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There’s a secret sauce in Wytheville, Virginia, and I want it to spill all over America. In the meantime, take note of the grand variety of things to do in this small town in southwest Virginia.
When a slobbery camel eats out of my hand on a morning animal park safari, and a pastry chef in a state park fixes sticky toffee pudding for a mid afternoon snack, I know I’m somewhere interesting.
First things first: practice pronouncing the name of this Blue Ridge Mountains town: with / ville. The “y” sounds like an “i” and a short one in the little word IT at that. Plus, the “th” sounds more like when you say thumb, not the hard sound of, maybe, “that.”
This sale is valid until 6/4/2023.
Wytheville has easy-to-access history told multiple ways, live theater with a four-course dinner, cool, exotic animals and interesting hotels, for starters..
I found a long linear walking trail on an old rail bed, rather remarkable to have a flat walk in a mountain town. And a swinging bridge to nowhere! Twenty miles of trails parallel the New River, which is actually very, very old.
And downtown is walkable, with plenty of things to do there.
There’s more. Let’s hone in on 10 of them, plus four places to stay and five of the memorable places to eat. Choose outdoors, indoors and some of both.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Notice people paying attention to each other everywhere you go. That’s the secret sauce: People like their places in Wytheville, and they like each other. I watched an astonishing number of business owners in this small town supporting each other as customers or sharers of ideas. I heard local people praising each other, and listening to one another.
Lots of people discover Wytheville when they stop for food or gas on road trips along Interstates 81 and 77. Due west for 10 miles here is also northbound and southbound at the same time. Curious!
1. Big Walker Lookout
Why not try your stair-climbing legs and balancing pose on a Blue Ridge Mountains vacation?
The observation tower at this family-owned scenic spot named Big Walker Mountain is 100-feet high so the view’s great when your breathing catches up with the climb.
The swinging bridge below the tower really rocks, and it’s more photo op or viewing spot because it only goes one way—-no destination, just a turn-around. Worth the wobble for the views.
Eat some ice cream no matter what time of day you pop in the Big Walker Lookout country store. Heather Kime just might dish it up and tell you family stories since her grandfather started Big Walker Lookout 75 years ago.
Live music and regional artisans hang out here too every weekend from May through October.
2. Beagle Ridge Herb Farm
Breathe deeply at Beagle Ridge Herb Farm — in the gardens and also in the midst of luxurious personal care products made here from the lavender enticing your senses.
Monarchs like these 210 acres too and you can visit them in the butterfly house or the gardens from May through September.
Lavender thrives on neglect, says owner Ellen Reynolds. “Sun, air flow and poor soil” are the best components. She grows 16 kinds and knows which brews the best lemonade and which becomes luxurious soap.
A guided tour through the display gardens and gift shop with Ellen or her husband Gregg leads to more than butterfly and lavender knowledge. “We have become friends with the animals in the woods,” he says.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Ask if you can arrange a picnic, with a ride up to Lick Mountain in the six-seater UTV. Or walk 45 minutes, have your lunch delivered, and ride back. All depends on advance scheduling. Do request lavender lemonade on the menu, and lavender cookies.
Look for barrels of lavender and other pollinator plants in downtown Wytheville. Beagle Ridge Herb Farm seems to believe in spreading the wonders beyond the walk through butterfly house.
3. Fort Chiswell Animal Park
Animals from six continents live here, saved from injuries, born on this land, retired from the circus, rescued as orphans—-and deeply loved fulfilling the vision of a carpenter named Jeff Archer who told his mother when he was seven years old he wanted an animal farm.
Ride a safari bus for big views of the rolling hills and lake habitats for the animals. Pumpkin farm fields too.
Prepare for laughter (and sometimes slobber) because this bus stops for real animal encounters.
The $5.00 sack of food in the gift shop is a must have for the full experience. Where else does a camel named Puff peer in your window hoping for a snack? Or a bison who expects you to pour the feed right down his throat?
Some little kids pulled back from the window visits, but reached right in on the grounds at the petting zoo.
Admire that camel (and its size.) Fort Chiswell Animal Park rescued Puff in 2008 from a neglectful situation and in their care she gained 900 pounds!
(4-10) Seven Museums and Historic Sites
Wytheville believes in its local history and maintains a surprising number of museums.
4. Jackson/Umberger Homestead Museum
This is 10 acres of lovely grounds, historic buildings to go into and a two-story house filled with decorative arts. Allow some time because it’s all quite lovely and interesting. Consider scheduling festival travel too; early June is the BABA—-Bluegrass, Art, Bourbon and Ale!
5. Thomas J. Boyd Museum
A summer without children is the way this museum tells about the polio epidemic in 1950, strangely hitting Wytheville harder than anywhere else. Kids stayed inside; one family even converted a room into a giant sandbox. Of particular interest is the all wooden fire truck, even the ladders. Thomas Jefferson Boyd is considered the father of Wytheville.
6. Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum
Edith Bolling, who was born in 1872 in Wytheville, became first lady as the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. Her birth home on Main Street is now a two-story museum. Only seven other first ladies claim birthplace museums. White House stories about Edith continue across the street at the Bolling Wilson Hotel.
7. Octagon Mansion History Museum Gallery
The vast collection of American history memorabilia, including Civil War and World War I, gathered over a lifetime by John Cushman is reason enough to visit the Octagon House built in 1870. Reserving one of the 18 seats at the dinner table where a ghost is quite likely to join is yet another. He is the Rev. Dexter Snow. Paranormal experts show up too for this multi-course gourmet dinner experience.
8. African American Heritage Museum
History in action is the energy to feel in this former Rosenwald School for freed, formerly enslaved, children in 1867. Large, window-sized photographs, a documentary film and two rooms of displays share the history. Afternoon classes teach computer skills, literacy and GED preparation.
9. Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum
If you’re old enough, feel the nostalgia seeing this refurbished gas station next to the Homestead Museum.
10. Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum
Built in 1823, the Rock House spent 2023 undergoing renovations. This was the home of Wytheville’s first resident physician.
Places to Eat in Wytheville
Log House 1776 Restaurant
Easy to get lost in the Log House Restaurant, a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces that started in 1776. It must be mystical as well as large and rambling because this old wood structure survived a fire in 2021!
My salmon dinner was distinctive with wasabi and pecans. Stuffed squash and green beans balanced the wasabi heat. Others at my table had 16-ounce ribeyes, so tender they ate every bite.
Corn fritter appetizers find a way to most orders and kids can order $8.99 worth of chicken strips or cheese pizza with child-friendly sides.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Log House food is not waiting for an order under a warming light. Food is prepared when the order is placed. So eat the homemade bread, wander the gardens with a drink and keep an eye out for rabbits, birds, goldfish and frogs, not routine restaurant residents.
The Log House bakery might be on your stroll-the-grounds route. A dozen kinds of cakes, and always some pies, will be available to take with you!
The Log House has lots of nooks and crannies so it’s likely to have a romantic, secluded table, and a space just for a table of eight so a rowdier crew can feel quite connected.
Restroom trips require a little time to find your table again.
Petal’s Wine Bar
Prosciutto with blue cheese, figs and arugula on sourdough bread introduced me to delectable dining in Wytheville. Petal’s Wine Bar is the downtown spot, with a bathtub for outdoor seating: one side carved out, cushion provided.
Visionary and sensible you might describe the designer behind Petals. Teresa Campbell started small with a flower shop which continues as a Petal’s component. Then she added gifts, interesting ones, not routine.
“Every time I go somewhere, I try to find places like this,” she says.
And now a wall of wines to buy by the bottle or the glass rounds out her vision.
Often Petal’s features live music, and wine affairs include yoga, movie nights, trivia and flower workshops too.
Across Tazwell Street from Petal’s is another woman-owned memorable eating place. Bagels for breakfast, pasta bowls for lunch.
My pumpernickel bagel with crab cream cheese equipped me for a busy morning. Wheat, egg, garlic and Kalamata olive are among the many other bagel flavors—delivered overnight from New York. Cream cheeses even include “picnic,” a ham and cheese kind of flavor, and blueberry, cinnamon or jalapeno.
Coffee is enticingly named: O Dark Thirty, Appalachian Trail and Sunday morning, roasted locally from smoked beans by Dan Lang.
