Virginia is a phenomenal state to explore for anyone who appreciates the wilderness, as well as those who enjoy delving into US history and Appalachian culture.
Top-flight sightseeing in VA is never far away, and the list of things to do in Virginia seems limitless.
Virginia is home to the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, and an award-winning system of state parks with 41 different sites and over 500 miles of hiking trails.
The map of Southwest Virginia stretches from around Roanoke west to the Kentucky and Tennessee borders, tucking nicely underneath West Virginia.
This corner of the state is the perfect place for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as Virginia’s best lakes, wildest forests, and most interesting mountain towns.
Rather than trying to tackle the whole of sightseeing in Virginia in one fell swoop, we’ve decided to focus on the best things to do in Southwest VA (or SWVA, as it is widely known).
Read on for our in-depth guide to the must-see attractions and must-do activities in the area.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Roanoke VA
Things to Do in SWVA (Southwest Virginia) Guide
- Abingdon VA
- Appalachian Trail
- Birthplace of Country Music Museum
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Breaks Interstate Park
- The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail
- Floyd VA
- Grayson Highlands State Park
- Hungry Mother Lake
- Mount Rogers Scenic Byway
- Natural Tunnel
- New River Water Trail
- Roanoke VA
- Virginia Creeper Trail
- Virginia Vineyards
1. Abingdon VA
Abingdon VA has deep roots in US history. The Southwest Virginia town (population 8.376) dates back to the mid-1700s, when the area was known as Black’s Fort.
The Abingdon Historic District encompasses some 20 blocks, with nearly every building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town includes sites from both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, including the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and the Abingdon Muster Grounds.
Other must-see landmarks on the list of things to do in Abingdon VA include the Barter Theater, Virginia Creeper Trail, Martha Washington Inn & Spa, and Abingdon LOVEworks.
2. Appalachian Trail
Virginia has more miles of the Appalachian Trail than any other state.
Over 530 miles of the AT (nearly a quarter of it) are in Virginia, with another 25 miles stretching along the border between SWVA and West Virginia.
So it should come as no surprise that some of the best spots along the Appalachian Trail can be found in Southwest Virginia, including the section that climbs Virginia’s tallest mountain, Mount Rogers.
One of the most popular spots along the entire Appalachian Trail is the McAfee Knob Hike, which is near Roanoke, the largest city in the Blue Ridge region.
The trek can be done as an Appalachian Trail day hike, with sunrise being the optimal time to tackle it.
McAfee Knob is also part of a trio of famous peaks, which are collectively referred to as the Triple Crown.
3. Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Located in Bristol VA, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. It’s an homage to the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which created a country music boom.
Permanent exhibits tell the history of the 1927 Bristol Sessions (which included the first recordings of future country legends Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family) and the inner-workings of Radio Bristol.
There’s also a temporary exhibit space that covers a wide range of topics, including Appalachian culture, science, and regional arts and crafts.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum plays host to numerous events and festivals throughout the year, but the most famous is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
The live music venue (which boasts 20 outdoor stages) attracts huge talent, including artists such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Buddy Guy, Bela Fleck, and Lucinda Williams.
4. Blue Ridge Parkway
It connects Shenandoah National Park in northwestern Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in southwestern North Carolina.
On its 469-mile journey, the BRP runs right through SWVA, passing by some of the best tourist attractions in the region.
Of course, the Parkway itself has always been a premier tourist attraction, and in fact it is the #1 most visited unit of the US National Park Service.
The section of the BRP between Roanoke and the VA/NC border is known as the Plateau Region.
5. Breaks Interstate Park
One of only two “interstate” parks in the nation, Breaks Interstate Park straddles the state boundary between Kentucky and Virginia.
The park loosely belongs to both states’ park systems, but it also operates as an entity with its own regulations.
The park is named for a disruption in the Pine Mountain ridge line, an otherwise continuous ridge that spans through Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Once hunting grounds of the Shawnee and Cherokee, this pass was famously “discovered” by Daniel Boone, who gave it the name “The Breaks.”
6. The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail
The Crooked Road is a 330-mile journey through Southwest Virginia, with a particular focus on the traditional music of the region.
The journey includes several noteworthy historical sites, museums, and operating music venues.
The most popular spots on Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail include the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol VA, the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Carter Family Fold (part of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center), and the Floyd Country Store in Floyd VA.
Appalachia is known for its deep musical roots, particularly in the Blue Ridge Mountains of SWVA and North Carolina, which can largely be traced back to Scots-Irish origins.
For fans, The Crooked Road offers days of musical bliss. For newbies, it’s a great glimpse into the soulful heart of the region.
7. Floyd VA
A progressive, hippyfied town with a country feel, Floyd VA has become one of our favorite places to visit in Southwestern Virginia.
It has all the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding it, and a good slice of traditional SWVA culture at its heart.
The Floyd Country Store is a favorite place for shopping and catching some local music, while the 5 Mile Mountain Distillery is fun for those interested in moonshine.
County Sales—which offers a huge selection of bluegrass and old-time music—is the place to get the soundtrack to go along with it. The small town of around 700 residents also has a great farmer’s market.
Floyd is located less than an hour from Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Christiansburg, as well as the Rocky Knob Recreation Area and Fairy Stone State Park.
