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(2022 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Windows down, radio cranked, I drove along a wedge of Southwest Virginia that could easily be overlooked if you put on your autopilot. Instead, I was haphazardly following my GPS on the main artery known as Interstate 81. My heart racing with each flick of my turn signal, I pondered the possibilities that were beyond each bend.

In this scenery-rich road trip where the tales are as tall as the Blue Ridge Mountains around me, it was easy to imagine myself as the storybook character Alice whose wonderland became Southwest Virginia.

From Bristol to Roanoke in an area known as the Appalachian plateau, the region is a magical realm of wilderness. Blessed with honeycomb caves, rushing rivers, and terrain that changes from some of the oldest mountains on earth to forested floors, I discovered that Southwest Virginia is an outdoor adventurers’ dream for all ages at all skill levels. An under-the-radar destination open for exploration anytime of the year, don’t be surprised by the chilling-out effects as you veer off the big highway, slow down on scenic drives and hit the brake by eye-candy vistas.

I Haven’t Met a View I Didn’t Like in Southwest Virginia

They say the best views are off the beaten path, so I rode less travelled roads whenever possible. One exception was the highly popular Blue Ridge Parkway! Revered as “America’s favourite scenic drive,” my drive easily became a crawl as I stopped at every overlook, present in the moment, watching the cumulus clouds drift atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was as if Mother Nature herself painted the natural setting.

Another day after a scenic drive past quirky roadside attractions like a Big Pencil outside Wytheville and other charming towns where history breathes deep, I arrived at the Appalachian town of Bristol. While drinking in the mountain ridge views on the rooftop terrace of the historic Bristol Hotel, a sense of wonder washed over me as golden magic hour poured amber into amethyst behind the Appalachian Mountains. I knew right then and there that Southwest Virginia would have no shortage of brilliant views.

Sink Into Your Seat on the Back of the Dragon

Tazewell County is home to one of the best (and underrated) motorcycling routes in the United States. When I heard about 400+ turns through hills that loom over 1,000 metres high, this infamous 50-kilometre mountain route sounded like an epic detour. I knew I had to dabble in the Back of the Dragon!

Known as Route 16, this white-knuckle drive connects the towns of Marion and Tazewell via some seriously winding roads. I’m talking sink-into-your-seat-and-hold-on-to-the-door-handle type curves! I only experienced a small portion of the route near Tazewell, but I’m already hooked on the jaw-dropping views as the road snakes through lush landscape. The excitement increased as I sat shotgun to Larry Davidson, the mastermind behind the Back of the Dragon. His passion for the route ingrained in every sentence as he regaled tales of driving on the switchbacks with his family decades earlier. It was clear to me that this road less travelled experience is not to be missed!

Get Out for a Rip on the Spearhead Trails

These days, I seek more solace away from cities and into the comfort of backcountries.… But this preference doesn’t replace my love for adventure! I am addicted to the thrill of racing ridge runs in side-by-sides and ATVs while tackling routes no other vehicle can handle.

In Coeburn, the harrowing Spearhead Trail System offers serious outdoor adventure with nearly 1,000 kilometres of craggy trails. Opt for a guided tour as a passenger with a Spearhead ranger; try the “follow me” option, shadowing an experienced guide; or DIY it.

Another day, at the Trailhead ATV Resort, an indie-owned campground in Virginia’s tallest town of Bluefield, I was fully outfitted for my adrenalin-charged escapade. Match your path to your comfort level. Sandwiched between Spearhead trails and the legendary Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, you can’t beat a nature rollercoaster ride here.

Feel the Adrenalin on Virginia’s Mountain Bike Trails

Around Roanoke, the hills and valleys create impressive mountain biking trails not for the faint of heart. While this nail-biting experience has been saved for a future outdoor adventure, I could only imagine the thrill of the ride in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, racing tight serpentines through the woodlands and forests of America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital!

My muscles are aching just thinking about tackling trails like the hilly Hi-Dee-Ho in Carvins Cove, and the outcrops of Roaring Run’s Upper Hoop Hole. Designated a Silver-Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Virginia’s Blue Ridge has over 640 kilometres of mountain biking trails. If this sounds as intimidating to you as it does to me, there are a number of local options like the Roanoke Valley Greenways for beginners.

A Whole Lot of Love in Southwest Virginia

Everyone loves a good photo opportunity! Across the state, fanciful LOVE signs either paint the countryside or line the thoroughfares. Funded by the Virginia tourism board, as part of the state’s iconic slogan “Virginia is for Lovers,” these public art sculptures announce “love” in creative ways. Every LOVE work is uniquely local. In downtown Bristol, which is the birthplace of country music, instruments spell LOVE. I would return for another road trip to find the other 30 works dotting the Interstate 81 alone!

These love signs aren’t the only way to feel Southwest Virginia’s appeal. Across the roads less travelled, I encountered a distinct passion for the flora, fauna, folks and freeways that fuelled my core.

Being present in the moment, pure authenticity, embracing the stillness of nature—finding that inner peace outdoors is the magic of Southwest Virginia, and a place to capture your imagination as any modern-day Alice playing in this wooded wonderland would.

Did You Know?

By renting a Polaris Slingshot at the tourism centre in Tazewell, you can take the Back of the Dragon to the next level. Tackle the curvy roads inches from the ground in an open cockpit!!


In Wytheville, wear your Fitbit at Big Walker Lookout, a 30+ metre observation tower for heart-throbbing views. Trust me when I say it’s worth every step, stumble, huff and puff to see the brilliant expanse of the Blue Ridge Highlands around you!



Whether you’re a fan of country music or tend to shy away from the genre, The Crooked Road is a quintessential part of Southwest Virginia. This heritage music trail celebrates the incredible talent that has shaped country music into what it is today. Follow your ears as you sashay down the bends and turns of scenic byways to your next destination with these top stops along The Crooked Road.

Get Acquainted with The Crooked Road

It may seem daunting to know where to start your journey along The Crooked Road, as it covers over 480 kilometres of picturesque countryside. So for your intro, head to the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace in Abingdon. This cultural venue, which is the Crooked Road HQ, has unique trail exhibits and is staffed by knowledgeable music lovers loaded with insider tips. If you’re planning on spending some time in Abingdon, make room in your itinerary for their open jam nights on Thursdays.

Boogie the Night Away at the Floyd Country Store

If there is any way to ring in the weekend in Southwest Virginia, it’s with the Friday Night Jamboree at the renowned Floyd Country Store. The live bluegrass performers will mesmerize you as they strum effortlessly to create melodies you feel in your bones. It’s not long before the wooden frame of this quaint dance hall reverberates with foot stomping by enthusiastic locals—and don’t be surprised if they charm you into a jig like Randy did to me! This friendly gesture may surprise you but through these unscripted experiences you will be connected to the heart and soul of Appalachia.

Experience Where Country Music was Born

Virginia probably isn’t top of mind as the country music birthplace. But back in 1927 during the Bristol Sessions, a field unit from the Victor Talking Machine Company arrived for the first recordings of country music (think “The Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family), which ultimately transformed the genre. In Bristol, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum dives deep into these iconic sessions with interactive exhibits. Feel the goosebumps as you don headphones listening to the melodies of bluegrass bands. You can even try yodelling so belt it out at the top of your lungs but remember—everyone in the museum can hear you!

The Crooked Road is the mesh that binds the old and new, creating a circle that won’t be broken. The heritage drive along US 58 is a living history trail of inspiring locals, who will entice you to slow down and linger for a while. Whether you stop in for a jamboree or to try your hand at fiddle making, The Crooked Road will connect you to the heart and soul of Southwest Virginia.




From restaurants to hikes to theatrical performances, here are some ways to get a true taste of Southwest Virginia.

Dine in a Greenhouse

Thanks to a local chef in Bristol, a former dilapidated lot has been transformed into a local eatery called the Bristol Gardens & Grill. Greenhouses laden in vegetables and herbs now dot the property while locally sourced meat is smoked on-site. You’re guaranteed a true taste of Southwest Virginia!

Barter for a Theatre Performance

The Barter Theatre in Abingdon is the longest-running professional Equity theatre in the United States. Opened during the 1930s, the theatre’s ideology was “with vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh.” Admission was 40 cents—or the equivalent in produce! Whatever grub you could spare gained you admission. This tradition carries on every June during Barter Days, so be sure to pick your finest produce as proceeds go to Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Creep Along This Virginia Rail Trail

The Virginia Creeper Trail, named after the struggles of early steam locomotives as they “creeped” up the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a 55-kilometre recreation trail popular with hikers and cyclists. Follow the old rail route that meanders through wide expanses of farmland to dense forests. You’ll traverse over 47 wooden trestles and bridges, enjoying impeccable views of waterways like the Holston River and Laurel Creek.

Wet Your Whistle at the Oldest Bar in the State

In the heart of Abingdon’s historic downtown lies The Tavern. Built in 1779, a year after the town was established, these old stone walls have worn many hats. The local watering hole has been an antique shop, bank, bakery, barber shop, cabinet shop, general store, post office and more! Nowadays, the beloved pub serves up delectable German fare. Grab a seat on their beautiful garden terrace overlooking country greenery for a bite or a bevvy surrounded by rich history.

Truly Escape to the Country in Burke’s Garden

Named after one of Tazewell County’s original surveyors, Burke’s Garden is Virginia’s highest valley. Completely surrounded by Garden Mountain, rightfully earning the nickname “God’s Thumbprint” that’s exactly what it looks like! To add to the whimsy, there are no stoplights, no working post office, no newspaper delivery, no cable television—not even cellphone service. If you’re looking to truly disconnect, a visit to Virginia’s largest rural historical district should do the trick!


For more travel information about Southwest Virginia please visit Virginia.org/Canada


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