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Best of the Blue Ridge 2024

Our Annual Readers’ Choice Awards

The Blue Ridge has much to celebrate: top trails, amazing adventures, exciting races, and local businesses that give the region vibrant outdoor culture. In our annual Best of the Blue Ridge Awards, we once again asked you to cast your votes for your favorites in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Read on to learn more about this year’s big winners. 


Best Public Lands

Blue Ridge Parkway – North Carolina and Virginia 

It’s little wonder why the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive.” Stretching 469 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the scenic byway enchants travelers with panoramic views of rolling hills, verdant valleys, and jaw-dropping waterfalls. But a trip on the Parkway is about much more than rubbernecking. Depending on your interests, you can hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, shop regional crafts at the Folk Art Center, explore the history of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, or pick apples at The Orchard at Altapass. – L.S.

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia. Photo by Lynn Seldon/Courtesy of Visit VBR

Runners Up

New River Gorge National Park – West Virginia

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – North Carolina and Tennessee 

Best Hiking Trail

Art Loeb Trail 

Meandering 30 miles through the mountains of western North Carolina, the Art Loeb Trail is one of the state’s longest and most challenging footpaths. If you’re hiking northbound, you’ll begin your jaunt at the Davidson River Campground in Brevard and then steadily climb up, up, and up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once on the parkway, the trail crosses four 6,000-foot peaks, including Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, before winding its way down Cold Mountain to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp near Canton. All in all, you can expect 9,000 feet of elevation gain and tons of Instagrammable views. – L.S.

Runners Up

McAfee Knob – Bennent Springs, Va. 

Jackson River Scenic Trail – Alleghany County, Va. 

Best Biking Trail

Virginia Creeper Trail – Virginia 

A champ in back-to-back years in this category, there are many reasons why the Virginia Creeper Trail keeps our readers raving. Maybe it’s that most of its 34 miles can be ridden downhill, courtesy of the many shuttle operations in nearby Abingdon and Damascus. Maybe it’s the trail’s many access points, which make an adventure of any length easy to pull off. Or maybe it’s the unparalleled scenery of the southern Virginia highlands, as the Creeper winds past creeks, peaks, pastures, Christmas tree farms, and more on its way from Virginia’s second highest point down to the town of Abingdon. We could go on, but you should just see for yourself. – C.R.

Runners Up

Great Allegheny Passage – Maryland

Tsali Recreation Area – North Carolina 

Best Waterfall 

Cascade Falls – Pembroke, Va.

Standing at 66 feet tall, Cascade Falls is one of a handful of waterfalls in Virginia that defy the scale of natural features we’re used to seeing on the east coast. The mildly rugged walk to the falls—a four-mile out and back along Little Stony Creek through dense rhododendron and mountain laurel—is a treat as well. Despite being tucked away in Virginia’s mountainous Giles County, the falls’ proximity to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech make it a well-traveled one. To avoid the crowds, go on a weekday or in winter, when the falls can become an icy wonderland. – C.R.

Runners Up

Blackwater Falls – Davis, W.Va.

Falling Springs Falls – Covington, Va. 

Best Swimming Hole

Sliding Rock – North Carolina 

There are plenty of dark eddies where you can cool off after a long hike or bike ride in Pisgah National Forest. However, none quite compare to Sliding Rock. Situated along U.S. Highway 276 outside of Brevard, the 60-foot cascade is fueled by the wild and wondrous Looking Glass Creek. During the muggy months, ruddy-faced swimmers come from near and far to glide down the granite face into an eight-foot-deep hole of bracingly cold, 55-degree water. Of course, if you aren’t the aquatic type, you can always observe the summertime revelry from one of the observation decks. – L.S.

Runners Up

Blue Hole – Virginia

Meadow Run – Pennsylvania 

Best Lake

Smith Mountain Lake – Virginia 

With over 500 miles of coastline and 32 square miles of open water, Smith Mountain Lake has long been a go-to getaway for boaters and anglers seeking a much needed cool off from the Virginia summer. Warm months here are understandably popular, with the lake community blooming as festivals like Smith Mountain Lake Pirate Days fill the calendar. But SML’s off-season is jam packed with excitement too: the Smith Mountain Arts Council holds coffee house-style concerts and other arts events year-round, making the lake a worthwhile destination in any season. – C.R. 

