We just got back from a relaxing weekend with friends in the mountains in Southwest Virginia. It’s a place where the highway winds through the mountains, the rivers are wide, and the towns are small. Lately I’ve been spending more time in this part of the state, and I’ve come to appreciate many of the special things this quieter part of Virginia has to offer. There are plenty of outdoor options, like hiking, biking and water activities, especially during the warmer months, along with the opportunity to experience small town charm and home grown music. So next time you are heading west on Interstate 81 in Virginia, take some time to check out these 5 cool things along the way.
1. Stay at Mountain Lake Lodge. If you’ve ever seen the movie Dirty Dancing, then visiting Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke should be on your list. The movie was filmed here in the 1980’s along with locations in North Carolina. It’s worth pointing out that the lake itself has it’s own story, mysteriously filling up and draining over the years. Besides the gorgeous location in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s a fun place for a family weekend. Twice we have had an opportunity to stay, most recently staying in the main lodge. Prior to that, we spent two nights in the Richmond & Thompson multi-unit cabins, which was perfect for the five of us to comfortably spend a few nights. Just a mile from the resort is the Treetop Adventure Center, where we spent a fun afternoon zip lining and trying to keep our balance on the challenge course. Along with Zorb Racing (the giant balls you get inside) and Archery Tag, new this year is the Sky Slide, a five story inflatable water slide. If you are a fan of Dirty Dancing, be sure to inquire about the themed weekends, which are held four times a year.
2. Take a Memorable Hike. If you recognized the title picture, it’s probably because McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed places along the Appalachian Trail. The photo is courtesy of my daughter, who recently had the chance to take in the view at sunrise. It’s a little over 4 miles to the top, where the elevation is around 3,100 feet. It is a popular hike, so expect the weekends to be crowded. Another hike that locals love is the roughly 4 mile round trip hike to view Cascades Falls, a 66 foot waterfall in Pembroke. It’s not an easy hike, and most hikers suggest taking the lower trail to the falls and the upper trail on the way back. Don’t forget to bring $3 in cash for the entrance fee.
3. Paddle on a River, Swim in a Lake or Hike & Bike on a Trail. The New River, considered the oldest in North America, is one of the few rivers on the eastern seaboard that flows northward. Get up close on the river in a canoe, kayak or tube, which can be rented from Foster Falls Boat and Bike Livery. On land, start at one of the 12 public access points to hike or bike along a portion of the 57 mile long New River Trail, including stops in Draper and Hiwassee. Learn more in my post Visit Virginia’s New River Trail State Park. Another option is to head to Claytor Lake State Park to enjoy swimming, hiking and fishing. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, swim in the lake at the guarded beach, and then camp under the stars in one of over 100 campsites. During the summer a weekly stay is required in the 15 cabins and 3 lodges.
4. Spend the Afternoon in a Small Town. Take a stroll back in time and visit any of the charming small towns scattered throughout the area. Stop for lunch at the Blue Door Restaurant in Draper, and then shop at the Draper Mercantile and Trading Company. Or spend the afternoon in downtown Floyd, browsing through the local shops. Just be sure to stop for ice cream and check out the live music in the back of the Floyd Country Store on weekends. The Virginia tourism website has a good blog post highlighting 19 general stores and markets, which includes the Floyd Country Store and BW Country Store.
5. Stroll through the campus of Virginia Tech. Spend a few hours visiting this beautiful campus in Blacksburg. If you’re like me, some of the buildings might make you feel a bit like you are visiting Hogwarts! Take a few minutes to visit the Pylons above the War Memorial Chapel, which honor those former students who died defending our country, going all the way back to World War I. If it’s football season, there is nothing quite like the experience of a college football game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg. Voted as one of the best openings in football, you’ll feel left out if you aren’t jumping when the Virginia Tech Hokies come running out of the tunnel, or shaking your car keys on third down. After the game, head into Blacksburg to eat, but be warned that the town will be packed. Two favorites are Cabo Fish Taco and the Cellar Restaurant.
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