Here’s a handy list to see where I’ve been. If I’ve blogged about it, I’ll link it. Otherwise, I’ll include tips here. Think of this as a list of things to do in the area. If you have any questions or comments on any of them, please use the contact form to ask or tell me!
Upper James River
- Glen Wilton to Gala – 2 hours from MHC. We went on this 7.5 mile stretch of the Upper James River with a local church group and blogged about it here. The views are incredible, the water is crystal clear. There is one Class II rapid called “The Squeeze” but it is otherwise an easy paddle.
- Dan River Company – 30 minutes from MHC. We chose Dan River Company based on their website and the fact that they described what to expect on the river in detail. We were most interested in sticking with Class 1 Rapids. They turned out to be a great company to go with. They are smiling, warm people who seem to love their job. They have thought of everything. All you have to do it show up and bring a change of clothes in case you get wet going down the river. Bonus, the Green Heron Ale House is right there when you get out.
- South Martinsville Access to Smith River Sports Complex – Right in the old proverbial back yard, this stretch is 4.6 miles. It has some rapids but nothing difficult. Check the water flow before you go as the more water the dam is letting out, the faster the current. It’s a really good trip at 400 CFS. There are a number of things that cross over the river so it might be interesting to look at a map beforehand so that you will know what you are crossing under as you go. 2020
Chinqua Penn Walking Trail (Reidsville, NC)
The Chinqua Penn Walking Trail is a beautiful 1.4 loop trail on the grounds of what used to be the Chinqua Penn Plantation. Built in the 1920’s and closely related to tobacco fortunes, the Chinqua Penn estate is reminiscent of a smaller Gilded Age monument. The walking path has several features that will inspire any photographer. The main house is now privately owned and not open for tours. Every year there is a Run With The Cows 5K sometime in late September. The runners “do the loop” twice. 2016
Dick & Willie Rail Trail (Martinsville, VA)
Martinsville boasts several good trails that run right through the heart of the city. The Dick & Willie is a 4.5 mile rail trail that is often used by local runners for a series of races (5Ks, 10Ks, and a Half Marathon). The Uptown Connection Trail and the Silverbell Trail are shorter trails that are connected to the Dick & Willie. 2016 2017
Gravely Nature Preserve (Ridgeway)
The Gravely Nature Preserve is part of the Smith River Trails Complex. It feels a little remote even though it buts up on a residential area on one side. The trail is easy as long as you start from the beginning. There is a pretty good slope down on the exit. There are several trails that run through the preserve. There is an old family cemetery along the main trail and the old home site is along a different trail. 2015
Textile Heritage Trail & Fieldale Walking Trail (Fieldale)
These are two separate trails that are right across the street from one another so it would be a shame to do one and not the other. The Textile Heritage Trail is a short looping trail through a wooded area and includes a short portion of boardwalk. It is dotted with educational placards that tell the history of the textile industry in the area. Across the street, the Fieldale Walking Trail runs alongside the Smith River and is a fairly level, well-maintained path popular with dog walkers. There are benches and birdhouses along the way and spots for fishermen to access the river. 2016
The Virginia Creeper (Damascus, VA)
The Virginia’s Creeper Trail is a 34 mile trail open to hikers and bikers. It starts on Whitetop Mountain, runs 17-miles downhill into Damascus and then continues into Abingdon. It’s about a three hour drive from Henry County to Damascus, where there are seven different bike shops that will rent you a bike and shuttle you up the mountain for you to enjoy the 2.5 to 3 hour trip down the first 17-mile stretch. You don’t even have to pedal until you are almost at the point to turn in the bike! 2016
National Parks & Historic Sites
Blue Ridge Parkway/Mabry Mill
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic Parkway that starts a bit south of Asheville, North Carolina and meanders up to just short of Charlottesville, Virginia. It seems that the majority of the pictures I see on the Internet are along the North Carolina stretch, unless you count Mabry Mill. If the signs aren’t a dead giveaway, you’ll know that you are on the Parkway because the speed limit is 45 mph on the top end. There are places to stop and take in a view every few miles. Don’t forget to look for special historic locations and communities along the Parkway like Mabry Mill and Floyd (2015) and Meadows of Dan and Mayberry (2016). We typically access the BRP in Meadows of Dan.
Booker T. Washington National Monument
The Booker T. Washington National Monument is close to Smith Mountain Lake and is the plantation site where Booker T. Washington was born as a slave and from which he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Give yourself some time for this one and bring your walking shoes and a camera. There is a small museum with a film, a few exhibits, and a gift shop. The main house is gone but everything else is still standing – slave cabin, smoke house, blacksmithing shed, tobacco barn, etc. The grounds are very pretty and there is a 1.5 mile walking trail on the back if the property. This is very educational and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. 2015
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (Greensboro)
This is an amazing park in Greensboro, North Carolina, that commemorates the Revolutionary War. There is a museum with short films and exhibits and sprawling park grounds with beautiful statues and walking paths. 2016
Reynolds Homestead is the home/plantation that was built in 1843 by the Reynolds family. Yes, you recognize the name from tobacco products and aluminum foil. This home and the surrounding grounds are now managed by Virginia Tech and are open to the public. They host events throughout the year and offer tours of the main house at scheduled times. They have a convention center and a university extension. There are beautiful walking trails. This is also used as a wedding venue.
Virginia Museum of Transportation (Roanoke)
This museum in downtown Roanoke is packed with displays that include classic cars, a large model railroad diorama of Roanoke, rail cars and train engines, and a nod to aviation. It may sound dull but it is actually a lot of fun. Take a camera and give yourself plenty of time. You can easily spend a couple of hours here. 2017
Virginia Natural History Museum (Martinsville)
The VNHM is connected to the Smithsonian in some way and is an active museum in Martinsville, having frequent events and changing displays. It will take about an hour to take in the exhibits and is well worth stopping by.
- Big Lick Brewing Company (Roanoke)
- Chaos Mountain Brewery (Calloway) (near Roanoke)
- Creek Bottom Brewing (Galax) <- has a full restaurant too w/ great food 2016
- The Damascus Brewery (Damascus)
- Mountain Valley Brewing (Axton) <– Yay! Henry County’s First Craft Brewery
- Parkway Brewing Company (Roanoke)
- Sunken City Brewing Company (Smith Mountain Lake)
First Friday Live Bluegrass at Spencer Penn (Spencer)
The Spencer Penn Center hosts a live bluegrass concert on the first Friday of every month. The cost of admission is low ($5) and the music is fantastic. This has been a big draw and people come from all over to hear the music and maybe do a little flatfooting. Check the Spencer Penn Facebook page for more info as things are a little different during the pandemic precautions but they did restart in September of 2020. 2020
Fieldale Village Street Dance (Fieldale)
Take your lawn chairs. This is a fun and relaxing way to spend an evening. Fieldale holds several of these street dances throughout the year as a fundraiser for the Rec Center. There was no fee to attend when we went but they accept donations and, I believe, raise money through hosting vendors. As I recall, you can by beer with proper ID. 2016
Apple Dumpling Festival (Stuart)
Fun, fun, fun! There is a 5K that runs beforehand that starts out from DeHart Park. The actual Apple Dumpling Festival is a street festival held each fall in the old downtown (not the uptown district). We try to go every year to get an apple dumpling with homemade ice cream. Vendors line the street up the hill to the Stuart Farmers’ Market canopy. You won’t need a lot of time for this festival, maybe an hour. We usually wind up at the Stuart Family Restaurant afterwards. 2016
Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (Ferrum)
The Blue Ridge Folklife Festival is huge. Prepare for crowds and allot the whole day for it. There are demonstrations everywhere for all facets of folk life – a functioning steam tractor, coon dog competitions, draft horse competitions, people making blackstrap molasses, acres of classic cars, and, of course, food. For a Texan, this is a lot like the Texas State Fair without the big buildings. 2015
Held in the fall each year, attendance is capped so buy tickets early at rooserwalk.com/brewster-walk/. This is held in Uptown Martinsville and there were food trucks and limited seating when we went. There’ll be bands on the soundstage so we recommend bringing chairs and kicking back to enjoy the music. Watch your consumption. There’s no overnight lodging within walking distance (except the jail). 2015 2017
Bushels & Barrels (Reynolds Homestead, Critz)
Bushels & Barrels is billed as a beer festival but it is not a beer festival in the same spirit as the other local craft beer festivals. We still highly recommend it but go with the right expectations and you’ll love it. For admission, you get a pint glass and an ID bracelet but you still pay to fill your glass once you get in. Several local wineries were there, as will as a local cider maker. There was one beer tent with five or six brews. It was $5 to fill your glass. Go for the band and the incredible scenery of Reynolds Homestead grounds. Definitely takes chairs or a blanket and wear a hat. The concert is held out on the grassy grounds beside the homestead. Take a camera as the grounds are exceptionally beautiful and there are walking paths all around the homestead.
