By TRACY ROBERTS
For The Medical Leader
“You can’t get there from here, you have to go someplace else to start.”
That’s what my grandfather used to say when people would ask him how to get from Wise, Virginia to anywhere else. But that was decades ago and we have “four-lanes” now! It’s just as easy to get from here to wherever you are as it is to do the reverse.
If you’re looking for ideas on what to do for a get-away trip that’s about an hour away from the Pikeville area, then come visit Wise County in beautiful Southwest Virginia.
The suggestions below will help you find locally owned treasures that are worthy of a wider audience. And once you get here, you’ll discover even more things to do in an area that’s rich with natural beauty, local culture, and friendly people.
Our towns also have special festivals and holiday-themed events (plenty of ‘em!) and some of the outdoor suggestions below are seasonal. But you can still enjoy a fun trip here any time of year. So just pick up and come explore our neck of the woods – it’s four-lane driving most of the way!
Unique Places To Stay
The Inn at Wise
The Inn at Wise has had several different names in the past, but no matter what it was called, this gracious hotel was a focal point of the Town of Wise for several generations. But The Inn had fallen into disrepair in recent decades. This was sad in itself, but also very noticeable since Wise is the County Seat, and The Inn is next door to Wise County’s Courthouse building. Fortunately, a multi-million dollar restoration has now brought The Inn back to her former glory. So if you’re partial to historic charm, and enjoying first class service from a welcoming staff, the Inn at Wise is the place for you. There are also three distinctively-styled restaurants at The Inn (see the Places to Eat section below).
110 East Main Street, Wise, Va. innatwise.com. 276-321-7600.
Journey’s Inn at Camp Bethel
For a more rustic and secluded place to lay your head, you’ll want to check out Journey’s Inn, a remodeled two-story log cabin that sits on the 160-acre Camp Bethel property just outside of Wise. Camp Bethel is a Christian ministries retreat and summer camp, but they do offer Journey’s Inn as a unique apartment-style place to stay for visitors to the area. The whole place would be great for a family, or you can just rent out the full upstairs apartment or one of the two downstairs bedrooms. Both floors offer full kitchens with dining and lounging areas. Guests can relax while rocking on the porch, or enjoy walking or hiking through Camp Bethel’s beautiful mountain woodland, all 160 acres of it! And you can even pack a picnic for a lunch at the lake (picnic baskets available).
3050 Camp Bethel Road, Wise, VA. journeysinn.com. 276-328-6876.
St. Paul Suites and Cottages
If you want to stay closer to more active outdoor adventures, check out St. Paul Suites and Cottages. These properties, owned by St. Paul residents Greg and Jennifer Bailey, are near Clinch River Adventures (see below) where you can “Get Drenched in the Clinch”. They are decorated with simple furnishings and full kitchens, so it’s easy to relax and kick off your shoes after a day of enjoying the Clinch River, or hiking and biking the nearby trails.
Come to Bailey Hardware, 3041 5th Avenue, St. Paul, Va., to check into your unit. stayinsaintpaul.com. 276-780-4397.
Call Greg for questions you have about the town, the trails, or general information about the Suites and Cottages.
Contact Jennifer’s office at: 276-762-5249. Jennifer is the official “Keeper of the Calendar” so call her directly if you want to book a room.
Added bonus: St. Paul is an ATV-friendly town
You can bring your own ATV, or you can rent one from Greg and Jennifer for a 4-hour excursion on Spearhead Trails’ Mountainview Trail System. You are encouraged to ride all over town on your ATV during your stay – to the grocery store, to restaurants and gas stations, and then head up to the trailhead, less than a half mile away.
Local Places To Eat in Wise
The Inn at Wise
There are three choices of restaurants at The Inn, each with their own unique vibe. The Colonial is a traditional dining room open for Sunday buffet from 11-4, or if you have a larger group you could schedule a special event here. The menu changes seasonally and the kitchen serves upscale casual with a Southern flair. If you want to get your sock hop on, The Corner Diner lets you slip back in time with its 50’s style retro decor. Make sure you pop a few quarters into the working jukebox signed by Miss Peggy Sue herself while you enjoy lunch specials and baked-from-scratch desserts that change daily. It’s open for breakfast and all day until 7 pm. The Pub and Tap Room is a tavern style bar with Southern comfort food, wraps and burgers, and even a kids menu. This local hang-out opens at 5 pm, and closing time changes depending on the day.
110 East Main Street, Wise, VA. innatwise.com. 276-321-7600.
Annette’s Dairy Barn
Locals have come here for decades to enjoy great burgers and old-fashioned milkshakes. And if you see a slice of butterscotch pie in the cooler, you’d better grab it – they go fast. Better yet, take home a whole pie!
332 Main Street, Wise, VA. 276-328-6449.
If your taste buds are calling for something a little zestier, head over to El Castillo, a Mexican restaurant housed in what used to be the town’s US Post Office. The waiters are friendly, the food is served quickly, and there’s plenty of it to wake up your taste buds. They also have a full bar, plus outdoor seating where you can watch the bustling Town of Wise roll by.
