FOOD & DRINK
Blue Mountain Brewery
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.)
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.)
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.)
Miguels, Red River Gorge
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
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.)
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
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.)
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
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
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.)
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.)
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.)
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 (goodwillmudrun.org / Greenville, S.C.), Spartan Race (various locations), Mud on the Mountain (Seven Springs, Penn.)
Bristol Rhythm and Roots
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.)
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.)
Road Kill Cook Off
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.)
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.)