Five Out-of-the-Way Places to Explore Off Interstate 81

by Casey Higgins | Posted on February 19th, 2014

Comments: 12 Comments

Threading its way through the Shenandoah Valley and into the Blue Ridge Highlands of Virginia is Interstate 81, a major thoroughfare that carries a daily average of up to 67,000* vehicles north and south. From I-81 visitors can experience a wide variety of history that includes woolly mammoth and mastodon, the Drama of Creation, westward migration into the first frontier, battle sites of the Civil War, and important pieces of agricultural revolution. History isn’t the only thing this part of Virginia has to offer. Get off that very well beaten path and see what you’ve been missing.


Camera Heritage Museum 1. The Camera Heritage Museum in Staunton is the East Coast’s largest privately owned, open to the public collection. And it’s free to visit! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll see – daguerreotypes, wooden cameras, spy cameras … more than 2,000 cameras and lenses total. Especially unique pieces (at least to this author) are the Magic Lantern Projector (c. 1900), Suzuki Optical Echo 8 (1951-56), and the Chelsea Flash Pistol. In addition to the camera collection, check out the photograph collection. More than 2,500 historical images of the Staunton area are available for viewing.

Car and Carriage Caravan Museum2. While you might have visited Luray Caverns already, you might have skipped touring the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum. If so, go back. This museum is home to the country’s oldest automotive in operating condition, the 1892 Benz Vis-a-Vis. Alongside this treasure are an 1840 Conestoga Wagon, Rudolph Valentino’s 1925 Rolls Royce, a 1914 Ford Model-T Milk Wagon, a 1913 Stanley Steamer, and more. The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum is included with Luray Caverns admission.

Megalosaurus at Dinosaur Land in White Post, Virginia.

3. In White Post you’ll find Dinosaur Land, an old school Virginia roadside attraction that’s more than 50 years old and has more than 50 dinosaurs to pose with. Everyone needs a pic with T-Rex!

Image by Doug Wilcox4. If want a nostalgic, romantic feeling to wash over you, just visit the covered bridges in Patrick County. Bob White and Jack’s Creek covered bridges date to 1921 and 1914, respectively, and are celebrated annually in June during the Virginia Covered Bridge Festival.

Crab Orchard Museum & Pioneer Park

5. The heritage of the Appalachians is preserved at the Crab Orchard Museum & Pioneer Park in Tazewell, which is also the site of a 500-year old Native American village. Conflicts of all kinds occurred on this land, including Revolutionary and Civil War skirmishes. Fourteen 1800s log cabins give a glimpse of what pioneer life in the original wild west was like. Overnight pioneer camps and other special opportunities are available.

Do you know of five others you’d add to this list? Please leave a comment to let everyone know!

*I-81 Corridor Coalition

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Jonathan Ray says:

The Carter Family Fold in Hiltons Is a wonderful place to visit Its where Country Music Got its start and many legendary musicians performed there including Johnny Cash June Carter Among others. They Have Music every Saturday Night Its a Short drive from Bristol.

Ellie says:

I see a lot of people noting McCormick Farm. They are right and it is literally about a minutes drive from 81. Make an afternoon of it and take a left About a 2 or 3 min drive to the Rockbridge Vineyard. Then head back to McCormicks Farm. Stopping to pick up lunch at anyone of the fast foods the restaurant or gas stations and go enjoy an afternoon in the shade by the old grist mill or take a hike up the trail and back. Sit by the lake or on any number of big old rock outcroppings or just wander through the old buildings and museum. Nice spent afternoon.

Casey Higgins says:

It’s a great stopping point, Ellie; I totally agree! I’ve enjoyed it myself. Actually, McCormick’s Farm IS included in this piece – it’s linked from the first paragraph with “agricultural revolution.” Thanks for the add-on’s, too!

Lori says:

The Frontier Museum off 81 in Staunton is a must see. Every American young and old should see this and take it’s message deeply to heart. So many folks aren’taught this today. This is part of the heart of our real America!!

Emma Cousens says:

While in Patrick Co, go to the Wood Brothers Racing Museum, M-F to see a small portion of things Glen and Leonard collected over their 65 years of racing.

Linda says:

The Covered Bridge in Mt. Jackson, VA

Emma Cousens says:

Where s Mt Jackson?

Casey Higgins says:

Mount Jackson is between Winchester and Harrisonburg in the northern Shenandoah Valley. You can find more info at

Claire Weaver says:

I love the Cyrus McCormick Farm, only about 2 miles from Exit 205 of I-81. The gristmill and little museum are delightful, and there are picnic tables in the shade, bathrooms and a little creek running through the property. Perfect place for a picnic or to let children run around if you are in the area.

Linda W says:

Oh, I’ll have to see that place in Staunton! Thanks!

William Rockwell says:

There are quite a few others! How about “Foamhenge”, The Natural Chimeys” park, and of course The Natural Bridge! …just to name a few that popped into my mind.

Casey says:

Absolutely, William! That’s the problem I encountered; too many great things to list! The Natural Bridge is in fact linked up via the Drama of Creation mention in the first paragraph. Thanks so much for mentioning the others.