Bikers, Hikers, Anglers & Bluegrass Fans Find Lots to Love with Smyth County, VA
Updated: Feb 24
Bikers and mountain enthusiasts discover incredible adventures when they trek Virginia Route 16, a two-lane road snaking over three mountains between Tazewell and Marion, Virginia. The road is nicknamed the “Back of the Dragon.” It’s a twisting 31-mile stretch of asphalt with more than its share of hairpin turns and hair-raising heights.
Base your trip out of Marion. The historic General Francis Marion Hotel offers good discounts to bikers. It’s next door to the equally historic Lincoln Theater, home to the PBS-syndicated “Song of the Mountains” bluegrass show. This theater is oozing with charm, built in the 1920s as one of the then extremely popular Art Deco "Mayan Revival" themed venues. Six large murals adorn the walls, depicting depict scenes in American and local history. The town also has several great restaurants including some superb barbecue at Wolfe's. The ribs and brisket were superb! Another excellent lodging option is The Collins House Inn Bed & Breakfast, a place hailing itself as being "Dragon Friendly" for the rider and their ride. They also have a guide services for fly fishing and reach out and embrace the Appalachian Trail hikers. They're located just two blocks from the Lincoln Theater and are a lodging venue for the Song of the Mountains.
Natural beauty is Smyth County’s main allure. If you’re a Renaissance biker, i.e. no one-trick rider, pack fishing gear and favorite lures and wet a line in pristine wild and stocked trout waters. Officials with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Marion, Va., office, shared that Smyth County offers some of Virginia’s best fishing for wild rainbows. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, in particular, has more wild trout streams than most diehard anglers could ever fish. Brown trout to 7 and 8 pounds have been caught.
Smyth County has nine stocked trout waters. More than 10,000 pounds of rainbow trout are stocked annually from the local hatchery. The South Fork of the Holston River has rainbow and brown trout fishing. The South Fork originates near the community of Sugar Grove. One stocked stretch is a 4-mile section just above the dam at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Buller Fish Cultural Station upstream to the upper Jefferson National Forest boundary. The local Trout Unlimited chapter partnered in 2013 with the Forest Service to construct a 3-mile trail to improve angler access above the hatchery to the gorge and its populations of wild rainbow and brown trout.
Locals like the South Fork’s overall “fishability,” with the river's spacious, deep holes or “pocket water” as they are sometimes called. Anglers like both spring and fall, although autumn can create challenges with fly fishing due to the amount of fallen leaves in the water. e calls them. Experts recommend using a 9-foot, 5-weight rod (although a 6-weight would also suffice) for the South Fork, Colley. Recommended flies include blue-winged olive dry flies, Wulff- Adams and Adams dry flies. If "nymphing," use a fly that mimics the nymphal or larvae stage of aquatic insects. The old standby wooly bugger should also be in the mix.
The Middle Fork of the Holston River offers many species of fish, including bass and trout. It flows approximately 56 miles through Smyth and Washington counties and connects with the South Fork Holston River to form South Holston Reservoir. The Middle Fork's water is slightly warmer than the South Fork, making it attractive to bass and trout. Two upper sections are stocked several times annually with trout. The river can be hard to access in some areas with private land on each side, but about 32 miles of navigable river exists from the confluence with the South Fork Holston River upstream to Route 11 at Seven Mile Ford.
The North Fork of the Holston River, not far from the historic town of Saltville (so named for its extensive antebellum salt deposits) is prime water for big river smallmouth bass. June and July are favorite fishing months when the water warms and anglers can carefully wade in with just wading shoes and shorts. Local experts say it’s not uncommon to catch 20 to 30 fish in a single afternoon then, with four or more of them weighing between three-to-five pounds. Rocky underwater ledges and miniature canyons are present in several sections of the river, underscoring why its first-rate smallmouth bass habitat. With a small net and small, handheld garden raking tool, anglers can catch their own bait, scratching the rocky bottom to dislodge crayfish and hellgrammites. These dobsonfly larvae have a reputation for being “smallmouth candy.”Inline spinners, such as Mepps and Panther Martin, are good for March through middle May fishing. Crayfish lures in brown and red as well as tubes and plastic worms presented in a Carolina rig are close runners-up. From late June to early August, try top water and shallow water plugs. Natural baits, such as nightcrawlers and large minnows fished near the bottom of the stream, especially in deeper pools, can work year-round.
Ride to the Lewis Fork Wilderness Area, part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Mount Rogers’ summit is 5,722 feet. Sixteen peaks exceeding 4,300 feet rise within a seven-mile radius. The Appalachian Trail cuts through the area, making it popular with backpackers and hikers. Beyond its rivers, Smyth County is home to two other Virginia treasures. Scenic Hungry Mother State Park has a great fishing lake.
The Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area includes impressive Flattop and Redrock Mountains. Laurel Bed Lake flows into the magnificently beautiful Big Tumbling Creek, which cascades down from the WMA and offers fee fishing for trout. Fish are stocked a few times weekly in season. It's a great, easy-access place for parents to introduce kids to trout fishing or for non-residents to economically fish for stocked trout.
The Smyth County Tourism office, 276-646-3306, can give you all the latest info on things to see and do. Ask them about the bluegrass jams around the area, many of them held on weeknights. Some, such as the Smyth County Jam, welcome visitors. Try a fried bologna sandwich while you're at it.