A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

When Mark Spadoni first “took to the waters” of Bath County’s Warm Springs Pools in December 2022, the experience of stepping into the bath was unlike anything he could have

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

When Mark Spadoni first “took to the waters” of Bath County’s Warm Springs Pools in December 2022, the experience of stepping into the bath was unlike anything he could have

The Healing Power of a Bath County Getaway

Kayaker in Bath County, Virginia

When Mark Spadoni first “took to the waters” of Bath County’s Warm Springs Pools in December 2022, the experience of stepping into the bath was unlike anything he could have imagined. “The water comes up from 10,000 feet below the ground’s surface, and it’s warmed to a temperature of 98 degrees as it flows through the limestone and the rocks,” he explains. Each day, a whopping 1.7 million gallons of crystal-clear spring water flows through both baths, providing a feeling of ethereal comfort to bathhouse guests.

As managing director of The Omni Homestead Resort, Spadoni was aware of the restorative power associated with the mineral water that flowed through the original 1761 stone basin and knew that Indigenous Americans prized these crystal springs hundreds of years ago. To better share the waters with visitors traveling to Bath County, Virginia, just three-and-a-half hours north of Greensboro, Spadoni oversaw the tremendous restoration of the two 1800s bathhouses.

Inside the Warm Springs Pools bathhouse, located in Bath County, Virginia.

The Warm Springs Pools are housed in circa-1800s bathhouses, which recently reopened to the public after undergoing a four-million dollar renovation. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County

Now, visiting the historic baths is part of Spadoni’s Sunday evening routine. “It’s an opportunity to slow down and reflect. I can look up through the domed roof’s octagonal opening and see the blue sky or the stars or even the snow falling,” he says.

While the Warm Springs Pools are owned by The Omni Homestead Resort, you don’t have to be a hotel guest to experience the baths’ rejuvenating health benefits. Anyone can book a 50-minute session after partaking in the countless restorative outdoor activities within a quick drive from the Warm Springs.


Outdoor Activities: Natural Healing in Bath County

Because 89 percent of Bath County, Virginia, is protected by the U.S. Forest Service, state park land, or maintained by The Nature Conservancy, wildlife surrounds visitors. Bath County draws many with its plentiful outdoor activities, complete with a secluded setting where you can spread out and take a breath of fresh air.


The Dan Ingalls Overlook along Route 39 in Bath County, Virginia

Take in the views to the east as you cruise along the Dan Ingalls Overlook on Route 39. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County


If you only have time for one trail, the four-mile Hidden Valley Trail along an old roadbed is a great way to experience Bath County’s varied landscape. All types of views will spread out before you: open fields punctuated with wildflowers below and swooping songbirds above, woodland forest, and even a large swinging bridge across the Jackson River. If you’re an early riser, hit the trail in the morning, when you might spot an eastern kingbird. If the hiking works up your appetite, treat yourself to lunch beside a warming fireplace at Sam Snead Tavern (yes, named after the famous golf legend) back in Hot Springs.

Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, nestled within 77,000 acres of unfragmented forest and land protected by conservation easements, is unbroken by major roads or developments. It serves as a sanctuary for birds, mammals, and trees. Within the preserve, the 3½-mile relatively flat Bear Loop Trail is an easy way to take it all in, in less than an hour and a half. Slightly more challenging, the Flag Rock Loop is shorter at 3.2 miles but takes close to two hours because of the climb’s steep grades. The 180-degree views from Flag Rock Overlook, however, reward hikers for their efforts.


Launch your vessel into Lake Moomaw’s waters from the Bolar Flat Marina or Coles Point. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County


Those willing to slow down and explore Lake Moomaw will find delights awaiting along its 43½ miles of wooded shoreline. If you have your own canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard, you can get out and enjoy the flat, calm waters through Moomaw’s beach access at Bolar Flat Marina.

Matt Fischer, who owns Alleghany Outdoors, likes to help visitors explore the Jackson River, which is fed by Lake Moomaw’s dam. “So typically, we have water all year round at a level that’s navigable by most any kayaker,” says Fischer. People who want to explore can choose between six boat ramps, spaced about every three or four miles.

Alleghany Outdoors can be your shuttle, equipped with all the gear you need. Fischer will tailor your experience depending to how adventurous you feel. “The Jackson is one of the cleanest, clearest rivers I’ve ever been on,” he says. “Most of the rapids are class one and two, so it’s an easy river to navigate.”


Fly fishing in the Cascades Gorge

Cast your line to catch mountain trout swimming in the cool waters of Cascades Gorge. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County


This area is a fly fisher’s dream: The Jackson and Cowpasture rivers that flow through Bath County are regarded as some of the cleanest in Virginia, and mountain trout swim in the cool waters of the unspoiled lakes and streams. Newcomers to the sport can learn foundational skills from Orvis-trained guides at The Omni Homestead, which offers fly fishing lessons in a small group setting and provides access to the resort’s exclusive Cascades Stream, home to wild browns, small mouth bass, and rainbow trout.

Trout fishers also have good luck at Douthat State Park, where the 50-acre Douthat Lake joins Wilson Creek. Both are stocked with trout seasonally. Or you can head to Coursey Springs Fish Hatchery, which is based in Bath County and responsible for stocking trout in 11 counties throughout western Virginia. The hatchery is fed by the third-largest spring in the state, and its cool waters flow into Spring Run, where you can drop your line to catch a sizable brook or rainbow trout.

Dominion Back Creek Recreational Area is another favorite for trout fishers. While fishing is permitted in the stream, upper pond, and lower half of the lower pond, Blowing Springs Campground is stocked, so you’re almost guaranteed success.


Cyclist in Bath County, Virginia

Follow along tree-lined routes and past breathtaking overlooks as you explore miles of Bath County by bike. Photography courtesy of Fort Lewis Lodge


Due to Bath County’s large proportion of protected park land, an extensive network of biking trails connects through the region and makes it possible to explore by two wheels without having to worry about road hazards.

Douthat, known for its annual Middle Mountain Momma bike race, offers plenty of trails for serious mountain bikers. The singletrack Stony Run trail takes off at Douthat Road, north of Brushy Hollow. Just shy of five miles, the trail starts relatively flat and then climbs to Middle Mountain. Be sure to break at the Tuscarora Overlook, a great opportunity to catch your breath and take in the views of Douthat State Park and Beards Mountain.

“I feel like I’m giving away a secret here,” Fischer says, “but Pete’s Cave trail, part of the Longdale Recreation Area at North Mountain, is a really neat trail for biking and hiking. There are beautiful rock outcroppings and huge boulders.”

Many leisure bikers find the 16-mile, crushed-gravel Jackson River Scenic Trail more their speed. Beginning in Bath County and leading cyclists into Alleghany County, the mostly shaded trail rolls past the Jackson River, mountain-framed farmland, and wildflowers. Walkers, bikers, and horseback riders enjoy the Jackson River Scenic Trail, but ATVs and dirt bikes aren’t allowed. Swing by Alleghany Outdoors to rent a bike and all the equipment you need to get started.


Where to Stay in Bath County

Built as a country escape for industrialists and the wealthy elite, The Omni Homestead Resort embodies a timeless sense of grandeur, from its colonial revival-style architecture to the Great Hall and its plush guest rooms to the pristine grounds. “Back in the 20s, it was not unusual to have Morgan, Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie all staying at the property,” Spadoni says.

While The Homestead, which recently underwent a $150 million renovation, is Bath County’s crown jewel, a collection of equally comfortable and historic accommodations offer cozy spaces to relax tired muscles and recharge for the next outdoor adventure.

Guest room at the Vine Cottage Inn

A cozy mountain getaway inside the historic Vine Cottage Inn is the perfect place to sleep in late. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County

The Vine Cottage Inn, just next door to The Homestead, has welcomed guests to its 10 luxurious rooms since it opened in 1905. Hosts Dave and Tammy Hahn greet their visitors each morning with a three-course breakfast, which can be savored in the dining room or on the inviting front porch.

History buffs have plenty to sleep on at The Inn at Warm Springs. Each of the property’s four buildings boast a total of 21 historic guest rooms on property, each with modern character. Buildings include what was Bath County’s first courthouse, originally built in 1796 and now converted into the main building, the 1792 Jail House, and the Spring House, originally intended to cool perishables like dairy and meats.

The Jail House guest room at The Inn at Warm Springs

Historic features remain preserved within the four buildings that make up The Inn at Warm Springs, including the exposed ceiling in Room 10, formerly the 1792 Jail House. Photography courtesy of Visit Bath County

The vibe is similar at the The Inn at Gristmill Square, run by hospitality industry veterans John and Kate Loeffler. More than just a single building, the boutique property resembles a mini colonial village, complete with a mill-turned-restaurant and pub. The 18 rooms and suites are scattered among historic buildings around the property — nine in the main square’s Hardware Store and Blacksmith Shop, four in the Steele House, another four in the Miller House, and a private suite in the Payne House.

What started as a country getaway on a 3,300-acre estate in the 1750s is now a working farm, complete with produce and grass-fed cattle. The family-owned and -operated Fort Lewis Lodge & Farm maintains a proud connection with the land — and is “eager to welcome you into it” during their operating season from April through October. If you’ve always dreamed of staying in a silo, now’s your chance: The spiral stairway in the attached, glazed-tile silo leads to three private “in-the-round” bedrooms. Don’t miss the family-style dinner and breakfast at the restored 19th century Lewis Mill Restaurant.

This story was published on Feb 15, 2024

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.