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Best of the Blue Ridge 2023

Women in blue jacket and orange hat waves as she rides her bike over a wooden bridge with two bikers behind her.

Cover photo: The “Creeper Keepers” of the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy watch over this 34.3-mile path. Photo by Jesse Kokotek

Our Annual Readers’ Choice Awards

Our region is full of amazing adventures—all made possible by the South’s challenging trails, stunning scenery, fun events, and local businesses that shape outdoor culture. In our annual Best of the Blue Ridge Awards, we once again asked you to cast your votes for your favorite places, races, and wide-open spaces in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Read on to learn more about this year’s favorites. 


Best Public Lands (National Park/Forest) 

Blue Ridge Parkway – NC/VA

Of all the public land gems in the Blue Ridge, maybe the best is the road that links so many of those gems together. As anyone who lives near it knows, a drive on the Parkway is its own must-go destination. But the 469-mile byway that connects two of the southeast’s most popular National Parks has plenty of mountain peaks, waterfalls, and historic landmarks along the way that make a quick venture from the car worthwhile. What’s best is that much of that scenic beauty lies just feet from the road—making the BRP one of the most accessible routes to pristine nature in the country. – C.R.

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway: a paved road turns on a lush green mountain side on a blue sky, sunny day with one tall tree in the center of the photo growing off the mountain.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Photo by Chris Ritter

Runners Up 

Blackwater Falls State Park – Tucker County, W.Va.

Fairy Stone State Park – Stuart, Va.

Best Hiking Trail 

McAfee Knob – Virginia

Search for the most photogenic hikes along the Appalachian Trail and you’ll find McAfee Knob. McAfee’s spectacular summit ledge sits about 2,000 feet above the Catawba Valley floor, and makes photos of this hike a favorite for magazines, guidebooks, and limitless Instagram posts. McAfee is relatively accessible too—the 3.9-mile trail is well-maintained and gradually rises 1,747 feet to the summit. The easy access (and all those Instagram posts) have made this hike a popular one, so avoid the bustle by going on a weekday or by using the new parking lot near the Catawba Greenway trail. – C.R.

Runners Up

North Fork Mountain Trail – West Virginia

Art Loeb Trail – North Carolina

Best Biking Trail 

Virginia Creeper Trail – Virginia

Biking any 34-mile stretch in the highlands of southern Virginia is bound to be great, but it’ll be better if all those miles are downhill. That’s part of what’s made the Virginia Creeper Trail a classic for bikers of all skill levels nationwide—bikers are free to bike both ways, but most take advantage of one of several local outfitters that offer shuttles to the top of Whitetop Mountain. From there, riders can cruise 17 miles to Damascus, or the full 34 to Abingdon. Locals say that peak tourist season in the fall is starting earlier and ending later every year. To avoid crowds, plan a ride in the early summer and take advantage of numerous trailside swimming holes. – L.S.

Runners Up

Great Allegheny Passage – Maryland

Carvins Cove Natural Reserve trails – Virginia

Best Waterfall 

Cascades – Virginia

At 66 feet tall, Cascades Falls in Jefferson National Forest is an impressive torrent and the perfect place to spend a muggy summer afternoon. To access this Virginia waterfall, you’ll need to hike Cascades National Recreation Trail, a four-mile, out-and-back that flanks Little Stony Creek. Along the way, have a picnic on a moss-strewn rock or cast a line into native trout waters. Once you arrive at the falls, you can either admire the chute from afar or get up close and personal, taking a dip in the pool below. – L.S. 

Runners Up 

Blackwater Falls – West Virginia

Crabtree Falls – North Carolina

Best Swimming Hole 

Sliding Rock – North Carolina

Are you looking to cool off after peak-bagging in Pisgah National Forest? If so, look no further than Sliding Rock. Located a few miles outside of Brevard on U.S. Highway 276, Sliding Rock is a 60-foot cascade fueled by more than 11,000 gallons of water per minute. Think of it like Mother Nature’s slip and slide. Each summer, thousands of sunscreen-slathered visitors line up for their chance to descend this slippery granite chute. Though the wait can be lengthy, patient patrons are rewarded with uber-fast speeds and an ice-cold dunk in an eight-foot-deep pool. – L.S.

Runners Up

Saint Mary’s Wilderness – Virginia

Grassy Creek – Kentucky

Best Lake 

Lake Moomaw – Covington, Va.

Tucked into the Alleghany Highlands of western Virginia, Lake Moomaw is an angler’s paradise. According to biologists, this 2,530-acre reservoir offers “two-story” sport fishery. That means the man-made lake, which is fed by the Jackson River, is deep enough to support cold water species like trout as well as warm water species like bass, catfish, and crappie. But there’s much more to do at Lake Moomaw than cast a line. Visitors can also swim, boat, hike, and even camp. – L.S.

Runners Up

Philpott Lake – Henry County, Va.

Summersville Lake – Summersville, W.Va.

Best Whitewater 

New River – West Virginia

Despite its name, West Virginia’s New River is one of the continent’s oldest waterways. It’s one of the wildest too. Though the southern part of the river is rather tame, the northern section near Fayetteville dishes up raging rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V. Kayakers and rafters must also compete with massive boulders, powerful crosscurrents, tricky hydraulics, and an unrelenting sieve called the Meat Grinder. Accordingly, the New River is perfect for wild-eyed whitewater enthusiasts with a thirst for adrenaline. – L.S. 

Runners Up

Nantahala River – North Carolina

James River – Virginia

Five people in protective white water gear laugh and smile as they paddle through rushing white water in a yellow inflatable raft.
The New River in West Virginia offers a wild ride. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Tourism

Best Fishing Spot (Public or Private) 

Mossy Creek – Virginia

Snaking through fertile farmland in the Shenandoah Valley, Mossy Creek is one of Virginia’s most iconic fly fishing destinations. According to the state’s Department of Wildlife Resources, this limestone creek has regularly been stocked with fingerling brown trout since the 1970s. Thanks to a careful fishery management plan, there are now monsters lurking in Mossy Creek’s waters. But since no wading is allowed, it takes tons of technique to hook a big one. – L.S.

Runners Up

Davidson River – North Carolina

Catawba River – South Carolina

Best Climbing Crag 

Seneca Rocks – West Virginia

Located in Monongahela National Forest, Seneca Rocks is a white Tuscarora quartzite formation rising 900 feet from the valley floor. This massive crag is known for its multi-pitch trad climbs that range from beginner-friendly to downright spine-chilling. Since Seneca Rocks offers an alpine-like experience, it’s perfect for folks who want a taste of West Coast climbing without all the travel. – L.S.

Runners Up

Looking Glass – North Carolina

New River Gorge – West Virginia

Climber wearing protective gear including an orange helmet stands atop a narrow mountain peak.
Seneca Rocks is known for its multi-pitch trad climbs. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Tourism

Best Overlook 

Grandfather Mountain – North Carolina

The Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina isn’t for the faint of heart. Spanning an 80-foot chasm at 5,280 feet in elevation, this suspension bridge can make the bravest of people squirm. But if you can work up the chutzpah, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On a clear day, you can even glimpse the Charlotte skyline more than 80 miles away. Of course, there are plenty of other fantastic viewpoints on the mountain. Calloway Peak, for instance, offers stunning panoramas for those willing to hike 4.8 strenuous miles on an out-and-back excursion from the Swinging Bridge area. – L.S.

Runners Up

Dan Ingalls Overlook – Virginia 

Table Rock Mountain Overlook – North Carolina 

A overlook view from Grandfather Mountain that shows lush forest, rolling mountains, and a white bridge during sunset.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Charlotte from Grandfather Mountain. Photo courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Best Campground 

Douthat State Park – Virginia

Finding a good campground is easier said than done. Some are so noisy and packed you feel like you’re roughing it in a Walmart parking lot while others are eerily barren. Luckily, Whispering Pines Campground at Douthat State Park offers the best of both worlds. Situated near Clifton Forge, Va., Whispering Pines is clean and quiet with no shortage of luxurious amenities. If you prefer glamping, stay in a historic cabin. If you’d rather reconvene with nature, bring your RV or pitch a tent. Either way, you’ll have the chance to enjoy Douthat Lake—a 50-acre reservoir regularly stocked with trout—and hike more than 40 miles of nearby trails. – L.S.

Runners Up

Rocky Gap State Park – Flintstone, Md. 

Devils Backbone Camp – Roseland, Va.

Best Kid-Friendly Adventure Spot 

ACE Adventure Resort – Oak Hill, W.Va.

Sure, you could take your kids on another camping trip this year and spend the whole time listening to them whine about being bored. Or, you could take them to ACE Adventure Resort. Located near the New River Gorge in West Virginia, ACE Adventure Resort takes the hassle out of keeping your whippersnappers entertained. After settling into your luxe rental cabin, you and your kiddos can spend the weekend ziplining, rappelling, mountain biking, riding ATVs, whitewater rafting, and even playing paintball. Honestly, there’s so much to do that it can be hard to choose, but ACE Adventure Resort offers pre-planned itineraries designed for young adventurers. – L.S.

Runners Up

Mountain Lake Lodge – Pembroke, Va.

Nantahala Outdoor Center Zip Line Adventure Park – Bryson City, N.C.

Best Pet-Friendly Adventure 

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.

Massanutten recently made some upgrades for pet owners, and our readers have taken notice. Last year the resort added new dog-friendly lodging options at three areas around the sprawling 6,000-acre resort in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The ‘Nut allows guests to bring two dogs, 70 pounds or under, per reservation, and in addition to giving furry friends plenty of space to roam, the resort also provides a dog bed, food, and water bowls. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Peaks of Otter Lodge – Bedford County, Va.

Chetola Resort – Blowing Rock, N.C.

Best ADA Outdoor Experience 

New River Trail State Park – Virginia

Few trails in the Blue Ridge are as long and consistently accessible to folks of all abilities than the New River Trail. Every one of the trail’s 57 miles are ADA accessible, with a mix of gradually graded wide dirt paths and wooden bridges. In addition to accessible restrooms and information facilities along the trail, the Virginia State Park Service provides a photo showcase so those unable to climb nearly 75 feet of stairs can still experience the park’s 200-year-old ammunition tower. – C.R.

Runners Up

C&O Canal National Historical Park – Maryland

The Park at Flat Rock – North Carolina 

Best Beer/Wine/Spirits Trail 

Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail – Virginia

Eighteen breweries can be found throughout the pastoral scenery of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and they’re all connected via the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. For craft beer lovers, options range from the sprawling outdoor property of Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery in Natural Bridge to the cool downtown taproom of Pale Fire Brewing Co. in Harrisonburg. All breweries on the trail ( are located within an hour’s drive from one other. – J.F.

Runners Up

Nelson 151 – Virginia

Asheville Ale Trail – North Carolina

Best Place for Outdoor Singles to Live 

Charlottesville, Va.

With a vibrant arts scene, a thriving research institute, and a growing number of craft breweries and locally unique eateries, Charlottesville checks many of the typical boxes that make any mid-size college town a great place for a solo traveler to move. Few are as intrinsically outdoorsy as Cville, though—a pedestrian-only mall full of bars, restaurants, and shops dominates the city’s downtown, to say nothing of Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside city limits. – C.R. 

Runners Up

Boone, N.C.

Harrisonburg, Va.

Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family 

Roanoke, Va. 

Many cities near the Blue Ridge host a wide variety of outdoor opportunities. But Roanoke in particular has the means to welcome the whole family to those opportunities. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the city’s famous Greenway, and the iconic Roanoke Star are staples for getting the family outside for the first time. Additionally, Roanoke has well-established facilities for outdoor sports like rock climbing and disc golf, and the town also offers classes for more adventurous endeavors like caving. With so many opportunities to start kids off right outside, it’s no wonder Roanoke has won our Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family distinction for the 4th year in a row. – C.R.

Runners Up

Brevard, N.C.

Gaston County, N.C.


Best Ski Resort 

Snowshoe Mountain Resort – Snowshoe, W.Va.

Southern skiers flock to Snowshoe because it offers a big West Coast-style resort experience in the high elevations of West Virginia. The mountain features 60-plus trails and five terrain parks, with highlights including the epic Cupp Run, which was designed by Olympian Jean-Claude Killy. And all that amazing terrain gets plenty of powder, as lake effect storms help bring more than 150 inches of snow to the resort area each year. After a day on the slopes, it’s fun to hang out in the Mountaintop Village, grabbing a bite or a drink at longtime staples like Foxfire Grill or the Junction Ale House. – J.F.

Runners Up

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.
Wintergreen Resort – Nellysford, Va.

Best Raft Guide Company 

Twin River Outfitters – Buchanan, Va.

If you want to explore the upper section of the James River but are new to paddling, check out Twin River Outfitters. Stationed about 20 miles north of Roanoke, this small business has been offering paddling services since 1978. Nowadays, they provide Virginia locals and visitors with everything from hour-long tubing trips to five-day, expedition-style rafting adventures. The company can also hook you up with glamping accommodations right on the river. – L.S.

Runners Up

Nantahala Outdoor Center


Best Bike Park 

Massanutten Resort – Virginia 

In the colder months, Massanutten Resort in Virginia is a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts. But when temperatures warm up, the mountain bikers roll in. At Massanutten, riders can either stick to the downhill bike park, which is fun, flowy, and screamingly fast. Or they can saunter over to Massanutten’s Western Slope. Designed for intermediate to advanced riders, this trail system dishes up delicious, cross-country gnar. Even better, you can lengthen your adventure by connecting to trails in the nearby George Washington National Forest. – L.S.

Runners Up

Snowshoe Mountain Resort – Snowshoe, W.Va.

Riveter – Fletcher, N.C. 

Mountain biker in full protective gear including a full face helmet and goggles rides down steep boulders in a forest.
Whether you’re looking for flowy descents or chunky gnar, Massanutten Resort delivers. Photo courtesy of Massanutten Resort

Best Zipline 

Adventures on the Gorge – Lansing, W.Va.

The ziplines at Adventures on the Gorge are fast. Like, really freaking fast. Visitors who opt for the Gravity Ziplines tour will fly above West Virginia hills and hollers at 65 miles per hour. Of course, if you’d rather slow down and savor the experience, the outdoor outfitter also offers a TreeTops Canopy Tour with swinging bridges, a 35-foot rappel, and plenty of opportunities to learn about local flora. – L.S.

Runners Up

Buffalo Mountain Ziplines – Floyd, Va.

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.

Best Fly Fishing Shop 

South River Fly Shop – Waynesboro, Va.

From the outside, South River Fly Shop is unassuming. Tucked into a small brick building in downtown Waynesboro, this Virginia outfitter doesn’t look like much. But once you step inside, you’ll realize why local anglers come here year after year. Stocked with poppers, flies, streamers, and everything in between, this full-service shop carries all the gear you need to land a massive trout. Even better, the store provides guided trips on the South, Jackson, Shenandoah, and James rivers. – L.S.

Runners Up

Due South Outfitters – Boone, N.C.

Fly Fishing the Smokies – Bryson City, N.C.

Best Climbing Guide Company 

Blue Ridge Mountain Guides – Charlottesville, Va.

With instructors based in a wide range of locales, Blue Ridge Mountain Guides’ programming spans from beginner rock climbing trips in Shenandoah National Park to backcountry skiing and avalanche safety in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. BRMG does well to make the most of the Southeast, though—check out BRMG instruction on technical multi-pitch ascents in West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks or, if weather permits, highly coveted Virginia ice climbing near sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. – C.R.

Runners Up

New River Mountain Guides – Fayetteville, W.Va.

Fox Mountain Guides – Brevard, N.C.

Best Gym 

River Rock Climbing – Roanoke, Va.

A stalwart of the southwest Virginia climbing scene, there’s a reason Roanoke’s River Rock has won our Best Gym distinction for the second year in a row. For a relatively small gym, River Rock boasts a robust mix of climbs. Easy boulders and mellow auto-belay routes will engage first time climbers, while stiffly rated, outdoor-inspired boulder problems and roped routes will get veteran gym rats ready for outside. All-level yoga classes and Slackline Sundays highlight River Rock’s non-climbing offerings, making the gym a hub for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Maybe its best feature—day passes at River Rock start at just $13, making it one of the most affordable gyms in the Southeast. – C.R.

Runners Up

Rocky Top Climbing – Charlottesville, Va.

McHone Performance Training – Asheville, N.C. 

A climber scales a colorful rock wall in a indoor climbing gym.
A climber scales the wall at River Rock. Photo by Chris Ritter

Best Running Shop

Ragged Mountain Running & Walking Shop – Charlottesville, Va.

Ragged Mountain is a pillar of the thriving running community in Charlottesville, Va. A four-decade family business located across from the University of Virginia, the shop owners not only put runners (and walkers) in the right shoes, they also organize races, lead training programs, and provide resources on the best spots to pile on the miles in central Virginia. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Outdoor 76 – Franklin, N.C.

Runabout Sports – Roanoke and Blacksburg, Va. 

Best Bike Shop 

Blue Ridge Cyclery – Charlottesville and Warrenton, Va.

Shawn Tevendale, a mainstay in the central Virginia biking scene, opened Blue Ridge Cyclery back in 2010 and now the popular local shop has three locations in the area ( two in Charlottesville and one in Warrenton). In addition to stocking top rides from Trek and Surly, Tevendale and his crew lead regular group rides for all levels of cyclists and mountain bikers. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Cardinal Bicycle – Roanoke, Va.

Adventure Damascus and Sundog Outfitter – Damascus, Va. 

Best Outdoor Store 

Great Outdoor Provision Co. – North Carolina and Virginia

In a world filled with big box and online options, it’s refreshing to see an independent outdoor retailer like Great Outdoor Provision Co. thriving. Opened in 1972, the outfitter started in a 120-square-foot space in the back of a bike shop in Carrboro, N.C., and they’ve since expanded to nine locations across Virginia and North Carolina. And they’re still growing: a new flagship store is set to open in Charlottesville, Va., this year. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Marion Outdoors – Marion, Va.

Second Gear – Asheville, N.C. 

Best Lodging 

The Merry Inn – Marion, Va. 

The Merry Inn isn’t your typical A.T. hostel. Located in the upstairs of a gear shop in quaint downtown Marion, it’s a tailor-made hub for a growing outdoor community. Seeing that many thru-hikers were spending nights just outside of town, Amanda and Andrew Livingston decided to open up a hostel above their shop downtown. Besides playing host to 8 bunks and 2 private rooms available to tired adventurers, the Inn offers guided backpacking trips and day hikes for locals and visitors alike. Be sure to tune into the Inn’s Instagram (@marion_outdoors) as well, where Andrew, a former actor at nearby Abingdon’s Barter Theater, stars in spunky and informative videos sharing local outdoor wisdom. – C.R.

Runners Up

Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins – Asheville, N.C.

The Schoolhouse Hotel – White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Best Wellness Center

Primland Resort Spa – Meadows of Dan, Va. 

For those who like a few creature comforts with their trips into nature, Primland Resort in Virginia’s Meadows of Dan offers several wellness-focused packages to accommodate the well-pampered traveler. In addition to its full suite of body therapy and skin care options, Primland incorporates its remote mountain location into its wellness programs. Yoga classes take place in front of sweeping vistas, and, after days of hiking, guests can spend the night in tree house suites overlooking the Dan River Gorge. – C.R.

Runners Up

Mountainside Holistic Clinic – Floyd, Va.

Just Breathe Yoga & Bodywork – Martinsville, Va.

Best Outdoor Club

Marion Outdoors Group Hikes – Marion, Va.

Situated near the Appalachian Trail, Marion Outdoors is an independent outfitter where thru-hikers can purchase last-minute gear and catch some shuteye in the hostel upstairs. But the shop also engages the local community with its calendar of guided day hikes. Led by store manager Stacy “GoAT” York, the outfitter’s hiking group, recently renamed Hiking with Friends, explores places like Molly’s Knob in Hungry Mother State Park and Gentry Creek Falls in Cherokee National Forest. In the past, the store has even hosted midnight hikes. – L.S.

Runners Up

Appalachian Trail Conservancy – Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Camp Mont Shenandoah – Millboro, Va.

Best Environmental Organization 

Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy – Abingdon, Va.

If you’re none the wiser, a “Creeper Keeper” might sound like a macabre monster. However, the moniker actually refers to the dedicated men and women of the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy. These volunteers are responsible for maintaining the 34.3-mile rail trail that stretches from Abington, Va., into the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Conservation efforts range from picking up trash to spiffing up benches. Many members are also involved in behind-the-scenes work like fundraising and public relations. No matter the task, the Creeper Keepers work hard to ensure all visitors enjoy their time on the trail. – L.S.

Runners Up

James River Association – Richmond, Va.

Keep Virginia Cozy – Richmond, Va.

Best Local Gear Brand 

Eagles Nest Outfitters – Asheville, N.C.

In the summer of 1999, brothers Peter and Paul Pinholster piled into a rickety van and took to the road with one goal in mind: to revolutionize the way people relax outdoors. They started in their home state of Florida, selling ultra-light and conveniently transportable hammocks at festivals. Soon enough, the idea took off. Today, Eagles Nest Outfitters—better known as ENO—is a household brand rooted in Asheville, N.C. Besides hammocks, ENO sells blankets, rain tarps, chairs, bags, packs, and lots of other quality gear that’ll make your next camping trip super comfy. – L.S.

