The vantage point is a little different and the experience is entirely different from the back of a horse. Saddle up and explore Virginia’s countryside and seaside with these unique opportunities.
Offering the only service of its kind in Virginia and seemingly, the country, Virginia Beach Horseback invites you to the Virginia Beach oceanfront for a horseback ride on the sand or a swim with the horses. Corralled at 31st Street, come down between noon and 6:30 p.m. until June for a ride down to the pier and back. In summer, try their new Swimming on Horseback option Wednesday through Thursdays at North Bay. All riders are prepped on how to control the horses; no experience required. Rates from $40 to $100. Reservations are not required, but suggested.
The 4,200-acre working cattle farm known as Marriott Ranch is located in Hume, not far from Washington, D.C. Make a reservation for their popular 90-minute trail ride offered every day except Monday or take advantage of their special rides and overnight packages, such as the City Slicker package that includes horsemanship skills, cattle handling techniques, meals, and overnight at The Inn at Fairfield Farm (from $385/person). Or perhaps the Dinner Ride of a 90-minute trail ride and a cowboy steak dinner ($99/person) sounds nice? Additional rides include day-long rides, river and mountain rides, and cattle drives.
Shangrila Guest Ranch
In South Boston you’ll find tucked away the Shangrila Guest Ranch, an all-inclusive horseback riding destination. Couples and families alike will appreciate the variety of accommodations (a three-bedroom homeplace, a sweet little log cabin, or the packhouse lodge). The ranchers at Shangrila will also work with you for corporate retreats at The Rusty Spur, and there’s a special Cowgirls Week in May that may be perfect for a bridal or reunion retreat. If you don’t have long to stay and play, reserve your spot for an hour-long ride or the full day; they’re happy to oblige. Rates from $40/hr for a trail ride to $125/person for a daytime excursion with lunch. Inquire for lodging rates and other opportunities.
It can be argued that any drive through Virginia is a historical one, but perhaps these eight drives are extra loaded with historical attractions and beautiful scenic opportunities.
Aerial view of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.
In Central Virginia you can pick up routes that take you north to south and east to west, highlighting a great amount of history along the way.
A trek down US Route 15 will put you on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, one of the most historically significant drives in America. All said, the drive covers ground from Gettysburg to Monticello, and is considered a National Heritage Area. Trail Map
The Road to Revolution Heritage Trail highlights the life and times of Patrick Henry, the great orator and Virginia’s first Governor. The trail covers a wide expanse of Virginia in the Richmond region and spreads into Coastal Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. Along the trail you’ll see St. John’s Church in Richmond, the site of Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” oration; Red Hill in Brookneal, Henry’s last residence and burial site; Hanover Courthouse, the launch site of Henry’s political career; Studley in Mechanicsville, Henry’s birthplace; and 17 other sites. Trail Map
Dip into Southern Virginia from Richmond to explore the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. Centered around the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, the trail covers 300 miles and 41 sites that touch on the civil rights in education struggles of African Americans, Native Americans and women from the 18th to 20th centuries. Trail Map
Also from Richmond, but headed east, is the Jamestown Discovery Trail that follows US Route 5. Sites along the way include plantations, presidential homes, Native American settlements, and ends at Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne.
Coal Miners Memorial in Dickenson County
If you find yourself in Southwest Virginia, you could be easily traversing multiple trails at once.
The Coal Heritage Trail incorporates seven counties and the city of Norton to take in 300 miles of coal industry related historical sites and the additional locations that demonstrate the influence of coal on the region. The town of Appalachia is can be considered somewhat lost in time as it has preserved its place as a hub for eight surrounding coal camps dating from the 1800s to early 1900s. See coal equipment and related articles at places like the Harry W. Meador Coal Museum in Big Stone Gap and the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine and Museum in Pocahontas. Trail Map
The Wilderness Road: Virginia’s Heritage Migration Route captures the primary route taken by western settlers as they moved down the Shenandoah Valley and into the Southwest Virginia area. A total of 23 localities on this trail down US Route 11 and into the Blue Ridge Highlands gives you plenty of options for a weekend trip. Trail Map
Across all of Virginia are the Virginia Civil War Trails. Branching off this way and that, the trails follow different campaigns of the American Civil War. Hundreds of miles to conquer and plenty of time to do it, we hope!
