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COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
Even if you’ve never been to Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway I bet you have seen a photo of it. The historic grist mill is perhaps the most iconic destination on the 469-mile Parkway. It’s also located in a beautiful area of Virginia surrounded by things to do.
Mabry Mill History
From 1905-1908 the grist mill was built by Ed and Lizzie Mabry. Local farmers throughout the region would bring their corn to the mill to be ground into corn meal.
Over the years Ed added additional buildings to the property including a blacksmith shop, woodworking shop, and a sawmill.
When Ed passed away in 1938 the National Park Service purchased the property, buildings, and even some of the tools from his widow, Lizzie. In 1942 the NPS restored the buildings and opened it to the public along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
What to Do at Mabry Mill
If you’re like everyone else the first thing you will want to do at Mabry Mill is capture a photo. “That” photo you might have seen in calendars, posters, and fine art prints is a very short and easy walk from the parking lot.
A 0.5-mile self-guided interpretive trail winds through the collection of historic buildings, even crossing over the aqueduct that feeds water to the mill. The trail is mostly accessible along a paved surface but it’s a bit rough in spots.
From May – October each year on the weekends you might find reenactors inside the woodworking shop, blacksmith shop, and grist mill. They will tell you about the history of the property and what life was like in this area of Virginia in the early 1900s.
Mabry Mill Restaurant & Gift Shop
It took years before I finally sat down for a meal at the restaurant. It’s one of the few restaurants on the Blue Ridge Parkway and its location here at Mabry Mill makes it super popular. That means long lines waiting to get a table; I’ve been told the wait was as long as an hour on weekends in the summer or fall.
But if you do happen to get a table you won’t be disappointed with the food. Breakfast is served all day and that is exactly what I enjoyed the one and only time I’ve eaten there. They offer pancakes and eggs for breakfast, entrees of chicken, pork, and turkey, and a long list of sandwiches.
The restaurant is open seasonally seven days a week May through October each year.
The gift shop is located in the other half of the same building with the restaurant. It’s a standard National Park Service gift shop with touristy collectible items, books, clothing, and knick knacks. I’ve seen some local arts, crafts, and photography for sale here in the past.
The gift shop is where you collect your National Park Passport cancellation stamp.
Best Time to Visit Mabry Mill
The thing I think I love the most about Mabry Mill is that the property is open year-round. The only time you can’t access Mabry Mill is when the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed because of inclement winter weather.
The restaurant, gift shop, and grist mill are open seasonally each year from May through October. The inside of most of the buildings are open throughout the summer, especially on weekends, when reenactors and volunteers are there.
Spring is a great time to visit the site before the busy summer tourism season begins. Rhododendron bushes bloom around late-May through early-June. The weather is comfortable enough for long walks around the buildings.
The summer months are just about the busiest time of year except for maybe the peak of fall colors. This is when you’re most likely to find the restaurant, gift shop, and grist mill open all the time.
The fall is a great time, and perhaps my favorite time, of the year to visit. The cooler temps make it a bit more comfortable to get out and explore. The peak of fall colors can happen just about any time throughout the month of October and as late as the first week of November.
I think winter would be my favorite time of year to visit, but I haven’t been able to just yet. When a heavy snow falls on the area the NPS will close sections of the Parkway so it may not be accessible right away. But if you’re lucky the snow and ice on the roads will melt before the mounds of snow on the ground and you just might be able to see that pond and rustic mill covered in brilliant white powder.
Where is Mabry Mill Located?
Mabry Mill is located at Milepost 176 on the Parkway in Virginia. It’s about 35 miles from Galax, 40 miles from Christiansburg, and 60 miles from Roanoke.
The easiest way to get to Mabry Mill is to take Exit 14 on I-77. Take US Route 58 toward Hillsville and then continue along the recently-built bypass. Continue along Route 58 to Meadows of Dan to get on the Parkway.
The more scenic route is to take Exit 8 on I-77 at Fancy Gap. Turn on US Route 52 and the entrance to the Parkway is just minutes down the road. It’s a quicker access to the Parkway but it takes longer to get to Mabry Mill.
Parking at Mabry Mill
There is a large parking lot at Mabry Mill in front of the restaurant and gift shop. I’ve always been able to find a parking spot here, even during the busy summer and fall months, but I’ve also seen the sign for “Overflow Parking”.
There is a huge grassy field just behind the restaurant and gift shop for overflow parking. It’s easy to get to and the NPS usually puts out sandwich board signs showing the way. It’s only an extra minute or two walking but it’s less handicap accessible.
Things to Do Near Mabry Mill
Remember how I said this was a beautiful and exciting area of Virginia to explore? I wasn’t kidding. Here are a few other things to do while you’re in the area.
Just thirty minutes north on the Parkway is Rocky Knob Recreation Area. The area features a campground, picnic area, scenic overlooks, and a few hiking trails. The 1-mile Picnic Loop Trail is an easy hike or you could head out on the 3-mile Black Ridge Trail.
Just north of Rocky Knob is Chateau Morrisette, a third-generation locally-owned winery. The growing business now includes a beautiful tasting room, tours of the winery, restaurant, and now a brewery!
The small town of Hillsville is about thirty minutes from Mabry Mill. There are a couple of nice locally-owned restaurants in the small downtown area. When you visit be sure to stop at the historic courthouse to learn about the infamous Courthouse Tragedy of 1912.
Places to Stay Near Mabry Mill
You’ll have plenty of options for spending a night in the area when you visit Mabry Mill. There are quite a few really nice hotels at Exit 14 on I-77. The Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, and Comfort Inn all have great rooms and prices. I spent a night once at the Super 8 and LOVED the large fine art print of the Blue Ridge Parkway hanging above the bed.
Have you ever wanted to spend a night in a treehouse? During your adult years, that is? The Primland Resort will give you the chance! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. One of the most popular resort destinations in Virginia offers rooms in a gorgeous lodge, private cottages and mountain homes, and three treehouses.
The Rocky Knob Campground on the Parkway has over 100 campsites for just $20/night. The sites do not included any hookups but do come with fire rings and picnic tables. The campground has sites for RVs and tent-only campers and rarely sells out, although I always recommend reservations if at all possible.