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Appalachian Backroads - The Ridge Runner

Travel the crest of the Appalachian mountains for 112 miles, including the Great 80 Curves of Challenge which is part of the larger Gargoyle Route.

You can start the Ridge Runner from any point but you won’t want to miss such classic small towns like Honaker – the Redbud Capital of the World, Haysi, Richlands, and Cedar Bluff where the old grist mill is the perfect photography subject. Save some room on your memory card to capture the views atop the Cedar Bluff Overlook which provides a stunning perspective

any time of year. Nearby, the Appalachian Arts Center is a 4,000 sq. ft. facility dedicated to exhibiting and selling works created by local craftspeople, artists, student apprentices, authors and musicians.

Your journey will acquaint you with Jewell Ridge, a once booming coal mining town, which sits atop the mountain at an elevation of 3,500 feet. And while a trip to the nation’s largest retailer isn’t usually part of anyone’s travel highlights, but when you’re in Grundy, you’ll be near the prototype two-story Walmart which features a shopping cart sized escalator. A devastating flood in 1977 wiped out a large portion of downtown Grundy. Recently, the land for the new retail complex was carved out of the surrounding mountain and has provided a much needed convenience for residents and students of the two colleges in town.

One of the most unique natural formations east of the Mississippi River is Breaks Interstate Park, deemed the “Grand Canyon of the South.” This multi-state park covers 4,600 acres in Virginia and Kentucky giving you a birds-eye view of the immense, spectacular gorge that stretches 5 miles long and plunges over 1600 feet. Regardless of the season, Breaks offers visitors stunning vistas every day of the year. For adventurers, the Breaks offers hiking and mountain biking trails, pedal boats, canoes,

Elk viewing tours, geocaching, an amphitheater, special events and even whitewater rafting during certain times of the year. You may want to go straight to the office book your room because taking in the Breaks can take a quite a while. After exploring, you can kick back in a room at the Lodge, in the rustic Woodland Cottages or you can spread out in quiet comfort in a waterfront, hand-hewn log cabin. The Lakefront Cabins have limited availability due to the awesomeness of these luxury suites, loaded with amenities, and decks that overlook Laurel Lake with a screened-in hot tub. And if you don’t feel like cooking, the Rhododendron Restaurant offers mountaintop views as good as the food.

A good portion of the Ridge Runner takes you on Route 80, known as the Great 80 Curves of Challenge. This road is actually part of the Bicentennial 76 TransAmerica Bike Route which begins in Oregon, traversing the entire country to finish in Yorktown, Virginia. The Virginia segment of the TransAm Trail has more total elevation gain than any other state, reaching to 3,706 feet at its summit near Big A Mountain.

While every season offers spectacular scenery in Southwestern Virginia, the rides are especially enchanting in mid-April when the roads are lined with Redbuds or in June when the thick rhododendrons are in bloom.

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