Eating Away the Virginia Blues
I recently finished hiking through Virginia, the longest state on the AT. After a jaunt in Damascus and the adorable Grayson Highland ponies, the state can seem to drag on. There were definitely days I could feel the Virginia Blues starting to creep up. But in these times of darkness there always seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel—a chance to ditch my dehydrated dinners and Clif bars and grab some real food to satisfy that hiker hunger and fend off the blues. Here are the highlights of my culinary journey through Virginia. And for those of you who haven’t made it through Virginia yet, take note—some of these places you don’t want to miss.
Entering Damascus I headed straight for Woodchuck Hostel. I arrived just in time to catch a ride to a wonderful place known as Pizza Plus. It is here that one can eat as much pizza, cheese sticks, and salad as they like for the low price of $7.99. Needless to say, I stuffed my face.
Breakfast at Woodchuck Hostel was also a delicious all-you-can-eat affair: scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, blueberry waffles, and home fries. I definitely got my money’s worth at this hostel—beds with linens, hot breakfast included, friendly owner, great price.
On my way out of Damascus I stopped for lunch at Mojos Cafe. I had a pulled pork sandwich that was good but I wish it was bigger; I always want more food.
While there weren’t any restaurants in the Grayson Highlands, there were ponies who are always down to eat. I came across several equine grazers but I didn’t offer them any food—never feed wildlife. A pony at Thomas Knob Shelter was standing around hoping for handouts. I would not oblige, so the beast resorted to licking the salt off my arm. I washed off in the nearby water source and ate a lunch of pizza tortillas: cheese, pepperoni, and tomato paste.
Just before the town of Atkins the trail passes an old one-room schoolhouse. It was definitely worth stepping inside to take a look, 1) for the history, and 2) for the awesome trail magic a local Methodist church provides. There were delicious snacks, cookies, beverages, and personal care items.
A little farther on, the trail crosses U.S. 11 on the outskirts of Atkins. There is a horrible motel where I had the misfortune of staying, not knowing any better. Across the street nearby is The Barn restaurant that was mentioned in my guidebook. The other option was a Mexican joint attached to a gas station. I chose The Barn with their hiker burger. The place felt more like a cafeteria than a restaurant. It was nothing special and the “experienced cooks wanted” sign on the door should have been a clue.
The next morning I stopped for lunch at the previously mentioned Mexican restaurant. I was thoroughly impressed and had guacamole, a quesadilla, and four enchiladas. Good bang for your buck.
Brushy Mountain Outpost
A few days after Atkins, I hiked across U.S. 52, which headed into Bland. My guidebook didn’t mention anything at this road crossing but I saw a large sign reading “Yes, We’re Open!” Excited at the prospect of an unexpected lunch or at least some ice cream, I hurried over to the store. Apparently “Yes, We’re Open” means every day but Sunday. And so my hike continued. Hopefully other hikers will have better luck at the Brushy Mountain Outpost.
Maybe a half mile off the trail is a little grocery store (more of a tackle shop), but Trent’s Grocery has homemade sausage and egg biscuits for breakfast. It was a nice way to start off a cold, snowy morning.
I decided to take a zero day in Pearisburg and ate at nearly every restaurant in town. The Dairy Queen was a godsend and I had blizzards after every meal. I also tried Hardee’s, the Pizza Plus buffet, and Lucky Star Chinese buffet. The last was cheap but the Chinese buffet in Waynesboro is much better.
A little way off the trail in Catawba is a beautiful old farmhouse converted to a restaurant called The Homeplace. I stopped here for lunch with my parents who were visiting. $15 a person got us an all-you-can-eat spread of Southern comfort food: fried chicken, roast beef, biscuits, apple butter, coleslaw, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy… the works. They want you to eat as much as you can; the waitress kept trying to get me to eat more. I highly recommend a stop here.
As I walked off the trail onto the highway in Daleville, I took a left and headed for the shopping center not far away. There was a Kroger for resupply and a Little Caesar’s that I hit up for dinner (their Detroit-style deep dish is way better than Hot-N-Readys). But for lunch I checked out the Three Li’l Pigs BBQ. I had eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork barbecue with hush puppies, buffalo chips, coleslaw. Hikers also get a complimentary serving of banana pudding. I would definitely recommend this place when passing through Daleville.
A quick little respite from the trail can be had a Jennings Creek. A campground nearby caters to hikers. I called them up and the owner, Susan, came by to pick me up. The camp store has resupply as well as a grill. I was worried my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg, onion rings, and a grilled cheese sandwich. This proved not to be the case. I was glad I made this little side trip for lunch as it was a great place to stop.
For whatever reason, I thought it was a good idea to hike 30 miles from Cole Mountain, over The Priest, and up Three Ridges (a brutal climb), just to make it to Devils Backbone Brewing. The toil and sweat was worth it.
Devils Backbone caters to hikers. They’ll pick you up from the gap and drive you back. The brewery complex is huge, with a campground with tent and camper sites, a restaurant, outdoor beer garden, the works. Though the food was a bit pricey for what you got, the beer was reasonably priced and delicious. And to make things even better, after camping overnight, I awoke to try their hiker breakfast—$5 got me bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, fruit, and a free T-shirt. Do not miss a trip to Devils Backbone.
Just before Shenandoah I stopped in Waynesboro for a zero. There was no shortage of food options in this town. I tried Ming’s Chinese Buffet, which was excellent. They had everything from sushi to pizza. The lunch price is cheap but it’s still worth it for dinner.
I had never been to a Cookout fast food chain so I gave that a go. Cheap prices but decent food. I like vinegar-based arbecue and this place did not disappoint. They also have 40 flavors of milkshakes.
Hardee’s was running a buy-one-get-one special for breakfast sandwiches so that became my breakfast before hitting the trail. Both Cookout and Hardee’s are right next to Stanimal’s 328 Hostel—very convenient.
Shenandoah National Park
Probably my favorite thing about Shenandoah National Park was the waysides. Every day in the park I was sure to find a hamburger.
My first stop was the Loft Mountain Wayside. It was a nice grill with seats inside and out. I had a burger and club sandwich.
My second stop in the park was Big Meadows Wayside. This is a sit-down type affair with a great menu and the famed blackberry cobbler with blackberry ice cream.
Skyland Lodge, though I didn’t eat here, is worth mentioning for the all-you-can-eat breakfast I missed out on!
Last is Elkwallow Wayside. It boasts a grill inside the camp store with seating outside. I had a burger and chicken tenders.
I stayed at Mountain Home hostel right next to the trail. They drove me into Front Royal for resupply and recommended dinner at Spelunker’s. It’s an amazing burger place with fresh beef, but the best part was the homemade frozen custard. I thought you could only find that stuff in Wisconsin but I’m glad I was wrong. I stuffed my face with three scoops in a fresh, homemade waffle cone.
In the morning the hostel offered an amazing French toast breakfast with coffee and fresh fruit.
Bears Den Hostel
This hostel was awesome. The caretakers were extremely nice and the hiker special got me a bunk with linens, laundry, pizza, soda, and a pint of ice cream for $30. Later the caretakers made homemade cookies. This was one of the coolest places I’ve stayed. Definitely worth it.
Ready for More
After 550 miles of Virginia, I can assure you that no blues were had. My stomach kept me happy through the entire state and I’m excited to see what the North has to offer.
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