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This summer’s most beautiful “road less traveled” may well be into the Virginia’s Western Highlands, a sprawling four-county region. The three-and-a-half hour drive from D.C. is a recreational event in itself for sports car enthusiasts and motorcyclists, and everyone can stop to gaze at sites such as the Falling Spring Falls Overlook, Humpback Covered Bridge and even a mother turkey ushering her five fuzzy poults across the road.

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A view of the Dare to Dream Therapeutic Horsemanship Center near Monterey, Virginia.

This region is brimming with unspoiled beauty and local people who combine a love for the outdoors with an entrepreneurial spirit. Take Marsha Lunsford, founder of the Dare to Dream Therapeutic Horsemanship Center near Monterey. She works with special needs riders with a wide range of challenges, including autism, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. “Horses are a mirror,” Lunsford likes to say, and working with her — and horses Sunny and Buck — even for a few minutes leaves you with a feeling of newfound joy.

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Marsha Lunsford with Sunny.

Peacefully paddle

Extend those feelings of peace with a paddle on Lake Moomaw. Ideal for kayaks, the lake — with more than 43 miles of shoreline — is also open to motorboats less than 25 feet long, and is stocked with large- and smallmouth bass, trout, channel catfish and more.

Lake Moomaw is a simply gorgeous emerald green color and, for dam aficionados, the Gathright Dam offers its own impressive structural panorama. Explore various pieces of the blueway that includes the Jackson, James and Cowpasture rivers, among many other sections rich with fly fishing and scenic landscapes that mightily reward an avid paddler. Or hop on a bike and enjoy a leisurely ride on the Jackson River Scenic Trail, a rails-to-trails conversion.

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Nose around outside

In and around the town of Paint Bank, outdoor opportunities abound. As resident Diane Givens likes to say, “We’re an enormous playground of 3,000 acres with no traffic lights.”

For hunting and fishing expeditions, Potts Creek Outfitters offers whitetail archery hunts and fly fishing expeditions, among other guided trips.

Or how about attending a demolition derby at the Craig County Fairgrounds? Or a free visit to the Potts Slope Shooting Range?

Remember a soldier

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For hikers, the trail to the Audie Murphy Monument is both a beautiful and moving experience. Start at the Appalachian Trail parking lot on Craig Creek Road, then follow the trail 3.8 miles up Brush Mountain.

This section of the Appalachian Trail is less crowded than many more well-known spots. As avid hiker and New Castle resident Suzanne Holth puts it: “There are just enough people on this section of the trail that you don’t feel alone but you’re not fighting the crowds either.”

The monument pays tribute to Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier in World War II. He later took up acting, starring in more than 40 films before he was tragically killed in a plane crash on the slopes of Brush Mountain.

At the foot of the memorial, people from near and far have laid their personal items — including dog tags, photos, hats, boots and more — in a moving remembrance of both Murphy and their own lost loved ones.

For those unable to tackle the hike but would find the monument meaningful, the site can be accessed through the fire road, Forest Service Road P188.1. (Drive a high clearance vehicle up the winding gravel road.) From the parking lot, it’s an easy 3/4 mile hike to the monument. Benches are thoughtfully placed as spots for rest and reflection — the kind of caring touch so evident throughout Virginia’s Western Highlands.

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