United States Route 58 is a scenic stretch of road coursing east to west across southern Virginia. One can reach Virginia Beach from Cumberland Gap on the KY/TN/VA border in 10 hours. Not the fastest route for eager beach-bounders, to be sure, but worthy of a being the trip when you stretch it over a couple of days and take in these sites along the way.
In part one, consider 213 miles’ worth of beautiful Heart of Appalachia and Blue Ridge Highlands scenery, culture, music and more.
— CUMBERLAND GAP —
Immensely beautiful and rich with westward migration history, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a great place to begin your adventure. The great pioneer, Daniel Boone, forged his way through the Gap to lead homesteaders to settle the west. There are more than 70 miles of trails to explore, Gap Caverns, and the Hensley Settlement, too, not to mention this place is a nature and landscape photographer’s paradise.
It’s fitting that this journey begins with Cumberland Gap, perhaps the main point of interest along The Wilderness Road: Virginia’s Heritage Migration Route. As it turns out, Route 58 is named Wilderness Road between the Gap and Jonesville, and then Daniel Boone Trail between Jonesville and Duffield.
— NATURAL TUNNEL STATE PARK —
Duffield is where you’ll find the Natural Tunnel State Park and its centerpiece, the 10-story natural tunnel which remains an active thoroughfare for Norfolk Southern and CSX coal cars. Points of interest here include the tunnel itself, the view of it from a chairlift (especially amazing at Christmas when it’s lit!), trails to places like Lover’s Leap, and of course, the scenery.
Cabins and camping are available at Natural Tunnel, even cabins big enough for more than a few people. It’s a great place to overnight before continuing your road trip.
— HOBNOB DRIVE-IN & CARTER FAMILY FOLD —
Authenticity. Really, there’s nothing but authentic in this part of Virginia. Local hangouts, traditions, lore … get a bit of it all with lunch and a quick detour.
The HobNob Drive-In in Gate City serves up a quick-order counter lunch that you’d expect from a 1950’s diner style establishment (which it is). The burgers are big and juicy; the shakes? Divine. Read all about it. It’s the perfect stop before checking out Carter Family Fold – a story of music and a slice of Americana.
If you’re a country music fan, you have the Carter Family of Hiltons, VA to thank. A.P., his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle recorded 300 songs between 1927 and 1942. Their genre was traditional Appalachian, which led the way for their family (June Carter Cash and husband Johnny Cash) and today’s country musicians to record music and reach the masses. When you head off the beaten path of 58 into Hiltons and A.P. Carter Highway, the Fold is a quick three miles up the road on your left. A.P.’s general store is a museum, the old homeplace has been reconstructed on site, and the music center hosts bands every weekend (schedule). Saturday is the only day you can get inside to visit, so plan accordingly.
— BIRTHPLACE OF COUNTRY MUSIC MUSEUM —
Continue on 58/421 to State Street in Bristol – the one street (and city) that is actually in two states. On the left, you’re in Virginia. The right; Tennessee. Your stop here is the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. If you’ve timed your travels such that you’re ready for a bite to eat, might I suggest Burger Bar? It holds history of its own (I mentioned lore before, right?). It’s said that Hank Williams enjoyed his last meal at Burger Bar. In fact, “they say” this was the last place he was seen in public.
So about the Birthplace of Country Music Museum … It is dedicated to the 1927 Bristol Sessions. Those sessions in which the aforementioned Carter Family was a big part of, and the sessions that launched the country music industry into the juggernaut we know today. The Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, meaning you’re going to have an incredible experience in this new facility.
— ABINGDON —
To get back on track, take Route 113 north to Route 11 where you can drive on to Abingdon. This is another great place to stretch your legs and see something new and beautiful. See The Barter Theatre (the State Theatre of Virginia), take in the grounds, spa … rooms? of The Martha Hotel, and enjoy great dining and artisan shopping.
— VIRGINIA CREEPER TRAIL —
The Virginia Creeper Trail has trail heads in Abingdon, Alvarado, Damascus, Creek Junction and Whitetop Station. Damascus is the next stop along your Route 58 adventure. My recommendation (for what it’s worth) is to go on to Damascus and connect with a bike service company for bike rental and shuttle to the top — Whitetop Mountain. From there you can coast down (YES!) to Damascus. It’s about 18 miles down (but you’re coasting), so supper at Damascus Old Mill Inn and an overnight might be in order, depending on your pace.
— GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK —
— GALAX: MUSIC, MOUNTAINS, RIVER, FUN —
If you’ve never heard of the Galax Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention, you’re missing out. It’s the oldest and largest fiddlers’ convention in the world, and it happens annually the second week of August. Can’t make it? Plan to pass through on a Friday night so you can enjoy a live airing of Blue Ridge Backroads, a radio show at the Rex Theater. It’s a showcase of old time and bluegrass bands that has been airing since 1999. Or, in the summer months, make a beeline south down Route 89 to Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There you’ll find an amphitheater hosting musical acts on the weekends, though there are sites, music and more available most any day of the week.
Considering the music heritage of the city and region, it’s only fitting that a LOVEwork created of string instruments be located in Galax. Find it on Grayson Street, take a photo and tag it #loveva.
Does fishing or floating appeal to you? Contact New River Trips for guided excursions on the New. There’s also a great rail trail through New River Trail State Park, perfect for photography, biking, or just taking a stroll.
Stay tuned for part two of Take the Scenic Route: U.S. Route 58!