Runners Up

Lake Junaluska – North Carolina

Summersville Lake – West Virginia

The New River isn’t for the faint of heart. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Tourism

Best Whitewater

New River – West Virginia 

Don’t let its name fool you: West Virginia’s New River is an ancient beast. For 360 million years, the river has been coursing through rugged valleys, beckoning adventurers to explore its wild waters. If you’re among the brave, grab your kayak and head for the river’s lower stretch near Fayetteville. Here, the channel drops 250 feet in 16 miles, creating what many call the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Not for the faint of heart, this section features Class III to Class V rapids peppered with colossal boulders, powerful currents, and heart-stopping hydraulics. – L.S. 

Runners Up

Nantahala River – North Carolina

Ocoee River – Tennessee

Best Fishing Spot

Philpott Dam – Virginia 

Some of the best honeyholes require bushwhacking your way miles into the backcountry. But not Philpott Lake. With shoreside camping and even tackle box rentals, this 2,900-acre reservoir is renowned as one of the most accessible fishing spots in the Southeast. There are plenty of fish, too. According to wildlife biologists, largemouth bass are most abundant in the lake and tend to linger around rock ledges and fallen tree limbs. Anglers can also hook smallmouth bass, walleye, black crappie, catfish, and the occasional carp. – L.S.

Runners Up

Upper James River Water Trail – Virginia

Deep Creek Lake – Maryland 

Seneca Rocks is renowned for its high-exposure climbs. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Tourism

Best Climbing Crag

Seneca Rocks – West Virginia 

Tucked in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, Seneca Rocks is a beacon for climbers—and with good reason. Towering 900 feet above the valley floor, the white Tuscarora quartzite formation offers some of the best multi-pitch trad climbing on the East Coast. Routes range from easy, breezy beginner-level ascents with loads of ledges to expert-level feats with high exposure. Of the latter, the most challenging is Flyin’ Lion. Bolted in the 1980s, the 5.13d route sneaks into the mouth of a yawning cave near South Peak, forcing climbers to hang upside down while clinging to razor-thin holds. – L.S.

Runners Up

New River Gorge – West Virginia

Looking Glass Rock – North Carolina 

Best Overlook

McAfee Knob – Virginia 

McAfee Knob is an iconic landmark in the Appalachians. Just ask the 50,000 people who visit every year, making it one of the most popular and most photographed hikes on the A.T. The views are certainly worthy of the hype, as sweeping panoramas of the Catawba Valley to the north and west and Roanoke to the east are both stunners. To avoid the crowds, go on a weekday, in winter, or before dawn—a sunrise from McAfee Knob is likely one of the best you’ll find in the region. – C.R.

Runners Up

Waterrock Knob – North Carolina

Lookout Mountain – Tennessee

Best Campground

Douthat State Park – Virginia 

A gem of a park nestled in the remote mountains of western Virginia, Douthat is one of the Southeast’s best kept secrets. Solitude seekers can take full advantage of the park’s several campgrounds, which lie adjacent to Douthat Lake, as well as the many hiking, biking, and horse trails that rarely see crowds outside of summer and fall weekends. – C.R.

Camping at Douthat State Park. Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Runners Up

Devils Backbone Camp – Virginia

Rocky Gap State Park – Maryland 

Best Kid-Friendly Adventure

Sky Valley Zip Tours – Blowing Rock, N.C. 

Sure, you could host your youngster’s birthday at that local park with the rusty jungle gym. Or you could give them a party they’ll never forget at Sky Valley Zip Tours. Located in the High Country of North Carolina, this outdoor outfitter is renowned for its kid-friendly Whistle Pig Adventure Park. Designed for whippersnappers between the ages of four and 18, the course features seven thrilling ziplines through the treetops, an aerial bridge, and a 20-foot slide. Kids are free to tackle the route time after time while parents watch from comfy Adirondack chairs. – L.S.

Runners Up

Tracks and YaksFrostburg, MD

Appalachian Gem and Gold MineDraper, VA

Best Pet-Friendly Adventure

Blue Ridge Tunnel – Virginia 

In 1858, French engineer Claudius Crozet quit the project he had been assigned by the state of Virginia to complete—a railroad tunnel connecting the state’s piedmont to the Shenandoah Valley—because he got tired of locals complaining that he was taking too long. The project was completed without Crozet later that year, and today, the now defunct rail tunnel serves as one of the Southeast’s most interesting trails. At just 0.8 miles, hikers and leashed dogs can enjoy a short and easily accessible (and dark) walk between two of the state’s most storied regions. – C.R.

Runners Up

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.

Chetola Resort – Blowing Rock, N.C. 

Best ADA Outdoor Experience

Dare to Dream Therapeutic Horsemanship Center – Monterey, Va. 

Dare to Dream’s goal is to use the therapeutic power of horses to heal traumas both emotional and physical, especially for people with disabilities. With a variety of services including private and group riding lessons, the center focuses on the wide ranging, yet acutely specific benefits that can come from interacting with horses, including increased muscle control and range of motion, and overcoming anxieties. They couldn’t hold the operation in a better spot as well—the high pastures of Virginia’s Highland County are remote and serene, providing a therapy of their own. – C.R.

Runners Up

C&O Canal National Historic Park –
Potomac, Md. 

Cherokee Flats Fishing – Giles County, Va. 

Best Beer/Wine/Spirits Trail

Nelson 151 

The scenic route of Nelson 151 has something for every kind of craft beverage enthusiast, with six breweries, seven wineries, three cideries, and two distilleries linked together on the rural roads of Nelson County through a sweet stretch of the Virginia Blue Ridge. Must-visit options along the way include the idyllic property of Veritas Vineyard and the sprawling beer garden of Devils Backbone Brewing Company. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Mountain Maryland Tap and Pour Tour – Cumberland, Md.

Ellijay Sips Trail – Ellijay, Ga. 

Best Place for Outdoor Singles to Live

Charlottesville, Va. 

For folks looking for a vibrant outdoor scene—and looking for others who want the same—Charlottesville has plenty to explore. The small city sits just east of Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail, and there’s plenty of recreation in town, too, including the 20-mile Rivanna Trail. Charlottesville also has plentiful food and arts options for date nights, including live music venues like the Jefferson Theater, which regularly brings in national acts. – C.R.

Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. photo courtesy of Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

Runners Up

Asheville, N.C.

Floyd, Va.

Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family

Roanoke, Va. 

Roanoke, Va., is the perfect place to raise an outdoorsy tot. Photo by Cameron Davidson/courtesy of Visit VBR

Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke affords plenty of opportunities for parents who want to swap screen time for green time. Take your tyke for a walk on the Roanoke River Greenway, load up the hardtails and go mountain biking at Carvins Cove Natural Reserve, hike the Appalachian Trail, or try bouldering at McAfee Knob. With so many different ways to get kids outside, it’s no surprise that Roanoke has been named the Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family for five years in a row.  – L.S. 

Runners Up

Allegany County, Md.

Brevard, N.C. 


Best Ski Resort

Snowshoe Mountain Resort – Snowshoe, W.Va.

For BRO readers, Snowshoe reigns as the supreme ski resort in the South. It’s easy to see why, as the mountain has a massive spread of terrain, including more than 60 trails and four terrain parks. Plus, the West Virginia resort’s slopes see more than 150 annual inches of powder that blankets steep black diamonds like Widowmaker and lengthy greens like Flume. – J.F 

Runners Up

Wintergreen Resort – Nellysford, Va.

Sugar Mountain Resort – Sugar Mountain, N.C.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a leader in the Southeastern whitewater scene. Courtesy of the NOC.