That pasta bowl lunch explains the restaurant name: owner Darlene and Dan Lang’s young child couldn’t pronounce spaghetti quite right.
Order the signature “Wythe-fill bowl” and customize with your favorite proteins, pasta and, as the family of owners say, fixins.
Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre
Four big-portion courses distinguish dinner in anticipation of a lively stage show at Wohlfahrt Haus. Tables are tiered in the auditorium and actors are the servers. Stay put and look forward to dessert at intermission.
Why a German-named dinner theater in southwest Virginia? Peggy Sutphin founded this experience in 1999, and named it after her great-great-great grandfather who emigrated from Baden, Germany in 1750.
Matterhorn is the bier garden and restaurant’s name, and the performances are musicals, concerts and plays.
Skeeter’s World-Famous Hot Dogs
I ate a hot dog for breakfast because Skeeter’s has been serving them since 1925. And it’s right across the street from where I woke up—the Bolling Wilson Hotel.
Make it a culinary geography lesson because Skeeter’s serves West Coast dogs (mustard and relish), Big Tex (chili, cheese, bacon, jalapenos), Chattahoochee (slaw, sweet onion, mustard) and Michigan (chili beans, mustard, sweet onions).
Just down the street from Skeeter’s is a gigantic pencil, reaching toward the heavens. Quirky road trip art? It’s also practical as a sign on an office supply store.
Places to Stay in Wytheville
The Bolling Wilson Hotel
The Bolling Wilson Hotel stands four stories tall in the midst of downtown Wytheville, with a rooftop bar to scan the region and admire the Blue Ridge Mountain views.
This is a three-star property in the Ascend collection of Choice Hotels, which means it is independently, franchise owned and reflects the unique nature of its location or history.
Bolling was the last name of President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife Edith and she was born right across the street.
Details of the hotel’s designs, 30 rooms, bourbon bar, Graze on Main restaurant and verandahs and courtyards are worth a story all their own.
Expect a one-time $9.00 fee for historic restoration.
The Inn at Foster Falls
The Inn at Foster Falls opened in April, 2023 — a ten room boutique hotel with spacious balconies and instant access to New River Trail State Park.
This is where the catering chef presents luscious mid-afternoon desserts, and continental breakfasts from 7:00 – 10:00 a.m. “At-your-service” is the way to do dinner: give 48-hour notice to request to dine in your room.
The best way to hike the trails and experience the state park is asking for a picnic lunch to go.
The handicap accessible room is on the ground floor and the luxurious bridal suite is upstairs. Second floor rooms are a bit smaller than ground level but beautifully appointed.
Some rooms have tubs, some walk-in showers so check if you have a preference.
This Inn is a meticulous restoration in the works since 1995. Full circle you could say as you rock on the porch because it was an inn in 1887 too.
In between, mountain children studied here, and sometimes boarded. The Inn at Foster Falls was an orphanage too and today’s boutique address is 176 Orphanage Way in Max Meadows, Virginia.
That’s Wythe County.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Romantic? Like to discover enduring connections when you travel? The mother of the chef is the oldest living orphan who called this building home. Might meet her. She likes the afternoon desserts too.
Trinkle Mansion Bed & Breakfast
Find four guest rooms plus a garden cottage in this 1912 home on Main Street, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Breakfast is three courses, served with silver, china and crystal.
All rooms have showers and two offer the original claw-foot bathtubs. Two of the seven original fireplaces are in bedrooms.
The innkeepers, Patti and Bernie Pizinger, are both retired postmasters from Iowa who discovered the home by chance on a road trip. Two years of total renovation, saving as many original features as possible, they opened in 2007.
This is a 1971 Airstream Excella with a hot tub, deck, single burner cooktop, composting toilet——and grazing cows, sheep and chickens. Sunset yoga and sound bowl healing on the deck can be arranged.
Bed yes, kitchen, no, and the bathroom is next door. The Wytheville KOA campground has two Conestoga wagons for overnight stays, sleeping two people.
Family-friendly campground amenities like a swimming pool, fun center and hayrides are included but bring your own sheets and towels.
New River Retreat, the company which manages the Inn for the state park, handles 17 vacation homes within 20 minutes of the park, all on the water.
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