If a Virginia road trip is in your future, be sure and pick up a copy of Virginia Off the Beaten Path, by Judy Colbert. Although the book doesn’t specifically list access (see judy’s reply to my first question below) it’s a great idea book. And if you like to find those off-the-beaten-path gems like I do, then this is the book for you.
The book is divided by geographical regions, with helpful maps at the beginning of each section, so if you aren’t intimately familiar with Virginia geography, it’s still easy to use. And it also includes lots of fun facts. For example, did you know that the Valentine, Virginia post office postmarks some 40,000 Valentine’s Day cards every year with a heart and several dogwood flowers?
Add in lists of annual events, the location of major visitor centers and even a list of famous Virginians (did you know that Wayne Newton hailed from virginia?), and you have an excellent resource for your next road trip.
Judy was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the book, and even give me a few ideas for my next road trip.
This is the twelfth edition of the book. What has changed since the first edition?
The most obvious thing is almost every place I mention now has a website presence. Another thing is Virginia is old (by U.S. standards) and when it was built there wasn’t a concern for accessibility. In the first edition (1985), I’d list old places that had made some accommodation for those in wheelchairs or had vision or hearing limitations. This edition tends to mention when something isn’t accessible.
How long did it take you to research the book? Did you just make one long trip or a number of smaller trips?
On the first edition, I traveled 7,000 miles in three months, primarily west of Richmond. My Mother’s family is from Hampton Roads (Tidewater) area, so I’d covered the eastern part of the state once or twice a year. For subsequent editions, I keep in touch with friends and business associates on a regular basis and make the occasional trip when something sounds super intriguing. Each edition tends to be about 10-25% original material, so I’m not visiting the entire state for each edition.
How do you define “off-the-beaten-path”?
Virginia is densely populated in the northern part of the state, the areas surrounding Washington, DC, down to Richmond, and then the Tidewater or Hampton Roads area. Past that, it’s rural and sparsely suburban. It has a number of interstate—81, 77, 64—and they slice through the off-the-beaten-path areas. Even within the more populated sections, there are interesting things to see and do that aren’t on the “top ten” lists. And, within the “top ten” lists there are still things to explore. In Colonial Williamsburg, there’s a “Half the History” tour about the free and enslaved black people that doesn’t receive a lot of promotion.
In the introduction you mention Rails to Trails. Can you recommend an accessible Rail Trail in Virginia?
Because the trails use former railroad right-of-way, when there is a slope, it tends to be fairly gentle. The main deciding factor will be the surface, whether it’s gravel, asphalt, wood chips, dirt, etc. I like the Huckleberry Trail that uses an old rail bed used to transport coal. It runs from Blacksburg to Christiansburg in Montgomery County. It’s used for biking, inline skating, walking, cross-country skiing, and for those in wheelchairs. A website guide to the accessible trails is https://www.traillink.com/stateactivity/va-wheelchair-accessible-trails/
Although you didn’t really cover access in the book I think it’s a great idea book. Can you recommend a few off-the-beaten-path Virginia finds that are suitable for slow walkers and wheelchair-users.
I love Roanoke with the museums, particularly the Taubman Museum of Art. It features traveling exhibits, so you never know what you’re going to see. The scenery is spectacular. Bedford is another nice, small town. For big towns, you can’t beat Arlington where almost every building has a view of Washington, DC with the Observation Deck at CEB Tower being the WOW!
What is your favorite off-the-beaten-path find in Virginia, and why do you like it?
Oh, that’s like asking which child is your favorite. It changes depending on the season and purpose of my visit, but Skyline Drive (fee to access the park, but free for those with a lifetime Access Pass) is wonderful. Its 105 miles of two-lane road running, basically along the ridge of the Shenandoah Mountains, at a maximum of 35 mph. There are four access points and 75 overlooks. Fall foliage is the most popular time, but the spring is wonderful with so many wildflowers and animals.
Let’s talk food. What is your favorite accessible off-the-beaten-path restaurant? What’s on the menu there?
Again, tough choice. Seafood? Steaks? Vegan? For pure “local” charm, it’s Skeeter’s “World Famous Hotdogs” on Main Street in Wytheville. Since it was established in 1925, I think it’s on its third owner. Tradition is grand, yet the new owners are changing things a little bit.
On a personal note, we’ll be staying in Bedford on our road trip next year. What off-the-beaten-path accessible sites should I visit?
In Bedford, the National D-Day Memorial is a must, even if you aren’t a history buff. It is the national memorial for American D-Day veterans although it’s international in scope. It seems to be a weird place for such a monumental tribute until you realize how many young men from Bedford lost their lives there, as a ratio to the population.
Thanks so much Judy!
For more information about Virginia Off the Beaten Path — a great road trip resource — visit Amazon.com.