Runners Up

Farm to Feet – Mount Airy, N.C.

SylvanSport – Brevard, N.C.

Four adults sit next to a campfire. Two of the four adults are sharing a ENO hammock that is hung between two trees.
ENO single-handedly changed how we relax outdoors. Photo courtesy of Eagles Nest Outfitters

Food & Drink

Best Drink in the Blue Ridge 

Get Bent IPA – Parkway Brewing Co. – Salem, Va.

Based in Salem, Va., Parkway has become a mainstay in the Roanoke Valley beer scene since opening a decade ago. The brewery’s well-distributed and perhaps best-known beer is this well-balanced IPA that hits all the right notes for those who love the style’s classic West Coast roots. It’s citrusy and piney with some bitter hop character and a malty backbone that ties it all together—a perfect refresher after spins on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Carvins Cove. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Peg Hatcher’s Straight Whiskey – Twin Creeks Distillery – Rocky Mount, Va. 

Bluegrass Kombucha – Blue Ridge Bucha – Waynesboro, Va.

Best Brewery 

Blue Mountain Brewery – Afton, Va. 

Blue Mountain helped put craft beer on the map in central Virginia, opening its scenic outpost in rural Nelson County back in 2007. A decade and a half later, the brewery is still thriving, its sprawling outdoor patio often packed with folks enjoying scenic mountain views and a lengthy list of tasty brews. Must-tries include Full Nelson Pale Ale, a long-running regional staple that’s perfect for hop heads, and Dark Hollow, a beast of an imperial stout that’s aged in bourbon barrels. – J.F.

Runners Up

Parkway Brewing Company – Salem, Va.

Appalachian Mountain Brewery – Boone, N.C. 

Best Winery 

Chateau Morrisette – Floyd, Va.

This year marks 45 years in business for Chateau Morrisette, one of Virginia’s oldest wineries, which continues to source many of its grapes from the state itself. While the pandemic may have closed the winery’s famed restaurant (though the winery’s website hints at a reopening in the works), Chateau Morrisette itself remains open and hosts events like concerts on the ground’s scenic courtyard, showcasing Floyd’s vibrant musical community. – C.R.

Runners Up

Veritas Winery – Afton, Va.

Stanburn Winery – Stuart, Va. 

Best Distillery 

Twin Creek Distillery – Rocky Mount, Va.

Homemade spirits are a family business at Twin Creek Distillery. Owner Chris Prillaman is a descendent of Blue Ridge bootleggers who made moonshine in the Virginia mountains, and now his daughter is carrying the torch forward, making legal spirits at Twin Creeks’ outpost in Rocky Mount, Va. Favorites include the 1st Sugar Moonshine, Blackberry Brandy, and Peg Hatcher’s Straight Whiskey. – J.F. 

Runners Up

5 Mile Mountain Distillery – Floyd, Va.

Bootleggers Distillery – Hartford, Tenn. 

Best Cidery

Potter’s Craft Cider – Charlottesville, Va.

With an impressive cider fleet led by their Farmhouse Dry and Grapefruit Hibiscus, Potter’s has garnered enough popularity to expand their reach to 39 states. There’ll be plenty to enjoy close to home too—late last summer, Potter’s acquired a new location in the Woolen Mills neighborhood in Charlottesville, where they hope to open a new tasting room in addition to their incredibly scenic location just south of town. – C.R. 

Runners Up

Hawk Knob Cidery – Lewisburg, W.Va.

Ciders from Mars – Staunton, Va. 

Best Restaurant 

Floyd Country Store – Floyd, Va.

Whether you’re right in town or live miles away, the Floyd Country Store is worth the trip to Downtown Floyd for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s for the sweets like the carrot cake or quick bread, or classic meals like their hearty Brunswick stew and cornbread— in the quaint store and cafe, you’ll hear locals chatting about all their usual favorites. It’s surprising that food is almost a secondary reason to come here, though. At this country store, music takes center stage. The tables get cleared out every Friday night for a weekly jamboree, and the store boasts a full calendar of events that showcase Floyd’s rich local music scene. – C.R.

Runners Up

The French Goat – Lewisburg, W.Va.

River and Rail Restaurant – Roanoke, Va.

