A Guide to Marion, Virginia: The Best Place to Spend a Long Weekend Off the AT

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Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail run through Southwest Virginia. But sometimes, even the most dedicated hikers need a break from the trail. Marion, Virginia, provides everything a wary hiker could need—and plenty of amenities for those just looking to spend a day or two on the trail. Even if the Appalachian Trail isn’t on your radar, Marion is a unique spot for a weekend escape in scenic Southwest Virginia. From historic charm to first-rate dining, the area makes a great home base whether you’re hiking from Georgia to Maine or simply looking for a quick weekend getaway.

There’s a Shower—A Free One

Mount Rogers is just one of the draws of Southwest Virginia.
Mount Rogers is just one of the draws of Southwest Virginia.

Ryan Somma

For those stepping off the trail and back into society, spiffing up your personal hygiene is probably the first step to take for most hikers. Not only is Mount Rogers, just 15 minutes from downtown Marion, but it sports a free outdoor shower specifically for AT hikers just steps from the trail and a few paces from the visitor center proper. For those staying in Marion for the weekend, the Mount Rogers is part of a pretty and rhododendron-filled segment of the trail, which an excellent option for a challenging day hike. Wondering how you’ll get from Mount Rogers to town? Don’t—there’s a shuttle that runs directly between the visitor center and Marion several times each day and it’ll only set you back 50 cents.

Culture and History Galore

Both history buffs and culture junkies will be happy in Marion. Not far from Marion is historic Saltville, once a bustling company town designed around the area’s salt reserves. Not only can you visit spots where the brine distilling took place and learn all about the process, you can also take a spin through Saltville’s Museum of the Middle Appalachians. Here the entirety of the area’s prehistoric past is at your fingertips.

Once your history-filled daytime adventures are over, catch a show at the architecturally amazing Lincoln Theatre in downtown Marion. One of very few Mayan Revival Art Deco Theaters left in the States, it offers up performing arts programming all year. You can catch everything from renditions of Aladdin to local musicians singing their hearts out on this stage.

A Good Meal

Whether you’re taking a break from dehydrated food on the trail or you’re looking to indulge during your getaway, good grub is essential and Marion delivers. And what would a southern experience be without proper barbeque? Wolfe’s is where you have to go if you’ve got finger lickin’ sauces, steaming mac and cheese, and traditional cornbread on the brain. If you want to cozy up to a little lunch joint alongside Marion locals, Sister’s Cafe is the spot. Owned and operated by longtime residents and serving up delicious coffee and tea to boot, you could easily kick back here for a couple of hours and just watch people go by.

Endless Adventures

The Back of the Dragon route between Marion and Tazewell is one of the area’s most scenic drives.
The Back of the Dragon route between Marion and Tazewell is one of the area’s most scenic drives.

Virginia State Parks

Plenty of places in Southwest Virginia are said to be the sites of paranormal activity. In Marion there’s the Abijah Thomas House, otherwise known as the Octagon House. An architectural feat that was briefly popular in the 1850s, the stop sign-shaped house is composed of bricks build by slaves on the property. There’s said to be ghosts floating around the house, particularly in the storage room that locals refer to as the "dark room."

For those who prefer to get their thrills in the "real world," plan to take a trip along the Back of the Dragon route between Marion and Tazewell—by motorcycle if you can. The twisty and turning road is a fun one to drive and serves up scenic views that are hard to beat all along the way.

Wine and Work

Whether you want to whet your whistle or put a few bucks in your pocket before you get back on the trail, you can do either or both at Davis Valley Winery near Marion. Although hikers can stop by and pick grapes for a few days to earn some extra money, the best thing about the winery is that it’s no longer just a winery these days. They’ve moved into distilling whiskey, vodka, and moonshine as well, so if you’ve got a crew with diverse tastes, anyone and everyone will be able to find something they like here. Even if you don’t drink, the hilltop scenery makes for a pretty place to spend a lazy day.

Supremely Cozy Digs

If you’re going to spring for a weekend off the trail, go ahead and treat yourself to some sweet digs that will put your adored tent to shame. The General Francis Marion Hotel is in a central downtown location and is, of course, titled after the town’s namesake itself. However, if you want something a little more down-to-earth feeling, shack up at the Collins House Inn. This sweet bed and breakfast is run by two ex-Midwesterners and leaves you feeling like you’ve just spent a weekend at your sweet southern grandmother’s house.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks