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How to Spend a Perfect Day in Big Stone Gap, VA

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Street view of the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap, VA
vastateparksstaff, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A fun little place with a funny name, Big Stone Gap, VA, is near the state’s western tip. It’s like a missing link in the long rocky chain known as the Appalachians.

In this gorgeous corner of the world, close to both Tennessee and Kentucky, you’re literally surrounded by inspiring mountain splendor.

Have you got a day to spare? You may want to join us in Big Stone Gap, VA.

About Big Stone Gap, VA

The Appalachian range stretches almost continuously for nearly 2,000 miles, sometimes separated by scenic valleys. One of those geological gaps is what gives this small city of just under 5,000 people its unusual name.

Established in 1856, Big Stone Gap, VA, has a long and strong connection to the coal industry. The abundant timber in the area has also been a valuable resource.

The beauty of the place has inspired several authors, and it was also the subject of a movie. The film “Big Stone Gap,” starring Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, and Patrick Wilson, hit theaters in 2015.

If you’re planning a visit, you’ll want to avoid the cold, wet winters. Summers are hot and humid but not brutal, with highs rarely above 90 degrees. You might want to shoot for late summer to early fall to avoid heavy crowds.

Traveler’s Tip: Enjoy more of the mountains in Virginia and plan a stop into Covington.

Morning

For our first stop, we’ll get an eye-opening breakfast at a fast and friendly favorite before learning more of the area’s interesting history.

Breakfast at Huddle House

Address: 4611 Aerial Way, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

If we had to describe Huddle House in just two words, we’d choose “modern classic.” It’s a cheerful and reliable alternative to Waffle House or IHOP.

Menu Options: They serve breakfast all day here, but we won’t linger long because we have a busy day ahead. Fuel up with favorites like eggs (however you like them), biscuits or toast, sides of bacon, sausage, and hash browns. Other favorites are custom stuffed omelets, French toast, and golden waffles topped with strawberries.

Reasons to Visit: The menu items and the tantalizing aromas conjure up a traditional diner, but it’s a newer space that’s clean and airy. It’s also right off one of the main streets and close to the heart of the community. Our next stop is just a couple of miles away.

Tour the Southwest Virginia Museum

Address: 10 West First St, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

The history on display at the Southwest Virginia Museum is not just for Big Stone Gap but for the entire region. There’s a lot to see – more than 60,000 items, in fact.

Reasons to Visit: The museum itself is a museum piece. It’s a three-story Victorian-style stone mansion that was built in the 1880s. You’ll learn the story of the region from pioneer days through the ups and downs of the coal mining era.

he museum is part of a larger state park complex that includes hiking trails, a campground, and other recreational opportunities. It’s the site of the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame and a popular birding spot.

The grounds at the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
vastateparksstaff, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Afternoon

We’ll join the lively crowd at a beloved eatery before getting a taste of the spectacular scenery. Then we’ll learn even more about the community’s importance as a coal center.

Lunch at Curklin’s

Address: 314 Wood Ave, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

We love places that give new life to old buildings. In this case, it’s the town’s old downtown pharmacy that’s been revived as a vibrant, casual gathering place.

Menu Options: Curklin’s has sophisticated takes on Southern dishes and a lot more. The lunch menu also has three kinds of sizzling fajitas and two pasta entrees with or without a choice of protein. Their Chicken Salad Cold Plate comes with fresh fruit and crackers.

Reasons to Visit: There’s a friendly vibe here and efficient service, fostered by the owners, Wayne and Tracey Jordan. Besides their flavorful food, they have a full bar that includes signature cocktails and a big selection of craft beers. Sometimes, it’s the scene for good-natured karaoke challenges.

Visit Powell Valley Scenic Overlook

Address: US 23 N, Big Stone Gap, VA 24273

One of the best views in the region is just 8 miles from downtown Big Stone Gap. Headed north up U.S. Route 23, you can’t miss it. And, trust us, you won’t want to.

Reasons to Visit: The Powell Valley Scenic Overlook is the best place to take in the beauty of the vast Powell Valley and the surrounding countryside. You’ll see Powell Mountain and Little Stone Mountain in the distance and what’s known as Grindstone Ridge.

What makes the view so dramatic is the elevation change that climbs 2,000 feet in less than a mile. You’ll probably want to snap a few pics. There are benches and a few picnic tables so you can relax and enjoy the view.

View over the Appalachian Mountains at sunrise.

Tour the Harry W. Meador, Jr. Coal Museum

Address: 570 Shawnee Ave E, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

Back in town, we’ll uncover the huge role coal mining played in Big Stone Gap’s livelihood. Seeing actual relics from the past helps to bring the story to life.

Reasons to Visit: Put simply, Big Stone Gap would never have developed as a community without coal mining. The Harry W. Meador, Jr. Coal Museum honoring this heritage wouldn’t exist without the efforts of the man it’s named for.