Make your plans to get on the roads and see something new this spring and summer! Use our Trip Planner to map out the details and throw in some extra fun and food along the way.
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive are the hands-down, quintessential, most recognized scenic drives in Virginia. Have you driven either one? If not, they must be on your spring and summer to-do list, without question, and here’s why.
Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is widely and commonly referred to as “America’s Favorite Scenic Drive,” as it meanders 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
7 Reasons to Go:
1. Elevation from 650 to 6,000 feet afford some of the world’s most spectacular views.
2. Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites in the nation and the restaurant has the best buckwheat pancakes you will ever get your hands on.
3. The summit of Sharp Top, part of Peaks of Otter, offers 360-degree views. On a clear day you can see for many miles.
4. Blue Ridge Music Center is home to a summer concert series with bands taking the amphitheater stage every Saturday from June until September.
5. History is captured through 19th century interpretive preservation sites like The Trail Cabin at milepost 154 and The Puckett Cabin at milepost 189.
6. If you want to hang out for a few days and enjoy the chill of spring’s air around a campfire, there are four campgrounds to choose from between mileposts 60 and 161.
7. Hiking is a no-brainer with trails leading to spectacular look-outs and waterfalls, too.
View from the Blue Ridge Parkway
The 105-mile Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway and your access to Shenandoah National Park. The Drive runs the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Front Royal to Waynesboro, where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.
7 Reasons to Go:
1. Seventy-five overlooks put the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont on display from on high.
2. The Appalachian Trail makes up 101 of the 518 miles of trails through Shenandoah National Park. If setting foot on the AT is on your bucket list, here you go.
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park
3. Four Shenandoah National Park trails are included as the most popular, according to Virginia is for Lovers’ Facebook and Twitter fans. You must lace up and see what all the fuss is about (hint: waterfalls).
4. Backcountry camping is welcome on nearly all of the Park’s 196,000 acres. Forty percent, or 79,579 acres of the Park, is Congressionally designated wilderness area, meaning Leave No Trace practices are expected by all who visit.
5. For those who would like to spend time in the mountains but would rather not camp, there are two comfortable lodging options (with on-site dining) for you – Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort.
6. Seventy mountain streams offer great fishing of the vibrant native brook trout population. Fishing Regulations
7. If you’re into geocaching, try EarthCaching at Shenandoah National Park. Rather than finding physical caches, you’ll be searching for natural, geological treasures. Note that placing traditional physical caches is prohibited.
What would you add as your reason to visit either of these treasured drives? Leave a comment to let us and our readers know.
Do you care about the environment? Do you recycle at home? Well why wouldn’t you want to support the environment while travelling or on vacation? The Virginia Green program helps you find green tourism attractions throughout Virginia – even green certified hotels. Here are 11 great green hotels in Virginia that will help you lower your carbon footprint!
Hotel Floyd, Floyd, Virginia
The Hotel Floyd (Floyd, VA) was designed to mimic the Southwest Virginia region’s rustic character, artistic roots and appeal. The hotel features the work of local artisans throughout and it boasts bamboo flooring with geothermal radiant heat and cooling. Sustainable, no-VOC fabrics and paints throughout.
Lansdowne Resort (Lansdowne, VA) is a full service resort and spa with two golf courses and conference center, and Lansdowne demonstrates its commitment to the environment in all of these areas. Winner for the 2012 Virginia Green Travel Leader award.
Holiday Inn Oceanside (Virginia Beach, VA) is a Virginia Green partner that fully understands the importance of green practices, including recycling and many upgrades to efficient lighting and water fixtures. The hotel is also a TripAdvisor Green Leader (bronze).
The Mason Inn & Conference Center (Fairfax, VA) is part of George Mason University, and it is LEED-Gold certified and is a TripAdvisor Green Leader (silver).
Renaissance Arlington Capital View (Arlington, VA) is LEED-Gold certified and is fully focused on minimizing wastes from its operation in every way, such as composting food wastes. The Renaissance is a TripAdvisor Green Leader (platinum).
The Westin Richmond (Richmond, VA) makes “green” a central focus of the entire guest and meeting experience; and it implements new projects every year to reduce its environmental footprint. Westin Richmond is a winner of the 2013 Virginia Green Travel Star award.
The Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond (Richmond, VA) composts all of its food wastes, supports recycling projects in local schools, and collects used soaps for recycling in support for international mission projects. Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond is also a winner of the 2013 Virginia Green Travel Star award.
