Big View from Big Walker Lookout
Plus there's plenty to enjoy in nearby Wytheville, Virginia.
There’s a lot to admire at the confluence of U.S. Highway 52 and Walker Mountain Road outside Wytheville, Virginia, an intersection perched high in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Built in 1921, U.S. Hwy. 52 took travelers from Canada through the Great Lakes all the way to Florida. Today, the winding road attracts motorcycles looking for a thrill.
And visitors to the Big Walker Lookout.
Ron Kime’s father chose the high point to build what is now Virginia’s oldest privately-owned scenic attraction, a 100-foot observation tower from where five states can be seen on a clear day. There's also the BW Country Store that serves up hotdogs, fudge and delicious hand-dipped premium ice cream, plus sells locally made jams and jellies, hand-crafted items, books by local authors and a host of souvenirs.
Visitors can grab some good eats and sit for a spell, enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you visit on the weekend from May to October, there’ll be local musicians performing on the porch and an occasional author signing books. For instance, on Aug. 13, 2022, from noon to 4 p.m. author Tom Fugate signs his spy novels and Jim Crandall performs “Mountain Top” music from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Both are free to enjoy, unless you want to take home a book or CD or two. (Always support local artists!)
But for a real treat, climb the 100-foot observation tower for a stunning view. The attraction is already at 3,405 feet high atop Big Walker Mountain so once you hit the pinnacle of the tower, it’s quite the sight. You’ll see mountains, farmland and the wilderness of Jefferson National Forest, well worth the huffing and puffing to get there. There’s an admission fee to climb the observation tower but it includes a walk across the site’s suspension bridge.
The attraction is part of the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway which passes through national forest and private land in Bland and Wythe counties, accessible from Interstates 77 and 81 from Wytheville. (Wytheville was named for George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.) The region boasts of wildflowers, birding and gorgeous colors in spring and fall. There’s Civil War history here, as well.
An ideal place to stay is in downtown Wytheville, with its great restaurants, breweries, museums and the Bolling Wilson Hotel, named for native daughter Edith Bolling Wilson, second wife to President Woodrow Wilson and nicknamed the "First Female President" when she stepped in while her husband was ill.
The boutique hotel on Main Street feels like stepping back in time, and not just a stay in a renovated historic building. Built in 1927 as a hotel, but used as a bank in more modern times, the current incarnation has returned this beauty to its roots and decorated the floors with decor items related to the former first lady. There are canaries (Edith took care of her grandmother's canaries although she disliked the task), orchids (Edith's favorite) and bourbon (her spirit of choice). On the hotel's bottom floor is Graze on Main, an upscale restaurant with a nice bourbon selection. It's named for the sheep that grazed the White House lawn during World War I, their wool used in the war effort. Bolling Wilson Hotel rooms are luxurious and complimentary in-room breakfast may be delivered upon request.
Across from the Bolling Wilson Hotel is the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum inside what was once Wilson's early home. Town history can be found at the Thomas J. Boyd Museum, including how Wytheville had the highest per capita cases of polio in the nation during the 1950 epidemic.
Be sure to check out the giant pencil — the largest in Virginia! — above Wytheville Office Supply on Main Street and refresh at 7 Dogs Brew Pub with its howling artwork. And just to the west of town lies the final resting place of Dr. Pepper, a surgeon and pharmacist known as Charles T. Pepper who employed Wade Morrison, a man who later invented the famous soda and named it for his former boss.
Be sure to pause in your fun for a meal at the Log House 1776 Restaurant. Like the name suggests, the eatery hails back a couple of centuries. You'll want to peer inside the original 1776 room, but also wind through the maze of dining rooms and nooks where interesting items lies (many for sale) as well as live creatures such as doves and bunnies.
And if that's not enough to incite you for a visit, Wytheville also offers the long-standing Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre, Beagle Ridge Herb Farm with its acreage of lavender, Fort Chiswell Animal Park and West Wind Farm vineyard and winery, to name a few.
For more information on Wytheville and all its fun attractions, click here. To whet your appetite, check out the photos from a recent trip.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel journalist Cheré Dastugue Coen who also pens Southern-based novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire.