Best of the Blue Ridge

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The readers have spoken. After more than 85,000 votes over the course of six weeks, we have our 2017 Best of the Blue Ridge winners and favorites.

DESTINATIONS

Hiking Trail

Carter Caves State ParkOlive Hill, Ky.

Favorites:

Sheltowee Trace Trail, Ky.
Standing Stone Trail, Penn.

Mostly recognized for its impressive cavern system, Carter Caves in eastern Kentucky has equally majestic assets aboveground, too. Some 26 miles of multiuse trails weave across the park’s 2,000 acres, which include seven natural bridges, the 45-acre Smokey Lake, and countless sinkholes, waterfalls, and box canyons. Experience the beauty and history of the park via the Carter Caves Cross Country Trail, an 8.3-mile trail that passes across two suspension bridges and beneath unique sandstone formations.

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Appalachian Trail Section

Roan Mountain, Tenn./N.C.

Favorites:

McAfee Knob, Va.
Grayson Highlands, Va.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers often gripe and groan about the “green tunnel” that is the A.T., but Roan Mountain makes up for all of those long canopied miles with its expansive views and grassy balds. Situated on the literal border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the massif is home to a number of peaks 5,500 feet in elevation or higher. Because of this, hiking Roan’s balds is about the closest you can get to an above-treeline alpine trekking experience—spruce fir trees, rhododendron gardens, and ample amounts of snow turn this southern Appalachian anomaly into an arctic-like landscape come wintertime.

“No matter what visitors like to do, the Roan Highlands can accommodate any kind of adventure seeker,” says Carter County Tourism Coordinator Kayla Carter. So if you’re not a hiker, she says, try, “birding, skiing, disc golf, and some beginner mountain biking trails at Roan Mountain State Park just down the road.” Roan Mountain is a one-stop-shop for adventure.

Swimming Hole

Skinny Dip Falls, Canton, N.C.


Favorites:

Blue Hole, Va.
Midnight Hole, N.C./Tenn.
Roaring Run, Va

We wouldn’t recommend actually skinny dipping here—over the years, this easily accessible swimming hole off of the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 417) has garnered quite a crowd of weekend loyalists. But if you’re in the market for a cool soak on a hot day, even if you have to share the splendor, these falls are unrivaled.

Running Trail

Mill Mountain, Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:

Mountains-to-Sea Trail, N.C.
Pandapas Recreation Area, Va.

Behind the vibrant and otherwise urban cityscape of Roanoke rises the profile of Mill Mountain, the Star City’s highest point (1,703 feet). The summit, which is part of Mill Mountain Park, is a destination for tourists and an escape for the city’s residents—10 miles of multipurpose trails trickle down on either side of the mountain, linking back to Roanoke’s extensive greenway system. Runners can literally tie their shoes, step out the door, and be on Mill Mountain’s trails in a matter of minutes. Trails here range from moderately graded paths to technical, rocky singletrack.

Paddling River

Nantahala River, N.C.


Favorites:

Gauley River, W.Va.
Chattooga River, Ga./S.C.

At the very heart of whitewater paddling in the Southeast flows the Nantahala. Generations of paddlers, some of the best in the world, grew up along the banks of this western North Carolina classic. For intermediate paddlers, the Nantahala’s class II+ stair-step sections are ideal for building river running skills like ferrying and surfing. Most recently, the Nantahala was thrown into the international spotlight when it served as the stage for the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in 2013.

Climbing Crag

Red River Gorge, Slade, Ky.

Favorites:

New River Gorge, W.Va.

Looking Glass Rock, N.C.

Newcomers to the Red might be struck by the oddity of seeing hundreds of elite climbers from around the world congregating at a one-room pizza shop in middle-of-nowhere eastern Kentucky. But as anyone familiar with the quality and diversity of climbing in the Red can tell you, finding yourself across the table from Chris Sharma-level climbers with a slice of pie and a cold one is standard fare here. You may even get to bear witness to headline-worthy projects, like Michaela Kiersch’s ascent of Lucifer, a 5.14c.

Campground

Greenbrier River Campground, Alderson, W.Va.

Favorites:

Douthat State Park, Va.
Deep Creek Campground, N.C.

For riverside camping, quiet evenings by the campfire, and a family friendly atmosphere, look no further than Greenbrier’s eight-acre campground. Campers here can literally pick and choose every aspect of their getaway—maybe you want to rough it in a tent, indulge in a cabin, or go vintage with a renovated ’64 Shasta camper? On the water, perhaps it’s a relaxing class I float-and-fish or a fully equipped class III kayaking excursion you’re after? Whatever your weekend escape, Greenbrier provides.

Biking Trail

Jackrabbit Mountain Bike and Hiking Trail, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:

Carvins Cove, Va.
DuPont State Forest, N.C.

Surrounded on three sides by the still waters of Lake Chatuge, the 15-mile Jackrabbit trail system is unlike any other mountain bike destination in the region. The stacked-loop design takes advantage of the system’s peninsular setting, meandering high along ridge tops and down low near the lake. Take the 3.1-mile Central Loop to get a taste of these machine constructed trails. Like what you find? Add on mile-by-mile in a challenge-by-choice fashion.

Urban Park

Knoxville Urban Wilderness, Knoxville, TN.

Favorites:

Mill Mountain Park, Va.

James River Park, Va.

Cruising along the 50 miles of trails embedded in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, it’s easy to forget that you’re just three miles from downtown. That’s just how the city wants it. Accessible, seamless, and challenging for novice recreationalists and experts alike, the Urban Wilderness is a textbook example of city planning done right. Knoxville-area residents have literal backdoor access to 50 miles of trails, including the 100-acre Baker Creek Preserve, where an additional 7.1 miles of trail, including the Bell Helmets $100,000 expert downhill trail, were recently completed.bellbuilt_devilsractrack_040

Ski Run

Cupp Run, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, W.Va.

Favorites:

Cliffhanger, Wintergreen Resort, Va.

Shay’s Revenge, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, W.Va.

Designed by three-time gold medalist Olympian skier Jean-Claude Killy, Cupp Run is what other East Coast ski runs wish they could be. In just 1.5 miles, Cupp Run drops 1,500 vertical feet, so if you’re feeling a little puckered by the end of it all, that’s par for the course.

Terrain Park

Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Snowshoe, W.Va.

Favorites:

Wintergreen Resort, Va.
Appalachian Ski Mountain, N.C.

Few resorts in the Mid-Atlantic offer the sheer number of terrain options that Snowshoe provides. In the Snowshoe Basin Area alone, beginners and intermediates alike can choose between the Progression Session Park, which has small and medium features, or the Evolution Park, which showcases mostly medium-sized walls, down tubes, and barrier rails. Ramp it up on any one of Silver Creek Area’s three Mountaineer Parks, which give riders the full enchilada of small-to-big stuff for every shredding palate.

SUP Destination

Fontana Lake, Almond, N.C.

Favorites:

Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
Carvins Cove Reservoir, Va.