Harry W. Meador Jr. was an industry executive who also collected the equipment, artifacts, and memorabilia on display here. The collection is inside the former home of noted author John L. Fox Jr. His “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” colorfully captures the area’s history.

Evening

Are you up for dinner and a movie? Sounds like a terrific plan to us. Then we’ll call it a night in Big Stone Gap.

Dinner at the BSG General Store & Café

Address: 215 Wood Ave E, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

Big Stone Gap didn’t have a general store for years, so Penny and Brian Jeffrey created one. What used to be the newspaper headquarters has become something of a community center and cultural hub. And the BSG General Store & Cafe is a terrific place to grab a bite to eat.

Menu Options: The specialty here are artisan pizzas cooked appropriately enough in coal-fired ovens. Many of the ingredients for the pizzas, sides, and salads are fresh and locally sourced, and there’s a nice selection of craft brews. Incidentally, bottled and canned beers are available to go throughout the day.

Reasons to Visit: This is the kind of place you wish every town had. It’s another example of how the people of Big Stone Gap have thoughtfully repurposed a historic structure.

It’s a cool restaurant, but that’s not all. There are local arts and crafts for sale and on display, and they have live music several nights a week. They also give demonstrations on traditional dancing like clogging and flat-footing.

Fresh baked thin crust pizza with cheese, onions, and pineapple.

Catch a Movie at Central Drive-In

Address: 206 Coeburn Ave SW, Norton, VA 24273

Pass the popcorn, please. This is one of the best uses of a tow vehicle that we can think of — enjoying a movie on the road. The big screen of at Central Drive-In is in nearby Norton, just 20 minutes away, showing modern flicks.

Reasons to Visit: If you’re old enough to remember the classic drive-in theaters, this will definitely induce a dose of nostalgia. If not, then it will be a new experience for you. Either way, it’s a win.

All you have to do is tune in to an FM frequency for sound. There’s an old-school arcade room, too, so if you’ve never played Ms. Pac Man, here’s your chance.

Where to Stay

Even the best days have to come to an end. Thankfully, we won’t have far to go to get some rest before we hit the road again. Here are two camping options and two comfy alternatives.

Jessie Lea RV Park & Campground

Address: 900 Wood Ave W, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

Earlier, we mentioned a book called “Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” Jessie Lea RV Park & Campground is where they staged a theater production of the story. Some of the scenes in the book took place right here, too.

About the Park: There are 32 RV sites at this quiet family-owned campground on the Powell River. All sites and full hookups (with 30 amp or 50 amp power) and gravel pads, and there’s also a dump station.

Some sites are pull-throughs. There’s also a pavilion for picnics or just hanging out.

Why You’ll Love Staying Here: It’s a beautiful and relaxing setting, with some sites right on the water. Incredibly, it’s just a few minutes from downtown Big Stone Gap.

Everything is clean and well-kept, including the bathrooms, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. Pets are allowed, with some restrictions.

A fire burning at a campsite with chairs surrounding it.

Natural Tunnel State Park

Address: 1420 Natural Tunnel Pkwy, Duffield, VA 24244

Natural Tunnel State Park is about 20 miles south of town via Route 23. The campground offers a sense of seclusion and easy access to an amazing one-of-a-kind natural feature.

About the Park: This scenic state park has 38 large, level campsites. There are partial hookups (no sewer), but the electric and water services are reliable, and there’s a dump station near the exit.

All of the facilities are clean and modern, and there’s a small laundry. There are also tent sites, cabins, lodges, and yurts for rent.

Why You’ll Love Staying Here: The big attraction here is the natural cave in the limestone that’s big enough to be used as a railroad tunnel. It’s nearly 10 stories high and 850 ft long.

You can also fish nearby and enjoy the well-marked hiking and biking trails. The view is amazing from the Lover’s Leap area.

Charming Bungalow in Downtown Setting

Have you ever wanted a two-bedroom house in Virginia to call your own? You can do that in the next town over for a night or two.

About the Property:  You’ll have the run of the place (both floors of the house), plus the front porch and the fenced-in yard. There are two bedrooms, one with a king-sized bed and the other with a queen. They are on the top floor along with the main bathroom.

You can enjoy the living room, dining room, a fully equipped kitchen, and a half bathroom on the ground floor.

Why You’ll Love Staying Here: This remodeled and restored house is in a quiet neighborhood in Norton, the same town as the drive-in theater. It’s close to Big Stone Gap, and you can also explore this small community.

It’s pet friendly, and the owner has a great reputation for being responsive to her guest’s needs.

A Perfect Day in Big Stone Gap, VA

Some of our stops are shining examples of how a community can adapt and change with the times. Big Stone Gap, VA, is such a place. Coal is no longer king here, but that hasn’t stopped the city from switching gears and continuing to thrive.

It seems like it’s reinventing itself as time moves on, so there’s positive energy in the air. Along with its incredible mountain beauty, that makes it a wonderful place to visit. 

What are your favorite places to visit in Appalachia?

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