Southwest Virginia is the perfect place to while away the summer. With the state’s loftiest peaks, expansive wilderness areas, and a large chunk of the massive Jefferson National Forest, the southwest corner of the state is loaded with potential for outdoor adventure. The area is also a cultural hub, offering everything from artisan-fueled markets to legendary performing venues like the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA.

1. Head for the Backcountry

Blanketed by a generous swath of the Jefferson National Forest, dappled with an eclectic patchwork of wilderness areas, Southwest Virginia is a veritable backpacker’s buffet—with plenty to offer trail-lovers after more than a mere day hike.

2. Flavors of the Season

Usher in warmer weather, longer days, and the seasonal rotation of flavors in Southwest Virginia. First peruse the bounty of fresh, locally sourced offerings available at the Abingdon Farmers Market. After the market, head over to the Wolf Hills Brewing Company, which also plays host to a regular entertainment line-up, including everything from live music to trivia nights.

3. High Country on Horseback

One of the most memorable ways to explore the high-country wilderness of Southwest Virginia is on horseback. The area is also especially conducive to equine escapes. A network of bridle trails includes the 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, and you’ll find equine-friendly campsites spread throughout the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

4. Get Artsy

In Southwest Virginia, you can mingle with an array of local artisans—such as members of Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia Artisan Network, or the Arts Depot, a community-based gallery for local artists also located in Abingdon. Patronize the performing arts and catch a show at the Barter Theatre, one of the country’s longest-operating playhouses.

Sara Reese, a resident artist, works on a new piece in her studio at The Arts Depot in Abingdon, VA on Friday, October 19, 2012. Copyright 2012 Jason Barnette

5. Find the Perfect Picnic Spot

Seek out the perfect picnic spot and get an eyeful of southwest Virginia’s mountain-silhouetted vistas with a cruise on the nearly 50-mile Mount Rogers Scenic Byway. The scenic roadway showcases woodland-blanketed slopes, bucolic meadows, and gushing trout streams all while skirting Whitetop Mountain, the second highest summit in the state.

6. Take an Old-Fashioned Fishing Trip

An old-fashioned fishing trip is arguably the best way to spend a warm weather day—even if you don’t get a single bite. Luckily, the chances of coming up empty-handed are slim in Southwest Virginia. The region is loaded with some of the premier fishing spots in the state, from icy trout streams lacing mountain forests to massive lakes.

A man flyfishes near the weir dam in the South Holston River at Osceola Island near Bristol, TN on Sunday, June 9, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

7. Dogs Days of Summer

Does your favorite road-trip buddy have four legs and a tail? The wild spaces of Southwest Virginia are ideal for exploring with your favorite outdoor-loving canine. Best of all, dogs are allowed in all Virginia State Parks—and Southwest Virginia is home to several of the most stunning recreation areas in the state. 

8. Hike the Appalachian Trail

Ask almost any Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and they will tell you the stretch in southwest Virginia is one of the highlights of the entire 2,190-mile footpath. But the region is not just home to some of the trail’s most stunning scenery, Southwest Virginia is also loaded with backpacker-friendly towns and their renowned “trail angels.”

A group leader watches as young backpackers admire a wild pony near the edge of Grayson Highlands State Park at Mile 493 on the Appalachian Trail in VA on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Copyright 2012 Jason Barnette

9. Coast the Creeper

Explore Southwest Virginia on wheels on one of the state’s most stunning bike trails. Tracing the route used by the steam locomotives of the Norfolk & Western Railway, the Virginia Creeper Trail runs 34.3-miles from Abington to Whitetop Station. Outfitters like the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop offer bike rentals and can arrange trail shuttles for riders so you can enjoy a one-way journey downhill.

10. Hit the Water

Lakes are the ultimate warm weather escape—a refreshing dip makes for the perfect finish to a hike, ride, or run. Luckily, Southwest Virginia is not only filled with trails, the region is also scattered with several sprawling lakes. Looking for moving water instead? Southwest Virginia is also braided with runnable rivers. Paddle or float the North Fork of the Holston River with Adventure Mendota, located outside Abingdon.

Two women enjoy reading a book while floating on South Holston Lake near Abingdon, VA on Sunday, June 9, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette