Discover the small hometowns of Smyth County, Virginia where you’ll be greeted by Southern hospitality while you explore history, outdoor adventures and small town events with big stakes.
This charming town is the gateway to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area to the south and to Saltville to the 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, which is listed on the Virginia Register of Historic Places. While the building is temporarily closed, you can view the gracious 1911 architecture, take a photo with the LOVEwork, and stroll on the Bonham Walking Trail.
History buffs will marvel at the Colonial Revival Style of the house, designed by C.B. Kearfott, Jr. Completed in 1911 as the home of Hezekiah Love Bonham, the house features classical detailing and the original interior wood finishes and decorative mantels. H.L. 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.
Bonham’s influence continues in Chilhowie to this day, most notably 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 with 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, starting at the Visitor Center, over the river and to the Town Park. This 1.5 mile walking trail is perfect for little ones needing to get some of that energy out after a long drive.
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 and shopping spots. With plenty of kid-friendly dining options as well as stops for candy and ice cream, Marion is a great destination for traveling families.
For couples on a romantic getaway, book a stay at the 1927 General Francis Marion Hotel after catching 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 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 and dance to the live music that brings 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 thirty-two miles and over three hundred curves, The Back of the Dragon crosses three mountain ranges and offers knee dragging fun, switchbacks, slaloms, hairpins, and spectacular views.
This fascinating little town can claim over 14,000 years of history, dating back to the wooly mammoths and indigenous people who 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. The wooly 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.
Today, explore this history at the very cool Museum of the Middle Appalachians where both kids and adults can be immersed 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 this valley, through the Civil War, where 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 – beginning the modern chemical industry in the US. 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. Walk the Salt Trail to view the biodiversity in this part of the state, renowned by bird watchers, due to the unique habitat.
Your outdoor adventure options are endless in Smyth County. Saltville is also the gateway to the fishing at Big Tumbling Creek and Laurel Bed Lake, and 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.