Southwest Virginia in 8 Days - the FloydFest and Smith Mountain Lake Edition
I pulled together this itinerary as part of my Experience All of Virginia Project. This is a mish mash of some of my favorite Southwest Virginia travel adventures rolled into one epic 8 day journey. Note - this itinerary revolves around FloydFest which is held in late July. So book those dates on your calendar so you can have this awesome Southwest Virginia experience.
Days 1 - 5: FloydFest
FloydFest is a small, high-quality music festival in Floyd County, Virginia. There are five music stages and limited tickets so you can almost always get a front row seat if you want. The music is a mix of folk, bluegrass, funk, soul, reggae, hip hop and gospel. The year we went, some of the headliners we were excited about were the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rising Appalachia, Lauryn Hill, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti, and Thievery Corporation.
We went to FloydFest as volunteers, so got our tickets for free in exchange for working four 4- hour shifts. I had signed us up early to volunteer and so had the ability to choose shifts that didn't interfere with bands we wanted to see. We worked in the merchandise tent selling t-shirts and CD's. It was easy enough and we got to meet some of the bands when they came by to collect money from their sold merchandise. The woman running the merchandise tent also seemed pretty pleased with us and gave us some free meal tickets which was a nice bonus. However, I think if we went again, we would just pay to attend. I didn't realize how much I would enjoy all the smaller bands, and I underestimated my appetite for live music. Even on day five, I still wanted more.
I really loved the ambiance of this festival. It is most definitely family-friendly, and we saw kids of all ages there. They even had a whole children's universe and separate teen area with a ton of cool activities and their own music stages. They also offer childcare. We also noted an absence of sloppy drunks and frat bros which in my opinion is good for everyone.
The food was so amazing! There was a huge assortment of food trucks with the most delicious and healthy offerings. My favorite was a Korean Reuben that I got almost every day. I appreciated their recycling efforts as all of the paper products used at the festival were compostable and composted at a neighboring farm. They also only offered drinks on tap that you could get in your re-usable Floyd Fest collector's cup.
There are also a lot of outdoor activities offered including on-site frisbee golf and hiking trails. We went on an kayak excursion on the Little River before most of the music started on Wednesday. I would recommend taking a float with On the Water even if you aren't going to Floyd Fest. It was so relaxing and our tour ended with the owner's mom making us a home-cooked dinner on the river front which was a great way to get a sense of the other side of Floyd. AT the festival, we also took a tai chi and hula hooping class which were all at no extra cost.
You can of course go to Floyd Fest for a shorter period of time, but I highly recommend going for the full experience. And bring the kids!
Day 6 - Mabry Mill, Philpott Lake, Booker T. Washington Monument
Start unwinding from your festival experience with a visit to Mabry Mill. You can get breakfast there and then walk around the grounds which is a restored mill from the 1800's. Their very knowledgeable staff are able to answer lots of questions about how the mill functions and how their cabins were constructed. They also have some folks doing blacksmithing and chair making demos.
Afterwards, you can drive to Philpott Lake which is a little under an hour away to take a little walk. This is an Army Corps of Engineers Park and we found a path that took us down to the dam they had built. We also got the best and cheapest peaches we have ever had at a farm stand just outside the park.
After the lake, we stopped you can grab a quick lunch in Rocky Mount before heading on to the Booker T Washington National Monument. I was really impressed with this monument. They have a very nice museum in honor of Booker T, which was a great spot to wait out a thunderstorm that had passed through. It was very inspiring learning about the many obstacles he overcame to obtain an education and make it easier for others to do the same. They also have his restored slave cabin and a replica of the plantation he worked on before being emancipated. The area is very well maintained and there are some lovely little trails to walk around. When we were there, it was pretty dead and the staff were very eager to make sure we had a good experience.
From the Booker T Washington National Monument, you can be at a Smith Mountain Lake house rental in about 20 minutes. Our college friend's parents retired to Smith Mountain Lake and have been very gracious to host an annual weekend lake trip / college friends reunion for the past 10 years now. There are many lake house rentals on Smith Mountain Lake if you are not so fortunate to have friends with lake houses.
There are all sorts of lake activities you can partake in at Smith Mountain lake. We chose to spend the evening swimming and catching up with friends.
Day 7 - Smith Mountain Lake
Most Smith Mountain Lake Houses have a two night minimum, so spend another day at the lake unwinding from Floyd Fest. Whenever renting a lake-house, I always look first and foremost at the lake toys available. Luckily, our friend's parent's house is stocked with lake toys which makes for lots of good times.
Another bizarre Smith Mountain Lake experience that everyone should have is a visit to the Smith Mountain Dock and Lodge. The main attraction here are the toe-sucking carp. They even sell small tubs of peanut butter in the store for the sole purpose of smearing it on your toes and then letting the carp suck it off. It doesn't hurt at all when the carp suck on your toes, it's just crazy ticklish and shocking.
This attraction is in Penhook which is on the other side of the lake from Huddleston. We just boated over there in about 5 minutes, but I imagine the drive would be a lot longer.
Day 8 - Peaks of Otter and Natural Bridge
If you are heading home and north is the way you are going, I recommend breaking up your drive with two hikes. Peaks of Otter is about 45 minutes from Huddleston. We did the Sharp Top Hike option which was about 3.5 miles and took about two hours. There's some significant elevation change in a short time frame, but the 360 degree views at the top are worth it.
There aren't many hikes that have such a rewarding view after only an hour. There is also the Peaks of Otter winery not far from the trail head if you need a reward at the end of the hike too.
About 30 minutes further north is Natural Bridge. The 2 mile out and back Cedar Creek Trail takes you through a replica Monacan Indian Village which is full of living history exhibits and reenactors. The trail ends at the rock formation that is Natural Bridge which is quite stunning.
I actually haven't been to Natural Bridge since it became a state park. When I went it was privately owned and your ticket price also included entrance to their wax museum. I think this area was a vacation destination in the 1950's and this museum is a relic of that time. It's super creepy in a wonderful way and I recommend a visit if it hasn't been torn down.
Food - $370. We splurged on food and drinks at Floyd Fest since we didn't have to pay for tickets.
Lodging - $150. Camping was free for us at FloydFest since we volunteered. We pitched in on a lake house rental so we could accommodate more people.
Activities - $106. This included our kayak trip and entrance to Natural Bridge.
Gas - $30. This was about 10 hours of driving for us in a Prius.
Total - $656 for the three of us. That's $27 per person per day! We would probably spend as much or more travelling in southeast Asia.
One final tip for those of you driving to Southwest Virginia from the north. If you are on 81 and need a break, stop at Ben Salem Wayside in Buena Vista. It's about a 2 minute drive off of 81 and is a great spot to have a picnic and swim in the Maury River.