Located in the Blue Ridge Highlands of Southwest Virginia, Blacksburg is known as the home of the Virginia Tech Hokies, but this mountain town and the surrounding communities offer so much more for visitors. The area is packed with outdoor adventure, farm-to-table dining, and rustic cabin rentals for bucolic family retreats. Another huge bonus? During the summer months, the mountain region is about ten degrees cooler than the eastern part of the state, providing a much-needed respite from the summer heat of Virginia’s lowlands. Start mapping out your getaway to the Blacksburg region of Virginia with this step-by-step three-day guide.
—TRIP PLANNING OVERVIEW—
Stay at: Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, starting at $179 per night. New River Retreat Rentals in Pulaski County, starting at $95 per night, with a two-night minimum. Fariss Farms Cabins in Allisonia, starting at $155 per night.
Made famous in the 1987 Blockbuster film Dirty Dancing, Mountain Lake Lodge is a historic retreat near the Virginia border that was originally built in 1936. Recently reopened after renovations and additions to the pristine mountain property, the Lodge now offers an aerial adventure course, Treetop Adventures, as well as on-site outfitters to provide rentals and outdoor gear for guests. Choose between staying in the rustic cottages, private rooms in the stone lodge, or the luxury mountain homes during your visit to Blacksburg, which is about 25 minutes from the Lodge. In addition to an excellent restaurant within the hotel, the Lodge also has outdoor pools, miles of walking trails throughout the property, and a game room for the kids.
New River Retreat offers over 30 cabin rentals on or near the New River in the Blue Ridge Highlands of Virginia. These charming properties can sleep anywhere from two to twelve guests, with many of the rentals allowing pets to stay as well. The rentals have a wide range of amenities, including fire pits, grills, fully-stocked kitchens, private docks, game rooms, and Jacuzzis, but every cabin provides a restful stay within the pristine landscapes of Southwestern Virginia. When renting your cabin retreat, consider adding on one of their signature packages, like the Picnic Package, Cookout Package, or the Spa Package.
Another lodging alternative for your stay near Blacksburg is Fariss Farms, located about 45 minutes outside of Blacksburg in Allisonia. While a bit further away from Downtown Blacksburg, the cabins at Fariss Farms have the added bonus of an on-site vineyard, as they are just steps away from Iron Heart Winery. Choose from The Cabin, a two bedroom log cabin that sleeps 4-6 people, The Store, a 3,500 square-foot home at the base of the winery with four bedrooms, or The Section Foreman’s House, a renovated railroad building that sleeps up to six and is pet-friendly.
Suggested Prior Reservations: Mountain Lake Lodge, New River Retreat Rentals, Fariss Farms Cabins, The Palisades, Mountain2Island Paddleboard Rentals, Whitebarrel Winery
Arrive in Blacksburg and head to one of the ROAM New River Valley Bike Rental locations scattered throughout Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The latest addition to the Blacksburg outdoor outfitter options, these hubs allow you to rent bikes by the minute or only $15 for an entire day. The electric bikes connect to the SoBi app downloaded to your Smartphone and charges users through an online account that is quick and easy to set up. Plus, the bikes can be returned at any of the many New River locations, giving you more options for your biking route. Embark on the Huckleberry Trail, an eleven-mile multi-use trail that connects downtown Blacksburg to Christiansburg and is expanding to run through parts of the Jefferson National Forest outside of Blacksburg. The landscape includes plenty of hills, so be ready for a moderate workout when you bike this paved trail system.
Return the bikes to a nearby hub and head to Cabo Fish Taco in Blacksburg for lunch. A favorite spot for Tech students, the menu features Baja-style Mexican fare with a healthy twist. Mix and match their signature and specialty tacos for a true taste of their menu; we went with the Banging Baja Tacos and the Beer Battered Calamari Tacos, both of which subtly blended flavors that were fresh and delicious.
After lunch, explore the shops of Downtown Blacksburg to browse boutiques carrying locally-made goods alongside well-known brand names. If you’re craving something sweet after lunch, head to Sugar Magnolia for ice cream and decadent chocolates made in Virginia.
Add a little culture to your trip with a visit to the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. The gallery showcases renowned artists from around the world as well as local and regional artists, focusing on experiences that deepen cultural awareness.
For more of a homegrown cultural experience, travel to Rising Silo Brewery, a farm brewery that shares its space with a locally-grown organic produce stand and Tabula Rasa, an on-site restaurant that offers seasonal sandwiches, wood-fired pizza, and other fare using farm-fresh ingredients. Opt for a flight of their brews to sample year-round craft beers as well as seasonally-focused creations, like the Blue Heifer, a German-style Hefeweizen made with blueberries picked straight from the farm.
After filling your growler with your favorite craft brew from Rising Silo, head to Mountain Lake Lodge to check in for the evening. There are numerous hiking trails on the property, so spend some time wandering the resort grounds and enjoying the stunning scenery.
Grab dinner at The Palisades, about 20 minutes from Mountain Lake Lodge in the quaint town of Eggleston. Located inside the old Pyne General Store, a Designated National Landmark, the restaurant serves Appalachian cuisine with modern influences. The Palisades often hosts live music on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, giving you a taste of the local music scene to pair with your delicious dinner.
Return to Mountain Lake Lodge for an early night in.