225 East Main Street, Wise, VA. 276-328-2000.
Music, Culture, and Entertainment in the area
Country Cabin II (part of the Appalachian Traditions Village)
The first Country Cabin was built in 1937, to promote traditional Appalachian heritage through music, dance and other cultural programs. But eventually they needed a bigger place, so Country Cabin II was born in 2002. Jam Sessions are on Tuesday nights. A rotating roster of both amateurs and pros will be playing, but you can just come to listen. On Saturday nights, you’ll find old time Mountain and Bluegrass music performed by local and regional musicians. You can also take a clogging or line dancing class. Concessions are available, featuring down-home cooking.
6034 Kent Junction Road (on route 58), outside of Norton, VA. appalachiantraditionsinc.com. 276-679-3541.
And if you’re really into Bluegrass and Mountain music you’ll be interested to know that Country Cabin II is one of the major venues along The Crooked Road, designated by the state as Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It’s a driving route that winds over 333 miles along Route 58, with venues and events marked along the way that celebrate Southwest Virginia’s rich musical heritage.
If you see this sign anywhere on your trip here, you’ll know you’re at a Crooked Road venue. myswva.org/tcr.
Special Treat: Dock Boggs Festival at Country Cabin II
If you happen to visit in September, you’ll want to check out the Dock Boggs Festival at Country Cabin II, which is an event that’s also part of The Crooked Road. Dock Boggs was a local self-taught musician and singer born near Norton, VA who was known for his distinctive banjo-playing style and raw, powerful singing voice. He made some recordings in his early years, but times were hard and work in the coal mines called him away from the more widely-known musical career he could have had. But he picked back up with his performing once he retired, and this music festival now celebrates him and his work.
Lays Hardware Center for the Arts
When Lays Hardware and Furniture Company went out of business, the Town of Coeburn bought it and now leases it to Lays Hardware Center for the Arts, which has become the cultural heart of the town. Regular events feature Thursday Jam Sessions with local amateur and professional musicians, followed by Bluegrass bands on Fridays. Some nights, you’ll get to see the Centre Stage Cloggers too. And there’s a changing schedule of hands-on artisan classes, like stained glass and woodworking. Lays Hardware Center for the Arts is also a venue along The Crooked Road.
409 East Front Street, Coeburn, Va. layshardware.com. 276-395-5160.
Drive-ins are making a comeback in certain areas around the US, but this place has been a local treasure since 1952, with the mountains of the beautiful Jefferson National Forrest as its backdrop. First-run movies are shown on a digital projector, and you get the sound via your FM radio. They also have a great snack bar. You only pay once to enter, but they usually show at least a couple of movies a night, and sometimes three. They’re closed during the winter, so just call to make sure they’re open when you’re in town.
5111 Kent Junction Road, Norton, VA. 276-679-3761.
John Fox Jr. Museum
John Fox, Jr. was a local author most famous for writing The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, but he also wrote thirteen other full length novels, in addition to more than 500 short stories. His home is both a museum and a memorial to the Fox family. The house was built in 1888, and is filled with beautiful furnishings and mementos of the family. They also serve luncheons and dinners there on occasion, so make sure to ask what’s cookin’ when you call.
Open Thurs-Sat 2-6, from the Thursday following Memorial Day until the Saturday before Labor Day.
118 Shawnee Ave East, Big Stone Gap. 276-523-2747.
Southwest Virginia Museum
This former home of C. Bascom Slemp (Congressman, and later private secretary to President Calvin Coolidge) is now a museum showcasing every aspect of Southwest Virginia history you can imagine, from the coal and railroad industries to music and crafts of the area.
Closed Jan-Feb, but open all other months. Times vary depending on the season so check their site.
10 W 1st St North, Big Stone Gap, Va. swvamuseum.org. 276-523-2747.
June Tolliver House
This Virginia and National Historic Landmark features a gift shop with antiques and local historic photographs on display, plus local gifts, books, crafts and artwork for sale. Named for the lead character in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, it’s staffed by volunteers, there’s no admission charge, but donations are gratefully accepted.
Open Spring – Mid-December, Tues-Sat 10-5.
522 Clinton Avenue East, Big Stone Gap, Va. 276-523-4707.
Lonesome Pine Country Club
This 18-hole par 71 course lies in picturesque Powell Valley, with the Appalachian Mountains as its backdrop. Open year-round, it’s a unique setting for getting your golf game on. You can also grab a snack or meal afterwards at their Bar & Grill.
2706 Country Club Rd, Big Stone Gap, Va. lonesomepinecc.com. 276-523-0739.
Pound Gap of Pine Mountain
As you go through the mountain pass from Kentucky into Virginia, you’ll see some amazing angles of the rocks along Route 23. In the 1700 and 1800’s, this gap in the Cumberland Mountains served as a passage for early settlers to cross into Kentucky from Virginia. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and during the construction of the new section of Route 23 in 1998, the “Pine Mountain Pound Gap Thrust Fault” was exposed. This got geologists really excited. They knew that the Appalachian Mountains had been formed more than 275 million years ago when the North American continent collided with the continents of Africa and Europe. But no one had ever seen the resulting fault line from this collision until it was revealed as the mountain was being cut for the road. Geologists now consider this to be one of the most remarkable exposures of rock in the entire eastern United States. You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the magnitude of what happened to push the rock up at this angle – it’s amazing to see. Geologists do come here from all over to study it, but even someone who’s not a rock geek can get a sense of this magnificent upheaval – just by driving leisurely by.
Visit wisecounty.com for much more.