Thanks to our wildly divergent geography, we Virginians get to do it all in the great outdoors. Join us as we meet some of each region’s most devoted sportsmen who boulder, fish, kayak, mountain bike, race and surf their way to recreational bliss.
1 of 3
Illustration by Pat Kinsella
2 of 3
Illustration by Pat Kinsella
3 of 3
Illustration by Pat Kinsella
Southwest: Outdoor Bouldering
Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson
Aaron Parlier, 30, grew up in Atkins, where he began rock climbing around the mountaintop boulders of Southwest Virginia when he was six years old. Today, though he lives in Boone, North Carolina, where he is an owner and the general manager of Center 45 Climbing and Fitness, he remains committed to bouldering here, specifically Grayson Highlands State Park, where he worked and lived as a naturalist for three seasons.
Parlier has been the first to climb, and name, more than 1,000 boulders in the region. (In bouldering lingo, each rock presents a “problem” that must be solved.) In 2013, Parlier published Grayson Highlands Bouldering (Brayack Media), a guidebook that includes detailed maps to the boulders in the area, which has an elevation of 4,500-5,000 feet.
“Grayson Highlands is very shaded and not very buggy, perfect for summertime bouldering,” he says, its Rhyolite and metamorphic sandstone boulders steeply overhung with sharp grips. The season runs from mid-spring to mid- to late fall. Parlier calls it “one of, if not the most, scenic boulder fields in the Southeast.”
Some of Parlier’s favorite problems include, for beginners, Highland Highball, “A beautiful, tall climb up there on Wilson’s Ridge around Massey Gap.” For intermediate climbers, he recommends Horizon Line, which he describes as “one of the most beautiful climbs,” and a place where wild ponies roam.
Gear: Grayson Highlands State Park office Rent a crash pad ($5 per day), buy chalk bags and Parlier’s guidebook. DCR.Virginia.gov, MountainProject.com
Eat: The Log House Trading Post and Restaurant Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 276-579-4440 | Grayson Highlands General Store Last stop for food, fuel and supplies before the park. GraysonGeneralStore.com
Stay: Sleepy Fox Inn and Spa Bed and breakfast inn. SleepyFoxInnAndSpa.com | Grayson Highlands State Park Camp or rent a cabin. GraysonCountyVa.com
South: Bass and Crappie Fishing
Buggs Island Lake, Mecklenburg, Charlotte & Halifax Counties
As the sky darkens in Clarksville, green lights pop on underneath the Highway 58 Business Bridge over Buggs Island Lake where fishermen cast their lines or come here looking for bait in the hours before dawn.
“We are the only town in the U.S. that has the Hydro Glow lights,” says resident Mary Willis. There are 76 of these lights, placed near and under the water. The lights attract plankton, which draw feeder fish, which in turn pull in the larger fish, she explains.
Fishing, and the tourism it brings, “is very important to this town,” says Willis, the general manager of both the Lake Motel & Efficiencies and the Magnuson Hotel on the Lake. Willis also helps coordinate the many fishing tournaments that blast off from nearby Occoneechee State Park, including the 2014 Bass Federation Divisional Tournament.
“Our large mouth tournaments this past year have produced some really nice 5-6 pound large mouths,” she says. The lake holds the world’s record for the largest blue catfish, at 143 pounds. She adds, “I would describe Buggs Island Lake as one of the top fishing lakes in the East Coast and probably one of the top 10 crappie fishing lakes in the country.”
Created by a dam, the lake is Virginia’s largest, with 50,000 acres of water and more than 850 miles of coastline that extends into North Carolina. During the dam’s construction, it was called Buggs Island Lake, after an island (now underwater) owned by the local Buggs family. Later, after it was complete, it was re-named after North Carolina Congressman John C. Kerr, who had worked to secure funding for the dam, completed in 1953.
But many locals still prefer to call it Buggs Island Lake, Mills laughs. “Yeah, we won’t give it up here in Virginia.”
Gear: Bobcat’s Bait and Tackle Local fishing report. BobcatsLakeCountry.com | Clarksville Water Sports Boat sales and rentals. ClarksvilleBoats.com | Southside Marine Boat Boat sales and service. SouthsideMarine.com | Topwater Guide Service Fishing and boat tours. KerrLake.com/topwater/index.htm | Rick Morris Fishing Instruction & Guide Service Bassmaster Elite angler. RPMCustomRods.com
Eat: Lamplighter Restaurant Dockside delivery. LamplighterVa.com | Lake House Restaurant Housed in a historic building. TheLakeHouseVa.com | Cooper’s Landing Inn & Traveler’s Tavern (also a B&B) Trellised patio. CoopersLandingInn.net
Stay: Lake Motel & Efficiencies and Magnuson Hotel Both on the lake. ConradUSA.com | Occoneechee State Park Camping Boat ramps and rentals. DCR.Virginia.gov
Central: Urban Whitewater Sports
James River Park System, Richmond
It takes a little planning, but Bob Blue, the president of Dominion Virginia Power, sometimes canoes or kayaks from his home on the James River to his work in downtown Richmond. Virginia’s capital city is the only urban setting in the country with Class III and IV rapids.
The river, which ranges from tranquil flatwater to crashing rapids, runs through the center of Richmond and is part of the more than 550-acre James River Park System, where deer, blue heron, ospreys and even bald eagles make their homes.
“In my view, the James is the defining feature of Richmond, it’s what I like most about living here,” says Blue, 48, who was raised in Charlottesville and has also lived in Alexandria.
Blue, who also serves on the board of sports tourism nonprofit Richmond Sportsbackers, enjoys the rapids, though most of them are downstream of his morning route. He also enjoys stand up paddle boarding on the calmer flat waters upstream from his house with his wife, Liz.
Sometimes, though, it’s just Blue and nature. “The mist coming off the river is gorgeous in the early summer mornings. It’s hard to believe I can enjoy such scenic beauty on the way to work in the middle of the city,” he says. “It’s the best morning commute you could imagine.”
Gear: Riverside Outfitters Rental gear and shuttles to river put-ins. RiversideOutfitters.net | Kayak Richmond Classes and rentals. KayakRichmond.com | RVA Paddlesports Local and international trips. RVAPaddlesports.com | James River Park System Detailed maps and park information. JamesRiverPark.org
Eat: Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream Breakfast, lunch, dinner and local music near the Reedy Creek put-in. CrossroadsRVA.com | The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing Lunch and dinner with a view overlooking the James. BoathouseRVA.com
Stay: Crowne Plaza Richmond Within walking distance of the serious rapids at Brown’s Island. CrownePlaza.com
Shenandoah Valley: Mountain Biking
George Washington National Forest, Harrisonburg
“Harrisonburg is an ideal place for mountain biking. You have mountains, but also big blocks of contiguous public land, including the George Washington Forest,” says Kyle Lawrence, president of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition. With many vertical miles, “It’s very easy to do multiple 6- 8-hour rides in Harrisonburg and not overlap.”
Lawrence’s favorite trails are those around Reddish Knob (intermediate to advanced level), in the George Washington National Forest, where most have long downhills offering 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted riding. Other suggestions include the Rocktown trails at Hillandale Park (beginner); Lookout Mountain and Narrowback Mountain in George Washington National Forest (intermediate); Massanutten’s western slope (intermediate to advanced—trail pass required); and Wolf Ridge Trail in George Washington National Forest (advanced).
Offering a variety of slopes is Bryce Resort, the only lift-access mountain bike resort in Virginia. The resort is similar to a ski resort, in that it offers lessons, rentals and trails, marked for different levels—but for mountain biking. And the big benefit: the lifts for bikes and riders mean you don’t have to pedal uphill.
Gear: BlueStone Bike & Run Near JMU. BluestoneBikeRun.com | Rocktown Bicycles Cycle studio. RocktownBicycles.com | Shenandoah Bicycle Co. Sales and rentals. ShenandoahBicycle.com
Eat: Little Grill Collective Employee-owned, known for breakfast. LilGrill.com | Cuban Burger Lunch and dinner. JamesCarterWeb.com/clients/cubanburger/menu | The Golden Pony Pinball, art gallery, outdoor patio and live music. GoldenPonyVa.com
Stay: Massanutten Resort Full-service bike shop. MassResort.com | Bryce Resort Lift-accessed trails. BryceResort.com | The Stokesville Lodge and Campground Close to many trails, like the 36-mile, 3,000-foot-climb Southern Traverse Trail. StokesvilleLodge.com
Northern: Horseback Riding and Racing
Glenwood Park Racecourse, Middleburg
In Middleburg, people tend to repair rather than replace their riding boots—especially if they’ve won in them, says Punkin Lee, owner of the town’s Journeymen Saddlers on Federal Street, where workers have repaired boots and tack and sewn customized chaps, belts and other equestrian items for more than 38 years. Why? Because “they’re good luck.”