Best Raft Guide Company

Nantahala Outdoor Center – North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia

If you’re new to the Southeastern whitewater scene, check out Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). An industry leader since 1972, the North Carolina-based guide service provides full- and half-day trips on six regional rivers: the Nantahala, French Broad, Pigeon, Chattooga, Chattahoochee, and Ocoee. Adventures range from mellow, family-friendly floats suitable for toddlers to wilder, bumpier rides peppered with Class V rapids. Come late summer, NOC also hosts an epic, two-week trip through the Grand Canyon, where participants can expect to paddle 226 miles, hike to waterfalls, and sleep on the sandy shores of the Colorado River. – L.S. 

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a leader in the Southeastern whitewater scene. Courtesy of the NOC.

Runners Up

Adventures on the Gorge – Lansing, W.Va.

Twin River Outfitters – Buchanan, Va.

Best Bike Park

Snowshoe Mountain Resort – Snowshoe, W.Va.

Though Snowshoe Mountain Resort is best known for its epic ski slopes, the 11,000-acre retreat has also proven its mettle as a mountain biking mecca. That much is evidenced by the Snowshoe Downhill Bike Park, which dishes up a smorgasbord of legendary berms, jump drops, white knuckle-worthy rock gardens, and screamingly fast flow. Even better, the park features a high-speed chairlift so you can go back for seconds (or fourths) on the 40-mile trail system. – L.S.

Expect screamingly fast flow at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy of the resort

Runners Up

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.

Falling Creek Park – Bedford, Va.

Best Zip Line

Buffalo Mountain Ziplines – Floyd, Va. 

Want to fly? Book an afternoon with Buffalo Mountain Ziplines. Based in Floyd, Va., the outdoor outfitter invites intrepid explorers to soar 150 feet above the forest floor during its Blue Ridge Adventure Tour. Offered year-round, the tour begins with some “bunny hop” cables to get guests warmed up. The course then progresses to longer and higher zips, the most heart-pounding being a half-mile fling across a lush valley. For night owls, Buffalo Mountain also offers tours after dark. – L.S.

Runners Up

Adventures on the Gorge – Lansing, W.Va.

Massanutten Resort – Massanutten, Va.

Best Disc Golf Course

Mayflower Hills Park – Roanoke, Va. 

Roanoke is one of just a handful of mid-size cities within a stone’s throw of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the builders of Mayflower Hills Park took full advantage. Situated just south of the scenic byway’s Roanoke River Overlook, the park is less than a 15-minute drive from downtown Roanoke, and enjoys the serene beauty of somewhere much more remote. With a full 18 holes on the crest of the Blue Ridge, you’d hardly know a city of nearly 90,000 sits close by. – C.R. 

Runners Up

Falling Creek Park – Bedford, Va.

Locust Post Disc Golf – Little Orleans, Md.

Best Fly Fishing Shop

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

Whether you’re looking to hook an elusive brookie or reel in a record-breaking walleye, the outfitters with Fly Fishing the Smokies can help. Headquartered in Bryson City, the fly fishing shop provides more than a dozen guided trips in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A crowd favorite is the Hazel Creek camping trip, which involves shuttling across Fontana Lake to one of the wildest and most remote trout streams in the entire park. Once there, you’ll explore famous honey holes, tell stories by the campfire, and dine on Southern fare whipped up by a professional chef. – L.S.

Runners Up

South River Fly Shop – Waynesboro, Va.

Due South Outfitters – Boone, N.C.

Best Climbing Guide Company

Blue Ridge Mountain Guides – Charlottesville, Va. 

Making the most of their location in central Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountain Guides has a team of adventurers who lead trips into the Blue Ridge and well beyond. BRMG is special among Southern guiding outfits for how far it can take you; the group offers trips to the North Cascades of Washington state, as well as avalanche safety courses in the Whites of New Hampshire. But there’s plenty to enjoy right in their backyard too, as the company’s location between Shenandoah National Park and the rock and ice crags of the northern Blue Ridge offers plenty for all levels of experience. – C.R.

Runners Up

Pisgah Climbing School – Pisgah Forest, N.C.

Buffalo Mountain Adventures – Floyd, Va.

Best Gym or Training Facility

River Rock Climbing – Roanoke, Va. 