Photo of a white building with green awnings, big windows, and a sign in red writing that says "The Floyd Country Store"
The Floyd Country Store. Photo by Chris Ritter

Best Dish 

Pizza at Pies and Pints – Multiple locations

If you’re tired of boring pizza, check out Pies and Pints. With locations across the South, this regional chain is known for its cold beer and bizarre flavor combinations. The street corn pizza, for instance, features seasoned corn, jalapenos, parmesan, chipotle crema, and a generous dusting of Tajín. Then there’s the Thai pie with shrimp, toasted coconut, and curry sauce. There’s even a pizza with grapes and gorgonzola. Basically, if you can dream it, they can make it into a pizza. – L.S. 

Runners Up

Fried Green Tomatoes – Tupelo Honey Café – Asheville, N.C.

Greg Brady Burger – Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger – Multiple Locations 

Best Coffee Shop

Basecamp Coffee Co. – Cumberland, Md.

Fuel up for an adventure with a strong cup of Joe from Basecamp Coffee Company. Founded in 2015 by Hayden Ort-Ulm, this Maryland micro-roastery offers a robust lineup of jolting blends. Locals love “The Original,” a super drinkable medium roast with sweet notes of fruit. If you’re looking for something a smidge stronger, opt for an espresso drink kissed with housemade syrup. Either way, you’ll have tons of energy to explore nearby Wills Mountain State Park. – L.S.

Runners Up

Sweet Donkey Coffee House – Roanoke, Va.

Red Rooster Coffee – Floyd, Va.

Bearded man wearing a "basecamp coffee" shirt pours steamed milk into a coffee cup.
Need a caffeine fix? Basecamp Coffee Company has got you covered. Photo courtesy of Basecamp Coffee Company

Best Farmers Market 

Harrisonburg Farmers Market – Harrisonburg, Va.

While some produce markets close in winter months, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market supplies local folks and travelers alike with fresh fruit and vegetables year-round. Benefitting from a strong agricultural community in Rockingham County, the market boasts vendors who needn’t travel far to sell their goods, meaning produce stays fresh and on the cheaper end. Be on the lookout for local pottery, honey, and lavender products from one of several nearby lavender farms. – C.R.

Runners Up

Stuart Farmers Market – Stuart, Va.

North Asheville Tailgate Market – Asheville, N.C.

Events & Races

Best Music Festival 

FloydFest – Floyd, Va.

Hosted each summer in southwestern Virginia, this five-day music festival features a vibrant lineup of nearly 100 artists. Slated for July 26 to 30, this year’s event will see heavy hitters like The Black Crowes and Goose alongside regional talents like Into The Fog, a genre-jumping string band from North Carolina, and indie hip-hop duo Little Stranger. But there’s more to do than jam out. With guided hikes, group mountain bike rides, hula hoop workshops, and disc golf tournaments, there’s something for everyone at FloydFest. – L.S. 

Runners Up

Red Wing Roots Music Festival – Mt. Solon, Va.

DelFest – Cumberland, Md.

Bearded man playing an electric guitar sings into a microphone while wearing a truckers baseball cap.

Nearly 100 artists are slated to perform at the 2023 FloydFest. Photo by Thomas Beck Photography

Best Family Friendly Festival 

Trail Days – Damascus, Va.

Trail Days is like an eccentric family reunion for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Each spring, thousands flock to the sleepy-eyed hamlet of Damascus, Va., to listen to honky-tonk, compete in chili contests and talent shows, and attend workshops on everything from trail stewardship to hot weather hiking. Of course, the main event is the Trail Days Hiker Parade. During this much-anticipated march, goat-legged thru-hikers don ridiculous regalia and strut down Laurel Avenue while townies hoot, holler, and drench participants with super-soakers. It’s wet, wild, and tons of fun. To experience it firsthand this year, be sure to block off May 19 to 21. – L.S.

Runners Up

LEAF – Black Mountain, N.C.

Go Outside Festival – Roanoke, Va.

Hikers wearing backpacking backpacks and carrying hiking poles climb wooden steps on a trail labeled, "Appalachian Trail"
Think of Trail Days like an eccentric family reunion for thru-hikers. Photo by Jesse Kokotek

Best Unique Festival 

Highland County Maple Festival – Highland County, Va.