Summersville Lake, W.Va.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a day paddling pristine, deep-blue waters amid the undeveloped majesty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest? Over 11,700 acres in size, it’s no surprise to us that Fontana Lake took top marks among our readers. Throw a rod and reel (and your North Carolina fishing license) onto your board for a multisport day on the water.

Spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Grandfather Mountain

Linville, N.C.

Favorites:

Peaks of Otter, Va.

Craggy Gardens, N.C.

Standing proud above the Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain is practically the poster child for the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section of the parkway is the most photographed spot along the road’s 469 miles. At 5,946 feet in elevation, the mountain is estimated to be 300 million years old and as such, offers visitors a rare glimpse into the sensitive and unique environment that is southern Appalachia. Parkway-goers can take a jaunt up Grandfather via the Daniel Boone Scout Trail, but for the Mile High Swinging Bridge, environmental wildlife habitats, and quick access to the cables-and-ladders trails for which Grandfather is known, head into the Grandfather Mountain Nature Preserve one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 305.

Best Waterfall

Cumberland Falls, Corbin, Ky.

Favorites:

Crabtree Falls, Va.

Triple Falls, N.C.

Both the power and serenity of Cumberland Falls easily make it one of the wonders of this region. Here, the Cumberland River drops abruptly, creating a curtain of water stretching 125 feet across and 65 feet high. For the best view of Cumberland Falls, check out the Eagle Falls Trail. Only 1.5 miles in length, this hike can be deceptively challenging when rain raises the water level and turns seasonally dry creek beds into formidable streams. Want to get down to the falls for a swim? The half-mile Cumberland Falls Trail descends 200 feet down to the river’s edge but can be extremely crowded in the warmer months.

Wilderness

Linville Gorge Wilderness, N.C.

Favorites:

Dolly Sods Wilderness, W.Va.

Shining Rock Wilderness, N.C.

For unparalleled exposure, tough terrain, and jaw-dropping beauty, look no further than the Linville Gorge. The gorge itself extends for 12 miles down the length of the mighty Linville River, which roars some 2,000 feet below Linville’s highest point, Hawksbill Mountain, at 4,009 feet. There are some 40 miles of documented trails in the Linville Gorge, but the diehard off-trail adventure community that surrounds this special place would beg to differ.

Kid-Friendly Outdoor Destination

Big South Fork Scenic Railway, Stearns, Ky.

Favorites:

Nantahala Outdoor Center, N.C.
Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, N.C.

All aboard! History, and nature, never looked so cool. During warmer months, kids are encouraged to explore the Blue Heron Mining Camp, a National Park interpretive site intended to preserve the Big South Fork’s industrious past in coal and lumber. In the winter, the train is adorned in Christmas decorations for its annual South Fork Santa Express. It’s like the Polar Express, except a little farther south.

Pet-Friendly Outdoor Destination

Jackrabbit Mountain Bike and Hiking Trail System, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:

Devils Backbone Brewery, Va.
James River Park, Va.

You could bring your cat-on-a-leash, or iguana, or ferret. Jackrabbit Mountain doesn’t discriminate. But generally speaking, trail-loving hounds are what you’ll find here. The fast and flowy trails aren’t too steep or rugged, and with the stacked-loop design, you can go as long or as short as your furry friend can handle. Just be sure s/he stays out of the designated swimming area.

Place for Outdoor Singles to Live

Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:

Asheville, North Carolina

Knoxville, Tennessee

It may come as a surprise to many that the Star City, once regularly listed in the top 10 places to retire, has attracted a fresh wave of vitality centered on culture, community, and especially, the great outdoors. For us, it’s hardly a surprise. After all, Roanoke has won our annual Top Adventure Towns contest three separate years. For those of you unfamiliar with Roanoke, here are just a few of the reasons you should uproot your life tomorrow and move to Virginia’s Blue Ridge—vibrant nightlife, diverse restaurant scene, ample breweries, literal backdoor access to biking and hiking trails, affordable cost of living, four distinct seasons, bike commuter friendliness, and quite simply, the people. With that type of energy, you won’t stay single for long.

Place for Illicit and Nefarious Activities

Not Telling, Location Undisclosed

Favorites:
Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
Home

Touché, readers. We’ll keep your little secret…for now.

Place to Raise an Outdoor Family

Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:
Brevard, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina

For a city of nearly 100,000, Roanoke certainly knows how to interweave its green spaces into an urban landscape. There are 30 miles of paved greenway connecting neighborhoods to downtown districts, parks, and the Roanoke River. Additionally, greenway users can connect directly to Mill Mountain Park, where another 10 miles of multiuse trails await. Couple all of that with the city’s 70 park properties and wide offering of youth clubs like the East Coasters Junior Mountain Bike Team and the River Rock Youth Climbing Program and what do you have? A supportive and inclusive community committed to fostering an appreciation for the outdoors in our children.

Place to Play Hooky

Shenandoah National Park, Va.

Favorites:
Roanoke River Greenway, Va.
Bent Creek Experimental Forest, N.C.

With 197,411 rugged acres just a day’s drive from two-thirds of the country’s population, it seems fitting that Shenandoah would sweep the competition in this category. Need a little incentive to play the hooky card? How about dousing your head beneath Overall Run Falls, the park’s tallest waterfall (93 feet)? Or perhaps frolicking among the 862 species of wildflowers in Shenandoah? At the very least, if you can’t play hooky, take the long way back to work via the 105-mile Skyline Drive

Fly Fishing River

Fires Creek, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:
Davidson River, N.C.
Mossy Creek, Va.

Prime time for casting in this surprisingly large creek is springtime, but just about any time of the year will reward you with spectacular solitude, scenery, and wild trout fishing. The majority of anglers that do fish here will try their hand in the stocked portion downstream, but just upstream of the Fires Creek picnic area is an idyllic, and mostly overlooked, gorge. Don’t come here expecting to land a lunker on your first cast—the trout here are wily and attentive. Stay low and move slow.

Flatwater

Lake Chatuge, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:
French Broad River, N.C.
James River, Va.

Engulfed by the stunning mountains of western North Carolina, Lake Chatuge is a destination unto its own. For flatwater paddling, the 130 miles of shoreline create countless adventures, be it swimming or fishing. Camping is available at a number of sites should you decide to dive deep for a weekend (which, we highly recommend).

Luxury Outdoor Destination

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Favorites:
Biltmore Estate, N.C.
The Omni Grove Park Inn, N.C.

Guests at The Greenbrier are often astounded by the resort’s picturesque location amid the Allegheny Mountains. For over 230 years, travelers have journeyed to The Greenbrier for the restorative effect not only of the mountain air but also the white sulphur spring water on which the resort’s mineral spa prides itself. While visitors here can of course indulge in other resort-like amenities, such as the casino, golf course, and bowling alley, we recommend checking out one of The Greenbrier’s daily(ish) guided hikes, canopy tours, or bike outings along The Greenbrier River Trail. With over 11,000 acres to explore on the property, you won’t be bored.