You don’t need to log countless hours on the “dreadmill” to get fit. At least, that’s the mindset at River Rock Climbing in Roanoke, Va. Winner of our Best Gym designation for three years and counting, River Rock delivers a bevy of bewildering boulder problems and robust roped routes that’ll burn calories faster than you can say “bent-gate carabiner.” Of course, if you’d rather keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, you can take a yoga class or lift some weights in the gym’s fitness room. – L.S.

Runners Up

Riveter – Fletcher, N.C.

Peak Experiences – Richmond, Va.

Mountain Running Company can gear you up for any long-distance race. Photo courtesy of MRC

Best Running Shop

Mountain Running Company – Asheville, N.C.

If you’re gearing up for a grueling sufferfest in western North Carolina, look no further than Mountain Running Company. Owned and operated by athletes Bill Flanagan and Shaun and Lauren Pope, the specialty running store peddles everything from Boston cream pie-flavored energy gels to state-of-the-art GPS watches and sweat-wicking podium singlets. They also stock a long list of running shoe brands—including Altra, Brooks, HOKA, and Salomon—and offer complimentary shoe fittings, trail recommendations, and tips on how to tackle ultras without losing toenails. Find locations in Asheville, Black Mountain, and Boone. – L.S.

Mountain Running Company can gear you up for any long-distance race. Photo courtesy of MRC

Runners Up

Fleet Feet – Roanoke, Va.

Ragged Mountain Running Shop – Charlottesville, Va.

Best Bike Shop

Wheelzup Adventures – Cumberland, Md. 

It was the scenery of Allegany County, Maryland, that made Mandela Echefu leave a career in healthcare for one immersed in the outdoors. Echefu and his wife, Jamie, founded Wheelzup a few years ago, and it’s quickly grown into one of the area’s premier outfitters. With bike shuttles and repairs, as well as rental offerings for kayaking and other outdoor sports, Wheelzup is leading a thriving outdoor community in an underrated scenic area of western Maryland. – C.R.

Runners Up

Earth Mountain Bicycle – Brevard, N.C.

Cardinal Bicycle – Roanoke, Va.

Best Outdoor Store

Marion Outdoors – Marion, Va. 

Helmed by Andrew “Coach” Livingston, whose woodsy TikToks have gained him an impressive 58K followers, Marion Outdoors is a beloved outfitter in the heralded trail town of Marion, Va. The outfitter is well equipped to resupply weary Appalachian Trail hikers, and even put them up, as MO occupies the downstairs of the Merry Inn, a well-loved hiker hostel. – C.R.

Photo courtesy of Marion Outdoors

Runners Up

Mast General Store – Multiple Locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia

Walkabout Outfitter – Multiple Locations in Virginia

Best Lodging

Chetola Resort – Blowing Rock, N.C. 

Chetola Resort takes its name for the Cherokee word that translates to “haven of rest.” While the resort’s location just north of Blowing Rock, N.C., might offer plenty of serenity already by way of Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge, Chetola also offers lakeside dining, a spa, and lodging that features architecture and furnishings by renowned North Carolinian artist Bob Timberlake. The result is a well-cultivated space for adventurers to relax. – C.R.

Runners Up

The Merry Inn – Marion, Va.

Roanoke Boutique Hotel – Roanoke, Va.

Best Wellness Center

Mountainside Holistic Clinic – Floyd, Va. 

Mountainside Holistic Clinic is a bastion for alternative medicines and treatments at the foot of the Blue Ridge, just outside of Floyd. Led by Dr. Jess Zummo, Mountainside prides itself on its personalized and preventative approach to healing, holding extended hours for initial appointments and embracing natural medicines in teas and tinctures – patients can also find these at Mountainside’s affiliate apothecary, Two Bear Mountain. – C.R.

Runners Up

Pomona Salt Cave and Spa – White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Asheville Yoga Center – Asheville, N.C.

Best Educational Outdoor Program

Bedford Outdoor Adventures – Bedford, Va. 

