I’ve gotten to know central and western Virginia over the past five years, since my dad moved there. The state has a little bit of everything, with snow-covered mountains, beaches, beautiful spring flowers, and fall foliage as well as prestigious universities, small idyllic towns, wineries, and rich history. Virginia was the first part of the country permanently settled by the English, who established Jamestown on the banks of the James River in 1607.
We usually drive up from Florida. It takes about 12 hours, which we break up into a few days. I’ve taken that trip solo with my pup and with all three of my boys, and it’s just gorgeous! The beaches up there are still on my bucket list, but here are some fun outdoor activities in western and central Virginia that the whole family would enjoy.
Located in the town of Luray in the Shenandoah Valley, Luray Caverns is open every day of the year. It is such a gem! You take an hour-long guided tour down the caverns, which are always 54 degrees with very high humidity that makes it feel more like 65 degrees. Pets on a leash are allowed on the grounds, and guests can even carry small pets during the tour. For the kiddos, small strollers work best. Tickets cost $23 for seniors 62 and up, $27 for adults, $14 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under.
|Image credit: Shenandoah National Park Service|
|Shenandoah National Park. Image credit: Neal Lewis|
Also located in Luray, Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a must-see when visiting Virginia. You can hike its 500 trails according to your aptitude and interest, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. You can even bring your pets along, since Shenandoah National Park is one of only a few national parks that allow pets on some trails. You can also bike, fish, camp, and enjoy picnics. Even if you’re not a very outdoorsy person, you can drive along the park’s scenic Skyline Drive.
|Taken just before I fell on my bum for the 15th time.|
Wintergreen, Virginia, is where I skied for the very first time. It was harder than I could have imagined, but I eventually got the hang of it. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wintergreen is an hour and a half from Richmond and under three hours from Washington, D.C. The resort hosts activities year round, but my favorites are the winter ones, like skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and tubing. Be prepared for crowds if you go during the holidays. It’s a really fun day trip for the whole family!
Over in central Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s iconic Charlottesville plantation is a must-see. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Monticello estate includes the house that Jefferson designed and built himself, a museum, research institute, presidential library, trails, and much more. Allow at least two hours to visit, and check the website for rates, discounts, and children’s activities. Children under 5 are always free.
Where to Stay
To explore all these activities or the beaches, a great idea is to stay centrally located and take day trips. If you’d rather stay in a small college town, Charlottesville could be a great option. If you’re looking for a bigger city, Richmond, the state’s capital, might be a better option. You can search for hotels in Richmond here.
Virginia is a beautiful state, chock-full of adventures for people of all ages and interests. I can’t recommend it enough! Have you ever visited?
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