How to Unplug and Have a Family Friendly Three Day Weekend in Scott County

Wilderness Road Blockhouse Image at Natural Tunnel State Park.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated
Originally published on September 8, 2017
  • Backpacking/Camping
  • Food and Drink
  • Hiking
  • Southwest Virginia
  • Outdoor
  • Achiever
  • Aspirational Core
  • Athleisurist

Located along the Tennessee border in the corner of Southwest Virginia, Scott County is an Appalachian getaway known for its heritage music, artists, scenic trails, and historic mountain towns. A family-friendly trip to Scott County can be filled with both amazing outdoor experiences and a celebration of the area’s Appalachian culture. For those looking to explore the region, here’s a quick guide on escaping the everyday to unplug in this scenic region of Southwest Virginia.

Outdoor Adventures

The Natural Tunnel was carved through a limestone ridge.
The Natural Tunnel was carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. Perry Smyre

While you can find incredible views throughout the county, the area’s signature attraction is theNatural Tunnel State Park. More than 850 feet long and as high as a 10-story building, Natural Tunnel was naturally carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. William Jennings Bryan called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Other scenic features include a wide chasm between steep stone walls surrounded by several pinnacles, or chimneys.

The facilities at the park include a campground, cabins, picnic areas—and the recent addition of yurts for those who want to try a different kind of camping. There’s an amphitheater, swimming pool, and a chair lift to the tunnel floor. The park also offers cave tours and canoe trips on the Clinch River, as well as the Cove Ridge Center, which offers environmental education, conference facilities and overnight dorm accommodations. Just outside the park, the family owned Appalachian Mountain Cabins offer fully furnished cabins that are perfect for everything from a romantic weekend to a family vacation. Most cabins are equipped with outdoor grills and fire pits, and you’re located just minutes from Natural Tunnel State Park.

You’ll find seven fairly short trails in the park but by interconnecting them, hikers can manage 4+ mile hike. Five of the trails are fairly level. The Purchase Ridge Trail climbs a little over a mile to an elevation of 2200 ft, the park’s highest point. The climb is strenuous to a scenic overlook of the tunnel from a distance. The less than half mile Tunnel Trail leads down into the gorge for a close up of the tunnel itself. It’s a steep hike back up.

The park also features a number of educational programs for children, in addition to a replica of the Wilderness Road Blockhouse. Built in the late 1700s, the original Anderson Blockhouse was designed to protect settlers from attacks by Native Americans. Located at the edge of the Wilderness Trail, it became an important stop-over for those traveling to Kentucky. Settlers would stay there until they had enough people and rifles to make the trip west. An estimated 300,000 people would pass through the blockhouse on their journey on the Wilderness Trail. In 2003, a replica of the blockhouse was built in the Natural Tunnel State Park, and an adjacent visitors center offers information on life in the 1700s.

A hike to Stony Falls is one of the most scenic in the region.
A hike to Stony Falls is one of the most scenic in the region. Perry Smyre

The other major outdoor attraction in the county is the High Knob Recreation Area. Part of the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia, it sits at 3,800 feet above sea level, making it the highest campground in the region. Visitors can enjoy a 4-acre cold-water lake with a 300-foot long sand swimming beach, excellent hiking trails, and a lookout tower that offers a view of five states. But its small size (only 14 campsites are available) and relative remoteness means that it doesn’t draw the crowds of other camping destinations. You’ll find excellent access to hiking trails in the Jefferson National Forest, but you can stay in the recreation area and take advantage well-kept trails as well.

Pick up some fresh strawberries at Mann’s Farm in Fort Blackmore.
Pick up some fresh strawberries at Mann’s Farm in Fort Blackmore. Perry Smyre

One of the area’s best hikes is to Stony Falls in the Jefferson National Forest (make sure to stop at Mann’s Farm in Fort Blackmore, Va., for the freshest strawberries). Takling the Devil’s Fork Loop Trail is an option, but it’s a strenuous climb where you can expect to get wet. Instead, the Little Stony trail offers footbridges over the creeks that avoid stream crossings, and at 2.8 miles the trail is a much more manageable distance—and you get the same amazing views. Take a break as you ascend 600 feet at the various bridges on the route and enjoy the rushing currents below and the hemlock canopy above.

The most popular paddling spot in the area is the Clinch River, one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the United States The Clinch is one of the top three cleanest rivers in the United States, and more mussel species exist in the Clinch River than any other river in the world. You’ll find public access points created every 2-4 hours for visitor convenience. To help with a trip, the Clinch Valley Outfitters can rent equipment or provided guided floating or fishing excursions on the more than 100 miles of waterways in Scott County.

Cultural Excursions

The Crooked Road Music Trail
The Crooked Road Music Trail highlights heritage music throughout the state, and you’ll find many options for live music in Scott County. Virginia State Parks

In addition to its natural beauty, Scott County is known for its celebration of Heritage music. You’ll find a number of places to experience jam sessions every week like Allen Hicks Friday Night Jams, located at 1844 Bethel Road in Nickelsville.  The Clinch Mountain Music Fest held in Gate City each June allows visitors to experience the best traditional music at a weekend long festival.

The most influential musicians to come out of Scott County belong to the Carter Family, and the Carter Family Fold was created to celebrate their role in the creation of what’s become traditional country music. Founded by Janette Carter, one of three children of A.P. and Sara Carter, the Carter Family Fold honors the memory of her parents and Maybelle Carter, who played a historic role in helping give birth to Country Music.

The original Carter Family lived on this hallowed ground, right where the Carter Fold is today, in Poor Valley, at the foot of Clinch Mountain in southwest Virginia. Since 1974, the non-profit Carter Music Center has presented programs to promote old time and bluegrass music every weekend. Saturday concerts highlight the musical style made popular by the Carter Family and in keeping with the traditional music style, no electrical instruments are allowed (everything is acoustic). Carter Family Fold is an international tourist attraction on the Crooked Road historic music trail, which features venues throughout Southwest Virginia.

For more history, take a stroll down historic downtown Gate City. You can enjoy antiquing at the many shops along Jackson Street and grab a bite to eat at unique eateries such as The Family Bakery, The Smoke ‘n Pig Barbecue, and Molcajetes Mexican. The town was known as the gateway to the western frontier when it was founded in 1775 and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Family Fun

The Wilderness Road Historic Area
The Wilderness Road Historic Area is a family-friendly place to learn about pioneer life in the late 1700s. Perry Smyre

Looking for activities that are more for the kids? TheCreation Kingdom Zoo in Gate City is the only zoo or animal habitat facility in the region featuring big cats. They also have a large collection of primates, some of which are among the rarest on Earth. In the fall, Pumpkin Patch Farms provides hayrides, a farm petting zoo and corn maze for a wonderful family outing. It’s also home to the Allen Hicks’ Jam Session is here every Friday night. At the Wilderness Road Blockhouse, you can experience what life was like on the 1775 frontier, through reenactments and hands-on demonstrations. Considered the start of the Wilderness Road, the blockhouse features educational programs on Saturday and Sunday.

You have plenty of lodging choices in the region—from historic bed and breakfasts to cabin camping. And you will find lots of locally owned restaurants to explore. So take a long weekend and unplug—you won’t find a more scenic place to do it than Scott County.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.


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