Southwest Virginia: A Great Destination for an Active Weekend!

In the southwest corner of Virginia, not far from the Tennessee state line, is a cluster of outdoor adventure opportunities that makes for a great long weekend.  We spent 3 days hiking and biking there a few weeks ago.

First up, a bicycle ride on the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail.  A rail trail along the historic Virginia Creeper narrow-gauge train route, this trail is very popular with families.  Another rail trail not too far away is The New River Trail, which we rode earlier this year.  The trail surface is gravel with some rough spots and embedded larger rocks, and therefore road bikes with narrow tires are not suitable.  Restrooms and information boards are spaced at convenient intervals…

IMG_1120

The first 17 miles of the trail, from Whitehead Mountain to Damascus, are downhill through the forest.  Some hardy cyclists were riding the other direction, i.e. up the hill.  We went with the majority and caught a shuttle to the top, and then coasted down!  The shuttle service we used and would recommend was The Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon; we had our own bikes and the cost was a reasonable $15 per person for the 50 minute transfer.  This section of the trail is quite scenic, and follow streams for much of the way.

IMG_1127

A total of 45 trestles remain from the railroad days, and add a fun element to the ride…

IMG_1118

After a lunch stop in Damascus, we pedaled the remaining 17 miles to Abingdon through rolling hills and farmland. The day was perfect, with a brilliant blue cloudless sky.

IMG_1134

Our advice if you are going: bring enough warm clothes, take your time, and be sure to follow all instructional signs such as this important one!  🙂

IMG_1125

Day 2 saw us exchange our bikes for hiking boots.  We found out about an undiscovered gem of a hike called The Great Channels.  The trailhead is located 14 miles up a twisting mountain road from I-81.  The trail itself is for the most part a wide path through the forest, with pretty much a constant incline for the first 3 miles.

IMG_1159A half-mile spur trail then takes you to your destination.  From the top of the rocks, you can appreciate deep fissures.

 

IMG_1182

And soak in the long-range views…

IMG_1178

But the real geological uniqueness of this location is found down below, as you weave your way through passages between the tumbled boulders.

IMG_1173

The forces of ice and erosion have carved some of the passages into configurations resembling the slot canyons of the southwestern USA.  Note the small figure of one of the two happy travelers at the bottom of this picture.  Truly a unique destination for this part of the country.

IMG_1167

Day 3 was another hiking day.  Starting at Grayson Highlands State Park, we set out to reach the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the State of Virginia.  The trail eventually leaves the park and joins the famous Appalachian Trail; those of you who have hiked on the AT before will recognize the familiar rectangular white trail blaze.IMG_1192

We really enjoyed this hike because of the near-constant open views…

IMG_1194

At the summit of Mt. Rogers, the terrain changes from open grassy balds and rocky boulders to mossy forest.  A great spot to stop and take a much-deserved rest!

IMG_1211

On the return hike, we encountered the park’s most famous residents: the wild ponies. The term “wild” may be a bit misleading; people have ignored the signs warning about feeding and petting them, and the ponies have become somewhat tame. We were thrilled to see them nonetheless.

IMG_1202

For a base of operations on this long weekend, we chose the town of Abingdon.  The venerable Martha Washington Inn has stately public areas and a great modern spa including an indoor pool and large outdoor jacuzzi which was perfect for soaking our tired muscles.

IMG_1144

Feeling like we burned plenty of calories, we topped off our stay with dinner at the most-recommended restaurant in town, The Tavern.   We enjoyed great food and atmosphere in an historic setting.

IMG_1145

And that ends our little active adventure in the southwest corner of Virginia.  See you next time!


One thought on “Southwest Virginia: A Great Destination for an Active Weekend!

  1. Thanks for firing up our memories. We lived in Abingdon for 5 years in the 80’s. We enjoyed some of the special areas you mentioned, but not all. Our memories include picking gallons of huckleberries among the wild ponies on Whitetop Mt., the annual “ramp” festival in Konnarock, plays at the Barter Theater, and yes, we did enjoy at least one fine meal at The Tavern. Hope we can compare notes sometime. Thanks again for this and your many other travelogs.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s