Southwest Virginia- A Perfect Getaway for Social Distancing.
"We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.” -John Muirh
My husband and I needed a break from that quarantined cooped up feeling and the routines of our housebound life as a stay at home parent and a (now) remote worker. We are lucky in the fact that we co-own a cabin with family in Elk Creek, Virginia, so we already knew where to go for the perfect get away. Without a doubt Southwestern Virginia is THE area for detoxing from the world we live in today. It's not something words can accurately describe, but as soon as you are there you can feel the difference. A lack of traffic, a winding road through a mountainous scene reminiscent of a painting, lovely nature at every turn, and in the case of our cabin no cell signal, no wifi, and no cable all contribute to a special feeling that calls you back even after you leave. All you have to worry about is you. It may sound scary to some, maybe even impossible to others, but I truly feel everyone should experience the difference a stay like this can impart on your psyche.
Research has proven that being in nature, specifically a forest, or even just looking at natural scenery can reduce stress naturally, improve blood pressure, even help with depression. Our cabin, with its lack of technology, sits on 5 acres of rolling, wooded land, dappled in sunlight providing an excellent opportunity for what the Japanese has coined as "forest bathing". The property is located in Grayson County, whose slogan is Elevated by Nature. And that is truly how you feel there; elevated by nature. Not just in Grayson County, but all over Southwest Virginia. There are miles and miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails. You will find lakes, rivers, and creeks for additional aesthetic beauty, as well as water sport or fishing enjoyment. All the special small towns in the area aid in the feeling of a lack of hurry and quaintness. I wanted to highlight SOME of the beauty and amazing places this area has to offer in hopes you will go and experience the awe of nature we have found there. SWVA will be etched into your heart forever .
We have been to this state park a few times and plan to go back again. The drive alone is worth the visit! So far my favorite hiking trails are Twin Pinnacles and Cabin Creek. Both of these trails are wooded and provide a decent amount of shade for much of the hike. Twin Pinnacles offers majestic views of the boreal forest, Christmas tree farms, and neighboring mountain ranges. Cabin Creek provides cooler temperatures and lush greenery along with creek views and a waterfall. I also like that there are several trails at the park under 3 miles with fairly easy terrain making it a family friendly experience. Grayson Highlands State Park has everything from bouldering to horseback riding trails. The park also boasts feral ponies!
This 57 mile long trail begins in Galax and continues to Pulaski. The trail is mainly flat and well maintained for hiking, running, and biking. Our favorite stretch of the trail (so far) is at the very beginning of the trail head in Galax. There is a very nice restroom you can use before you begin your trip, and a nice deck area with water views by the old red caboose. The partly shaded trail follows Chestnut Creek for quite some time and has a lot of lovely scenery. The trail near Fries offers views of the dam, another red caboose that also serves as an ice cream shop, a very nice play area for kids, along with a cafe. Unfortunately, these things were all closed when we were there due to COVID-19, so check online for hours of operation before you plan a trip. When heading towards Austinville, the trail connects to Shot Tower State Park. Be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and any other supplies you may need. Most of the trail cuts through very rural areas. We have not made it up to Pulaski yet!
Claytor Lake State Park
I love the beach just as much as I love the mountains. Put the two of them together and you get Claytor Lake State Park. The lake is a 21-mile-long reservoir off of the New River formed by the former Claytor Dam. This park has a fantastic beach with mountain views, boat and bike rentals, hiking trails, a simple cafe, a changing area with showers and restrooms, a fishing pier, and a campground. Another perk was the very nice kids playground and picnic tables located right by the beach area. It is truly a beautiful and well maintained park. Our whole family had a blast there! All Virginia state parks have a small entry fee, but to swim or hang out on the beach there is an additional fee for each person. Here is a list of fees for every state park.
Creeks, Rivers, and Waterfalls-
When driving in Southwest Virginia you get to follow alongside many beautiful, bubbling creeks. Near our cabin we have found many areas of water we love. Public access to the actual creek called Elk Creek can be found just 1 mile from our cabin. This is a great creek for trout fishing, playing, or having a picnic. Just a few minutes away we have discovered two waterfalls. Flag Pond Branch Falls is off of Stones Chapel Road. Part of the waterfall may be on private property, however there is a spot on the side of the road where you can park and view the fall. The other, known as South Branch Falls, is a large one in the forest off of Falls Road. You can see it from the road or walk to the bank of the waterfall, but you absolutely need protective clothing, and bug spray due to the natural forest setting. If you are feeling adventurous be sure to watch your step and look out for stinging nettles! Always remember to leave no trace that you have been there.
The best way to find a waterfall is to just drive around with your windows down. Of course that is unofficial advice. That's just how it worked out for us! Exploring all the back roads is half the fun! In Grayson County you will also find Powerhouse Falls in Independence, Comers Creek Falls near Speedwell, and Chesnut Creek Falls near Fries. I am sure this isn't all of them, and there is so much we still haven't gotten to explore. Feel free to let me know if you know of more!
If you enjoy to canoe, kayak, or float you can do that on the second oldest river in the world, the New River between Independence and Galax. There are public boat access ramps, as well as a variety of fishing and camping opportunities. We have also paddled the Little River in Floyd and thoroughly enjoyed this area as well.
Here are some other great spots in SWVA... of course some of them may not be open for a few more months. Go away COVID!
Fort Chiswell Animal Park
Breweries and wineries- Our favorite is West Wind Farm
Public Golf Courses
Blue Ridge Music Center
Jefferson National Forest
South Fork of the Holston River for fishing
Mount Rogers National Recreational Area
Big Walker Lookout
Floyd Country Store
Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre
Hungry Mother State Park
The Blue Ridge Parkway with trails, scenic overlooks, waterfalls
Little Brushy Mountain via Appalachian Trail (Atkins, VA) and a few other trail heads of the Appalachian Trail
Comers Rock Overlook (must have 4 wheel drive to access, or travel by foot)
Elk Creek Dragway
Downtown Abingdon, Wytheville, Galax, Independence, and Floyd
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