One of the perks to living in the Martinsville-Henry County area is that we are less than an hour away from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We take Highway 58 from Martinsville west through the communities of Patrick Springs, Stuart, and Meadows of Dan to get to the Parkway. It doesn’t take long before the Blue Ridge looms up on the horizon and it is always a beautiful trip just getting to the Parkway itself. So far, we have only explored the section of the Parkway that runs north to Roanoke, passing by the community Floyd, which was voted one of the South’s best small towns by Southern Living in 2016.
We always make a stop in Meadows of Dan first. Meadows of Dan is a small but extremely beautiful town whose business district sits right at the on ramp to the Parkway. There are several restaurants here and a few little shops. Nancy’s Candy Company can reunite even the most cynical adult with their inner child. They have lots of freshly made fudge and truffles and just about anything that can be dipped in chocolate has been. Poor Farmers’ Market is a must-stop and there is nothing that you could need on the road that they don’t have. There is a sandwich shop and ice cream counter in the back. There are three large rooms filled with jellies and jams and cast iron cookware. Books by local authors, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies are piled up on display cases. Even the gliders and settees out on the porch are for sale. There is fresh produce out front and the small room as you enter is a traditional convenience store with fried pies and soda pops.
We recently discovered a restaurant just east of Meadows of Dan called The Crooked Road Cafe. This stretch of 58 is also part of what is known as “The Crooked Road”, a stretch along which you’ll consistently find authentic bluegrass music. The cafe is known for its pizza and gyros but also features live music, shares the site with a historic grist mill that you can tour for free, and has an adorable back patio that sits alongside the headwaters of the Dan River. It’s hard to believe that the river here, which looks like little more than a creek, will become a large river by the time it gets to Danville. The cabin in the background is a vacation rental called “A Blue Ridge Haven”.
There are two main stops along the Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke. The first is Mabry Mill, a national park featuring a historic grist mill still in operation, a historic Appalachian cabin, a restaurant, a gift shop, wooded trails, and live music on Sunday afternoons. According to the NPS website, Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mill, as well as all of the Parkway here, is dotted with rhododendron, which bloom large purple flowers around April or May.
The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 miles an hour and drops down to 25 when you get close to event venues like Mabry Mill or Floyd Fest, an annual music concert held in July that last several days and draws some big names. The Parkway is well-patrolled and the speed limit is strictly enforced.
All along the Parkway, there are turn offs for viewing the valleys that run alongside the Mountains. The first after Mabry Mill is the Rocky Knob Recreational area, which is more than just your average outlook, having hiking trails and campgrounds.
Most of the outlooks are little more than a parking lot with a tremendous view and a placard explaining what you are seeing. Even in winter, though, these stops can be worthwhile because you can see so much more without all of the foliage and contemplate what life must have been like here before the American Revolution. The Parkway often closes for inclement weather during the winter though.
After Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob, you’ll run into the town of Floyd. We’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t just stop in at random stores. You should allow yourself several hours and try to get into each one. What happened to us is we would check out a different store each time and were sorry to have not known about it before. For instance, you absolutely must visit the Floyd Country Store. We didn’t go in there until our second trip up. The Floyd Country Store is like the centerpiece of Floyd and has food and live music as well as the sundries you’d expect. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Floyd. It was a couple more trips before we figured out that The Republic of Floyd is a craft beer store. We are now enormous fans.
The Hotel Floyd is a boutique hotel just off of the downtown scene, separated by an old cemetery that’s worth a look as well. Each room is decorated themed on a different business in the area so each room is entirely unique. The ones we stayed in were gorgeous. It doesn’t look like there’s a bad room in the inn.
Word to the wise, there are at least two businesses that you have to look for because they are slightly off the beaten track. One is a bakery called The Grateful Bread that is easy to miss because it’s down the hill behind Dogtown Roadhouse (a popular restaurant on the main drag). It’s not big but the baked goods are fresh and tasty and the proprietor, when we went, was super friendly. The other business is an antiques store called Finders Keepers. When you get to the intersection in the middle of town (by the hardware store), turn east. It’s just a little bit down the road.
Honestly, you can spend a whole day in Floyd. And that’s not even mentioning Chateau Morrisette Winery. Floyd is often our only destination on the Parkway. We go up there for a few hours and we are home by dark.