Richmond Marriott West (Richmond, VA) is LEED-certified and fully committed to support green meetings as well as overnight stays.
Please give customer feedback when you visit Virginia Green certified facilities. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts to protect the environment, or share ideas on how they might continue to improve.
What do you look for when you travel green? Leave a comment to share your favorite green places, practices and experiences in Virginia.
Our guest blogger today, Tom Griffin, is the Virginia Green Program Coordinator, and has been the driving force of the Virginia Green program for Virginia’s tourism and hospitality industry. Industry partners can learn more about the program at VATC.org/VirginiaGreen. Consumers can learn more about Virginia Green travel opportunities at VirginiaGreenTravel.com.
Virginia’s small towns are treasure troves of great food, warm hospitality, immense history, and Southern charm. Antiquers and outdoor enthusiasts equally will be at home in these 22 destinations promising all of the above and more. Map out a weekend and see what you’re missing.
The Martha Hotel & Spa, Abingdon, Virginia
Abingdon is surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, making it the perfect destination for outdoor activities. The Virginia Creeper Trail begins in downtown Abingdon and is great for biking, walking, jogging or horseback riding. The historic downtown district begs for a walk along the cobblestone sidewalks, and delicious finds aren’t far away. Get pampered with a spa treatment at The Martha Hotel & Spa, dine at a tasty restaurant serving locally-grown menu items, catch a play at the famous Barter Theatre, or grab a craft brew and listen to live music at Wolf Hills Brewing Co.
Bristol, Virginia. Image by Malcolm Wilson.
With its wonderful music heritage — as the site of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, recognized as the “Big Bang of country music” — and its historic charm, Bristol is the perfect destination for music lovers and history buffs. And it will only get better with the opening of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in August 2014. Bristol’s downtown offers live music every night in a variety of venues, along with many music events throughout the year. As a designated Arts & Entertainment District, Bristol is home to art galleries featuring local artists, live dance and theatrical performances, and numerous arts events. You can also find wonderful local dining spots that you won’t find anywhere else. From the Burger Bar, Brooklyn Grill and Eatz to Alfredo’s and Shang Hai, there’s something for every taste.
Downtown Culpeper, Virginia at Dusk
Culpeper, a National Trust 2012 Great American Main Street, is home to some great wineries and Virginia’s only legal moonshine distillery, Belmont Farm Distillery. Along with great dining options (It’s About Thyme Markets’ brick oven pizza or Foti’s uniquely inspired farm to fork creations), shop for one-of-a-kind items (global treasures, earth friendly gifts, antiques, original art, and handcrafted-in-the-USA items). Just a short drive out of town, find Culpeper’s well-preserved Civil War battlefields at Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station for a self-guided or guided tour.
Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia
Damascus is known as Trail Town USA thanks to the seven trails that intersect there, namely the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, which connects to Abingdon. Damascus is a gateway to the 191,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Virginia’s highest peak. The Damascus Old Mill is a historic staple in the center of town. Located on the banks of Laurel Creek, the mill overlooks the grist mill waterfall, while ducks and geese float peacefully on the mill pond. It serves as an inn, restaurant and local watering hole. Damascus is for vacationers who are tired of sitting in traffic, waiting in long lines, and spending lots of money in crowded, hectic conditions.
Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat in Farmville, Virginia
In Farmville there are plenty of family fun activities. High Bridge Trail State Park offers hiking and biking while the Appomattox River offers a historical story and a relaxing float. There are outfitters to assist with your recreational needs. Just a few minutes outside of town is the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat, a high ropes course with zip lines, perfect for adventure seekers looking for a challenge. Main Street offers antiques, accessories and furniture shopping at the renowned Green Front Furniture, as well as a Belgium bakery, sweet shop, fabrics, bridal stores and more. When it’s time to eat, head to Charlie’s Waterfont Cafe on the river.
Historic Fincastle boasts southern charm and is deeply rooted in historical significance. Fincastle is a designated Lewis and Clark community, having ties to both Andrew Lewis and William Clark prior to and after their western expedition. There is a self-guided walking tour that leads visitors to many of the town homes and buildings, some dating back to the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s. Stay in one of the two bed and breakfast’s in the historic district, perfect places to sit back, relax and enjoy the simple comforts of home and southern conversation. Stop in to the Heritage Family Market for fresh deli meats and cheeses, the perfect take-home taste of Fincastle.
