Could You Live In This Town With No Cell Phones?
Check out a Southern enclave where you can’t send texts or microwave your Lean Cuisine, all because of this bad boy.
Simon and Garfunkel were right. There’s a sound to silence. And if you dial down the distractions, you can hear it.
Experience the serenity of life off the grid in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile rectangular pocket that straddles the state borders of Virginia and West Virginia and overlaps a tiny slice of Maryland. It was established by the Federal Communications Commission in 1958 to minimize radiofrequency interference with the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in Green Bank, West Virginia, and the now decommissioned Sugar Grove Station in Sugar Grove, West Virginia.
This is a region defined by pre-digital country roads, majestic mountains, and serene valleys. Distanced from our smart tech worlds and artificially pulsing frequencies, you can appreciate how the land organically connects to the sky—and people connect with each other.
Green Bank has been nicknamed “The Quietest Town in America.” If you’re passing through, just glance at your wireless devices. They’ll all message back “no signal.”
Situated in the middle of the Allegheny Mountain Range in Pocahontas County, this hushed rural hamlet is the heart of the Quiet Zone. Home to the Green Bank Observatory, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, this tiny town (population 143) juxtaposes Space Age exploration with pastoral surroundings.
The Green Bank Telescope doesn’t look—it listens, very carefully. It captures the secret sounds of faraway galaxies and hears whispers emanating from the universe. Spanning 100x110 meters in diameter and rising 485-feet into the sky, this technological monolith is so sensitive to external frequencies that the FCC requires radio silence all around it. This means absolutely no wireless technologies for ten miles around Green Bank’s epicenter, with less stringent transmission restrictions extended throughout the Quiet Zone.
Dr. Karen O’Neil, director of the Green Bank Observatory, leads a team of brilliant astronomers in an international race to explore new windows to the universe. But she’s also a Green Bank resident, fond of quoting her 11-year-old son’s take on their town: “I don’t understand why anybody thinks it’s a big deal that I don’t have a cell phone.”
Lay of the Land
While some people first come to this area because they’re curious about the “no signal” lifestyle, they are invariably struck by the breathtaking scenery. At 4,297 feet above sea level, Reddish Knob is the highest point on Shenandoah Mountain in George Washington National Forest. With epic 360-degree views, this mesmerizing peak rests on the state border between Virginia and West Virginia, an hour’s drive from Harrisonburg.
The ascending road narrows into a single-lane, twisting, curving gravel path. Once you reach the asphalt summit (have faith—you will get there), look beyond to expansive wild forestland, gapless mountain ranges, and distant twinkling city lights. Bring a blanket for the plummeting evening temperatures, and stay through sunset to witness the sky vibrating with a spectrum of colors, then lie down and stargaze the crystal-clear constellations.
These exquisite mountains and graceful valleys are meant for driving, hiking, biking, camping, and adventuring. You can take the popular Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive for their scenic overlooks and exploratory trails, such as the ambitious Humpback Rocks hike. Or forge your own path through the bucolic rolling hills of Germany Valley, the razorback crags of Seneca Rocks, or the white-backed ridges of Spruce Mountain in the Monongahela National Forest. Wherever you go, you’ll find a transcendent beauty in the noble shadows and enchanted highlights, illuminated with each step.
Kyle Petrozza, a commercial photographer from New York City, relocated for a farm apprenticeship ten miles from the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. He quickly found himself ditching his iPhone games for rural living and farm chores on Free Union Grass Farm in Free Union, Virginia. “I feel more connected when what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis positively impacts the land,” says Petrozza.
In the Shenandoah Valley, agriculture meets its roots, and farm meets table. From Christian libertarian Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm to the aromatherapy-inducing White Oak Lavender Farm, the region is dotted with farmland, vineyards, orchards, breweries, and pastures.
You can plan a personalized circuit of Shenandoah’s farm trail, or visit the thriving Farmer’s Markets in downtown Staunton and Harrisonburg, where you’ll find locally grown produce, baked goods, meats, plants, flowers, and other bountiful harvests from the land.
Amanda Glover, Founder of Lost City Herbals, is a regular vendor at the Harrisonburg Market, where musicians interact with Mennonites and hippies hug farmers: “Got a question about growing tomatoes? Don’t know how to use a loom? You’re in the right place. Everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher. It’s a great place to meet people. Perhaps that is its highest purpose.”
Art studios and antique stores line the historic main streets of Staunton, Virginia, with its Victorian architectural wonders dating from 1870 to 1920. The independent music scene here is thriving, and you might happen upon an impromptu cello concert or get invited to a local band’s gig later that night.
Walk the Beverley District and take in a performance at the American Shakespeare Center. Wander through the Wharf District with its turn-of-the- century warehouses, now transformed into thriving shops and lively cafes. Hang out at Sunspot Studios and ask the mega-talented glass blowers how they mastered their craft. Check out the antique Chessie caboose railroad cars, then share a meal with friends at The Depot Grille or the Mill Street Grill.
Thirty miles north of Staunton is Harrisonburg, aptly named “The Friendly City.” True to its moniker, it’s a welcoming place where making friends is easy. Meg Robinson, a Harrisonburg resident since 1980, says what keeps her there is community. “It’s not uncommon for people to just invite you in—to their business, their church, their home,” she says. “The warmth of the people creates the invitation.”
Recent downtown revitalization efforts have brought new locally owned shops and restaurants onto the scene, converting Industrial Age warehouses like The Ice House into an urban crossroads of retail, food, and residential lofts.
Chance Ebersold, owner of Black Sheep Coffee, had a welcoming vision for his café: “Coffee, conversation, and the art of simple pleasures.” People sometimes criticize the café’s small tables, which were actually his labor of love, refashioned from handmade oak and walnut banquet tables he originally built for his wedding reception. But Ebersold explains: “I made these tables small because I didn’t want people to spread out with their computers. I wanted them to meet, sit, and talk to each other.”
Though a city of over 52,000 people, Harrisonburg maintains a small town vibe. This atmosphere makes it easy to share a wood-fired pizza at Bella Luna, shop local artisans at The Lady Jane boutique, and sip cocktails outside while listening to a live band at Clementine Café.
What all of these Quiet Zone towns and cities have in common is a genuine sense of community. Even those that aren’t completely off the grid still place a premium on maintaining the kind of connective threads—from local shops to walkable streets—that bring people together.
And in a culture now inundated with “Likes” and “Snaps,” that’s a welcome change. The Radio Quiet Zone offers a place to disconnect from your digital thumbprint and authentically engage with the world. Step away from the Wi-Fi and give it a try.
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