Wytheville offers small-town charm in the southwestern slice of Virginia, with West Virginia to the north and North Carolina to the south. This town of just 8,000 people, named for George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and mentor to Thomas Jefferson, is rich in American history. Located at the intersection of two major highways—I-77 and I-81—Wytheville also has plenty of interesting roadside attractions, including a 100-foot-tall lookout tower, a tiny church, and a “world famous” hot dog shop.
Here are 10 stops to make on a road trip through the region.
1. Wytheville’s smallest church
Since 2010, Wytheville has been home to one of the smallest churches in the U.S. This petite prayer chapel serves the needs of locals, as well as highway travelers motoring along I-81, 24 hours a day. Inside, you’ll find four short pews, bibles, and a guest register—but no pastor or regular services. The property also includes a bell tower, three crosses, and a simple prayer garden.
2. The Big Pencil
Wytheville Office Supply sells ink, staplers, and copy paper. But here, it’s what’s on the outside that counts: Affixed to the store sign is a super-sized pencil directing passersby into the front door. The 30-foot-long Big Pencil has been a Main Street landmark since the early 1960s, though it’s only been at its current address since 1985.
3. Rainbow-painted hot air balloon water tower
Wytheville’s rainbow-colored water tower is famous in its own right, thanks to its resemblance to a hot air balloon. The tower is a beacon for motorists traveling up and down I-81, and it’s painted to pay homage to the town’s annual Chautauqua Balloon Festival. Each June the festival draws in visitors with balloon launches, a parade, 5K race, car show, and Miss Chautauqua Pageant.
4. Open Door Café
The Open Door Café is a pay-what-you-can restaurant with the goal of eradicating food insecurity in Wytheville. Since late 2018, the luncheonette has been operating from a renovated tire garage. In that time, more than 40,000 meals have been prepared; hot meals are served every weekday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (except holidays). You won’t find an extensive menu—typically just one entrée and two sides—but the food is delicious. Outside, don’t miss the winged Transformation mural.
5. Big Walker Lookout Tower
While in Wytheville, it’s a must to climb the 100-foot-tall Big Walker Lookout Tower for mountain views for miles. The panoramas are spectacular, including farmlands to the east and Jefferson National Forest to the south. Admission is $8 per adult ($5 for kids), which includes a swinging bridge to get from the general store to the base of the tower. The country store is a good place to grab souvenirs, local crafts, and hand-dipped ice cream.
6. Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum
At one time, U.S. Route 21 was the primary route between Ohio and Florida. Today, the Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum celebrates this once-popular road with exhibits, artifacts, and photos to preserve the history of Route 21. Park at the E. Lee Trinkle Regional Visitors Center, and for $4 per person, take a guided tour to the one-room museum inside of a former 1926 gas station. The “Lakes to Florida Service Station” thrived through 1950, until the highway was re-routed. Don’t miss the restored gas pumps on display in front of the museum.
7. Wythe Raceway
At Wythe Raceway, you’ll find a super-fast half-mile clay speedway, set in the scenic mountains of Virginia. Racing season runs from April to September—stop by on most Saturday nights to see fast cars, vintage cars, and all sorts of race cars. It’s so popular that Wythe Raceway is widely considered the favorite dirt race track among drivers and fans—and kids always get in for free.
8. Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs
Let’s be honest, anything with “world famous” in the name deserves a stop, even if you’re just passing through town. A stop at Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs is mandatory; one of Virginia’s oldest continuing restaurants, Skeeter’s has been in operation since 1925. The menu includes nearly a dozen specialty dogs, including Slawdog, Big Texan, Chattahoochee, and the Skeeterdog topped with mustard, onions, and chili.
9. Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park is located one hour southwest of Wytheville. Home to wild ponies—including one with a luscious free-flowing mane, aptly named Fabio—who roam the balds along a section of the Appalachian Trail in the northern section of the park, Grayson Highlands regularly ranks among the top state parks in Virginia. Just past the park, the Trail leads to Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state at an elevation of 5,730 feet.
10. The Perch
The Perch is the perfect place to end your day in Wytheville. This rooftop bar, located at the historic Bolling Wilson Hotel, offers specialty cocktails and craft brews with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stop in before or after dinner at Graze and Main, which is known for scrumptious takes on southern favorites, like pimento cheese dip, fried chicken livers, and shrimp etouffee.