Mountains of Fun Await in Smyth County, Virginia

Many hikers and outdoor lovers know that Smyth County, located in Southwestern Virginia, is home to more than 40-miles of the legendary Appalachian Trail. What some of those hikers may not realize is that Smyth County is also the place to find lots of off-trail fun, with there being something to do to suit all sorts. A great place to bunk down while exploring Smyth County (pronounced "Smith") is the charming historic town of Marion. Here are some of the exciting things to see and do in Marion, the outlying areas of Smyth County and nearby regions beyond.

Smyth County Visitor Center - Chilhowie

The logical place to begin a Smyth County exploration is at the Smyth County Visitor Center, located in the historic H.L. Bonham House in Chilhowie. The house is a stunning mansion constructed in 1911 and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. And, wait for it, it just might be haunted! You may or may not meet any ghosties at the Bonham House but you for sure will meet nice, knowledgeable folks who'll answer your questions about the local area and get you pointed in the right direction for what you want to see. Make sure and take time to see the informative displays in the house too. More info is here.

The H.L. Bonham House and Smyth County Visitor CenterThe H.L. Bonham House and Smyth County Visitor Center

Poe's Pulled Pork - Chilhowie

If you're like us you'll want to launch your Smyth County adventure on a full stomach. So while you're still in Chilhowie stop in at Poe's Pulled Pork for a big helping of delicious BBQ. They've got BBQ for every craving: Smoked chicken, ribs, brisket, sausage, of course the pulled pork that they're famous for, all the trimmings and a kid's menu. And oh my goodness they have banana pudding if you leave a little room for dessert (highly advised!) more details here.

Poe's Pulled Pork menuPoe's Pulled Pork menu

Friday Night Jam at Palmer Mill - Saltville

This part of Virginia has long been recognized for its contribution to Americana music including country, folk and bluegrass. Local musicians keep the tradition alive and visitors to Saltville can witness a live performance most Friday nights at the historic Palmer Mill. Often appearing are regional favorites The Calahans, a duo performing on acoustic guitar and upright bass. Their songs have subjects like coal mining and the self-explanatory emotions of their original song "Lonely Boy;" you might also hear cuts like Dolly Parton's "Jolene," "If It Hadn't Been for Love" by the Steeldrivers and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs like "The Lowlands." A few goodies are sold during Friday Night Jam but attendees are welcome to bring their own food. The mill itself is picturesque; arrive early to take some pictures before the music starts. More info.

The Calahans perform at Palmer MillThe Calahans perform at Palmer Mill

Palmer MillPalmer Mill

Dream Rock Silo Airbnb - Independence

Here's a very cool place to stay during your exploration; it is across the line in Grayson County. Converted from a 1950s-era dairy barn, Dream Rock Silo offers three suites: The Rustic Rooster Room, perfect for the whole family with two queen beds plus a pull-out couch, The Creekside Bungalow with its full kitchen, queen sized bed and full size futon (yes, it is right beside a murmuring creek) and the namesake The Silo where you get to sleep on a round bed at the top of the Dream Rock Silo. All of these suites are decorated with lots of amusing flourishes and the location in the bucolic Blue Ridge Mountains area is spectacular. Make sure to book well in advance of your visit. More info.

Dream Rock Silo AirbnbDream Rock Silo Airbnb

The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Art - Marion

If you're a guitar player the name Wayne Henderson probably rings a bell. Henderson is one of the world's most-revered luthiers (guitar makers) and he has hand crafted acoustic guitars for dozens of big name stars including Eric Clapton. Henderson is generally busy in his off-site workshop which is not open to the public but the art of guitar making is taught at his namesake school where three times a year students build their own guitars which Henderson will come and play at the end of the classes. The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Art also houses a pottery studio and the Burke Print Shop, a vintage letterpress shop. Those visiting Marion can attend various activities like pottery and watercolor classes along with the weekly Monday night jam session. More info.

The lutherie at the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian ArtsThe lutherie at the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts

Wayne Henderson in his workshopWayne Henderson in his workshop

Highlands Distilling Company - Marion

When folks think of booze and the hill country they probably think of moonshine. They make moonshine in Marion, not illegally out in the hills, but at Highlands Distilling Company where the corn liquor, in a nod to how it's been historically packaged, comes in a bottle shaped like a jug. Also made at Highlands Distillery are CAVU straight bourbon whisky, War Horn Virginia rye whisky and Navy Strength Gin. You can taste them all before you buy and tastings and distillery tours are given on a walk-in basis. And should you hear some twanging going on while you're there that's probably just master distiller Scott Schumaker playing his banjo. More info.

Some of the small-batch craft spirits made at Highlands Distilling CompanySome of the small-batch craft spirits made at Highlands Distilling Company

Scott Schumaker at Highlands Distilling CompanyScott Schumaker at Highlands Distilling Company

Hester's Country Store and Fudgery - Marion

Okay, we know we had you at "fudgery." But there's a lot more at this throwback to the good old days for those with a sweet tooth as shelves, barrels, buckets and containers of all sorts overflow with retro candies. And there are also locally-made jams and jellies, pickles, toys, comfy throws for your couch, soups and dip mixes, handmade wooden benches, kitschy signs and, well you get the idea. And about that fudge. They have orange cream, chewy praline, peanut butter, chocolate pecan... More info.

Hester's Country Store and FudgeryHester's Country Store and Fudgery

The Ford Studios - Marion

Housed in an old Ford dealership (hence the name) this art gallery is run by artists Jon Ives and Rachel Gibson. The gallery is full of pieces that they've made and their pottery studio is visible from the gallery floor; get there at the right time and you can watch Jon create a beautiful vase or other item right before your eyes (using a clever play on his name, Jon's work is branded Jive Pottery.) Rachel works in mixed media and her unique pieces are also on display and for sale at The Ford Studios. Other artists are featured in the gallery too; works on paper, fiber art, paintings and jewelry pieces are all stunning top notch pieces. Classes in various disciplines are offered on a recurring basis. More info.

Jon Ives at The Ford StudiosJon Ives at The Ford Studios

These are just a few of the wonderful attractions to be found in Smyth County and surrounding area, and like we said earlier the whole region is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. We stayed at the historic General Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Marion during our multi-day visit; it is within walking distance of many of Marion's attractions. The hotel has been named one of North America's Top 150 hotels by National Geographic. more info.

For more information on what to see and do in Smyth County go here.

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