Lee Wittekind, Bedford County’s outdoor events coordinator, says the best part of his job is simply letting people know about “all the awesome stuff” that’s right in their backyard. Bedford Outdoor Adventures aims to help in that effort. Holding a vast array of outdoor community events like bike races, skate jams, and events tailored towards groups of veterans and younger adventurers, BOA is sowing the seeds of outdoor community in a county where the potential for it is seemingly endless. – C.R.

Photo courtesy of Bedford Outdoor Adventures

Runners Up

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont – Townsend, Tenn.

WVU Tech Adventure Recreation Management Program – Beckley, W.Va. 

Best Environmental Organization

Virginia Creeper Conservancy – Abingdon, Va. 

A trail as popular as the Virginia Creeper Trail doesn’t get that way (or stay that way) on its own. Since 1987, the organization now known as the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy has been doing the stewardship work necessary to keep all 34 miles of its path easily used for locals and visitors alike. The Conservancy also makes it easy to get involved, with a variety of volunteer work and other ways to help available on their website. – C.R.

Runners Up

Shenandoah National Park Trust – Charlottesville, Va.

MountainTrue – Asheville, N.C. 

Best Local Gear Brand

Eagles Nest Outfitters – Asheville, N.C. 

With their hammocks filling space between trees well beyond the Blue Ridge, it’s hard to believe that the idea for ENO began in a van road tripping the Southeast, eventually coming to fruition in the mountains of western North Carolina. Today, ENO has loyal customers near and far who love the outdoor industry’s most ubiquitous hammock, as well as its sustainability practices through partnerships with companies like 1% For the Planet. – C.R.

Runners Up

Blue Ridge Overland Gear – Bedford, Va.

Easy Wind Outfitters – Richmond, Va.

Food & Drink

Best Drink

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

Parkway is a long-running favorite in the Roanoke Valley, particularly popular among the area’s thriving biking community. One of the outfit’s most popular brews, Get Bent, gets its name from Bent Mountain, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a deliciously hoppy old-school IPA that features bold flavors of pine and citrus that come from a generous amount of Cascade, Columbus, and Cluster hops. – J.F.

Photo courtesy of Parkway Brewing Company

Runners Up

Wild Pear Kombucha – Blue Ridge Bucha – Waynesboro, Va.

Full Nelson Pale Ale – Blue Mountain Brewery – Afton, Va.

Best Brewery

Blue Mountain Brewery – Afton, Va. 

A repeat winner in this category, Blue Mountain has been making delicious craft brews from its scenic outpost in rural Nelson County since 2007. The brewery’s sprawling outdoor patio is often packed with folks enjoying scenic mountain views and a lengthy list of tasty beers. Favorites 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.

Chimney Rock Brewing Company – Chimney Rock, N.C. 

Best Winery

Chateau Morrisette – Floyd, Va. 

After 46 years in business, Chateau Morrisette continues to tap into its local community to make one of Virginia’s oldest wineries also one of its best. While most of the grapes in Morrisette’s award-winning wines come from Virginia soil, the locally sourced feel goes beyond wine. The family-friendly (and proudly dog-friendly) winery hosts community events like wine-making classes, singles nights, and the Courtyard Concert Series, which runs in warmer months and features free admission. – C.R.

Runners Up

Veritas Vineyards and Winery – Afton, Va.

Charis Winery – Cumberland, Md. 

Best Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery – Frankfort, Ky. 

It’s no surprise that our winner for Best Distillery comes from Kentucky, as Buffalo Trace embraces its state’s rich bourbon tradition with a bear hug. Making its own signature Kentucky bourbon as well as collaborating with newer brands, Buffalo Trace’s philosophy of “honor tradition, embrace change” has helped it become one of the most decorated distilleries in the world. Tours and tastings fill up quickly, but enthusiasts who plan ahead can book a tour at the distillery’s site in Frankfort and get a taste of what sets this place apart. – C.R.

Buffalo Trace is based in Frankfort, KY.Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery

Runners Up

Twin Creek Distillery – Rocky Mount, Va.

5 Mile Mountain Distillery – Floyd, Va.

Best Cidery

Bold Rock Hard Cider – Nellysford, Va. 