Riding is serious business here. “Half the town goes to Palm Beach and Ocala for the winter, to compete,” says Lee. At the front of the store is a framed poster signed by the members of the U.S. equestrian team—her clients, all from Middleburg—that took home bronze and an individual gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Now, she says, “We have people training for the Olympics in Rio.”
Founded in 1787, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Middleburg began as a stagecoach waystation between Alexandria and Winchester. The idyllic town drew the rich and famous from the north and nearby D.C.—the likes of Paul Mellon, Alice du Pont Mills and Jackie Kennedy, all horse people. Just outside of town, Middleburg’s rambling estates are equine-perfect, divided by stone walls and horse fences, with gently rolling hills, rippling creeks and mature trees. “It’s like a story book,” says Lee, with a smile. “We’re very lucky to live here.”
The recreational rider can find public trail riding at the Salamander Resort and Spa and, nearby in The Plains, Willow Run Farm and Jumpin’ Jax Farm (by appointment).
Gear: Journeyman Saddlers Equestrian products and repairs. Facebook.com/Journeymen-Saddlers | The Tack Box Since 1947. TheTackBoxInc.com | Middleburg Tack Exchange Used equestrian items. MiddleburgTack.com | Highcliffe’s Clothiers “From shooting suits to scarlet tails.” HighcliffeClothiers.com | Tully Rector Contemporary women’s boutique. Facebook.com/TullyRector | lou lou Two locations in town. LouLouBoutiques.com | Crème de la Crème Home décor and tailgating items. ShopCremeDeLaCreme.com | The Shaggy Ram Antiques and home decor. TheShaggyRam.com
Eat: Market Salamander Box lunches and party platters. MarketSalamander.com | Red Fox Inn Dinner in a clubby, aprés-hunt atmosphere. RedFox.com
Stay: Salamander Resort and Spa 14,000-square-feet of stables with boarding available. SalamanderResort.com | Willow Run Farm B&B for horse and riders. WillowRunEquestrian.com | Jumpin’ Jax Farm Equine boarding. JumpinJaxFarm.com
1st Street, Virginia Beach
“The surfing community in Virginia Beach in one word—adaptable,” says Chase Pittman, 30, a Virginia Beach surfer, entrepreneur, owner of Narwhal Adventures (which rents a giant stand up paddle board known as the Supquatch) and one of the organizers of the offbeat Logstradamus surfing contest and music festival.
Lacking the dramatic surf of the west coast, the surfers here, says Pittman “are amateur meteorologists out of necessity, with a wide quiver of boards to suit conditions.” Fortunately, he says, “we are blessed with waves that are ideal for longboarding.”
Harkening back to the days of the Beach Boys and Gidget, these retro, heavily glassed, single-finned surfboards can range from eight to 14 feet in length and are ideal for fancy footwork and nose riding. Inspired by these “logs,” as they are also known, Pittman and his friend, Travis Kesler, cooked up a plan for the contest one day while surfing near 43rd Street in Virginia Beach.
“We thought it would be fun to have an impromptu single fin surf contest with our friends. We also wanted to make it a requirement to dress up in a suit and tie,” he says. As to the name, “We started to mash up the word ‘log’ with other words and voila, Logstradamus.”
The first festival was held in 2011, and has continued to grow, with the help of a crew of volunteers. At Logstradamus, expect
to see “people dressed in some of the wackiest ‘semiformal’ wear you’ve ever seen while surfing, bands from around the country playing on a homemade stage on the beach, a slip ’n slide going into the ocean and an amazing vibe courtesy the awesome art, music and surf community of Virginia Beach,” says Pittman.
Gear: Coastal Edge Four locations. CoastalEdge.com | Freedom Surf Shop Surfing boutique. FreedomSurfShop.com | Wave Riding Vehicles Full-service surf shop and retail store. WaveRidingVehicles.com | Narwhal Adventures Giant stand up paddle board rentals. NarwhalAdventuresVB.com | 1st Street, Croatan Beach, the North End, Sandbridge and 15th Street pier Popular surfing spots. VisitVirginiaBeach.com
Eat: Zeke’s Beans & Bowls Traditional Hawaiian, sushi-grade poke, and acai bowls. Restaurant named in memory of Zeke Sanders, a beloved local surfer. 757-963-5155 | Isle of Capri Panoramic views of the ocean and fine Italian dining. IsleOfCapriVB.com
Stay: Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront On the boardwalk, ocean views from every room. HiltonGardenInn3.Hilton.com | Courtyard By Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront South Newly renovated, beachfront. Marriott.com | Comfort Inn and Suites Two rooms in each oceanfront suite. VirginiaBeachComfort.com