A while ago we suggested 8 small towns for those who love the convenience of amenities and easy access to outdoor activities. But why stop at eight? Here are seven more Virginia towns that are small in size, but big in outdoor personality. Have you been to one of these towns? Tell us about your adventure using #VAOutdoors.
Cape Charles – Birding, Atlantic Flyway, Kayaking, Bay Beaches
A small coastal town on the southern tip of the Eastern Shore peninsula, Cape Charles is reminiscent of railroad glory days, with Victorian architecture throughout town dating back to 1886. It’s all there for those who enjoy amenities – inns, restaurants, art studios, handmade jewelry shops, and a lovely boutique hotel. But down side roads, adventure awaits at wildlife refuges, parks, and waterways with some of the best kayaking on the East Coast. Paddling enthusiasts can spend the day with Southeast Expeditions on one of many eco-tours of scenic marshes, barrier islands, and coastal creeks of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Those who want laid-back beach time can enjoy recreational access to the Chesapeake Bay at Cape Charles Beach or Kiptopeke State Park, where camping options include a yurt. Birders can explore coastal beach, dune, and maritime forest habitats along the Atlantic flyway, one of the most important avian migration funnels in North America, at the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve. During fall migration, the forest abounds with migratory songbirds and raptors resting and feeding before continuing their journey across the Chesapeake Bay.
The Shanty, Cape Charles
- Hang: The Shanty, Cape Charles Coffee House, Chatham Vineyards; Cape Charles Distillery; Buskey’s Cider on the Bay; Cape Charles Brewing
- Eat: Hook at Harvey, Kelly’s Gingernut Pub; Brown Dog Ice Cream (seasonal).
- Stay: Kiptopeke State Park; Hotel Cape Charles; Bay Creek Resort; Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles; The Northampton Hotel; area B&Bs
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Southeast Expeditions; Chuck’s Charter Fishing; Miss Jennifer Charter Fishing
- Insider Tip: Stop for a photo op at the Cape Charles LOVEWork.
Clarksville – Lake Life, Fishing, Paddling
photo credit: Sam Dean, IG account: @sdeanphotos
Virginia’s only lakeside town, Clarksville, offers quaint shops, restaurants, and lodging along the shores of 50,000 acre Buggs Island Lake/John Kerr Reservoir, one of the best spots for crappie, catfish, and bass fishing in Virginia. Across the water from Clarksville is Occoneechee State Park, a beautiful park with camping, cabins, hiking, lake access, and a marina that offers boat and kayak rentals year-round. The park’s Panhandle Multi-Use Trail is a secluded 15-mile (7.5 miles each way) hiking trail along a long peninsula jutting into Kerr Lake. Take a stroll to admire the park’s wildlife and birds. With appropriate licenses, hunting is allowed in season and fishing is allowed year-round.
- Hang: Three Sisters of Shiney Rock Winery; Buggs Island Brewing
- Eat: The Lake House Restaurant, Coopers Landing Inn
- Stay: Cabins at Occoneechee State Park, North Bend Park Campground, Cooper’s Landing Inn, Blue Heron Lodge, lake vacation rental homes.
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Clarksville Water Sports Occoneechee State Park
- Insider Tip: Extend your visit with a paddling trip along the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. Consisting of three rivers and two lakes spanning Halifax and Mecklenburg counties, the blueway offers more than one hundred miles of navigable river, leading to 1,200 miles of lake shoreline.
Martinsville – Smith River, Philpott Dam, Rail Trails
photo credit: Matt Ross
Martinsville, Virginia, is well known for NASCAR racing at Martinsville Speedway, but there are many other ways to get your heart pumping in this small town in southern Virginia. Pleasure boaters and paddlers will love exploring nearby Philpott Lake. Hidden waterfalls, scenic rock outcrops, eight campgrounds, six beach areas, nine boat launches, and three islands are among the gems you can find along the lake’s 3,000 acres and 100 miles of shoreline. Fishing includes walleye, smallmouth bass, carp and largemouth bass. Deer Island, the largest of the three islands, offers nightly campsite rentals that are only accessible via boat. The Smith River Trail System includes a 44.5-mile section of the Smith River and 10 river access points, as well as 20+ miles of greenway. Leisure cyclists can bike the paved 4.5-mile Dick & Willie Passage Rail Trail and mountain bikers can challenge themselves at the 100-acre Mountain Laurel Trails complex, with nearly ten miles of trail for all skill levels.
Fairy Stone State Park, Stuart
- Hang: Preston Ridge Winery; Hamlet Vineyards; Two area festivals are perfect for music and outdoor lovers – Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival and The Smith River Fest.
- Eat: Hugo’s Uptown Restaurant & Sports Bar; Dippers Ice Cream; 3rd Bay
- Stay: Philpott Campground; Fairy Stone State Park; The Ketchie House; area B&Bs.
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Smith River Outfitters, Three River Outfitters.
- Insider Tip: The Bike Barn gives visitors the opportunity to ride the Dick & Willie Passage even if they don’t have a bike. Just stop by the Doyle Street Trail Head to borrow a bike and helmet.
Floyd – Mountains, Music, Blue Ridge Parkway
photo credit: Brian Camp, IG account: @brian_k_camp
Most notably known for the Friday Night Jamboree, art studios, and free-spirited locals, Floyd may not seem like a spot for outdoor lovers. But travel just a few minutes out of town along the Blue Ridge Parkway and you’ll see Floyd is just as rich in outdoor opportunities as it is in music and art. This is especially true at Buffalo Mountain (elevation 3,971 feet), one of Virginia’s hidden outdoor gems. If the summit’s panoramic views aren’t impressive enough, then the unique environment of the mountain is – a treeless summit provides sub-alpine vegetation reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains and the south face of the mountain contains grassy, prairie-like openings more typical to the Midwest. Even more, nearby Rocky Knob Recreation Area offers access to the 10.8 mile Rock Castle Gorge trail, which descends over three miles into the backcountry camping area in the bottom of the gorge before the 7.3-mi ascent back out. It’s a strenuous climb, but the thick mountain foliage, stream, and high open meadows make it worth the effort. For those looking for a leisurely activity, arrange a float on the Little River with On The Water in Floyd, a local outfitter offering guided trips, fishing excursions, boat rentals, and primitive camping.
- Hang: Dogtown Roadhouse, Floyd Country Store, Five Mile Mountain Distillery
- Eat: Chateau Morrisette, Mickey G’s, Pine Tavern Restaurant
- Stay: Hotel Floyd, Oak Haven Lodge
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: On the Water, New River Fly Fishing
- Insider Tip: The Floyd Yoga Jam, Tour de Floyd
A small town gem in the Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal is home to the northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and is known as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia” because it’s situated near the junction of the North Fork and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Several area outfitters make canoe rental easy and Shenandoah River State Park offers the best of river access and scenic mountain views. Go underground for geologic wonders at Skyline Caverns or take in the beauty of the Valley on horseback with Shenandoah Trail Rides or at Marriott Ranch.
Get a bird’s eye view of the mountains and rivers with Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons. Hike or camp in the George Washington National Forest in Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area.
Chester Gap Cellars, Front Royal, photo credit: Bill Crabtree Jr.
- Hang: Chester Gap Cellars, Glen Manor Vineyards, Linden Vineyards
- Eat: The Apple House; The Daily Grind, Spelunkers, The Main Street Mill Restaurant
- Stay: Many small motels, chain hotels, and area rental homes and cabins
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Front Royal Canoe; Downriver Canoe Company; Skyline Canoe Company
- Insider Tip: Several sites along the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop are in Front Royal. Extend your stay and venture out to more!
Marion – Mountains, Scenic Drives, Hiking
photo credit: Brad Deel IG account: @brad.deel
With a population of about six thousand residents, Marion is a small Southwest Virginia mountain town with easy access to Hungry Mother State Park, one of Virginia’s original six state parks. If scenic drives are more your speed, don’t miss the Back of the Dragon, a scenic 32-mile mountain drive with more than three hundred curves – perfect for motorcycles and sports cars.
- Hang: The Speakeasy at The General Frances Marion for classic cocktails
- Eat: Wolfe’s BBQ, The Wooden Pickle; Dip Dogs
- Stay: Cabins & camping at Hungry Mother State Park; General Francis Marion Hotel; The Collins House Inn.
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Hungry Mother Adventures
- Insider Tip: Catch a live performance of traditional Appalachian music at The Lincoln Theatre, one of three existing Art Deco Mayan Revival-style theaters in America.
Abingdon – Creeper Trail, Fly Fishing, Paddling
photo credit: Sam Dean, IG account: @sdeanphotos
Abingdon is a southwest Virginia town that’s a perfect hub for adventure. Within an hour of town, there are dozens of options for day trips to area lakes, rivers, trails, and parks. Most notably, the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail-trail that is considered one of the best bike trails in the nation. Set up an excursion with a local outfitter offering bike rentals and shuttle service to Whitetop Station inside Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Here begins the 17-mile gradual downhill bike ride to Damascus. Pack your fly rod, too, as Whitetop Laurel Creek, one of the best fly fishing streams in Virginia, runs alongside the Virginia Creeper Trail. Looking for a larger body of water to play in? Adventure Mendota can help you set up a kayaking trip on the nearby North Fork of the Holston River. After a day outdoors, treat yourself to a spa treatment, a soak in the hot tub, or a swim in the heated indoor pool at The Martha Hotel & Spa, a luxurious and historic 4-star hotel in a beautiful 1830s property. Hotel guests can take advantage of The Martha’s shuttle van to Damascus, too.
Barter Theatre, Abingdon, photo credit: Sam Dean, IG account: @sdeanphotos
- Hang: Wolf Hills Brewing Co., Barter Theatre, Abingdon Vineyard & Winery, Zazzy’z Coffee House & Bookstore.
- Eat: 128 Pecan, Bonefire Smokehouse, The Tavern, Rain Restaurant, The Peppermill Restaurant
- Outfitters & Gear Shops: Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop; Highlands Ski & Outdoor Center; Virginia Creeper Fly Shop
- Stay: The Martha Hotel & Spa; Cottages on the Creeper; many lovely area B&Bs
- Insider Tip: Fuel up at White Birch Juice, offering organic cold-pressed juices as well as grab-n- go items like sandwiches, salads, and energy bars. Stop in The Abingdon Olive Oil Company, for a wide selection of flavored olive oils and vinegars.