Bold Rock has grown a lot since starting in a small cider barn in Nelson County, Va., in 2012. The craft cider company now has a second cidery in North Carolina and widespread distribution of regional favorites like Imperial Cider and Premium Dry. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Tumbling Creek Cider Company – Abingdon, Va. 

Noble Cider – Asheville, N.C.

Best Restaurant

Pies and Pints – multiple locations 

Pies and Pints started in Fayetteville, W.Va., where it became known for serving hungry New River Gorge climbers and paddlers creative pizzas and tasty brews. The restaurant has since expanded to include 13 total locations around the Southeast and Midwest, so you can nosh on interesting pies like the Street Corn and the Grape & Gorgonzola when you’re in Birmingham, Ala., or Cincinnati, Ohio. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Blue Mountain Brewery – Afton, Va.

Floyd Country Store – Floyd, Va.

Best Dish

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

If you want a distinctive taste of the South, order the Famous Fried Green Tomatoes at Tupelo Honey Café. The dish features thick, juicy slices of not-quite-ripe ‘maters crusted in panko. After going for a swim in the deep fryer, the tomatoes are served atop a bed of tangy goat cheese grits and roasted red pepper coulis. For a pop of color and brightness, the whole thing is sprinkled with fresh basil. The resulting appetizer is a lot like what your Appalachian meemaw may serve come suppertime—except way better. For best results, pair with a glass of ice-cold sweet tea and a platter of piping hot biscuits. – L.S.

Nothing says Southern eating quite like the Famous Fried Green Tomatoes at Tupelo Honey Café. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Runners Up 

Waynesburger at The River Burger Bar – Waynesboro, Va.

Greg Brady Burger at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint – Multiple Locations

Best Coffee Shop

Red Rooster Coffee Company – Floyd, Va. 

In most rural burgs, you’re lucky if you can find a cup of bitter gas station coffee. But not in Floyd. Once an agrarian community, this tiny town is now a caffeine hub thanks to Red Rooster Coffee, a local roaster committed to making “coffee with a conscience.” Ethical practices range from using biodegradable coffee bags to providing full health benefits to employees. Their coffee is darn tasty, too. Roasts range from the Floyd Farmhouse breakfast blend to the Funky Chicken—an organic medium-to-dark coffee with notes of chocolate torte, citrus, and caramel. – L.S.

Red Rooster Coffee is committed to making “coffee with a conscience.” Photo courtesy of RRC

Runners Up 

Basecamp Coffee Company – Cumberland, Md. 

Buck’s Coffee Café – Cashiers, N.C. 

Best Farmers Market

Stuart Farmers Market – Stuart, Va. 

The next time you’re in southern Virginia, skip big grocery and opt for the Stuart Farmers Market instead. Open from May to November, the al fresco bazaar is one of the best spots in Patrick County to stock up on farm-fresh vittles. Expect organically grown fruits and vegetables, ethically raised meats and eggs, local cheeses, scrumptious baked goods, and a wide assortment of crafts. In December, organizers also host a special holiday market so that townsfolk can shop small for the Yuletide season. – L.S.

Runners Up 

Floyd Farmers Market – Floyd, Va.

Waynesboro Farmers Market – Waynesboro, Va.

Events & Races

Best Music Festival

4848 Festival – Snowshoe, W.Va. 

Taking place in July at West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort, this annual festival features an impressive roster of jam bands and roots music mainstays performing in the cool confines of the resort’s quaint mountain village. Acts on this summer’s bill: Greensky Bluegrass, the Flaming Lips, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. – J.F. 

Runners Up

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

Front Porch Festival – Stuart, Va. 

Best Family Friendly Festival

Old Fiddler’s Convention – Galax, Va.

The long-running Old Fiddler’s Convention brings together some of the region’s best string pickers, who showcase their skills in fiddle, banjo, and bluegrass band competitions. For families that love mountain music, it’s a can’t-miss (and extremely affordable) event. This year the 88th annual installment will take place from August 5-10 at Galax’s Felt Park. – J.F. 

Runners Up

LEAF Festival – Black Mountain, N.C.

Rooster Walk Music Festival – Axton, Va. 

