For explorers longing to see a variety of sites in one trip, Highland County, Virginia, is a perfect home base. In an easy one to two-hour drive, travelers can ride historic railways, view naturally growing Venus Flytraps, learn about the search for extraterrestrial activity, and explore 460-million year old caverns.
Here is just a sampling of day trips where one can achieve adventure while staying at our Blue Grass Cabin. (And the potential fall colors in these locations is just an added bonus!)
This protected botanical area, known as Cranberry Glades, is the largest collection of bogs in West Virginia and is home to extremely rare plants for this part of the United States, such as carnivorous or insect-eating plants. Over 10,000 years ago, climate and glacial changes made way for several species of unique plant life to migrate from Canada and the northern U.S. and take root in this unique, 750-acre property. Two boardwalks allow visitors to traverse through the bogs and view these plants in their natural habitat. Visitors may also spot wildlife, such as the American Black Bear, West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel, Red-tailed Hawk, American Bald Eagle, Coyote, Cooper Hawk, Screech Owl, and White-tailed Deer.
In about an hour’s drive through scenic, country back roads, travelers can discover the attractions at Seneca Caverns. Drive up around noon, and pack a lunch to enjoy under the picnic shelter or dine in Asbury’s Restaurant, a log-cabin eatery located next door to the cavern’s entrance. (The caverns and the restaurant share a parking lot, so you can walk from one to the other.) However, before you enjoy lunch, reserve your spot on the next cave tour at the Seneca Caverns Visitor Center. Then, get some food in your belly and walk it off during the one-hour tour that takes explorers 165 feet below the earth’s surface to see stalagmites, stalactites, fairies, devils, Chief Bald Eagle, and Princess Snow Bird. Some NFL teams even make a special appearance, too!
Visit the Greenbank Observatory to see the world’s largest steerable telescope, which weighs 17 million pounds and has a surface that could hold two entire football fields! Even though the famous telescope is so massive, it can be directed with an accuracy of one arcsecond – the equivalent to the width of a human hair seen from 34 feet away. Learn about the fascinating world of radio astronomy from the pioneer instruments of the 1950’s to today’s most modern technology. Visitors can also take a SETI tour, which offers exciting and comprehensive info on the on-going search for extraterrestrial life. On the Behind-the-Scenes High Tech Tour, one can visit telescope control rooms and engineering labs normally off limits to the public. Not to mention there are walking trails, a gift shop, a cafe, star parties, and Star Lab Sundays – a planetarium event offered every Sunday at 2 pm.
Built in 1901 to haul lumber to the mill in Cass, West Virginia, Cass Scenic Railroad is now a state park where visitors can experience the same Shay locomotives used in Cass during the time of the railway’s creation. Home to the world’s largest fleet of geared Shay locomotives (six to be exact!), the legendary turn-of-the-century class C-80 Shay #5 has been making the trek up Cheat Mountain for nearly 100 years, which makes it one of the oldest engines in continuous services and the second oldest Shay in existence. From September 24 through October 27, the train will depart the station at 12 pm Tuesday through Sunday for riders to enjoy a relaxing and scenic ride up the mountain. (View their website for additional seasonal hours.) The approximate 22-mile trip lasts around 4.5 hours and climbs to an elevation of 4,842 feet to Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia.
Explore one of the most photographed attractions in West Virginia – Blackwater Falls. This 57-foot cascade is tinted by tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. A short walk on a well-maintained path will lead visitors to several viewing platforms where the falls can be enjoyed year-round. (Other landmarks, such as Elakala Falls, Lindy Point, Pendleton Lake, and Pendleton Point Overlook, are also located nearby if you want to add more sites to your trip!) And if your geocaching enthusiast (or even if you’re a first-time geocacher), there are plenty of hidden cache sites to search for. The park also offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails for the warmer months as well as cold-weather activities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and is home to the longest sled run on the East Coast. Not to mention, this site is a photographer’s paradise during any season!
Of course, at the end of any day-trip adventures, you can settle in at your home-away-from-home, the Blue Grass Cabin. Comfortable beds, a soft couch, a fireplace, and a back deck offer the relaxation opportunities you need after a big day of exploration!
The Highland County Fair means many different things to many different folks in our majestic, mountain community: the end of Summer, the culmination of livestock projects, nostalgia, family tradition, celebration, relaxation, volunteerism, you name it…
Since the early 1950’s, our community has pulled together to host one of our iconic events – the Highland County Fair. Locals volunteer to work food stands, drive golf carts to pick-up and deliver parking guests to the fairgrounds, serve on committees, help and encourage youth, and so much more. Some even volunteer throughout the entire year just to see this annual goal through to fruition. It is at the heart of our community.
The annual Highland County Fair kicks off with the Highland County Horse Show, a portion of the festivities that elders the Fair’s history. English and Western riders from around the community and the region bring their equine friends to the fairgrounds and compete in classes, such as Cloverleaf Barrels, Youth Horsemanship, Over Fences, and Pleasure and Gaited classes. (In yesteryears, the Horse Show was the main event of the Fair and took place on Saturday. It began around 9 am, took a break for lunch and dinner, and in some years, lasted until close to or after midnight!)
Festivities continue on Wednesday with events like the Fair Parade on Wednesday, the Demolition Derby on Thursday, the Tractor and Diesel Truck Pull on Friday, and the Truck Pull on Saturday. Other favorites including the Hog & Cattle Show (Wednesday), the Goat & Sheep Show (Thursday), the Kiddie Show, Sheep Costume Contest & Obstacle Course, and the Little Switzerland Cloggers show (Friday), and the Dog Show, Cornhole Tournament, and Bluegrass Show (Saturday).
To see a full Schedule of Events including new, annual featured events, CLICK HERE!
Of note for families, Wednesday night is “Family Night” and offers a reduced rate of $6.00 for “Ride All Night” wristbands, and on Saturday, there is a matinee ride time from 1 – 5 pm when wristbands are only $10. (Normally, “Ride-All-Night” wristbands are $15 each.)
Of course, one can always have fun at the Fair on a modest budget by taking in the arts & crafts, baked goods, educational, sewing, and photography exhibits in the Elementary Gym, enjoying the free live entertainment throughout the fairgrounds, AND one can spend a mere 25 cents per card on games of Bingo. (The latter is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat multiple times throughout the evening!) And of course, you can enjoy yummy fair food, such as chicken patties, hamburgers, steak subs, ice cream, onion rings, and french fries, while enjoying the attractions.
Also, if you plan to attend multiple nights of the Fair, purchase a Season Ticket for $25. You can buy this ticket at the gate during the event or at any pre-sale locations, which include Blue Grass Mercantile, Brightway Exxon, Fast Break, Lightner’s Electrical, Stonewall Grocery, and Rexrode’s Country Store. Season Tickets went on sale August 7. (Regular daily admission is $10 for ages 15 and up. Kids under 15 are free!)
But… as an adult… we have to say the best thing about the Highland County Fair is the opportunity to turn into a kid again! Come out to the Highland County Fair, grab some cotton candy, ride the Ferris Wheel, and take in one of the oldest small county fairs in the state of Virginia!
Highland County offers gorgeous views on hiking trails; however the lack of cell service on the more remote trails can be a bit intimidating. Rest assured. Pre-planning and safe hiking practices can lower the risk of potential issues and reduce your worry during excursions.
Here are a few pieces of advice for anyone planning a trail adventure:
HIKE #1: MCDOWELL BATTLEFIELD TRAIL
Take a trail through history when you hike the same grounds the Civil War soldiers did during the Battle of McDowell. This approximate two-mile hike is an easy to moderate excursion that will take hikers to the top of Sitlington Hill for an expansive view. There’s not much shade on this hike so be prepared with necessary sunscreen, water, and other provisions and protection.
Trailhead: From Monterey, travel east on Rt. 250 over Jack Mountain heading towards McDowell. Pass through the town of McDowell, and continue another two miles (approximately) to the parking lot and trailhead, which is located at the start up Shaw’s Ridge. (Still on Rt. 250 east).
Additional Tip: Stop in the Highland County Museum before your hike to learn more about the historic happenings that took place on the hill.
HIKE #2: LAUREL FORK PROPOSED WILDERNESS AREA
Laurel Fork is definitely a remote location; however with some of the most diverse scenery and old growth forests in the state of Virginia, it’s something all nature lovers should see. At approximately 4,000 feet, this adventure offers a cool break from high temperatures of other locales. And for the advanced hiker and adventurer, trails within the Laurel Fork area can be combined for a multi-day backpacking excursion. (Definitely exercise good communication if you decide on the backpacking option!)
Trailhead: From Monterey, travel west of town on Rt. 250 over Monterey and Allegheny mountains. A short distance past the Virginia/West Virginia border, turn right onto WV28. Then, turn right onto FR106 and travel .4 miles, left onto FR60 for .3 miles, right onto FR142 for .2 miles, and finally, park at the Locust Spring Picnic Area. You will see the trail head for the Locust Spring Run Trail at the bottom right of the picnic area.
For more detailed information, we recommend visiting the Laurel Fork profile on HikingUpward.com.
HIKE #3: HIGHLAND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA
Approximately three to four miles east when traveling on Route 250 out of Monterey is a pull off on the right at the top of Jack Mountain. Upon further inspection, you will see a gravel road, which leads to the Highland Wildlife Management Area. (Click on the link for usage fees!) When you travel this road (AKA: Sounding Knob Road), you’ll find a small piece of the larger 14,000+ acre area that includes diverse habitats, a plethora of wildlife, and a variety of views – an area where you can customize the length and features of your hike! As always, be aware of wildlife such as snakes, bear, fox, and more. These critters are usually fairly elusive but are present, nonetheless.
Trailhead: From Monterey, travel east on Rt 250 up Jack Mountain and look for a gravel pull off area labeled “Sounding Knob Road” at the top of the mountain. Drive in, decide on a hiking area, find a parking spot, and enjoy!
For more info, visit the Highland Wildlife Management Area profile on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website.
If you’re looking for inner peace, inspiration, or spiritual rejuvenation, plan a trip to Highland County, Virginia.
Those who live here, visit here, and (most importantly) RECOVER here, can’t deny it – If you’re at a point in life where you feel stuck, uninspired, or just plain burnt out, a getaway to the refreshing, wide open spaces of Highland County can be invigorating, uplifting, and sometimes even life-changing.
At Blue Grass Cabin, we offer a tranquil getaway to calm down, collect yourself, cool off, take a break, kick your boots off, put your feet up, or whatever relaxation phrase is right for you. Additionally, we recommend these local activities or services to aid in your restorative, mountain therapy:
Massage therapy is a go-to for relaxing. Licensed Massage Therapist Nicole Frye at Heart & Soul Massage in Monterey can quickly assess what your body and mind (and heart and soul!) need for repair. Therapeutic massage, deep-tissue massage, hot stone massage, and Reiki are just a few services she offers. However, one huge thing Nicole gives each and every client is her open ears, full attention, and compassion. From almost the moment you walk through the door, she can tell what you need. With her years of experience and knowledge, she will have you feeling lighter, less knotted, and refreshed when you leave.
To book an appointment, call Heart and Soul Massage at (540) 292-0568.
Originally from Germany, retired clinical psychologist Annette Naber now lives at her Emerald Mountain Sanctuary, a 58-acre farm home that consists of pastures, forests, and a few small ponds. Given her professional history, desire to empower women, and passion for helping others, Annette along with her husband, Dan, have opened their little slice of Highland heaven to guests as a retreat and small conference center. Together, the couple offers workshops in self-care, stress management, life simplification, forest bathing, nature walks, journaling for self-therapy, backyard foraging, individual and group coaching sessions, and Yoga classes.
If you’re feeling lost with no direction, Annette is an absolute treasure that will provide valuable insight to experiences and methodology that could help you gain significant clarity.
For more info on her services, visit the Emerald Mountain Sanctuary website!
HOT TIP: For the motorcycle enthusiasts out there, Annette’s husband, Dan, also owns and operates Allegheny Motorcycle Tours, which offers guided rides throughout Highland County and surrounding areas! He is in the process of building a motorcycle campground, which should be open to the public in spring of 2021.
Many come to Highland County for outdoor recreation. While there are several hiking trails in the area, most options are remote and out of cell service range. For those who just want a quick, relaxing stroll, check out the Monterey Walking Trail, which loops through the charming town and past our LOVEworks sign. (Park at the Highland Pool Complex to start walking. The entrance to the complex can be found off Route 220 heading south out of Monterey.) The trail is equal parts nature, community, and quiet neighborhood and offers an approximate mile to mile-and-a-half trail.
When your walk is through, step through the rest of the town. Shop through thrift stores and flower and gift shops. Stop by the Walk of Honor and pay respect to Highland County’s veterans, and take in the view of our historic courthouse. (History Factoid: The current courthouse building is the second structure, which was rebuilt after a fire JUMPED THE STREET(!!!) from a two-story store formally-situated on the current Summit Community Bank lot.)
Imagine… Cruising along the back roads of Highland County with a kind-of treasure map. What are you in search of? Colorful, locally-created barn quilts. Like bright blooms popping from a green garden, these delightful pieces of artwork are creatively-scattered throughout the countryside for travelers to enjoy on the first and largest barn quilt tour in Virginia (to our knowledge).
Not only can you enjoy local artwork, but you can also experience Highland County’s scenic back roads and spectacular views while doing it!
Experiencing nature up-close and personal is a sure-fire way to rejuvenate the senses and find calm. Highland County offers hiking trails that are serene, educational, and feature views to relax and inspire inner peace.
Learn about the Battle of McDowell on the McDowell Battlefield hiking trail. Explore wildlife, trees, rivers, and fishing in the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area. Take in expansive views from overlooks and a restored firetower in the Highland Wildlife Management Area.
Bring a friend, or enjoy a solo expedition. If you’re hiking alone, we encourage you to tell someone where you’re going, when you’ll leave, and when you’ll return. Also consider practicing our other hiking tips to ensure safety during your adventure.
Our beloved Blue Grass Cabin features a fully-furnished kitchen perfect for meal prep. With its open concept, one can prepare a locally-sourced meal in the kitchen while visiting with family and friends who may be perched at the adjacent dining room table or kicking it back on the couch.
Now the question is: In a county so plentiful with local foods, where is the best place to find the succulent selections? Pick one (or a combination of!) our six picks for locally-sourced food and find all you need for a homegrown meal while you’re visiting our Blue Grass Cabin!
The Highland Farmers’ Market opens in late-May and runs through mid-October. (Usually the last market of the season is Hands & Harvest weekend.) So that means, on Friday evenings from 3:30 to 6:00 pm, you can drive to The Highland Center on Spruce Street in Monterey to shop a selection of seasonal produce, meats, baked goods, maple syrup, and other locally-raised and locally-made foods. (And sometimes there’s even an arts and crafts vendor or two sprinkled in!)
To stay up-to-date with Highland Farmers’ Market news, follow them on their Facebook page, which also features the occasional fun giveaway or a delicious recipe!
Big Fish Cider Co. is a microcidery located on Spruce Street in Monterey, Virginia. (If you get lost in the complex town of Monterey, just look for the BIG trout behind the Monterey Courthouse!) Local Cidermaker Kirk Billingsley and his crew create uniquely-flavored ciders using locally-grown apples and traditional techniques. Additionally, their cider is available in a range of off-dry to semi-sweet blends and seasonal offerings. (One of our favorites is Church Hill Blush!)
The Big Fish Tasting Room is open Fridays from 4:00 to 7:00 pm and Saturdays from 2:00 to 7:00 pm. Stop by and see which selection tickles your taste buds the most! (And if you happen to be free on a Friday, visit between 5:00 and 7:00 pm. There’s usually a jam session featuring local bands and musicians!)
In the mood for a sweet treat? The Curly Maple has you covered! In addition to carrying locally-sourced products, such as meats and maple syrup, this former general store turned coffee shop/eatery/grocery stop is also home to one of the county’s most beloved bakers – Melissa Moyers, who is famous county-wide for her culinary talents.
On any given day, you can handpick your favorites from a selection of cookies, cakes, and candies. Recent creations are presented with rustic elegance in an old antique display, which was donated by Dorothy Colaw Shepherd, a cherished 92-year-old lady who visits the establishment for coffee every morning. (Sit down and talk with her. She doesn’t know a stranger, and she can tell some great Highland County stories! As do her compadres that sit with her! )
One thing Highland County is know for besides that iconic maple syrup is their delectable Allegheny Mountain Trout, which is available at the Virginia Trout Company on route 220 north approximately 4-5 miles from Monterey. Here you will find a selection of whole, filleted, or smoked trout that you can bring back to Blue Grass Cabin and pop in the oven or throw on the grill.
While you’re there, gander at the fish swimming in ponds fed by a natural stream that flows right out from under the mountain. This is a great activity for kids and families! You can even feed the fish or toss in a line and catch your own! (Just bring your own pole.) The guys at the Virginia Trout Company will even clean your catch for you!
Sugar Tree Country Store and Sugar House is a small retail and wholesale store located just off route 250 in the village of McDowell. Owned and operated by Glenn and Fern Heatwole and family, the store stocks a variety of pure maple products, jellies, honey, candles, hand-crafted toys, baskets, pottery, and many other products (including homemade Apple Butter!) If you love old general stores, this is a great one to explore!
The Heatwoles gather “sugar water” from local sugar maple trees growing at elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. After collection, they bring the “water,” or sap to the sugar house, which is located behind the store, for boiling and syrup creation. Want to know more about the process? Ask them! They love answering maple questions! (Just don’t plan your visit on a Sunday as they close to observe a day of rest and spend time with their family.)
An Extra Tip! Sugar Tree Country Store is located next to the Highland Historical Society! Visit two attractions in one trip!