Wake up with the sunrise and drive back to Blacksburg for breakfast at Gillie’s, a diner-style restaurant that has been serving the Virginia Tech community since 1974. Choose from an array of breakfast dishes like the Gillie’s Special (two scrambled eggs on a bed of Gillie’s potatoes, topped with salsa and white cheddar) or the Banana Walnut French Toast, or go for something from the Southwest Fare section of the menu, such as the Huevos Rancheros or Southwestern Grits. Even if you’re a meat-eater, order a side of the Soysage, a vegan patty that packs tons of flavor, to complete your protein-packed meal.
Hit the road for Catawba Mountain, where you’ll traverse the famed Appalachian Trail and finish atop McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the entire AT and one of the most iconic hikes in Virginia. This eight-mile trek is fairly strenuous and has a 1,700-foot elevation gain, so set aside three to four hours to complete the hike, as well as some extra time to rest and admire the views from the peak. Be sure to pack several bottles of water and some protein bars or light snacks to maintain your energy during the hike, and if possible, conquer the trail during a weekday, as it’s a popular hike that draws most visitors on the weekends. Not only will hiking during the week be quicker and less crowded on the trail, but you’ll have more time to snap pictures sans people at the summit.
You’ll have probably worked up an appetite by the time you return to the parking lot at the base of McAfee Knob Trail, so continue to Beliveau Estate Winery for your hike payoff: delicious Virginia wine and artisanal handmade pizzas! This scenic vineyard is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Blacksburg, affording excellent views from their outdoor tasting room and patio. Start your lunch with one of their seasonal chips & dips dishes, like spinach artichoke or buffalo chicken dip, then choose from the creative pizzas for your main course. After eating lunch, relax in the winery’s outdoor patio, which is pet-friendly, or wander through the on-site fragrant lavender garden as you sip a glass of refreshing vino. Not a big wine drinker? Beliveau is currently establishing a brewery on the property, and will soon be serving craft brews right alongside their current wine vintages.
If you’re not too worn out from your strenuous morning hike, head to New River Trail State Park to bike, hike, or horseback ride the trails in the Foster Falls area, or try your hand at fishing on the New River. The park offers canoe and bike rentals, or if you would like to experience the park with a knowledgeable companion , Foster Falls Horse Livery hosts guided horseback rides with reservations.
Before checking into either your cabin at New River Retreat or Fariss Farms, stop by a local grocery store or market to pick up grilling supplies like hot dogs, burgers, and s’mores. Spend the evening enjoying the beauty of the Great Outdoors surrounding these rustic rentals, and once the sun goes down, grab a seat outside to glimpse one of the most incredibly clear night skies in all of Virginia.
Start your last day in the Blue Ridge Highlands with breakfast at Draper Mercantile & Trading Company. Part of Thee Draper Village, a group of collaborating shops and businesses, the restaurant is housed in a restored historic property within the picture-perfect town of Draper and serves made-from-scratch southern comfort fare and house-roasted coffee. Fill up on their selection of homemade biscuits (the BLT Biscuit is absolutely perfect), hearty pancakes, French toast stacks, or fluffy omelets.
After breakfast, spend some time perusing the neighboring businesses, like the Draper Blooms Tea Garden, a cute tea room that serves homemade tea blends, the Draper Valley Marketplace, where you can shop locally-made food and goods from nearby artisans, and The Curious Quill, an eclectic boutique that carries clothing and accessories for men, women, and children, as well as unique home decor and knickknacks. Keep an eye out for Merc Daddy, the Draper Mercantile’s resident feline!
Your next stop is Claytor Lake State Park, where you’ll rent paddleboards or kayaks from Mountain2Island Paddleboard Company. If you haven’t tried your hand at paddleboarding before, the instructors can give you a quick lesson by the docks to get your feet wet (pun intended) before you head out on the open waters of the lake. Consider whether you’re paddling on a weekday or the weekends, as an influx of speed boats tend to create choppier waters Friday through Sunday, while slower weekdays result in placid waters easier to paddle. Also, check with the company before your arrival to see if they are hosting any special classes that day. In addition to standard rentals, they organize SUP with Your Pup, Paddleboard Yoga, Social Paddle Groups, Full Moon Tours, and Sunset Paddling events. They are even beginning a SUP Music event series, where bands set up on a floating dock and play to an audience of paddleboarders and kayakers right on the water!
After your paddling adventure, it’s time for a wine break. Travel to either Whitebarrel Winery or Iron Heart Winery to get a taste for the local wines. Whitebarrel Winery has two locations; a Wine Bar in Blacksburg and the Vineyard Tasting Room in Christiansburg. Both require advanced reservations, which you can make online before your visit. Pair your tasting with a VIP Cellar Tour at the vineyard to learn how they craft their award-winning wines.
At Iron Heart Winery, start your visit with a quick picture by the winery’s logo at the entrance, then head up to the winery and choose from three, six, or eight wines to sample during a tasting flight.
If weather permits, enjoy a refreshing glass outside on the picturesque patio, and keep an eye out for Rosie, the owner’s adorable German Short-Haired Pointer that has become an unofficial mascot for the winery.
Depart the winery for the town of Pulaski, where you’ll enjoy lunch at Al’s on First, a local favorite spot that operates within the Jackson Park Inn, before hitting the road to begin the journey back home.
More Regional Virginia Destination Guides:
The link for Roam New River Valley bike share is now https://ridegotcha.com/locations/roamnrv/ and as of June 5, 2021, we now have electric-assist bikes (look for the teal bikes). Download the app “Gotcha Powered by Bolt” to use the bikes.
A McAfee’s knob hike is #28 of 72 on the Hokie bucket list 😉 Yay bike share!
McAfee Knob is in Roanoke. I wouldn’t want to recommend someone coming to a city and then tell them to travel 45 minutes to another city. Just a thought