People who think great maple syrup only comes from New England have probably never heard of Highland County. The pristine and sparsely populated county in a northwest corner of Virginia is known for its spectacular countryside, and, for two weekends in March, for showcasing a deep history of making world class maple syrup. Take a sugar camp tour to hear stories from families who have tapped the Highland maples for centuries, see your pick of local craft shows, and yes, eat. Maple doughnuts are a must, but don’t miss gems like the Bolar Ruritan Club’s all-you-can-eat feast of pancakes and buckwheat cakes—best when drenched in syrup, of course. – C.R.

Runners Up

Beaver Dam Sunflower Festival – Buchanan, Va.

West Virginia Roadkill Cookoff and Autumn Harvest Festival – Marlinton, W.Va.

Best Running Event 

Blue Ridge Marathon – Roanoke, Va.

With over 7,000 feet of elevation gain, the Blue Ridge Marathon more than earns its reputation as America’s toughest road marathon. But it might also be the prettiest— with all that climbing comes sweet summit views, and the current race route climbs to Roanoke’s famed Star atop Mill Mountain as well as Roanoke Mountain, with an ascent that crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway twice. Not up for the full 26.2? Not to worry, the event also includes a half marathon and 10K, both of which also climb to the Roanoke Star. – C.R.

Runners Up

Rim to River 100 – New River Gorge, W.Va.

Baltimore Running Festival – Baltimore, Md.

Best Triathlon 

King of the James – Richmond, Va.

King of the James is truly an outdoor adventurer’s triathlon. Instead of the run-bike-swim combo typical of most triathlons, King of the James moves the running to a trail, trades the road cycle for a mountain bike, and ditches swimming for shooting the Falls of the James River in a whitewater kayak. The race is a tough off-road test, but it’s a struggle you can feel good about enduring—money raised by the race benefits the James River Park System, which is dedicated to providing easily accessed outdoor space near Virginia’s capital. – C.R.

Runners Up

Ironman 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge – Roanoke, Va.

Lake Logan Triathlon – Canton, N.C.

Best Bike Race 

Tour de Valley – Waynesboro, Va.

Starting in Constitution Park in downtown Waynesboro, the Tour de Valley has led cyclists winding through some of the most scenic countryside in the region for 34 years. The 100-mile route links the foot of the Blue Ridge at Waynesboro and Stuarts Draft across the valley to Goshen Pass and Rockbridge County’s spectacular northwest corner. It’s never been easier for beginner riders to experience a chunk of that beauty too— in 2022, a 25-mile route was added to the 40-, 62-, and 100-mile options. – C.R.

Runners Up

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Go Cross Cyclocross – Roanoke, Va.

Agony in the Alleghanies Gran Fondo  – Clifton Forge, Va.

Best Climbing Event

New River Gorge AAC Craggin Classic – New River Gorge, W.Va.

An arts festival, competition, skills clinic, and outdoor stewardship event all-in-one, the Craggin Classic is the ultimate community event for people who climb southeastern rock. For a weekend in the early fall, the American Alpine Club comes to the world-class crags in the New to gather climbers and give back to the local community. After days spent climbing and helping the New River Alliance of Climbers clean up the area, attendees can participate in a zany mix of activities—last year’s festival included a talent show and a Texas Hold‘em tournament. – C.R.

Runners Up

Triangle Rock Club Competition – Richmond, Va.

Hound Ears – Banner Elk, N.C.

Best Paddling Event 

Gauleyfest – Summersville, W.Va.

The largest paddling festival in the world turns 40 this year. Every fall kayakers and rafters flock to West Virginia to run the class V rapids of the mighty Gauley, and many of them also head to Nicholas County Memorial Park in Summersville for this big party for the boating community. The event, a showcase for steadfast river access group American Whitewater, features a vendor marketplace, lots of live tunes, and plenty of paddling. – J.F.

Runners Up

Kibler Valley River Run – Ararat, Va.

Green River Narrows Race  – Flat Rock, N.C.

Best Fly Fishing Event 

VA Fly Fishing & Wine Festival – Doswell, Va.

Anglers, both experienced and aspiring, from across the country head to Meadow Event Park every year for this unique event that combines a range of educational fly fishing lectures and speakers with wine and craft beer tastings. Attendees can take casting classes, learn about mountain trout tactics, and unwind with the best offerings from regional wineries. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Greenbrier Fly Fishing Classic – Lewisburg, W.Va.

So Fly Fest – Warm Springs, Va. 

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