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President Roosevelt declared a large swath of land in Virginia, a national forest in 1936, and encouraged Congress to choose the name, Jefferson. This was done in part to create jobs under the New Deal program. Several workers for the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a part of the New Deal, were assigned to Jefferson National Forest, where they created cabins, lean-tos, roads, and replanted trees. Jefferson National Forest was later combined with George Washington National Forest in 1995 in an effort to streamline administrative logistics and stretch the budget dollars.
The closest large town to Jefferson National Forest is Lexington, which boasts several restaurants, stores, a Walmart store, and a small hospital. Lexington also is known as the place where Robert E. Lee and Thomas Stonewall Jackson are buried. Today, it’s a quiet town of around 10,000 residents, many of which are students at Washington and Lee University.
Jefferson National Forest by itself covers around 727,000 acres of gently rolling mountains cloaked by thick woods. Butting up against George Washington National Forest, the trails form an intricate network that covers nearly 2,000 miles. Three hundred thirty-three miles of the mighty Appalachian Trail, which stretches 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia, passes through Jefferson National Forest and George Washington National Forest. A large portion - nearly 1 million acres - is undeveloped, practically untouched by man. Indeed,
In this mountainous region, several waterfalls tumble and bounce over granite ledges and shelves, feeding into one of the hundreds of creeks and streams. These waterways are home to dozens of fish and offer some of the finest trout fishing in the state.
Hikers, anglers, and horseback riders shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves sharing the woods and streams with black bears. Once nearly extinct from the state, black bears have rebounded since the 1980s and are relatively common sights. White-tailed deer also are frequently seen in these woods. In clearings, look skyward. Bald eagles, which were once nearly extinct, have returned to the skies. Alongside falcons and other raptor birds, bald eagles soar in lazy circles as their keen eyes search for easy prey. Though bald eagle populations are slowly recovering, they’re still considered threatened in Virginia (as of 2018) along with 53 other Federally-threatened or -endangered animals.
The fun doesn’t stop when the temperature drops. As soon as snow blankets the mountains and the bare woods, transforming them into a magical wonderland, adventurers flock to the woods, armed with snowshoes and cross-country skis. A majority of 2,000 miles of trails are open to wintry recreational fun.
Skip enduring noisy neighbors at hotels and listening to the clunk of an ice machine down the hall by renting an Airstream. Wake up in the comforts of a travel trailer rental to the sound of birdsong in the trees instead of a shrill alarm clock. There are nine Jefferson National Forest RV campgrounds, all of which have varying degrees of amenities, depending on their proximity to the city utility grid.
Several sites at Bolar Mountain Recreation Area RV campground near Hot Springs, have electric hookups. All of the sites come with picnic tables, lantern posts, and fire rings. Faucets with drinking water and restrooms with showers and flush toilets are a short walk from most sites.
Alternatively, RV camp near Big Stone Gap, VA, in Cave Springs Recreation Area. Out of the 37 sites, nine have electric hookups. It also offers hot showers and flush toilets, which can seem like a luxury on a damp, chilly fall day. The campground also has an on-site dump station should a guest require it.
While exploring the natural wonders found in Jefferson National Forest, also be sure to enjoy the small mountain towns that are scattered across the region in an RV rental. Steeped in history, there are small historical societies, museums, and heritage centers in several towns. The C&O Railway Heritage Center near Covington, explains how the C&O Railroad was a lifeline for many mountain communities. There are several artifacts, photographs, and tools on display within the center.
Several historical markers have been placed along the roads that meander through Jefferson National Forest. Rolling along the winding roads, keep an eye out for the distinctive plaques that detail the significance of various spots around the countryside. The one near Walkers Creek, VA, describes how Sam Houston was, in fact, born and raised here rather than Texas as many people believe.
In addition to a rich history, nearby Roanoke also is well-known for its vibrant art and culture scene. There are dozens of museums, art galleries, centers, and a handful of theaters that have garnered major awards and accolades over the years. For this reason, Roanoke has earned the reputation of Virginia’s premier Theater City.