Best State for Outdoor Adventure

West Virginia

Favorites:
North Carolina
Kentucky

When out-of-towners talk about West Virginia, there’s usually one stereotype that emerges—that of the hillbilly. We’ve got news for you, folks. West Virginia has been breeding passionate, mountain-loving activists and athletes for generations, and it’s these very people you can thank for hand sculpting the state’s crumbling communities into recreation paradises. Take the sister towns of Davis and Thomas, for example—in a single weekend you can crush your quads on any number of Tucker County’s 200+ miles of hiking and biking trails, indulge your appetite for pow at four different ski areas, and sample craft beers from the county’s three breweries. Need more convincing? How about Fayetteville, home of the New River Gorge—you can be paddling internationally renowned class IV-V whitewater on the New or Gauley Rivers one day, climbing or bouldering quality rock of equal reputation the next, and capping it all off with gourmet, locally inspired food. And unless you’re in town for Bridge Day or Gauley Fest, you’ll likely have the place to yourself.

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BUSINESSES

Best Outdoor Company to Work For

North Carolina Outward Bound School, Asheville, N.C.

Favorites:
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing, Va.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, N.C.

Founded on the principle that instruction in the outdoors should be experiential—training through rather than for— Outward Bound has challenged more than seven million people from over 30 different countries in its 75-year history. Students here are required to immerse themselves not only in the natural world but also in the hard and soft skills required to thrive in times of adversity. With basecamps in our Blue Ridge backyard as well as exotic locations like Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands and Patagonia, Outward Bound isn’t just a cool place to be a student—it’s a pretty sweet working gig.

dbo-front-of-store

“There is support for employees’ lives outside of work,” says Alex Schwartz, Safety and Education Resource Coordinator. “Staff are supported in having flexible work schedules to accommodate life needs, exercising during office hours, and pursuing a healthy life-work balance.”

A typical day in the office might involve canoeing in the Everglades, working on service projects with indigenous populations, or sea kayaking in the Outer Banks. Talk about an office with a view.

Outdoor Shop

Diamond Brand Outdoors, Asheville, N.C.

Favorites:
NOC Outfitter’s Store, N.C.
Walkabout Outfitters, Va.

Touted as western North Carolina’s first outdoor store, Diamond Brand has been around for 53 years. Its success is largely attributed not to what brands are available on the shelves but to the staff’s conscious effort to get involved in the local community.

“Our biggest asset is our team,” says Diamond Brand’s Marketing Manager Chris Bubenik. “When you walk into the store, you don’t have people just reading off of the tag. You have people who are going outside, too. We have four thru-hikers on staff and they’re not going to be condescending. We want to make the outdoors as accessible as possible.”

The shop regularly hosts free demos, live music, and introductory clinics throughout the year. Its annual Asheville Outdoor Show brings together top innovators and gear companies for a free public expo that includes live music, demos, games, and a nonprofit village.

Fly Fishing Outfitter

Due South Outfitters, Boone, N.C.

Favorites:
Mossy Creek, Va.
Davidson Outfitters, N.C.

Be it wading through headwaters or floating the tailwaters and everything in between, Due South caters its fishing trips to the client’s goals. Owner Patrick Sessoms says he picked Boone for its vibrancy and diversity, both on and off the water.

“One of the most unique aspects of Boone is the heartbeat of the town,” he says. “It seems that everyone in Boone has a true love of the outdoors and its recreational opportunities. Boone in my eyes is an outdoorsy Shangri-La of sorts that happens to offer some of the finest angling opportunities in the Southeast. I find it absolutely fascinating that an angler can catch native trout within the city limits of Boone, and also enjoy prime delayed harvest or tailwater fishing on Watauga or South Holston Rivers all within a short drive of town.”

Running Store

Fleet Feet Sports, Multiple Locations

Favorites:
Crozet Running, Va.
Ragged Mountain Running, Va.

With multiple locations throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and even into the Midwest, Fleet Feet Sports has firmly established itself as a staple business in the running industry. What sets this chain of running stores apart from the rest? The simple fact that it’s not just a place to buy shoes and apparel—it’s a resource for novice and professional runners alike, a place where aspiring runners can find a supportive network and the training tools to be successful.

Bike Shop

Blue Ridge Cyclery, Charlottesville, Va.

Favorites:
The Hub, N.C.
Bike Factory, Va.

In the market for a new bike? Does your ride need a tune-up? Or how about your off-season training—how will those New Year’s resolutions hold up a month from now? Blue Ridge Cyclery can help with all of the above, and then some. From bike fitting to weekly group training sessions, these guys pride themselves on being more than just a bike shop.

Environmental Organization

Appalachian Voices, Boone, N.C.

Favorites:
Mountain True, N.C.
Carolina Climbers Coalition, N.C.

For 20 years, Appalachian Voices has given voice to those without—to rivers and mountains, to the air we breathe and the Appalachian natives who have been ignored for generations.

“We are in tumultuous times as America’s massive energy sector shifts from fossil fuels to solar, wind and other clean sources,” says Appalachian Voices Communications Director Cat McCue. “Appalachian Voices works at the very nexus of that transition, defending our region from mountaintop removal coal mining and massive fracked-gas pipelines, while promoting clean energy sources that create jobs, community wealth, and a healthy and just future for Appalachia.”

In 2016, the organization worked hard to shed light on the threats our beloved Russell Fork River faces from coal mining, held Duke Energy accountable for the coal ash spills of 2014, and assessed hundreds of abandoned mine lands for potential use as solar facilities or recreational areas.

Raft Guide Company

Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City, N.C.

Favorites:
ACE Adventure Resort, W.Va.
Adventures on the Gorge, W.Va.

When NOC founders Payson and Aurelia Kennedy took the leap over 40 years ago to create a rafting outfitter in the hills of western North Carolina (then considered an anomaly), little did they know how big their 100-hour work weeks would pay off.

noc-rafting5

Now, the NOC is an internationally respected outfitter, not just for the sheer number of rafting trips that come out of its headquarters, but for its ability to produce Olympian-quality paddlers—at least 22 Olympians, including two gold medalists, have called the NOC home, and with a continually growing Youth Paddling Team, that number is expected to rise. In 2016, the NOC celebrated taking its five millionth guest on a whitewater rafting trip. Here’s to five million more, NOC!

Climbing Company

Fox Mountain Guides, Pisgah Forest, N.C.

Favorites:
Coopers Rock Climbing Guides, W.Va.
Pura Vida Adventures, N.C.

Now, more than ever, young families and adults are looking to experienced-based vacations like camping and whitewater rafting. It’s this, says Fox Mountain guides co-owner Karsten Delap, who purchased the top-notch guiding company back in 2012, that makes it imperative for people to know who is taking them into the backcountry and what their qualifications are.

dsc09927

“A lot of people might not know that when they hire a guide, he or she might just be a climber,” Delap says, as opposed to an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)-certified and insured instructor. Fortunately for the Southeast, Fox Mountain Guides provides the only AMGA accredited guide service in the region, which means you can worry less about your guide’s competency and more about the important things, like stopping your typewriter leg or how your butt looks in a harness. From ice climbing in the northeast to family friendly top roping, Fox Mountain offers it all.

Climbing Gym

River Rock Climbing Gym, Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:

Smoky Mountain Adventure Center, N.C.
Peak Experiences, Va.

Located right off the Roanoke River Greenway in the Wasena neighborhood’s renovated Ice House, River Rock is a prime example of the magic that can happen when a community unites behind a movement, which, in the case of Roanoke, happens to be the growth of outdoor recreation. The climbing gym provides 4,500 feet of bouldering , averaging 12—16 feet in height, with an additional 4,000 square feet of top-rope and lead climbing routes that max out at 37 feet. That’s not to mention the weekly climbing clinics, annual competitions, and youth climbing team that are encouraging new generations of climbers in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Ski Resort

Snowshoe Mountain, Snowshoe, W.Va.

Favorites:
Wintergreen Resort, Va.
Beech Mountain, N.C.

At 4,848 feet in elevation, Snowshoe can easily receive upwards of 180 inches of snow per season. The resort offers the whole enchilada of snow activities, from beginner terrain parks to advanced double black diamonds and tube parks, which means everyone in your group, no matter their experience level, is bound to have a good time. For those who will never hit the slopes, the “Beats on the Basin” concert series at The Connection Nightclub is worth it just for the dancing and happy hour specials.

Yoga Studio

A Place to Breathe, Charlottesville, Va.


Favorites:
Sunrise Yoga Studio, N.C.
Uttara Yoga Studio, Va.
Asheville Community Yoga, N.c.

In the go-go-go, high-stress society in which we live, it’s important to stop and take a moment to heal your body. A Place to Breathe knows this and prides itself on providing those avenues for meditation, stress relief, and beginner’s yoga.

Zip Line

The Gorge, Saluda, N.C.


Favorites:
Beanstalk Journeys, N.C.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, N.C.

Experience North Carolina’s Green River Gorge like you’ve never seen it before—from the trees. Touted as “America’s steepest, fastest” zip line and canopy tour, The Gorge offers 11 zip lines spanning over one mile that descend 1,100 vertical feet. Hold on tight. It’s a wild ride.

Farmer’s Market

Foothills Farmer’s Market, Shelby, N.C.

Favorites:
Roanoke City Market, Va.
Grandin Village Community Market, Va.

From April through the end of November, Shelby’s Foothills market operates out of the beautiful City Pavilion. The market, which was created in 2008, is more than just a place to buy local goods—it’s a nonprofit that aims at creating viable opportunities for small and mid-size family farms in the area as well as uniting the community in appreciation of the area’s longstanding agricultural history.

App for the Outdoors


MTB Project

Favorites:
All Trails
Land of Waterfalls

What initially started as a basic online forum meant to connect mountain bikers to backyard trails has now grown into one of the most popular and regularly used apps in the outdoors, featuring over 85,000 miles of mountain bike trails around the world. The app comes complete with no-cell-service functioning capabilities, turn-by-turn cues, and practically every piece of information you’d ever want to know about your next favorite ride.

Outdoor Adventure Automobile

Subaru Outback

Favorites:
Toyota Tacoma
Subaru Crosstrek

It’s compact, it’s versatile, it’s the most bang you can get for your buck. Whether you’ve got the back packed with gear, dogs, or your sleeping setup, there’s no doubt about it that the Outback is the most classic adventure-mobile going.

Up-and-Coming Outdoor Business

Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team, Asheville, N.C.

Favorites:

Thrifty Adventures, N.C.
Roanoke Mountain Adventures, Va.

 In 2013, a group of western North Carolina’s climbing and high-angle rescue elite came together to form the volunteer-based Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team (AMRT), the first of its kind in the Southeast. Together, this cohort of 20 mountain rescue professionals serve within a 150-mile radius of Asheville, N.C., which includes parts of Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and even some of Georgia. Their goal is to support the climbing community and provide training resources and clinics, such as their climber self-rescue clinic that takes place at the Carolina Climbers’ Coalition annual event, The Rumble.

“We have world-class climbing here in the Southeast, and truly some of the most rugged terrain in the United States,” says AMRT volunteer Corey Winstead. “Sometimes access just to the places we love to climb involves significant travel through steep terrain, heavily forested terrain, and sometimes technical terrain,” which, says Winstead, is exactly what AMRT volunteers are trained to handle.

Outdoor Club

Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), Asheville, N.C.

Favorites:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy, W.Va.
Pisgah Area SORBA, N.C.

Since 2011, SAWS has been providing stewardship opportunities in public lands throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Their mission? To cultivate respect for the natural world and educate the public on ways to get involved.

“In the first six years, we had over 50,000 hours of stewardship to public lands,” says SAWS founder and Executive Director Bill Hodge. “Our mission is to help people understand why in 1964, Congress, by a wide margin, passed the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is a place where, as a species, we realize there is something greater than our needs and our own desires of being able to dominate the landscape. You have to meet nature on its own terms. That’s what makes wilderness so powerful.”

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PEOPLE

Adventurer of the Year

Adriene Levknecht, Greenville, S.C.

Favorites:
Helena Kotala
Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer


The year 2016 was a big one for Levknecht. Voted Canoe & Kayak Magazine’s Female Paddler of the Year, she came in third at the Little White Salmon Race, second at GoPro Mountain Games, and first at both the Lord of the Fork and the Green River Race. She’s won the Green Race consecutively for the past eight years. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Queen of the Green broke into the top 10 men’s, tying with former Green Race winner Andrew Holcombe and race organizer John Grace with a time of 04:35. A first in Green Race history.

clarkmerle

All of this from a gal who started 2016 not with a bang, but with dengue, which she contracted in Costa Rica just days after her engagement to Dagger Kayaks designer Snowy Robertson.

“I lost 15 pounds during the whole thing” Levknecht says. “I came out of 2015 strong as I’ve ever been and then that strength just went away. It just vanished in a week, so that was pretty frustrating.”

Levknecht, fire that she is, didn’t let it stop her. She was back on the water just four days after her fever broke. And while most would take to a quiet stretch of familiar water, Levknecht headed south to Ecuador, where she raced on the Upper Jondachi. Though she had never paddled the class V section of river before, she placed second literally just one second behind the only other female paddler.

Most would be content with this amazing comeback (or making it safely down the river, period). But Levknecht isn’t like most people. She trained harder, fighting the lingering fatigue and effects of dengue well into the spring. But when she crossed the finish line on the Little White Salmon third out of three women, again by a matter of seconds, the frustration had come to a head.

“I don’t want to say I was disappointed, but I was disappointed,” she says.

While many of her fellow paddlers spent the summer traveling and paddling hard rivers every week, Levknecht took eight weeks off to work full-time for First Descents, a non-profit that provides free outdoor adventure opportunities for young adults fighting cancer.

“It’s those kids that give me strength when I’m training for a really hard race,” Levknecht says. “If you put your head down, you can really do anything. 80 percent of the battle is your head.”

In addition to continuing her competition circuit for 2017, Levknecht plans on completing a yoga teacher training in Thailand next month. As for the Queen of the Green and her record hold on the gold?

“Someone’s going to have to wear the crown eventually. In my race this year I spun out for the first time ever in over six years. I know I can go faster.”

Best Instagram Account

@justincostner

Favorites:
@VisitWaterfalls
@sdeanphotos

With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, would you be surprised at all if I told you Justin Costner picked up photography just four years ago when he discovered North Carolina’s Linville Gorge Wilderness?jcost-hikemorefallphotogwkshp-001

“I never knew anything about the gorge, but seeing all of these amazing views of Shortoff, I started snapping little iPhone photos,” Costner says.

About a year later, Costner bought a Canon T3i, his first DSLR. For a while, he defaulted to shooting on automatic, but when he stumbled upon a step-by-step guide to DIY night photography, he decided to give it a whirl. One weekend, he grabbed a friend, a tent, some lights, and headed for the gorge.

“I had no idea you had to do manual focus on night shots,” he remembers, “but I just kept playing around and accidentally got one that was really good.”

Now, Costner’s lighted tents and night scenes are a staple of his work. He regularly hosts photography workshops near his home in North Carolina and his work has been featured on Visit North Carolina, Chaco, The North Face, and Grandfather Mountain Country Club.

“I think one of the coolest things about Instagram is of course the networking, but it opens up a whole new world to people. You can pretty much travel anywhere in the world with a scroll of the thumb. It creates this wanderlust and shows people what’s out there.”

Best Photographer

Steve Yocom, North Carolina

Favorites:
Derek Diluzio, N.C.
Shannon Millsaps, N.C.

For Philadelphia native, Maggie Valley, N.C., transplant Steve Yocom, the outdoors, and photography, were later-in-life discoveries. You can thank Asheville for that. When Yocom started doing IT work for a healthcare company in town, he began exploring his backyard. The more he saw, the more he wanted to document what he saw.

“I used my bonus money to get a camera, just a starter kit. I brought it out every weekend on trips,” and the rest, he says, is history.

Yocom’s early work mostly features his two dogs, Asia and Cain. They’re not your typical pet portraits, not unless you count epic sunrise and frozen whisker shots as “typical.” For Yocom, his dogs weren’t just his only models at first—they were, and continue to be, his best adventure partners.

“One time I ran into this guy and he told me, ‘You’re never going to sell anything if there’s a dog in every picture.’ But I just shot a catalog for an outdoor dog brand. I can’t wait to run into that guy again. It’s super important to just shoot what you love because that’s where the passion is,” and that, he says, is more authentic than any model could ever be.

Regional Athlete

Gordon Wadsworth, Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:
Ty Caldwell, N.C.
Jay Reese, Va.

There’s more to this guy than mustaches, American flags, and life-crushing quads. To date, Gordon “Quadsworth” is the three-time singlespeed USA Cycling National Champion and three-time National Ultra Endurance Series singlespeed Champion. He’s been hailed as the “Fastest Singlespeeder in the World,” and we don’t doubt it—last year our readers voted Wadsworth Adventurer of the Year.

So how does he do it, especially on top of a 30-hour work week?

“In the winter, that means you’re either starting in the dark or ending in the dark,” Wadsworth says. “It really kinda adds some gravity to what you’re doing. If you’re getting up before light or finishing in the dark, you’re planning for several hours of changing temperatures and it can be an epic thing. It can also get boring really quick.”

Wadworth compensates long, lone hours in the saddle with group rides, which, when you live in a city like Roanoke with an active cycling community, it’s not hard to tap into any one of the area’s weekly rides.

“I often invite someone to ride with me, or meet someone on a ride, or start my ride and catch up to a group. I try to incorporate that social element to my riding because I know my personality and it helps me commit to really long rides. I don’t stress it if I go out with the local junior team rather than doing my own intervals.”

On most training weeks, Wadsworth is on a bike at least 12 to 18 hours. When he’s building volume, which typically happens in winter, early spring, and late summer, he can spend upwards of 30 hours a week in the saddle. He says getting out on the trails with his wife Emily and their schnauzer mutt pup Pippy keeps him grounded to the very heart of his cycling pursuits which is, quite simply, to have fun.

“I try to prioritize taking racing seriously, but not to the point that it’s fatiguing. I think people tend to burn out when they have one monster goal, and they finish it, and then you don’t see them at all that next year. I want to build a really great athlete reputation and lifestyle and fitness, but with a tone of adventure,” which might include, for example, activities such as running to each of the Roanoke area’s seven peaks, a challenge most residents conquer in seven weeks but which Wadsworth and a friend tackled in a single day last November.


Raft Guide

Kaitlyn Stell, Bryson City, N.C.

Favorites:
Joe Dean, N.C.
Jonny Horton, N.c.

At 12 years old, Kaitlyn Stell knew she wanted to be a raft guide. She’d just had her first whitewater rafting experience ever on the Ocoee River. Her guide, Tanner, was charming and enthusiastic. He made Stell and her family feel like his longtime friends. Fast-forward just six years. Stell, now a raft guide for the NOC, is guiding a trip on the Nantahala. She has her own crew, her own guide stick, her own raft. And who should come floating past but Tanner, the very guide who inspired her to follow her dream.

“That was pretty cool, getting to tell him that he was my guide and for him to see that now I had become a raft guide,” Stell says. “I really like the fun and exhilaration you get from rafting, but also the families that come through. I’m a really big people person, so that makes it fun for me.”

And, despite the NOC’s location in western North Carolina, Stell says she gets to experience an amazing amount of diversity through her guests, like the Indian family from Texas who drove to the NOC just to go rafting, or the annual group of foreign exchange students from Denmark.

“Their trips literally revolve around me, and that’s how important my job is. I’m giving them new experiences,” she says, just like Tanner provided to Stell all those years ago.

Climbing Guide

Karsten Delap, Pisgah Forest, N.C.

Favorites:
Clifton Gifford, N.C.
Joe Moerschbacher, N.C.

If you spent 250 days a year in the mountains, 150 of which you were paid for, life would seem pretty good, right? For Fox Mountain Guides co-owner and guide Karsten Delap, life is pretty damn sweet. His house is just 10 minutes away from Looking Glass in western North Carolina. His job takes him around the world guiding climbing trips on big mountains and low-key crags and everything in between. But still, it’s a job.

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“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Delap says. “Physically and mentally, and I don’t plan on it ever getting any easier. There are a lot of days I’d rather be climbing on my own, or hanging out at home, or not travelling. But on the other hand, it’s a Wednesday, and I’m out climbing right now.”

What’s more, Delap says the satisfaction he feels when seeing a former client organizing and executing climbing adventures of their own is indescribable.

“I didn’t have someone who could mentor me,” Delap says. “The best part of this job is being able to be a part of someone’s adventure through that mentorship.”

Fly Fishing Guide

Patrick Sessoms, Boone, N.C.
Favorites:
Colby Trow, Va.
Kevin Howell, N.C.

There was a time when Patrick Sessoms was on the path to be an engineer, but that lasted all of a minute. In reality, Sessoms would have studied angling in college had Appalachian State University offered it as a major. Practically every minute he wasn’t behind the books, he was on the water. So when Sessoms bought a drift boat the day after walking across the stage, it came as little surprise to his friends and family.

patrick-sessomsdue-south-outfitters_sam-dean-_-explore-boone-free

“Some of my most fond childhood memories stem from roaming the creeks surrounding Boone,” Sessoms says. “Being able to share those experiences with fellow anglers is hands down one of the most rewarding aspects of being a professional fly fishing guide.”

A.T. Thru Hiker

Jamy Beth Suminski, Franklin, N.C.
Favorites:
Kathryn Herndon
Karl Meltzer

When Suminski, or “Eddy Spoudazo” as she later became, set foot on the trail at Springer Mountain, Ga., February 10, 2015, she had no intentions of making any friends. Really, she would have been content not to see another soul at all. That’s why she left so early in the first place.

But when her father got off the trail after the 60-mile marker, and Suminski was finally truly alone, the magic of the Appalachian Trail showed itself.

“I was cautious about the fact that I was a female hiking alone,” she says. “On Big Bald in Tennessee, it was one of the harder days for me physically. It was really cold and windy and my feet were hurting and I was alone. I got on top of Big Bald, and the sun started setting. I just sat up there and watched it. I couldn’t think about my feet hurting.”

She also couldn’t think about the fact that she would now have to night hike to the shelter, something that would have normally unnerved her. When she arrived, a group of college kids greeted her with a steaming bowl of chili. Whatever doubts she’d had about being alone, and making friends, melted.

“People are very kind, a lot more so than we give each other credit for,” she says. “People are kinda isolated in the way we live now. We’re on computers and phones and you walk down the street and you don’t make eye contact. It was really cool to see how many strangers and friends were willing to step up and go out of their way just to be kind. If you look for it, it’s everywhere, not just the AT.”

Despite learning of her grandmother’s passing just two days before she summited Katahdin, Suminski successfully completed the trail. The beauty of her hike came not from any record-setting pace or act of heroism—it came out of the diligent self-discovery that surfaces from months spent walking in the woods, which should be considered an act of heroism unto its own.

“I think not just myself but people in general underestimate themselves,” she says. “My friend Mojo says you can do anything if you just have a fresh pair of socks on.”

Inspiring Outdoor Person

Anna LevesqueAsheville, N.C.
Favorites:
Marion Childress, Va.
Gerry James, Ky.

Former Canadian Freestyle member and bronze medalist Anna Levesque is well respected among the paddling community for Girls At Play, a kayaking resource she created over a decade ago that caters specifically to women and whitewater. Levesque’s insight and sensitivities to the predominantly male sport were ahead of her time—some in the industry dismissed the possibility that men and women approach risk, and therefore adventure sports, differently. But Levesque held her ground. She fought for inclusiveness within the world of kayaking. Now, she’s taking on another stigma of the industry that goes beyond the river to the mind, body, and soul of paddlers.

“I used to think I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was active,” Levesque says. “That was my assumption. I’m an outdoors person, therefore, I am healthy. But getting outside and exercising is only one piece of health. Diet and lifestyle do matter.”

That’s why Levesque became a certified Ayurveda Wellness Counselor last year. Her message is simple: taking care of your mind and body will better serve your adventure sport of choice.

“In our culture, because there is so much stress, vigorous exercise isn’t always the answer,” she says. “We don’t give ourselves that time and space to rest. I want to advocate for healthy lifestyles. Kayakers have a tendency to go paddle all day and then eat pizza and drink beer all night. There’s nothing wrong with beer, but that’s not sustainable for the body. The body itself still needs to process nutrition and it needs healthy nutrition to function properly.”

In April of this year, Levesque will be releasing her Falcon Guides book, Yoga for Paddling, which addresses the best postures for canoeists, kayakers, and standup paddleboarders. Her mission is to urge paddlers of all disciplines to practice yoga as a means of prevention.

“Paddling requires repetitive motions that throw our bodies out of alignment which can cause a higher risk of injury, lower back pain, hip pain, shoulder injuries, and general discomfort,” she says. “Instead of waiting for an injury to happen and then turning to yoga, I’m encouraging paddlers to incorporate yoga into their fitness routine so they can reduce the risk of injury.”

Outdoor Legend

Andy Nichols
Favorites:
Dave Perrin, N.C.
Mike Fischesser, N.C.

If you’re worried about the future of our kids or our beloved public lands, you can sleep well at night knowing Andy Nichols of Rappahannock County, Va., is on your side. Nichols is a jack-of-all-trades, a retired Naval Commander turned college adventuresports professor with an affinity for ski bumming, suffer fests, and of course, passing all of that experience along in the form of environmental stewardship and education.

Nichols is the founder of Shenandoah Mountain Guides and the Old Rag Mountain Steward program in Shenandoah National Park. He’s a Leave No Trace Master Educator, a Lead Instructor for the National Park Service’s Eastern High Angle Technical Rescue Training Cadre, and founder of numerous non-profits like ALOFT, which provides outdoor activities to teens with incarcerated parents, and YAHA, or Young at Heart Adventures, which offers adventures for adults 50 years and older.

Throw in a few long-distance paddling trips across Scotland and circumnavigating the Delmarva Peninsula on top of raising three sons, it’s hard not to wonder—what’s with this guy?

“Most of what this is for me, is following a calling to get people into the natural world,” Nichols says. “Despite my best efforts at being ‘normal’ in 1993, I had to give in to that fundamental call,” 1993 being the year Nichols considered being a stockbroker for all of one minute. “All I really am is just a cog in the wheel, trying to get as many people engaged with nature as I can. If you don’t have young people in the outdoors, I don’t care who is in office. It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have a population engaged with nature.”


Bike Mechanic

Andy Forron, Fayetteville, W.Va.
Favorites:
Chris Heslin, Va.
Tim Richardson, Va.


Born and raised in Summersville, W.Va., Forron taught himself at a young age how to fix his own bike. This was before the time of YouTube and Google, mind you, but what alternative was there? Southern West Virginia wasn’t exactly known for its lucrative bike shop scene. Now, Forron’s at the heart of mountain biking in West Virginia with his shop New River Bikes in downtown Fayetteville.

“It’s cool to be able to help people and keep them out doing something they like,” Forron says. “Plus, I love the random crazy phone calls that make no sense whatsoever. The people who aren’t fully functioning members of society, they typically like bikes.”

What’s not cool about being a bike mechanic? Getting texts at random hours of the day asking how to fix such-and-such on so-and-so’s bike.

“And dirty bikes. I really hate dirty bikes. Especially bikes that are infested with bees or spiders or poison ivy. If you have to weed eat the bike out, don’t bring it to me.”

[nextpage title=”Events”]

EVENTS

Fly Fishing Event

Tenkara Jam, Cherokee, N.C.


Favorites:
Mossy Creek Invitational, Va.
WNC Fly Fishing Expo, N.C.

For two days, tenkara junkies from far and wide flock to the Smokies to learn about rods and gear, clubs and stream advocacy, and just about anything else related to tenkara angling. New anglers and seasoned guides alike will learn something new at this one-of-a-kind fly fishing event.

Costumed Event

Superhero Race, Roanoke, Va.


Favorites:
Trick or Treat Train, Ky.
Halloweenfest, N.C.

Everyone can be a superhero! Raise money for a good cause with the entire family. The Superhero Race runs in conjunction with Roanoke’s GO Outside Festival and proceeds go toward Family Promise, a community-based team of volunteers who provide temporary housing and meals for homeless families with children.


Toughest Event

Blue Ridge Marathon, Roanoke, Va.


Favorites:
Off-Road Assault on Mount Mitchell, N.C.
Mount Mitchell Challenge, N.C.

Runners, beware. This race is known to crush souls and bring grown men to tears. With over 7,430 feet in elevation change, 780 of which come in the first two miles, you might not have the energy to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the course as it traces the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the race, enjoy a cold beverage and some live entertainment in town.

Rowdiest Outdoor Event

Gauley Fest, Summersville, W.Va.


Favorites:
GO Outside Festival, Va.
Burning Can, N.C.

Gauley Fest is one of those events you have to attend to understand the scope of rowdiness. On the water, you’d be hard-pressed to find better entertainment than that of Pillow Rock. Here, hordes of partying paddlers elbow their way to be front and center for the show of rock splats, tombstones, dump trucks, and Creature Craft hijacking. At the festival, the raucousness continues with boat-throwing tournaments and late-night carnage films. Of course, all of this unruliness comes for a good cause—the support of American Whitewater.

Festival

GO Outside Festival, Roanoke, Va.


Favorites:
Lockn’, Va.
Guest Appreciation Festival, N.C.

Appealing to every outdoor enthusiast, no matter their skillset, GO Outside Festival has more than doubled in size in its five-year history. Its success is due, in part, to its inclusiveness and diverse offerings, not to mention the unconditional support of the community. So what’s so great about it? Eventgoers can demo standup paddleboards, slacklines, and bikes. There’s music, beer, and even lumberjack competitions. Over the course of the weekend, there are over 30 bike-related events and races, including free shuttles to the top of Mill Mountain for those demoing mountain bikes. New last year was the addition of camping onsite. And the best part about it all is the price tag: free.

Obstacle Race

Mad Anthony Mud Run, Waynesboro, Va.


Favorites:
Spartan Race, Multiple Locations
Tough Mudder, Multiple Locations

The 6th annual Mad Anthony Mud Run is set to take place February 25th and the conditions could be in your favor, or against. Years past have seen temperatures as low as nine degrees to as high as 60 degrees. Regardless, be prepared to get worked. Obstacles have included mud tunnels, six-foot walls, hay bales, and boggy creek crossings.


Adventure Race

Shenandoah Epic 26-Hour, Bentonville, Va.

Favorites:
Wild Gear Chase, Va.
Pisgah 26.2-Hour Adventure Race, N.C.

Now in its seventh year, this burly race takes participants over 100 miles through the rugged terrain of the Shenandoah Valley. Racers will be required to hike, bike, paddle, orienteer, and even rappel over the course of 24 hours. Think you can hack it? Go solo or bring some friends for teams up to four. You’ll need all of the help you can get.

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Triathlon

Nation’s Triathlon, Washington, D.C.


Favorites:
Off the Rails Triathlon, Va.
SavageMan Triathlon, Md.

The only triathlon in the nation’s capital, this event has attracted more than 600,000 athletes since its inception in 1988. The course takes participants past some of the city’s most historical attractions—swimming in the Potomac alongside the Arlington Cemetery and under the Memorial Bridge, biking past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, and running adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial and National Holocaust Memorial.


Climbing Event

Big Lick Showdown, Roanoke, Va.

Favorites:
Triple Crown Bouldering Series, Ala., Tenn., N.C.
PsicoRoc, W.Va.

The world of competitive bouldering is a fast-growing sport and at the heart of it in Virginia is River Rock Climbing. A USA Climbing-sanctioned competition, the “Big Lick Showdown” is open to anyone 14 years and older, whether you’re just out to have fun or make it to the regional level.


Paddling Event

NOC Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF), Bryson City, N.C.

Favorites:
Green River Race, N.C.
Gauley Fest, W.Va.

Every year, the NOC says “thanks” to its guests with a fun weekend complete with used gear sales, bike trials, and special releases on the Upper Nantahala. Even non-paddlers will enjoy the weekend’s cornhole tournaments, live music, and games for the kids. Celebrate the outdoors, the river, and the end of summer at GAF!


Bike Race

Big Ring Challenge, Hayesville, N.C.

Part of the Chain Buster Racing series, this six- and three-hour race takes place on the Jackrabbit Trail system in the Nantahala National Forest. Gear into the big ring for this one—with less than 700 feet of climbing in every 10-mile lap, you can crank out as many laps as you can squeeze into the time limit.

Favorites:
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Downtown Twilight Criterium, Va.
Tour de Valley, Va.

Running Race

Park to Park Half Marathon, Stuarts Draft—Waynesboro, Va.

Favorites:
Blue Ridge Marathon, Va.
Asheville Half Marathon and 10K, N.C.

Already in its ninth year, this half takes racers along central Virginia’s rolling hills and scenic countryside. Proceeds from the race are donated to Therapeutic Adventures out of Charlottesville, Va., a non-profit aimed at providing adaptive outdoor recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities.

[nextpage title=”Food and Drink”]

FOOD + DRINK

Best Coffee Shop

Black Sheep Coffee, Harrisonburg, Va.


Favorites:
Sweet Donkey, Va.
Shenandoah Joe, Va.

Nestled in Harrisonburg’s renovated Ice House, this hip coffee shop not only makes delicious coffee drinks from locally roasted beans and nearby creameries but also provides an open floor plan that encourages socializing and interaction among customers. Owner Chance Ebersold designed it that way. After starting his coffee industry career in Charlottesville, Ebersold decided that a coffee house should be more than a place to get coffee—be it business meetings or creative collaborations, Black Sheep welcomes community engagement on all levels.

Late-Night Eatery

South Street Brewery, Charlottesville, Va.


Favorites:
Texas Tavern, Va.
Waffle House, Multiple Locations

Open until 1 a.m. seven days a week, South Street is ideally situated one street back from Charlottesville’s downtown walking mall, which makes it a perfect place to grab some grub after seeing music at the Pavilion or The Jefferson Theater. The brewery’s locally inspired and sourced menu transcends typical pub food—try the gourmet three cheese mac ‘n’ cheese, cauliflower “wings,” or honey chicken cordon bleu to taste for yourself.parkwaybrewing_visit-virginias-blue-ridge-freeDistillery

Silverback Distillery, Afton, Va.

Favorites:
Virginia Distillery Company, Va.
Smooth Ambler Spirits, W.Va.

At Silverback Distillery, you can take solace in your glass of bourbon, whiskey, gin, or vodka knowing that its ingredients were sourced from Virginian farmers and that the final product was produced in an energy efficient, geothermal distillation process. Look out for the distillery’s solar panel system in the years to come.

