As I recently traveled through the Virginia Mountains region in the western portion of the state, I was met with surprise around every corner. While I know there are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had, there was so much more to do. I ate, I drank and I loved every minute of my time in these charming small towns, blissful mountains, and curvy roads (perfect for a daytime motorcycle ride!).
Driving through the Alleghany Highlands, I arrived at lunchtime to Jack Mason’s Tavern & Brewery (Trip Advisor rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, #1 restaurant in Clifton Forge). The owners have been here in Virginia for about 10 years and saw a need for a fun gathering place for family and friends. I ate my yummy southwest salad in the game room, complete with a pool table, TV’s for the big game, video games, and a pinball machine that was right out of my childhood.
I stopped at the C&O Railway Heritage Center after lunch (Trip Advisor rating 4.5 out of 5 stars). One reviewer says “this place is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for rail-fans!” What a perfect description! It has a model train inside and is filled with railway history. The staff is very knowledgeable and friendly.
I drove about 40 minutes south down VA-159 and hit the small and charming town of Paint Bank, Virginia. If you want to disconnect for a bit, go and visit this town. I didn’t have great cell service but that’s exactly what I needed. I stayed at the Depot Lodge (Trip Advisor 4.5 stars), part of a “village” that is a restored train depot. On the front porch, you will find a bicycle built for two. There are many lodging options at the Depot: the main lodge, cabins, an airstream trailer, a caboose, and even glamping.
I walked across the street to the Paint Bank General Store, which has the heart of an old-timey store but has modern-day gifts and groceries. I bought farm-raised buffalo meat and the best hand soap in town. In the same general store, I found the Swinging Bridge Restaurant (Trip Advisor 4 stars), which actually has a swinging bridge upstairs. I recommend any of the cobblers for dessert. The night I dined there was a choice of apple, blueberry, blackberry, or peach. During the busy season, there is a live music, too.
The next morning I got in the car and drove about an hour and stopped in Botetourt County. Botetourt was founded in 1770 and post-Revolutionary War, the county’s jurisdiction was extended to the Mississippi River, encompassing what is now seven states (Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and part of Illinois and Wisconsin). If you find yourself driving through the areas of Fincastle, Troutville, Buchanan, or Daleville, stop and take a leisurely stroll. You will find charm, history, and hospitality. Before you leave Daleville, visit Daleville Town Center, which often hosts live concerts on the lawn. Dine and drink (40 taps!) at Daleville Town Center Tap House (Trip Advisor 4 stars). Another option is Tizzone Wood Fired Kitchen & Wine Bar (Trip Advisor 4.5 stars), which is Daleville’s first wine bar and wood-fired kitchen. I recommend the California pizza or any of the skillets on Sunday’s.
Continuing along Route 220, I drove south to Route 460, ending up in Vinton at Rosie’s Gaming Emporium. There are 150 historical horseracing machines – what are those – learn here (HHR machines) so I tried my luck and won – $182, to be exact! Rosie’s opens at 8:00am and it was surprisingly busy for a week day morning. While you are visiting, try a “Rosie” donut – it’s red velvet with cheesecake crumble. Five minutes from Rosie’s is the Vinton War Memorial. I stopped by to take a picture of the LOVEwork there. Next, I drove (but you could easily walk the 0.6 miles) to Farmburguesa (Trip Advisor 4.5 stars). I’ve never had a burger that I didn’t like (who’s with me?), but the burgers at Farmburguesa are fresh (they literally make it at the bar while you are watching), locally sourced, and huge – like the size of my hand. I couldn’t finish it. The actual restaurant has 11 (yes, 11!) seats in total. But, if the place is full, take your food to go and walk to Twin Creeks Brewing (Trip Advisor 4.5 stars). The owners started making beer in their garage – so cool. Start a tab and try a large selection. My favorite was the Rye IPA.
When I finished my food and drink, I headed via the Blue Ridge Parkway to Explore Park (Trip Advisor 3.5 stars). Such a scenic drive and only 15 minutes! Explore Park was a recommended stop for both outdoor adventure and camping so it was perfect to head there in the afternoon. The park has 14 miles of dual-use trails and is the #2 disc golf course in the country. They have a new outdoor recreation option called Treetop Quest, a family adventure park for ages four and up with progressively-challenging aerial obstacles guaranteed to provide a thrill. There is also night zip lining offered and a huge 1,500 square-feet cargo net/spider web trampoline that was the most fun. They will have special events there like Scare Quest and Illuminights, a partnership with Center in the Square that will create the region’s largest holiday light event featuring more than 500,000 lights. Remember Twin Creeks Brewing from the paragraph above? They are opening a brewery on-site at Explore Park very soon!
Where do you sleep when you go to Explore Park? Try primitive camping (bring your own tent) with Blue Mountain Adventures – no cars are allowed on the trails, so pack lightly – at one of the campsites or in one of their canvas tents. If the weather allows while you’re there, try your hand at tubing or kayaking.
Another lodging option is Don’s Cab-Inns Campground. Located closely to the new bathhouse, there are secluded wooded sites: either pod cabins, yurts, or RV sites. The cabins are like tiny homes with heat/AC, a queen-size mattress, and a loft bunk with a refrigerator, microwave, and coffee. The yurts sleep up to six and are 16 feet in diameter. Learn other places to visit in Roanoke here or here.
On day three, I woke up and headed towards Rocky Mount, Virginia. I stopped at a place called The Whole Bean Coffeehouse, #1 for coffee and tea on Trip Advisor with a 5 star rating. They feature Red Rooster Coffee and the milk used in their milk-based drinks is from Homestead Creamery; I recommend the Americano. I took my coffee and drove approximately three miles to the Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve. It has about five miles of hiking trails and parking is adjacent to the preserve. There is a great fact sheet here that I read before I visited.
For my payoff, I drove about 9 miles to Franklin County Distilleries. Franklin County itself is the “moonshine capital of the world” and inspiration for the 2012 movie Lawless. Try the 100 proof corn whiskey and different concoctions at the shot bar. Mix some flavors and become your own mixologist! The distillery is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, so make sure to check the hours before you visit.
Next to Franklin County Distilleries is Hammer & Forge Brewery Company (Trip Advisor rating of 5 stars, #1 thing to do in Boones Mill), the newest brewery in Franklin County. On Friday’s, there is live music. For fun, I tried the Dirty Myrtle, simply because I liked the name. Myrtle is a strong one (8.2 % ALC) but the hint of chocolate makes for a great beer. If it gets too loud, just take your beer out back if the weather is agreeable; the outdoor area is charming and there is usually a food truck. Check their hours, too, before going. as they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
After my hike and my tastings and food, I took the beautiful scenic Blue Ridge Parkway about 27 miles to Smith Mountain Lake (Trip Advisor 4.5 stars). This is the second largest freshwater body of water in the state, behind Buggs Island Lake in Clarksville. There are so many activity options that it is terribly hard to choose, including boat tours, fishing tours, air tours, canoeing, kayaking, mini golf, horseback riding, and even a few local winery tasting rooms. I would recommend staying on a house boat while visiting Smith Mountain Lake. These unique and fun rentals hold between 6-10 people so the boats are great for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, reunions, groups, and families.
No matter if you like to eat or drink or get outdoors, you will fall in love with the Virginia Mountains Region. It was an exciting and different experience in Virginia, and I will never forget the views or the people I met.
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