The Virginia state motto says “Virginia is for lovers.” However, there’s a lot here for families and other adventure seekers as well! From rolling mountain vistas that ripple along the state’s western border to the pristine coastline that welcomes beach-goers to the east, Virginia is packed with a little something for everyone no matter what path you find yourself on. Combine Virginia’s natural beauty with its rich cultural heritage and historic treasures and you’ve got a recipe that’s sure to provide for many trips to this great state in the future. But with so much to do, where do you start?
While many wonderful new discoveries can be made in Virginia just by taking a chance turn and following a sign, it’s best to have a bit of a travel plan in mind before setting off across the state if it’s your first time visiting. Travelling to some of the larger cities first will whet your appetite for what larger populations can offer, while country drives will keep you full on rolling hills, quaint farmsteads and some towns that may take you back in time as well.
The following list highlights some of Virginia’s larger cities and attractions while moving across the state towards the shining Appalachian Mountains that the state is famous for. Some less notable attractions make the list, but that doesn’t mean they are no less awesome. This list will take you from the mountains to the sea, from the depths of the earth to the starry skies, and that’s without having to leave Virginia at all! But don’t take our word for it! Give this beautiful state a visit and see what else it has to offer!
- Virginia Beach- Sand and surf await those who come to Virginia Beach, but that’s not all there is to do in this coast resort town. Days can be spent by the Atlantic Ocean while evenings can be spent on the bustling boardwalk. Activities include shopping, restaurants, and for the kids, plenty of amusement rides. The more athletic minded visitors can enjoy sea kayaking and plenty of golf courses, and families looking to escape the sun for the day can explore landmarks such as the Virginia Aquarium, the Military Aviation Museum, or the Cape Henry Lighthouse. Visit Virginia Beach during the off-season, when the weather is cool yet still pleasant but the summer crowds have dispersed.
- Williamsburg, Va- Just to the northwest of Virginia Beach is the town of Williamsburg, which is home to Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum that showcases life in 17th century America, and Busch Gardens, a rip-roaring thrill-park sure to bring out your inner child. Take a day to explore each destination as you’ll want to leave no stone unturned here. Colonial Williamsburg features tours rich in history and glimpses into the life of America’s early settlers along with specialty shops with a wide range of selections beyond your wildest imaginations. Save your adventurous side for the next day at Busch Gardens. Four winding roller coasters await challengers while kids will find fun in water raft rides and tamer rides.
- Staunton River State Park, Scottsburg, Va- Travelling inland, you’re bound to need a rest from all the excitement. Staunton River State Park offers just that and more. Camping enthusiasts will find a welcoming campground with all necessary amenities, while those who prefer indoor lodgings can make use of the park’s charming cabins. For kids, the parks features three playgrounds and an Olympic-sized swimming pool with slides and wading pools. The surrounding rivers and lake allow for plenty of freshwater enjoyment, yet the park’s real draw kicks in when the lights go out. Staunton River State Park is a registered Dark Sky Park. Wait until late in the night to lay under the stars and see the sky as you’ve never seen it before.
- Smith Mountain Lake- Staunton River State Park offers visitors stars and lake views, but Smith Mountain Lake ups the ante by including what Virginia is known best for: mountain views. While the two destinations are quite similar, Smith Mountain Lake does offer a bit more to do. Kids can enjoy an afternoon swimming or hiking, or even exploring the lake’s dam. Adults will enjoy the wide variety of restaurant and boat tours offered along the lake’s shores, and thrill-chasers can take a few lessons in wake boarding, a sport becoming popular on the waters of this mountain gem. Whatever activities you and your family fancy, it can be found at Smith Mountain Lake.
