7 Small Towns with Big Outdoor Personality


A while ago we suggested 8 small towns for those who love the convenience of amenities and easy access to outdoor activities. But why stop at eight? Here are seven more Virginia towns that are small in size, but big in outdoor personality. Have you been to one of these towns? Tell us about your adventure using #VAOutdoors.


Cape Charles – Birding, Atlantic Flyway, Kayaking, Bay Beaches

Cape Charles

A small coastal town on the southern tip of the Eastern Shore peninsula, Cape Charles reminisces the railroad glory days, with Victorian architecture throughout town dating back to 1886. It’s all there for those who enjoy amenities – inns, restaurants, art studios, handmade jewelry shops, and a lovely boutique hotel. But down side roads, adventure awaits at wildlife refuges, parks, and waterways with some of the best kayaking on the East Coast. Paddling enthusiasts can spend the day with Southeast Expeditions on one of many eco-tours of scenic marshes, barrier islands, and coastal creeks of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Those who want laid-back beach time can enjoy recreational access to the Chesapeake Bay at Cape Charles Beach or Kiptopeke State Park, where camping options include a yurt. Birders can explore coastal beach, dune, and maritime forest habitats along the Atlantic flyway, one of the most important avian migration funnels in North America, at the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve. During fall migration, the forest abounds with migratory songbirds and raptors resting and feeding before continuing their journey across the Chesapeake Bay.


Clarksville – Lake Life, Fishing, Paddling
Fishing in Buggs Island Lake

Clarksville, Virginia’s only lakeside town, offers quaint shops, restaurants, and lodging along the shores of 50,000 acre Buggs Island Lake/John Kerr Reservoir, one of the best spots for crappie, catfish, and bass fishing in Virginia. Across the water from Clarksville is Occoneechee State Park, a beautiful park with camping, cabins, hiking, lake access, and a marina that offers boat and kayak rentals year-round. The park’s Panhandle Multi-Use Trail is a secluded 15-mile (7.5 miles each way) hiking trail along a long peninsula jutting into Kerr Lake. Take a stroll to admire the park’s wildlife and birds. With appropriate licenses, hunting is allowed in season and fishing is allowed year-round.


Martinsville – Smith River, Philpott Dam, Rail Trails


Pleasure boaters and paddlers will love exploring Philpott Lake. Hidden waterfalls, scenic rock outcrops, eight campgrounds, six beach areas, nine boat launches, and three islands are among the gems you can find along the lake’s 3,000 acres and 100 miles of shoreline. Fishing includes walleye, smallmouth bass, carp and largemouth bass. Deer Island, the largest of the three islands, offers nightly campsite rentals that are only accessible via boat. The Smith River Trail System includes a 44.5-mile section of the Smith River and 10 river access points, as well as 20+ miles of greenway. Leisure cyclists can bike the paved 4.5-mile Dick & Willie Passage Rail Trail and mountain bikers can challenge themselves at the 100-acre Mountain Laurel Trails complex, with nearly ten miles of trail for all skill levels.


Floyd – Mountains, Music, Blue Ridge Parkway

Floyd Country Store

Most notably known for the Friday Night Jamboree, art studios, and free-spirited locals, Floyd may not seem like a spot for outdoor lovers. But travel just a few minutes out of town along the Blue Ridge Parkway and you’ll see Floyd is just as rich in outdoor opportunities as it is in music and art. This is especially true at Buffalo Mountain (elevation 3,971 feet), one of Virginia’s hidden outdoor gems. If the summit’s panoramic views aren’t impressive enough, then the unique environment of the mountain is – a treeless summit provides sub-alpine vegetation reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains and the south face of the mountain contains grassy, prairie-like openings more typical to the Midwest. Even more, nearby Rocky Knob Recreation Area offers access to the 10.8 mile Rock Castle Gorge trail, which descends over three miles into the backcountry camping area in the bottom of the gorge before the 7.3-mi ascent back out. It’s a strenuous climb, but the thick mountain foliage, stream, and high open meadows make it worth the effort. For those looking for a leisurely activity, arrange a float on the Little River with On The Water in Floyd, a local outfitter offering guided trips, fishing excursions, boat rentals, and primitive camping.


Front Royal – Shenandoah National Park, Shenandoah River, Canoe Capital
Downtown Front Royal

A small town gem in the Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal is home to the northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and is known as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia” because it’s situated near the junction of the North Fork and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Several area outfitters make canoe rental easy and Shenandoah River State Park offers the best of river access and scenic mountain views. Go underground for geologic wonders at Skyline Caverns or take in the beauty of the Valley on horseback with Shenandoah Trail Rides or at Marriott Ranch.

Get a bird’s eye view of the mountains and rivers with Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons. Hike or camp in the George Washington National Forest in Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area.


Marion – Mountains, Scenic Drives, Hiking

Back of the Dragon

With a population of about six thousand residents, Marion is a small Southwest Virginia mountain town with easy access to Hungry Mother State Park, one of Virginia’s original six state parks. Spend your days hiking the trails, fishing, boating, and swimming, then spend the evening listening to live music with a wood-fired pizza and a local brew at 27 Lions. If scenic drives are more your speed, don’t miss the Back of the Dragon, a scenic 32-mile mountain drive with more than three hundred curves – perfect for motorcycles and sports cars.


Abingdon – Creeper Trail, Fly Fishing, Paddling

Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon

Abingdon is a southwest Virginia town that’s a perfect hub for adventure. Within an hour of town, there are dozens of options for day trips to area lakes, rivers, trails, and parks. Most notably, the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail-trail that is considered one of the best bike trails in the nation. Set up an excursion with a local outfitter offering bike rentals and shuttle service to Whitetop Station inside Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Here begins the 17-mile gradual downhill bike ride to Damascus. Pack your fly rod, too, as Whitetop Laurel Creek, one of the best fly fishing streams in Virginia, runs alongside the Virginia Creeper Trail. Looking for a larger body of water to play in? Adventure Mendota can help you set up a kayaking trip on the nearby North Fork of the Holston River. After a day outdoors, treat yourself to a spa treatment, a soak in the hot tub, or a swim in the heated indoor pool at The Martha Hotel & Spa, a luxurious and historic 4-star hotel in a beautiful 1830s property. Hotel guests can take advantage of The Martha’s shuttle van to Damascus, too.


Want more suggestions for outdoor fun in Virginia? Check out: Virginia Mountain Towns — Five Urban Virginia Outdoor Hot SpotsNine Vacation Ideas For Lovers Of The Outdoors




© demerson for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2016. |

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We are FUN! We are RVA! We support local business and charities! Life is good!

Danielle Emerson

We are FUN! We are RVA! We support local business and charities! Life is good!