Chantilly Farm Bluegrass Festival (Floyd)
Take your lawn chairs and maybe something for shade. Chantilly Farm is a great venue and they have a crowd for the Bluegrass Festival each May. There are craft vendors and a food court. The Floyd Country Store had a substantial food tent that even included refrigerated items when we were there. The sound is great. The biggest issue is shade. You can set up a canopy on the perimeter and some people do use chairs with canopies. You’ll just have to work it out with those around you so that everyone can see.
Buy your tickets before hand at microfestivus.squaresociety.org. Rent a hotel room that you can walk to (we recommend Hotel Roanoke but check the distance from the festival because the festival moves around downtown). Bringing chairs may or may not be a good idea based on the venue. 2016
Mustangs BallPark BeerFest (Martinsville)
An annual spring event held at Hooker Field in Martinsville, attendance is capped even lower than Brewsterwalk (four hundred tickets in 2015 and 2016). Buy tickets at www.martinsvillemustangs.com/beerfest.htm. Hooker Field is very photogenic. Take chairs and a camera. Food is available at the concession stand. There will be bands on the soundstage. There is no overnight lodging within walking distance. 2016
Peach Festival (Stuart/Meadows of Dan)
This summer festival is tricky. The Peach Festival is Friday night in Stuart and is more of a concert, we think. We haven’t made it to that part yet. Saturday is a Folk Fair in Meadows of Dan that is sort of in conjunction with the Peach Festival. Fresh peaches are available for sale at the Meadows of Dan Mercantile and Poor Farmer’s Market until they run out. Fresh peach cobbler is available across the street from Poor Farmer’s Market. There is a small craft vendor area set up down the road. A shuttle is available between the two locations. 2016
Pig Cooking Contest & Craft Fair (Spencer Penn Center, Spencer)
The annual Pig Cooking Contest is held at the Spencer Penn Center every April and it is awesome. The actual cooking contest is held on Friday night and the meat is sold the next day during the craft fair. There is live music both days. Saturday also has a good classic car gathering, cow patty bingo, and kid’s activities. 2015
Spencer Community Fair & Spencer Penn Craft Fair
The community of Spencer hosts a community fair each fall, offering Brunswick stew, fried chicken and homemade desserts. There is live music in the afternoon and an auction at 6 PM. Spencer Penn also hosts a craft festival, filling the historic school with craft vendors inside and out from 10 to 4. 2017
Strawberry Festival (Stuart)
The Strawberry Festival is held in Uptown Stuart each spring in May. Vendors will line the main street and there is a food court at the bottom of the hill. The shops are all usually open so give them a browse too. You’ll want to get to this one as soon as it opens to get in line for a flat of fresh strawberries. They go fast!
What the Hay Festival (Mayodan, NC)
We went to the 2017 What the Hay Festival in Mayodan and just loved it. They close off the main intersection and put a soundstage there. People can bring lawn chairs to sit and listen to the music (which was good). There are a good number of vendors and they had a full-out carnival/midway area for the kids. We complimented one of the local merchants on the festival and she said that it was organized by the merchants themselves, apparently a change from previous years. This is a very pretty area and this is a good festival to cap off the year in mid-October.