- Roanoke, Va Tucked into the Roanoke Valley just north of Smith Mountain Lake is the thriving city of Roanoke. It is also called Star City. While there are many museums visitors can visit in Roanoke, including the Virginia Museum of Transportation, an integral part of Roanoke’s history, its main draw is Mill Mountain, home of an 88 foot star (which can be seen for 60 miles when lit), a zoo and overlook. Taking a detour onto the Blue Ridge Parkway before entering Roanoke will bring you to several overlooks that give you aerial views of the city and valley before bringing you to the base of the star, where you can then enjoy the zoo before taking in the city sights.
- Natural Bridge- Tucked into Virginia’s valleys and mountains are some real wonders of nature, and Natural Bridge is one that has stood tall for centuries. Natural Bridge is a natural arch carved out of the surrounding limestone by the flowing Cedar Creek. George Washington, the first president of the United States, surveyed the site, while at one point Thomas Jefferson, the second president, owned it. The surrounding forests are named after these founding fathers. Families can continue exploring nature’s wonder with the Natural Bridge Caverns, explore Native American history at the Monacan Indian Living History Village, or follow the formidable Cedar Creek along the Cedar Creek trail.
- Dixie Caverns, Salem, Va- Traveling south from Natural Bridge you’ll begin to see signs for Dixie Caverns. It’s easy to dismiss this as a small tourist trap at first, but it’s well worth the visit. Rather than a cavern tour that takes you down into the earth, the Dixie Caverns actually takes you up into a mountain! Guided tours will show you such interesting sights underground such as the Wedding Bell and Turkey Wing stalactite formations, natural pools of underground water, and other subterranean wonders. The tour completes with a total blackout, giving you a sense of what cavern life is really like. The gift shop is great to find rare crystals, antiques and gifts to take back home.
- Blacksburg, Va- This quaint town in the New River Valley is home to Virgina Tech, but surrounded by plenty of outdoor activities for nature lovers. Be sure to visit during the first weekend in August for the town’s annual Steppin’ Out festival, a three-day event that features vendors, live music and food. Sports fans may like to visit later in the autumn to catch a football game at Virginia Tech, or to enjoy the crisp weather that settles in making Blacksburg the perfect place to enjoy the changing seasons. The Jefferson National Forest is a short drive away, where the season can be enjoyed on hiking trails to scenic overlooks and gentle waterfalls.
- Cascade Falls, Pembroke, Va- The Washington and Jefferson National Forest is home to several of Virginia’s most beautiful landmarks, and the Cascade Falls is perhaps one of the most stunning and most visited. Tucked away at the end of a two-mile trail, this 70-ft waterfall tumbles into a natural pool that provides plenty of space for families to enjoy an afternoon wading in cool mountain waters and enjoying the wonder of nature far from the static of city life. If you have tiny travelers or tire easy, consider hiking along the upper trail, which provides a gradual slope without much obstacle. However, the lower trail follows closely with the splashing creek, often climbing over slippery rocks and taking several up and down routes.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway- The Blue Ridge Parkway is also known as America’s Favorite Drive, and it’s not hard to see why after spending just a few miles on its meandering route. The road is recognized as a National Park and trails 469 miles, connecting Virginia with its southern neighbor, North Carolina. You don’t have to drive the entire route to experience it’s wonder; no matter what portion you choose to ride you’ll be sure to encounter wildlife, rolling mountain views, historic destinations and hiking trails that will show you Virginia’s hidden beauty. Younger travelers might not be able to handle longer journeys along the Parkway without several stops, but you’ll be sure to return again and again.
- Fairystone State Park, Stuart, Va- Fairystone is home to the lucky fairystones, cross-shaped stones that are said to only be found at this location. Unfortunately, hunting for fairystones is not one of the activities that the park offers. Camping, swimming, paddle boats and hiking trails are available for those looking to take a relaxing vacation away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Fairystone Park is also located near the Philpott Reservoir and dam, which offers an overlook of the large lake built by the U.S Army Corp of Engineers, picnic shelters, a playground for young folks, and a museum about the dam. After you see the dam from above, you can see the 200 foot dam and spillway from below.
As you can see, Virginia is definitely worth the trip. What are you waiting for?
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