Small Towns with Big Time Charm

Discover the small hometowns of Smyth County, Virginia where Southern hospitality will greet you while you explore history, outdoor adventures, and small-town events with big stakes.

Chilhowie, VA

The first of our small hometowns of Smyth County is Chilhowie, Virginia. This charming town is the gateway to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (south) and Saltville (north). Chilhowie means “Valley of Many Deer,” and it’s pronounced “chill-HOW-whee”.  

Stretch your legs after a day of travel in Chilhowie, just off of I-81 at Exit 35. Stop by the historic H.L. Bonham House, listed on the Virginia Register of Historic Places. Although the building is temporarily closed, you can view the gracious 1911 architecture, take a photo with the LOVEworks sign, and stroll on the Bonham Walking Trail.

Photo courtesy of Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD.

History buffs will marvel at the Colonial Revival Style of the house, designed by C.B. Kearfott, Jr. and completed in 1911 as the home of Hezekiah Love (H.L.) Bonham. The house features classical detailing and the original interior wood finishes and decorative mantels.

Bonham was a prominent farmer and businessman who pioneered innovations in the cultivation, processing, and sale of apples in Southwest Virginia. His work with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute led to publications detailing the practice and effective application of scientific principles for orchard management. Bonham also built the only cold-storage facility for apple grading and packaging between Roanoke and Bristol. 

Notably, Bonham’s influence continues in Chilhowie to this day, evidenced in the town’s annual Apple Festival. For over 60 years in the golden days of autumn, the Chilhowie Community Apple Festival draws thousands of people. The festival includes music, food, arts and crafts, a grand parade featuring high school marching bands, a pet show, agricultural exhibits, and more.

Also claiming Bonham as its namesake is the Bonham Walking Trail. The trail begins at the Visitor Center, travels over the river, and to the Town Park. This 1.5-mile walking trail is perfect for little ones needing to get some energy out after a long drive.

Marion, Virginia

The second of our small hometowns of Smyth County is Marion, Virginia.

Small Town Charm Marion VA in Smyth County VA
Photo provided by Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Dubbed “America’s Coolest Hometown,” Marion is the County Seat of Smyth County, Virginia, and the gateway to Hungry Mother State Park. Explore Marion’s delightful downtown, bustling with arts and culture around every corner.

Take a stroll in Downtown Marion and discover some of the coolest independent restaurants, shopping spots, and a craft brewery. With plenty of kid-friendly dining options, including stops for candy and ice cream, Marion is another great destination for traveling families. 

For couples on a romantic getaway, the 1927 General Francis Marion Hotel is a great option. You can also catch an evening performance at the renovated 1929 Lincoln Theatre. The Lincoln Theatre is the home of Song of the Mountains, a PBS series celebrating the region’s Scots-Irish, mountain, bluegrass, and country musical heritage.

The Lincoln Theatre Historic Interior in Smyth County VA

The Downtown Association puts on popular annual events, like the summer Broad Street Cruise-Ins, a Memorial Day ceremony, and the beloved Chili Cookoff. Cooks vie for the coveted title of Best Chili while participants sample the entries. The cookoff and live music bring thousands to the streets of Downtown Marion for family fun.

Motorcyclists rejoice: Marion is the gateway to the The Back of the Dragon, Virginia’s only designated motorcycle route. Boasting 32 miles and over 300 curves, The Back of the Dragon crosses three mountain ranges and offers knee-dragging fun, switchbacks, slaloms, hairpins, and spectacular views.

The Back of the Dragon Motorcycle Scenic Drive Smyth County VA
Aerial photo of The Back of the Dragon Motorcycle Route in Smyth County, Virginia.

Saltville, Virginia

The last of our small hometowns of Smyth County is Saltville, Virginia.

This fascinating little town can claim over 14,000 years of history. Woolly mammoths and indigenous people traveled long distances to take advantage of the salt wells.  

Saltville’s name is an indication of the running theme of this town, dating back to prehistoric times: Salt. Woolly mammoths are believed to have been attracted to the abundant salt springs in the area during the Ice Age. Thousands of years later, Arthur Campbell reported the discovery of fossils in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. 

Museum of the Middle Appalachians

Today families can explore this history at the one-of-a-kind Museum of the Middle Appalachians where both kids and adults can immerse themselves in new discoveries. To expand on this history, add a walk on the interpretive trail through the Well Fields. 

Salt continued to be an important resource in the valley through the Civil War. The wells in Saltville provided over 80% of the salt used by the Confederacy and sparked an infamous battle in the area. In 1894 Mathieson Alkali Works, a British company, began establishing chemical factories in Saltville utilizing the salt reserves. This began the modern chemical industry in the United States. In 1969, Hydrazine manufactured in Saltville helped put man on the moon. 

Southwest Virginia is well known as one of the most diverse and ecologically stunning parts of the country. The Salt Trail offers a unique and biodiverse habitat, renowned by birdwatchers.

The Salt Trail in Smyth County VA

Your outdoor adventure options are endless in Smyth County. Saltville is the gateway to fishing at Big Tumbling Creek and Laurel Bed Lake. It is also the closest town to the famous Channels, a 20-acre maze-like system of sandstone crevices and boulders. When planning a visit to The Channels, remember that parking is limited. If you arrive and the parking lot is full, please visit at another time.

Choose Your Smyth County Adventure!

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