Here's what readers recommended a visitor see on the way to Southwest Virginia (2024)

Y’all sure know how to make someone feel welcome.

Not me. I’m already here. I’m talking about the Arlington reader who contacted me recently, said he’d never been west of Roanoke and hoped soon to rectify that. He was writing in response to my column in defense of Southwest Virginia which, in turn, was a response to a story in Axios Richmond that made dismissive reference to “whatever the hell is west of Roanoke.”

I told our prospective visitor that I’d give him some recommendations on what to see and do and then promptly turned to the best source for that — you.

We posted a form soliciting travel advice and y’all came through.

Beyond specific suggestions, readers also sent along some passionate testimonials about why they love this part of the world so much. “I moved back to Southwest Virginia after living in Tennessee for a few years, including Nashville,” wrote Rachel Fogg of Abingdon. “I decided I could move back one night after seeing Lilly Hiatt perform at the Barter Theatre. I like being outside and I like culture and I love the small town atmosphere where everyone, literally, knows your name. We have all of those things in spades in Southwest Virginia. I can’t imagine living anywhere else anymore.”

We also heard from a lot of “come heres,” such as Babette Newman of Tazewell County: “I moved to Richlands after growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and going to school in West Virginia. I liked the ruralness, and sense of community.”

So, let’s get on to the travel advice. While the impetus for all this was a reference to “whatever the hell is west of Roanoke,” an in-state visitor would need to travel through the Shenandoah Valley or Southside to get to Southwest Virginia. Some readers offered advice for those places, too. Let me caution: This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of every attraction in the region; this is just a rough sense of a crowdsourced list of recommendations.

Here's what readers recommended a visitor see on the way to Southwest Virginia (1)

If you’re coming from the north

“On the way from Arlington, consider picking up Skyline Drive at Front Royal and wending one’s way down to Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to Roanoke,” wrote Joy Loving of Grottoes in Rockingham County. “Great views of the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley to the west. … Great views east and west along the Parkway. Crabtree Falls and Humpback Rocks are two great stops.” She also says visitors miss something if they don’t see the mountains by night: “Moved to Central Shenandoah Valley 30 years ago from Arlington. My favorite sight is the full moon rising from behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

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Kevin Holt of Roanoke suggested stops in Lexington or the Peaks of Otter. Rachel Fogg of Abingdon specifically recommended that visitors stop off for coffee at Roadmap CoffeeWorks in Lexington. Alice Duehl of Fincastle urged visitors to do more than just drive by the Peaks of Otter: “Hike the trails if able or just stay at the lodge and take a leisurely walk around the scenic lake.”

Peter Katt of Fincastle encouraged a day on the Upper James River Water Trail — a float down the James through Botetourt and Rockbridge counties.

Tucker Keener of Clifton Forge wants visitors to take a side trip west to the Alleghany Highlands to see the region’s “rail history and natural beauty.” He suggested the C&O Railway Heritage Center in Clifton Forge, as well as Falling Spring, the Humpback Bridge covered bridge, Lake Moomaw and Douthat State Park. “Don’t just drive through small towns in Western and Southwest Virginia. Many of these towns are unique and have many things to offer so hop out of your car and explore! I grew up in Alleghany but have moved away for school. However, whenever I come back I am always amazed by the beauty of the mountains and my hometown!”

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If you’re coming from the east

We got a lot fewer suggestions for points east, so somebody needs to step up their travel recommendation game. However, the ones we got are hard to argue with.

“On your way west, stop at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest,” said Linda Carroll of Forest. “TJ’s 2nd home is an architectural masterpiece. Tour gives another side (private) of TJ.”

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Peter Katt of Fincastle talked up The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount “with obligatory stops at Franklin County distilleries (the legal ones).”

Michael Schewel of Richmond — a former state secretary of commerce and trade who grew up in Lynchburg — name-checked Smith Mountain Lake.

I’ll take the liberty to point out that if you’re coming from the east, you’re probably coming through Farmville — home of the Moton Museum, the site of the famous student-led walkout that helped set in motion one of the lawsuits that led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision — or Danville, where there’s now a casino and a reborn downtown. Finally, you can’t really say you’ve been to Lynchburg unless you’ve walked along the Bluff Walk, but that’s all I’ll add to the conversation.

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The Roanoke Valley

While this is definitely not a comprehensive list, I thought this was a cool story from Melvin Diago Journiette of Richmond, who grew up in Roanoke and once worked in the city engineer’s office. He was there when “the Roanoke Greenway was proposed by the most upbeat and enthusiastic lady City Planner anyone could imagine. She walked a ‘Who’s Who’ of city officials down the once drivable Mill Mountain road as she drew with her words a vision of similarly paved ways that would extend along the Roanoke River reaching out to Salem, Vinton, into neighborhoods all along various creek vales. I recall getting tasked by then Assistant City Engineer, Phil Schirmer, to calculate a rough estimate for how much this essentially new road network would cost. When I got into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I stopped counting in disbelief that Roanoke would ever find this much value in such an endeavor. Fast-forward nearly thirty years later to realize the last mile alone of [the] original vision took $6 million to complete by Summer 2023 on top of the millions of the previous 29 miles! … I’m just glad my 50-year-old self can enjoy what my 22-year-old self didn’t have the audacity to believe possible. This one project realization has created nothing but big dreams of even greater possibility for our Star City! So when I ask you to visit the Roanoke Greenway, I’m asking you to envision all the things to come, because it truly doesn’t stop here with the Greenway, it’s really just getting started there! When the rest of Virginia catches on to the new Can-Do Ethos of Roanoke, the region will have long since taken off and landed among the stars just as it caught them off guard 140 years ago when she first became Virginia’s Magic City!”

Like I said, people are passionate about this part of the state. By the way, that original Roanoke greenway plan has now expanded to a valleywide system of greenways that’s still being built out. If you’re visionary enough, that greenway system may someday stretch out to Botetourt County and into the New River Valley to connect with trails there. All this fits into how Roanoke has repositioned itself from being a railroad town to an outdoors town.

Anyway, all this is just a warmup for the main event. We’re finally ready to move to “whatever the hell is west of Roanoke,” but I’ll give those who think I write too long a break. Come back tomorrow and we’ll see what readers recommended.

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Here's what readers recommended a visitor see on the way to Southwest Virginia (2024)


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