If you see a pack of motorcycles roar up in your rearview mirror, take that as confirmation that you’re riding on a top-notch backroad. As the bikers know, this region is chock-full of natural wonders, but it’s the byways connecting these places that make a trip special, adding local flavor, inspiring beauty, and historical context. So get your motor running…
Blue Ridge Parkway
From the Buena Vista Overlook, House Mountain rises on the western horizon like a long-lost friend. After appreciating the view, push off for a drive on the 469-mile
Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic byways in the world. Feel the mountain breeze. Smell the rhododendrons. Gaze at the Shenandoah Valley. Hear the red tanagers. And savor the taste of adventure. And roll those windows way, way down. The Parkway's twenty-mile run alongside Rockbridge County is interactive exploring at its finest.
In late May and June, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, flame azaleas, and pinxter azaleas bloom along the road. In the fall, orange, red, and yellow leaves shimmer across the forested mountains. Year-round, a series of scenic overlooks offer smashing views of the Shenandoah Valley. Pick one, drop your camp chair, and wait. Eagle, deer, and bear sightings may be the reward for your patience.
Continuing south, the Parkway drops from its lofty ridgeline perch to deep riparian forest. At the James River Visitor Center, walk the Trail of Trees and study the historic river lock. Next up? The lowest point on the Parkway, rising a mere 650ft. From here, it's a 13-mile climb up Apple Orchard Mountain. At 3,950ft., it's the highest Parkway elevation in Virginia. It's also home to the elusive Peaks of Otter salamander. This unique amphibian lives just one place in the world – right here.
For a scenic loop, drop from the Parkway at Route 501 and join Route 11 in Natural Bridge. This leafy two-lane road tracks the Wilderness Road (also called the Great Road or Wagon Road), which carried settlers through the region in the 1700s.
Driving north, attractions include Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia Safari Park, and Virginia Gold Orchard. Views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are superb from the hilltop grounds of Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery. You can wander the apple-orchard labyrinth just north at Halcyon Days Cider Co. North of downtown Lexington, Hull's Drive-In, Lexington Coffee Roasters Roasting & Espresso Bar, and Devils Backbone Brewery are always a welcome stop.
For a pretty loop with a side of history, twist down from the Parkway on Hwy. 56 through Vesuvius, with a detour off Route 11 to McCormick's Farm and Wade's Mill.
Route 39: Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway
Not feeling the call of the mountains? Then consider a drive on Route 39, also known as the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway. This serpentine road stretches west along the Maury River, eventually rolling into West Virginia. From Lexington, Route 39 passes the Virginia Horse Center then continues past farms, a church or two, and a wild swinging bridge in Rockbridge Baths – we dare ya' to cross it! Ahead, Hogback Mountain and Jump Mountain flank Goshen Pass, a river-carved gorge famous for its springtime whitewater. Route 39 through the pass is gorgeous year-round, but it's especially nice in spring when redbuds and dogwoods bloom along the road. Pull over for a picnic at the wayside.
North Rockbridge Trail
Country roads link a collection of farms, businesses, and historic sites between Raphine and Lexington on the new North Rockbridge Trail. There’s no specific driving route to follow. Just review the trail map, and you’ll see several roads crisscrossing the hilly farmland that surrounds Brownsburg, Fairfield, Rockbridge Baths, and Vesuvius along I-81.
You’ll find soap, lotion, and other lavender products at Lavender Fields at Tantivy Farms, where the views of the countryside and mountains are superb. A variety of farm products are also for sale along the trail: cheese at Mountain View Farm Products, apples at Redwing Farm Apples, fresh bread at Seasons’ Yield, and meat, eggs, and produce at Verdant Acres Farm. Other interesting stops include 3 Seasons Antiques and the Quiltery. For alpaca products, visit Maple Grove Alpacas or Ridge Valley Alpacas & AbellaPaca Boutique. Hours vary from farm to farm.
End your day with wine tasting at Jump Mountain Vineyard or wine and beer tasting at Rockbridge Vineyard & Brewery.