Plan a perfect road trip
Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire to travel, but here in Virginia, we call that feeling WanderLove. We’ve compiled a list of adventure-filled stops to add to your next road trip. Whether you’re looking for a day trip, a long weekend, or just an hour stopover, we’ve got an awesome itinerary for you to find your WanderLove in Smyth County. Check out our top 5 picks for scenic drives, then visit our Event Calendar for more fun things to do along the way.
1. Explore Virginia’s highest peaks on the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway
If you’re looking for a peaceful country drive with gorgeous mountain foliage, head out on the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway. This scenic drive overlaps with some Southwest Virginia gems, like Whitetop Mountain (Virginia’s second highest peak), Grayson Highlands State Park and Blue Ridge Discovery Center near Chilhowie. Take your time with the curves as you wind through Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, criss-crossing the Appalachian Trail in multiple spots.
Where to eat: fuel up with a breakfast burrito from Sur 81, or a home-style country breakfast from Casey’s Diner. Pack a picnic lunch to take with you, then end your day with dinner at Riverfront Restaurant in Chilhowie, VA.
Directions for the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway: Start in Marion, Virginia and head south on State Route 16 (Sugar Grove Highway) towards Volney. Turn west on U.S. 58, aptly nicknamed The Crooked Road. Pass the turn off to Grayson Highlands State Park, then go about 7 miles to a right on State Route 600/Whitetop Road. It’s well worth the short drive up to Whitetop Mountain, so look for signs to the summit and take a left on Mud Creek Lane. When you come back down from the peak, turn left, continuing on Whitetop Road to Blue Ridge Discovery Center, Smyth County’s newest eco attraction. The last leg of your trip will take you north on Whitetop Road, back to Chilhowie and I-81.
Tackle Hairpin Curves on The Back of the Dragon
Head north from Marion on Rt. 16, for the driving route known as the Back of the Dragon. Popular with motorcylists and driving enthusiasts for its hairpin turns, the Dragon boasts 438 curves in 32 miles. Slow down and enjoy the ride with a stop at the the J. Stuart Staley Memorial. Just a few miles north of Hungry Mother State Park, this new scenic overlook reveals breathtaking views of Rich Valley.
The Back of the Dragon continues on into downtown Tazewell, Virginia. Stroll along Main Street and grab a bite to eat, then hit up Back of the Dragon Welcome Center for your official Dragon merchandise and in-house coffee shop.
Plan a full day to conquer the Dragon, as speeds on the road average 25 mph. Back in Marion, end your day with a libation at Highlands Distilling or 36 Fifty Brewing, offering a unique taste of local flavor to celebrate the end of your ride.
Nosh on nostalgia along historic Route 11
Before there was the interstate, there was US Route 11, where travelers enjoyed roadside attractions and motor lodges while exploring Virginia. Take a drive down memory lane and recreate a bygone era with this drive through Smyth County.
Enjoy the classic road trip fare at the famous Dip Dog Stand, where they have been using the same recipe since 1957. Just don’t call it a corn dog! An iconic stop for weary road travelers, they’ve been serving up delicious onion rings, shakes and “dip dogs” for over sixty years. Battered, fried, and slathered with yellow mustard, it’s a don’t-miss attraction.
In downtown Marion, Route 11 transforms into Main Street, lined with plenty of great eats and unique shopping. Families of all ages enjoy the sweet treats at Hester’s Country Store & Fudgery, and of course Marion’s LOVEwork, located right next to famous Lincoln Theatre, built in 1927.
Take a trip 30,000 years in to the past
Travel back in time as you explore the historic towns of Chilhowie (Meaning “Valley of Many Deer”) and Saltville. Route 107 connects these two towns. Don’t miss the Saltville overlook along the way, offering a birds eye view of the town surrounded by peaks. Then head to the Museum of the Middle Appalachians for a look back at the fascinating origins of this town, offering 30,000 years of history “from the Ice Age to the Space Age.” While you’re there, take your photo with Woolly, the museum’s resident woolly mammoth mascot.
Back in Chilhowie, browse the boutiques and antique shops of the downtown historic district.