Best Unique Festival

Highland County Maple Festival – Highland County, Va. 

Pegged as the “Sweetest Event of the Year,” the Highland County Maple Festival is an ode to the region’s abundance of amber gold (aka maple syrup). Hosted for two weekends in March, the festival includes square dancing, live bluegrass, and a craft market with more than 100 artisans. You best come hungry, though. Starting as early as 6 a.m., vendors begin selling everything from maple donuts to all-you-can-eat pancakes drenched in—you guessed it—syrup. Guests can also visit county sugar camps to learn more about how syrup is harvested and processed. – L.S.

Runners Up

West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off – Marlinton, W.Va.

Liver Mush Festival – Shelby, N.C.

Best Running Event

Blue Ridge Marathon – Roanoke, Va. 

Completing this race is no easy feat. The Blue Ridge Marathon is branded “America’s Toughest Road Race,” as it takes runners on a grueling 26.2-mile course that starts and ends in downtown Roanoke and along the way holds a total elevation gain/loss of 7,430 feet. But those who can handle the killer climbs, especially during portions of the race that take place on the Blue Ridge Parkway, are rewarded with incredibly scenic views and a fun Finish Festival at Elmwood Park. – J.F. 

Runners Up

The Rabid Squirrel – Danbury, N.C.

Run the Valley – Waynesboro, Va.

Best Triathlon

Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge Triathlon – Roanoke, Va. 

The Carilion Clinic IRONMAN is the ultimate test of endurance. Hosted in Roanoke, the race kicks off with a half-mile swim in the bracingly cold waters of Carvins Cove Reservoir. From there, athletes jump into the saddle and prepare for a grueling climb up Bear Wallow Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. With 4,316 feet of elevation gain, the route is the second hilliest IRONMAN bike course in North America. For their hard work, participants are rewarded with epic views, fast descents, and a flat and friendly half-marathon along the paved Roanoke River Greenway. – L.S.

Runners Up

Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon – Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Va.

Lake Logan Multisport Festival – Canton, N.C. 

Best Bike Race

Fire Mountain Inferno Enduro Weekend – Cherokee, N.C. 

First hosted in 2018, the Fire Mountain Inferno Enduro Weekend invites 300 riders to sample the Fire Mountain trail system on the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee. According to organizer Greg Duff of Glory Hound Events, the downhill course is furiously flowy, making it a good choice for riders without tons of racing experience. But there are plenty of features to keep pros entertained as well (think punchy turns, gnarly roots and rocks, tabletops, and gap jumps). Regardless of experience level, all participants conclude the two-day event with a filling meal, a few craft beers, and a bike raffle. – L.S.

The Fire Mountain Inferno Enduro Weekend is hosted in Cherokee each spring. Photo courtesy of A&M Sports

Runners Up

3M Challenge – Cumberland, Md.

Tour de Valley – Waynesboro, Va. 

Best Paddling Event

Gauley Fest – Summersville, W.Va. 

Gauley Fest was started back in the early 80s to celebrate the derailment of a dam project that would have disrupted flows of the mighty West Virginia river. The annual September event brings together class V whitewater runs, live music, and a big boater hang as the largest paddling festival in the world. – J.F. 

Runners Up

Rivanna RiverFest – Charlottesville, Va.

Kibler Valley River Run – Ararat, Va. 

Best Fly Fishing Event

Adaptative Anglers on the Fly – Crozet, Va. 

Crozet’s Adaptive Anglers on the Fly event has roots dating back to 2003, when a local Boy Scout created the event as his Eagle Scout project. The event was a hit, and since then, local nonprofit Therapeutic Adventures and Thomas Jefferson Trout Unlimited have partnered up to keep it running annually for 20 years, giving a vital space for anglers with disabilities to come together and cast lines into the nearby trout streams, which are among the region’s best. – C.R.

Photo courtesy of Adaptive Anglers on the Fly

Runners Up

Armed Forces Appreciation Family Fishing – Peaks of Otter, Va.

Forks of the River Fly Fishing Festival – Rosman, N.C. 

Cover photo: Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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