Get Your Motor Runnin’
“Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway; Lookin’ for adventure, and whatever comes our way.”
Those words offer a good snapshot of what awaits you when you follow any of the spectacular motorcycle routes in Smyth County and Southwest Virginia.
Smyth County’s winding mountain roads are a must-do for motorcycle enthusiasts. Its series of well-designed loop trails offer mile after scenic mile of riding through mountains and forests, along high-altitude lakes, and to quaint, history-rich small towns. This three-day itinerary takes you along the trails as you explore Smyth County and other parts of this beautiful region.
A great choice for lodging is the General Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Marion. This historical property seamlessly blends modern opulence with a stately, 1920’s-era ambiance and offers a range of luxurious amenities. Other lodging options include budget-friendly chains, and a wide variety of vacation rentals and cabins.
DAY 1: Marion to Grayson Highlands State Park
Time to get your motor runnin’ and head south on the Claw of the Dragon’s Marion Loop. The drive starts with the scenic stretch of Highway 16 from Marion to Troutdale. Just a few miles out of Marion, you can stop and grab a hearty country breakfast at Farmhouse Market in Sugar Grove. The market sells local beef, pork and dairy products; canned goods; and local crafts. Make sure to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch.
After you leave the market, continue south through Troutdale to Volney, where you will go west on Highway 58 to Grayson Highlands State Park. Highway 58 is also known as The Crooked Road, and once you experience its twists and turns, you’ll understand why. Grayson Highlands State Park is worth a home to alpine peaks, breathtaking waterfalls, and hiking trails. If you have an extra hour to spend, be sure to check out the park’s herd of roving wild ponies.
Go west until the parkway intersects with SR 600, also known as Whitetop Road. As you venture north, you’ll be winding through forests and valleys before reaching the Blue Ridge Discovery Center. There, you have to decide whether you’ll continue north on Whitetop Road to Chilhowie or head back east along the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway to Troutdale. Both routes keep the panoramic views coming, and you’ll have a short ride back to Marion from either Chilhowie or Troutdale.
After you roll back to the General Francis Marion Hotel, you can decide which of Marion’s great independent restaurants will be your dinner spot. For dessert, check out the historic Dip Dog Stand for some ice cream.
DAY 2: The Back of the Dragon
The famous Back of the Dragon connects the towns of Marion and Tazewell, VA. You cannot do that on an empty stomach, so your first stop is Broad Street Coffee & Treats. This local gem offers a variety of baked goods and and breakfast sandwiches, and of course, fresh roasted coffee.
Start with a short jaunt up Highway 16 to Hungry Mother State Park. There are several activities available, ranging from guided hikes and programs to touring the Learning Discovery Center. Just past the park, pull over to the recently completed overlook, with sweeping views of Rich Valley.
As you continue north on the 32-mile Back of the Dragon, you will head through dense forests as you rise to more than 3,500 feet. Make sure to take a moment to soak in the breathtaking views.
Arrive in downtown Tazewell, VA and grab a bite to eat at the food truck that is part of the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center. In addition to ordering your lunch, you can check out the center’s retail shop, information desk, and coffee bar.
Your first destination is Burkes Garden. This gem, known as “Vanderbilt’s First Choice,” is a bowl-shaped valley that boasts lush flora, abundant wildlife, and high-altitude lakes. From there, you will backtrack to Tazewell, and jump on Highway 91 toward Saltville. This 31-mile stretch through the Clinch Mountains is a memorable one.
Now you can relax and enjoy an adult beverage, like a craft beer from 36 Fifty Brewing or a tasting at Highlands Distilling Co.
DAY 3: The Claw of the Dragon
You get to choose another section of the Claw for your final day of riding. The options are all good - the Wytheville Loop, the Bland Loop, and the Galax Loop.
The 62-mile Wytheville Loop covers roads that are Virginia Scenic Byways. Make time to check out the route’s namesake city, Wytheville, which oozes charm and has a lot of great dining options.
North of Wytheville is the 94-mile Bland Loop. Big Walker Lookout on the western edge, with its 100-foot observation tower and on-site country store.
The newest section of the Claw is the 60-mile Galax Loop. Waterfalls are in good supply, and you’ll want to visit the town of Galax, known as a hotbed of mountain music and barbecue, and New River Trail State Park, home to Shot Tower and Foster Falls.
Treat yourself to some fine dining at the General Francis Marion Hotel’s on-site restaurant, Waterlily. You can choose from a range of tasty entrees and raise a craft brew or cocktail to toast the success of your epic adventure!