mount Mitchell Challenge isn’t just a challenge—it’s a test of character, endurance, and strength, the ultimate sufferfest for trail runners yet one that, once under your belt, will make any other trail race seem like a walk in the park.
Runners-up: Stump Jump 50K (Chattanooga, Tenn.), Mountain Masochist 50 Miler (Lynchburg, Va.)

Blue Ridge Marathon
(Roanoke, Va.)
For a race that was started just four years ago in 2010, this marathon has already gained a nationwide reputation for being “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” and with good reason—over the course of 26.2 miles, you’ll tackle 7,430 feet of elevation change. But don’t worry—there are plenty of stunning Blue Ridge vistas along the way to help keep your mind off the screaming pain in your knees.
Runners-up: Shamrock Marathon (Virginia Beach, Va.), Baltimore Marathon (Md.), Richmond Marathon (Va.), Charlottesville Marathon (Va.)

Road bike race
Blood Sweat and Gears
(Boone, N.C.)
Experience the heart of North Carolina’s high country on this annual road bike race. Choose the 50-mile route or put the pedal to the metal and tackle the 100-mile century loop. The century ride is not for the faint of heart, and it certainly does the race’s name justice—with a cumulative climbing elevation of roughly 8,800 feet, you’re going to need to dig deep to get over some of these mountains. The climb up to the gap at Snake Mountain is particularly grueling, reaching an 18-20 percent grade near the top.
Runners-up: Gran Fondo (Alpine Loop, Va./W.Va.), Assault on Mount Mitchell (S.C./N.C.), Six Gap Century (Ga.), Wintergreen Ascent (Va.)

Mountain bike event
Pisgah Stage Race (N.C.)
For seven years, the Pisgah Stage Race has attracted some of the country’s premier mountain bikers to the hills of western North Carolina for this five-day, fully supported endurance mountain bike event. During those five days, cyclists will get the sampler platter of Pisgah area trails and will cover 140 miles and gain over 20,000 feet of elevation. Riders will have the option to race individually or as a two-person team. Expect to get pushed to your limits here—the trails in Pisgah National Forest are notoriously rooty, rocky, and oftentimes muddy thanks to the temperate rainforest-like rainfall the area receives, especially during the spring (which, conveniently, is when this race takes place). Saddle up and give it all you got. This is an event you won’t want to miss.
Runners-up: Iron Mountain 100K (Damascus, Va.), Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic (State College, Penn.), Shenandoah 100 (Stokesville, Va.)

Paddling event
Gauley Fest (Summersville, W.Va.)
Every year, paddlers from across the country come to West Virginia for one weekend in September to celebrate one of the world’s best whitewater rivers—the Gauley River. Monster waves define both the lower class III-IV and the upper class IV-V sections of the river, ensuring a rowdy good time for the moderate and experienced paddler alike. After a day on the water, head to the festival for live music and ridiculously good deals on gear. All proceeds from the event help support the non-profit American Whitewater, an organization operated by boaters for boaters.
Runners-up: Green Race (N.C.), Lord of the Fork (Elkhorn City, Ky.), French Broad River Fest (N.C.), SUP New River Race (W.Va.)

Climbing event
Triple Crown Bouldering Series
Originally designed as a three-part event, the Triple Crown Bouldering Series has since added a fourth location to this increasingly popular competition. From Hound Ears in North Carolina, to Stone Fort in Tennessee, Horse Pens 40 in Alabama, and now Rumbling Bald in North Carolina, this multi-stage competition takes place at the best bouldering areas in the Southeast. Spread out over the course of two months between October and early December, this series of events not only helps promote the sport of bouldering, it unites regional climbers and helps raise money for the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition and The Carolina Climbers’ Coalition, two of the most important climbing organizations in the region.
Runner-up: AAC Craggin Classic (Fayetteville, W.Va.)

Ironman Chattanooga (Tenn.)
Two tris tied for the top spot. Once deemed as one of the dirtiest cities in America, Chattanooga has made a turn for the better. With multiple greenways, parks, and the Tennessee River flowing right through the heart of downtown, the “Scenic City” makes a great location for an Ironman course. Start off with a point-to-point 2.4-mile swim through town before biking two 56-mile loops that take competitors on the outskirts of town through some breathtaking Tennessee countryside. They’ll finish out the Ironman with a marathon course that weaves through downtown, the South Side, Riverview, and the North Shore. It’s the ultimate tour de ‘Nooga.

SavageMan Triathlon (Md.)
Situated in the rugged Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland near Deep Creek Lake, this triathlon has it all—challenge, beauty, and the ability to bring out the savage in us all. Swim 1.2 miles in Deep Creek Lake before hopping on your bike and tackling some of the steepest road bike climbs in the Mid-Atlantic, including the Killer Miller, a 23-mile stretch of road that climbs an average gradient of 13 percent. Cap off the race with a 13.1-mile run through Deep Creek State Park and you just might find yourself questioning whether or not you’re savage enough to finish.
Runners-up: Off the Rails Tri (Roanoke, Va.), Outdoorsman Triathlon (Bryson City, N.C.), Allegheny Highlands Tri (Clifton Forge, Va.)

Adventure race
Silverback (Green River Games, N.C.)
This event represents the magnum opus of multi-sport racing in the region, incorporating three classic adventures into one adrenaline-packed day. Start off by firing up eight miles of the Green River, the class V Narrows section included. Next, ditch the boat and pick up a bike. You’ll be navigating eight miles of technical cross-country mountain bike trails in the Green River Game Lands before hopping off the bike and running those same eight miles. Try it solo or team up with a buddy to conquer one of the hardest adventure races in the Southeast.
Runners-up: REV3 Shenandoah Epic Adventure Race (Va.), Odyssey Blue Ridge Bear (Va.)

Mud run/obstacle course race
Mad Anthony Mud Run (Va.)
History, obstacles, and mud all converge together in this classic event, located in Virginia’s Coyner Springs Park. From swampy terrain to 6-foot walls, balance beams, tire pits, and hay bale climbs, you never know what hurdle you’ll have to overcome next in this adrenaline-pumping race.
Runners-up: Goodwill Mud Run ( / Greenville, S.C.), Spartan Race (various locations), Mud on the Mountain (Seven Springs, Penn.)

Music Festival
Bristol Rhythm and Roots
(Bristol, Tenn./Va.)
Nashville ain’t got nothin’ on the border town of Bristol, the birthplace of country music. The annual Rhythm and Roots festival draws some of the biggest names in the roots country industry like Emmylou Harris, Willie Watson, and Billy Joe Shaver. Even the dozens of up-and-coming bands that perform on smaller stages are sure to be spectacular and you’d be wise to take notes—some of today’s biggest names got their start right here on State Street.
Runners-up: Pink Moon (W.Va.), Floyd Fest (Va.), The Festy (Va.)


Sports Festival
Trail Days (Damascus, Va.)
Situated in the mountains of southwestern Virginia in Damascus, aka Trail Town, U.S.A., Trail Days embodies the spirit and soul of the Appalachian Trail thru-hiking community. Trail legends like Jennifer Pharr Davis, Warren Doyle, and “Skywalker” can usually be found among the crowds, offering advice and words of encouragement to the year’s current thru-hikers. From the annual hiker parade to the hiker talent show, this festival celebrates all-things-hiking.
Runners-up: GO Fest (Roanoke, Va.), Bridge Day, (Fayetteville, W.Va.), Mountain Sports Festival (Asheville, N.C.), Dominion Riverrock (Richmond, Va.)

Wildest outdoor event
Gauley Fest (Summersville, W.Va.)
Wet t-shirt contests, keg stands, live music, raft guides, and kayakers. Need we say more?
Runners-up: Bonnaroo (Tenn.), Floyd Fest (Va.), Mo’Town Throwdown (W.Va)

Toughest race or event
Barkley Ultramarathon (Tenn.)
If you can figure out how to sign up for this race, don’t be surprised if you fail. With roughly 60,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain (that’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice), over 100 miles of bushwhacking through thorns, a printed set of directions, no official trail, and a 60-hour cutoff, it’s no surprise that only 14 runners have finished this mad dash since the race was started in 1986.
Runners-up: Shenandoah Mountain 100 Bike Race (Va.), Massanutten Hoo-Ha! Bike Race (Va.)

Quirkiest event
Road Kill Cook Off
(Marlinton, W.Va.)
What can you fry up with a squished squirrel or a flattened opossum? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Head to downtown Marlinton during their Autumn Harvest Festival and see what these mountain chefs can whip up with the meat you might find under your tire.
Runners-up: Wooly Worm Festival (Banner Elk, N.C.), Zombie Float / Zombie Walk (Asheville, N.C.)

Costumed event
Bike of the Irish—Asheville on Bikes (N.C.)
The concept is simple. Wear green, drink beer, ride bikes. Not necessarily in that order…or maybe.
Runners-up: Superhero 5K (Roanoke, Va. and Asheville, N.C.), Zombie Run (Lewisburg, W.Va.)

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