Brewery

Parkway Brewing, Salem, Va.

Favorites:
Blue Mountain Brewery, Va.
Devils Backbone, Va.

Named for the 469-mile backbone of the Blue Ridge, Parkway Brewing crafts its beers around the natural assets and history of the region, like the Raven’s Roost Baltic Porter and Get Bent Mountain IPA. Even in the dead of winter, the brewery offers weekly music and events.

Cidery

Bold Rock Hard Cider, Afton, Va.; Mills River, N.C.


Favorites:
Urban Orchard, N.C.
Blue Bee Cider, Va.

Bold Rock’s portfolio of hard ciders have expanded tremendously in the past year to include a variety of flavors and styles—from seasonal peach and honeydew, to vintage dry and IPA (that’s India Pressed Apple), Bold Rock’s offerings directly reflect the heritage that surrounds their locations in Virginia and western North Carolina.

Winery

Veritas Vineyard and Winery

Afton, Va.
Favorites:
Chateau Morrisette, Va.
Biltmore Estate, N.C.

In 1999, this family-run vineyard encompassed all of five acres that had previously been a horse and cattle farm. Now, Veritas’ picturesque position against a Blue Ridge mountain backdrop is over 50 acres in size. With a pet- and children-friendly atmosphere, this winery is not exclusive to the elite world of wine connoisseurs. Bring the whole family and come out in the summertime for the vineyard’s Starry Night concert series.


Bar

Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Roseland, Va.


Favorites:
Wasena City Taproom, Va.
The Hub/Pisgah Tavern, N.C.

Vaulted ceilings, exposed pipes, and wooden beams give the otherwise traditional bar at Devils Backbone a modern touch. Cozy in vibe, yet large enough to comfortably hold a crowd, this bar is always packed in the evenings. Proudly displayed high on the walls are big game trophies from founder Steve Crandall’s most treasured hunting excursions.

Post-Adventure Hangout

Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Roseland, Va.


Favorites:
Oskar Blues, N.C.
Blue Mountain Brewery, Va.

Just minutes down the road from regional outdoor destinations like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Crabtree Falls, and the Appalachian Trail, Devils Backbone is so conveniently situated, you’d be silly not to end your day in the woods with a brew or two. In warmer weather, the outdoor area affords a relaxing space to sit by the fire pit or challenge friends in a cornhole tournament in a setting surrounded by the Three Ridges Wilderness.


Breakfast

Scratch Biscuit Company, Roanoke, Va.


Favorites:
Biscuit Head, N.C.
The Black Sheep, Va.

There’s a new breakfast place in town that is making everything from scratch…literally. Roanoke native and Scratch Biscuit Company owner Nathan Webster used reclaimed wood from Virginia to craft the interior of his breakfast joint, which is decorated with antique farm tools from the area. His biscuits, which start at just $2, are dense and filling, made from none other than a family-owned and operated flour company based out of, you guessed it, Virginia.

scratch-biscuit-photos-56

Vegetarian Restaurant

Laughing Seed, Asheville, N.C.


Favorites:
Firefly Fare, Va.
Happy Belly Deli, Va.

Dining at the Laughing Seed is like taking a mini-vacation to an exotic paradise. The food here has an international twist and is all vegetarian with vegan and gluten free options. Meat eaters here will be in the minority, but even non-vegetarians will find something delicious. Might I recommend the Bahn Mi Jackfruit Tacos?

The Little Grill Collective, Harrisonburg, Va.

Vegetarians will not feel neglected at this cozy breakfast-and-lunch spot in downtown Harrisonburg, where every menu item is vegetarian, though meat options are available. The restaurant is worker-owned, which means the good folks cooking and serving your meals care about your experience. Head there in the morning for Lambert’s Platter, a tofu scrambler, and follow up later in the day for a Sesame Ginger Bowl.

Farm to Table

The Harvest Table, Meadowview, Va.


Favorites:
Magpie Meat and Three, N.C.
The Station, W.Va

Conceived out of celebrated author Barbara Kingsolver and her family’s yearlong stint of eating only the things they could barter for or grow, The Harvest Table makes a point of funneling as much money back into the local economy as possible. The restaurant only sources ingredients within a 100-mile radius and refuses to use feedlot meat or items like lemon that don’t expand the palate of the customer. To compensate for the off-season and produce availability, the restaurant also owns and operates its own four-acre farm just a few miles down the road.

Restaurant

The Copper Door, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:


Devils Backbone, Va.
Whistlestop at Big South Fork, Ky.

Inspired by Chef Dennis Barber’s Louisiana upbringing, The Copper Door’s menu is infused with the tastes of New Orleans. Aged steaks and fresh salmon, shrimp, and grits are staple items here. Exposed stone fireplaces and brick walls give this otherwise fine-dining experience a rustic finish that will appeal to every generation of foodies.

Ice Cream

Chinquapins Ice Cream and Soda Shop, Hayesville, N.C.

Favorites:
The Hop, N.C.
Klines Dairy Bar, Va.

Established in 1875 by Peter Tiger, this ice cream and soda shop is the oldest continually operated business in Clay County, now onto its fifth generation of Tigers. Grab a classic hand-dipped ice cream cone or malt on your next visit to Hayesville—one scoop is like going back in time.

BBQ

Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Roseland, Va.

Favorites:
The Lick BBQ, Va.
12 Bones, N.C.

Nothing says “southern” like house-smoked pulled pork saturated in a house made barbeque sauce (if we had to guess, there’s likely a splash of Devils Backbone beer in there), piled high on a toasted brioche roll, all washed down with a Virginia-crafted brew. Now that’s dinner done right.

Tacos

Brazos Tacos, Charlottesville, Va.

Favorites:


White Duck, N.C.
Tacos Muñoz, N.C

Get to this happenin’ taco shop before 8am and it’s buy one, get one free, or, if you’re not a morning person, get there on Tuesday for $2 tacos. With an entire vegetarian menu plus breakfast tacos all day, any day, Brazos is quickly making its mark on the Charlottesville foodie scene. Oh, and did I mention they have watermelon-jalapeño margaritas?

Burger

Farm Burger. Multiple Locations in Ga., N.C., Tenn., and Ala.


Favorites:
Devils Backbone, Va.
Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, Va.

For a burger chain, this one certainly sets itself apart with its commitment to grassfed, antibiotic- and hormone-free, humanely raised and handled beef. Build your own burger with an array of gourmet ingredients or choose from any one of their standard burgers. Don’t worry, veggies, you haven’t been left out of the mix. The vegan burger is made with tempeh and black-eyed peas. It’s real, and it’s wonderful.

Pizza

Pies and Pints, Fayetteville, W.Va.

Favorites:


Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, N.C.
Crozet Pizza, Va.

Do you like craft beer and gourmet pizza? Then get some at Pies and Pints, the premier West Virginia pizzeria. Popular among raft guides and climbers of the New River Gorge, this place is renowned for specialty pies like the grape and gorgonzola, Thai shrimp and coconut, and chicken gouda.

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