The Blue Ridge Music Center is an hour away, and the trip to it puts travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
8. Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park is famed for its high-altitude meadows, which offer up stunning views of Virginia’s two highest mountains, Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.
The park was originally called Mount Rogers State Park, and it still offers access to trails for climbing it.
Grayson Highlands Park has a couple of nice campgrounds, one of which is reserved for equestrian enthusiasts (and their animals).
Massie Gap, which is at the center of the park, is a great spot for spreading out a blanket. The trails from it offer chances to see the famed “wild ponies” of Grayson Highlands.
The park also features a great visitor’s center and a huge picnic area.
9. Hungry Mother Lake
The lake is open to fishing (with a valid Virginia fishing license), and is home to crappie, carp, bluegill, and several species of bass.
Channel cats, hybrid striped bass, walleye, and muskies are stocked annually. Non-gasoline-powered boats are permitted on the lake, and there’s also good shore fishing to be had.
Canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and paddleboards are available to rent near the visitor’s center and main entrance.
There’s also a swimming area with a sandy beach and diving platform, the 5.7-mile Lake Trail Loop, and picnic shelters dotting the shoreline.
10. Mount Rogers Scenic Byway
Swerving and curving through Jefferson National Forest, the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway offers 45 miles of picturesque roads that weave through the Southwest Virginia highlands.
The byway cuts right through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
The first section of the byway uses Virginia Highway 603, stretching from Troutdale to Konnarock.
The section passes the Mt. Rogers and Appalachian Trail Loop and the Blue Ridge Discovery Center. There are also two equestrian campsites, with one at each end.
The second section of the byway takes US-58 from Damascus, doubling back towards Konnarock, and on to Volney.
This section passes Green Cove Station, Grayson Highlands State Park, and the Grayson Highlands General Store & Inn. It’s a picturesque way to explore the region, especially when fall colors begin to peak!
11. Natural Tunnel State Park
The formation of Virginia’s Natural Tunnel began over a million years ago, with acidic groundwater seeping into rock crevices and dissolving limestone and dolomite.
Then, Stock Creek was diverted underground to continue the work. The tunnel is now 10 stories high and 850 feet long.
Though it was naturally formed, the tunnel has had a railway running through it for over a century. It first began being considered for a train route back in the 1850s.
In 1890, the South Atlantic & Ohio Railroad opened a line through it. The route has changed hands several times in the last 130+ years, but trains still pass through it today.
Visiting Natural Tunnel State Park is one of the most exciting things to do in Virginia for kids. There are cool train exhibits, as well as a chair lift to carry visitors down to and back from the tunnel.
The park also has campgrounds, a pool, old cabins, and a spot where Daniel Boone once stayed.
12. New River Water Trail
The New River is one of America’s Heritage Rivers, and it is widely considered to be the second oldest river in the world.
Its headwaters begin near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and from there it flows northward through Virginia and West Virginia.
In Virginia, the New River Trail State Park is a 57-mile linear park that stretches from Galax past Dora Junction, with 39 miles along the New River itself.
The New River Water Trail starts just south of Giles County and goes to the West Virginia border, traversing the Jefferson National Forest.
The New River Water Trail has several boat landings for getting in and out of the river, as well as opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, and camping.
Along the route, travelers can see the Palisades Cliffs, Whit Riverbend Park, Bluff City, Camp Success, the Appalachian Trail, and Glen Lyn Town Park.
13. Roanoke VA
Though it is easily the largest city in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Roanoke is still relatively small in the city sense of the word.
Roanoke’s population is around 100,000 (slightly larger than that of Asheville NC), and it’s just as well-known for the natural beauty that surrounds it as it is for the urbanity within its borders.
In addition to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, there’s a fantastic collection of museums and entertainment (including the Roanoke Pinball Museum, Harrison Museum of African American Culture, Science Museum of Western VA, and more) at Center in the Square in Downtown Roanoke.
The Historic Downtown is walkable and packed with good restaurants, breweries, open-air market stalls, and the Roanoke River Greenway.
Roanoke also has a collection of amazing natural Virginia attractions nearby. Lexington and Natural Bridge aren’t far north. McAfee Knob and the Appalachian Trail are just south on the I-81.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Roanoke VA
14. Virginia Creeper Trail
The trail is 33.4 miles long, and it’s open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
The VCT was originally a Native American footpath, which Daniel Boone later used for his pioneering. It was then turned into a railway for transporting lumber, iron ore, and passengers.
In fact, the “Virginia Creeper” name comes from the slow motion of the steam locomotives that once made the 1600-foot ascent.
The trail is now 100% dedicated to recreation, with 50+ trestles and bridges along the way.
Much of the Virginia Creeper Trail runs through private land, with only an 80-foot right-of-way. But the trail does go through the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.
15. Virginia Vineyards
Virginia has over 300 wineries. They’re widely distributed throughout the state, which has a great climate for cultivating grapes.
Local vineyards are all over the map of Southwest Virginia, and they are located in some of the most beautiful places in VA.
Over a dozen well-established wineries dot the region, from Abingdon to Roanoke and Giles County.
Some of the wineries have been around for decades, such as Chateau Morrisette (near Floyd VA).
Newer vineyards, like Giles Mountain Vineyard and Whitebarrel Winery, are leading the charge for growing and producing “green” wines. –Jonathon Engels; lead image of Grayson Highlands by Dawson Tozier