Courtesy of Virginia Tourism
The new economy of Southwest Virgina relies on the region's natural resources. Not the coal that lies buried beneath the ground, but the skills of Southwest Virginia's residents, who, for generations, have honed their skills as artists and artisans, mastering everything from music to pottery.
Now the region is ready to share its talents with the rest of the world, in the form of 15 artisan trails, along with the Crooked Road heritage music trail. Read the full story, by Tim Thornton, in the April 2012 issue of Virginia Living magazine. Below we offer you a guide to the trails, which we hope will inspire you to pat Southwest Virginia a visit and see what's happening there.
Along each of the 15 artisan trails, you’ll find various craft shops, wineries, farms, and studios in abundance. However, no two trails are alike and while you may become familiar with the musical and artistic styles that have been cultivated through generations all across Southwest Virginia, you’ll also find that each trail presents a new opportunity to explore an aspect of the creative economy that is unique to that particular area.
With so much to see and do along any of these trails, we thought this guide might be helpful, especially for first-time visitors, as you navigate your way across one of the most culturally rich regions of the state. Here’s a brief overview of each of the 15 artisan trails, along with the the Crooked Road, including links you can click on for further information about some of the most popular destinations.
Clinch River Artisan Trail
Where: Stretches from Tazewell County to Russell County
Highlights: You can start by taking a camel ride at the Lost World Ranch (which is currently sporting a fleet of 38 camels and 35 appaloosa llamas) in Tazewell County. Also in Tazewell County, visit Country Life Toys to see artsian Richard Hudson's handmade children's toys, all of which are made from wood from nearby Clinch River Farms. Then, if you call ahead, you can make arrangements to stop at Wolf Creek Jewelry Studio in Bland County and peruse their selection of handcrafted jewelry.
Country Life Toys, CountryLifeToys.com
Countryside Artisan Trail
Where: Washington County and the City of Bristol
Highlights: The Countryside Artisan Trail is the perfect starting point for anyone looking to discover Southwest Virginia. Featuring both Heartwood, “Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway,” and the historic Barter Theatre at its center in Abingdon, the trail also intersects with the Crooked Road and the Wilderness Road, allowing visitors further opportunities to immerse themselves in the area’s musical and historical heritage.
Barter Theater, BarterTheatre.com
The 2012 Virginia Highlands Festival (July 28-August 12). VaHighlandsFestival.org
The Martha Washington Hotel and Inn, MarthaWashingtonInn.com
Floyd County Trail
Where: Floyd County
Highlights: Taste the flavor of the Blue Ridge Mountains in one of the area’s specialty shops or downtown locavore restaurants and, on a Friday evening, attend a jam session at the local general store that will no doubt spill out onto the streets. Tap your foot to some old-time flatpicking or bring your six-string or banjo and join in.
Floyd Country Store, FloydCountryStore.com
Giles Art and Adventure Trail
Where: Giles County
Highlights: Bring your camera and explore the mountains and valleys of Giles County, which includes nearly 100 square miles of the Jefferson National Forest as well as a 50-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The area is know for its cascading waterfalls and pristine scenic views, but if you’re looking for a little more adrenaline hit one of the downhill mountain biking trails or bring a kayak and get on the New River. For great views of the river, stay at the Inn at RIverbend.
Inn at Riverbend, InnAtRiverbend.com
Where: Carroll County
Highlights: Along the Harmony Trail, you can find bull rides, horseshows, truck pulls and pretty much everything in between. The trail also features a newly established school for the arts in Downtown Galax offering weekend and weeklong classes in visual and performing arts, heritage and contemporary craft, and traditional music. For live music, visit The Rex Theater, or if fiddling is your thing the don't miss the annual Old Fiddler's Convention in August.
The Rex Theater, RexTheaterGalax.com
The 2012 Old Fiddlers Convention (August 6-11), OldFiddlersConvention.com
Where: Patrick County
Highlights: Visit one of the award-winning wineries in the area or go pick your own fresh fruits at one of the local farms. If you’re still hungry, sample the delicious jellies, jams, and artisan honey you’ll find at one of the farmers markets along the Hidden Treasures trail. NASCAR fans should not miss the Virginia Motorsports Museum and Hall of Fame, in Stuart, which chronicles Patrick County’s colorful racing history. If you want to enjoy a round of gold and some spa treatment, then Primland might be the place to stay.
Primland Resort, Primland.com
Lonesome Pine Artisan Trail
Where: Wise County and Norton
Highlights: Step into the museums and shops along the Lonesome Pine Artisan Trail to get a look at the expertly handspun quilts, handmade instruments and home-blown glass that the people of Appalachia have been utilizing for generations. They make wine too, at the Mountain Rose Vineyards in Wise. If you visit this region at the right time, you can catch the Ralph Stanley Bluegrass Festival or a production of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine," the longest continually running outdoor drama in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Mountain Rose, MountainRoseVineyard.com
Montgomery County Artisan Trail
Where: Montgomery County
Highlights: Featuring the beautiful scenery and architecture of the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Montgomery County offers everything from one of the best college football venues in America, to breathtaking garden landscapes featuring native plants and picturesque waterways. Art shows spotlighting local artists can be foudn at the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center, while the pottery, glass, leather and more produced by local craftsmen and women on sale at the Matrix Gallery offers a solution to what they call "mass-produced mediocrity."
Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center, MontgomeryMuseum.org
Matrix Gallery, MatrixGallery.com
Where: Wythe and Bland Counties
Highlights: Enjoy Southwest Virginia’s only Butterfly House or spend the whole trip winetasting. The Mountain Crossroads trail has numerous farmers markets, herb gardens, vineyards, and local arts festivals to keep you busy no matter what you’re looking to get into, inlcuding Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum, where you can see what life in Southwest Virginia was like 500 years ago.
Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum, IndianVillage.org
Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, BeagleRidgeHerbFarm.com
New River Artisan Trail
Where: Pulaski County and Radford
Highlights: Learn about the weaving, woodworking, soap making and sustenance farming techniques that have, for generations, supported Virginians living directly on the Wilderness Trail (a route carved by Daniel Boone in 1775). Visit the New River Artisan Trail in the fall and go for a hayride, stroll through a pumpkin patch, or get lost in one of the many corn mazes that sprout up seasonally. And don't forget to visit the legendary Draper Mercantile, which residents have relied on for generations.
The Draper Mercantile, DraperMerc.com
Rivers to Ridges Artisan Trail
Where: Buchanan and Dickenson Counties
Highlights: Sit on a ledge at the end of an Appalachian trail and witness the misty white clouds coming up from the hollows and valleys of surrounding Buchanan and Dickenson Counties. The blue-green hue which the clouds add to the mountain view has been immortalized in countless songs, poems, and pictures, and promises to leave a lasting impression on even casual outdoorsmen. The roaring waters of the Russell Fork, a tributary into the Big Sandy River, annually draw whitewater kayakers and rafters from around the world to the heart of Appalachia. Learn more about the heart of Appalachia at MountainArtWorks.net
Smyth County Artisan Trail
Where: Smyth County
Highlights: For an archaeological adventure visit Saltville’s Ice Age excavations and dig for fossils as old as the mountains. History enthusiasts can discover the area’s Civil War heritage along the Civil War Trail which features battlefields and other important sites. In August, visit Saltville for The War Between the States Battle Reenactment. For some more modern finds, visit Debbie Grim Yates at Grim Pottery in Konnarock.
Grim Pottery, GrimPottery.SnapPages.com
General Francis Marion Inn, GFMHotel.com
White Lightning Artisan Trail
Where: Franklin County
Highlights: Franklin County, made famous for its moonshiner population during Prohibition, is also the birthplace of one of the most well known American civil rights activists, Booker T. Washington. Visit the Booker T. Washington National Monument and spend a relaxing afternoon at the enormously popular Smith Mountain Lake, where you can also pick up supplies and giftds at the popular General Store.
The General Store at Smith Mountain Lake, GeneralStoreSML.com
Wilderness Road Artisan Trail
Where: Scott and Lee Counties
Highlights: A local farmers market and numerous galleries and gift shops bring you some of the best food and wares the region has to offer. Participate in an old-fashioned molasses “stir-off”, visit the Wilderness Road State Park where you can rent a mountain bike and go trail riding or enjoy the hospitality of the Karlan Mansion built in 1877, which can be rented for special events.
Wilderness Road State Park, DCR.Virginia.gov/state_parks/wil.shtml
Woven Mountains and River Bends
Where: Grayson County
Highlights: A naturalist’s paradise, Grayson County is home to the two highest peaks in Virginia: Mount Rogers (5,729 feet) and Whitetop Mountain (5,520 feet). Stay in a log cabin or an elegant bed and breakfast and visit some of the many studios and workshops that are scattered along the Woven Mountains and River Bends Trail. And if you're not afraid of a little bad breath, then visit in May for the Ramp festival!
The 2012 Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival (May 20), GraysonCountyVa.com
The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail
Where: The Crooked Road, Virginia's Heritage Music Trail now winds across Southwestern Virginia through the heartland of mountain music, including ten counties and many small towns (over 300 miles in all).
Highlights: Musicians traveling between the storied venues connected by the trail will want to come well prepared. Nearly every stop along the Crooked Road will be within earshot of a bluegrass jam session or music festival so bring your instruments. If you find yourself at a local music shop to pick up something you forgot, consider yourself warned, you’re just as likely to spend an entire day there gawking at the expertly crafted mandolins and fiddles that Southwest Virginia is world-famous for producing.
While the Crooked Road is a dream destination for anyone with an ear for bluegrass music, it is equally accessible to those who are just looking to learn more about the region, with lots of recreational opportunities for the casual explorer, including arts and crafts studios, whitewater rafting and kayaking, hiking, and farmers markets.
The Blue Ridge Music Center, BlueRidgeMusicCenter.com
The Rex Theater, RexTheaterGalax.com
The 2012 Gathering in the Gap Music Festival (May 26), GatheringInTheGapMusicFestival.com
The information above is just a sampling of all that Southwest Virginia has to offer. So to anyone looking to visist one of the most culturally vibrant areas of the United States, we offer this advice: don’t feel like you have to do it all in one trip. Or maybe, don’t assume that you can experience everything the region has to offer in just one trip. Just use this information as a starting point for planning a journey to Southwest Virginia. No matter your interests or reasons for visiting, we are sure you will find something that will captivate you.