Civil War Museum at The Exchange Hotel, Gordonsville, Virginia
When in Gordonsville, spend time walking in the steps of extraordinary history, and then take a stroll down Main Street to enjoy timeless charm and great food traditions. During the Civil War the elegant Exchange Hotel became a receiving hospital for more than 70,000 troops. Today it has been restored to its grandeur. Downtown, find quaint shops and galleries that combine modern styles with antiques and country sensibilities. Don’t miss contemporary gems like Pomme, where acclaimed French Chef Gerard Gasparini has brought a taste of Paris to the heart of Virginia. Looking for a taste of traditional country cooking? Don’t miss the annual Gordonsville Famous Fried Chicken Festival! Gordonsville is recognized as “the chicken-leg center of the universe” because of how the history of the southern staple traces its roots to women serving the treat to 19th century train passengers.
Kilmarnock is a quaint, pedestrian friendly, small town close to the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Boutique shopping, a variety of restaurants and signature events make it a relaxing, weekend destination and a great jumping off point for enjoying the history of the area, like the Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library, the Steamboat Era Museum or the Kilmarnock Museum. After a day of relaxing or touring, grab an ice cream at Stevie’s – a tiny location but with a large variety of offerings.
Downtown Lexington, Virginia
Lexington has an exceptional concentration of museums, historic sites, art galleries, music, theaters, and other cultural and outdoor offerings. With strong connections to Civil War and military history, visitors often enjoy carriage rides through historic downtown. Don’t miss a stop at Lee Chapel where General Robert E. Lee is buried. Steps away, museums and historical sites such as Virginia Military Institute, George C. Marshall Museum, Stonewall Jackson House and Memorial Cemetery—where General “Stonewall” Jackson is buried—chronicle stories of the U.S. military. Lexington also features attractive shops, hotels, businesses and top-rated restaurants.
Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia
Luray, is a charming small town with BIG prospects for all varieties of travelers. “Choose your Level” is the mantra, referring to the mountains, river valley and underground topography. Home to Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah River, the area has become a hub of outdoor recreation. Lodging options include a restored Jazz Age-era hotel, a number of B&Bs and hundreds of vacation cabins and country homes, making it the “Cabin Capital” of Virginia. Many dining choices ensure every palate finds its complement. Visitors may relax at the local winery, enjoy live music or theater, or browse Main Street, where shop owners offer locally-made artisan goods, outdoor equipment or bargain-priced estate sale finds.
Dining in Old Town Manassas, Virginia
Known for Civil War history, Manassas originated in 1852 at the junction of two railroads which linked Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. with the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond. It features a wonderful museum system and charming Old Town historic district, perfect for a day trip. Explore Old Town Manassas where family owned shops and restaurants line picturesque streets. Have lunch at Okra’s Louisiana Bistro for Creole and Cajun with a patio setting. Open year round, the farmers’ market sells seasonal produce, breads and more. Stroll down to Opera House Gourmet and pick up a bottle of wine or visit Creative Brush Studio where you can buy a painting right from the artist.
View of the Occoquan River in Occoquan, Virginia
Home to America’s first automated grist mill, the quaint town of Occoquan is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River. Rich in history, it is just 11 miles from our nation’s capitol and is home to more than 60 boutiques and restaurants. The streets are filled with unique shops from jewelry, art, a Scandinavian spa, to gourmet treats, it offers something for every visitor. Have a Virginia wine tasting at the Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe, then enjoy lunch on the water at Madigan’s. Take the kids to the Pink Bicycle Tea Room to enjoy an afternoon tea-tasting. For Dinner, sip on Belgium brews at Cock & Bowl and hear live music while dining on European fare.
Kayaking from Onancock, Virginia
Captain John Smith called the area of Onancock “the Gem of the Eastern Shore” in the 1600s. Budget Travel called it “The Coolest Town in the South.” Others have said its “a town with heart.” Who can disagree? Onancock has a live theater, world class award-winning restaurants, and an old time movie theater that hosts an International Movie Festival. The art scene is unparalleled with renowned artists, craftsmen, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, glass blowers … you name it. The natural beauty and wildlife is astounding. Take a kayak trip to a local winery or to the site of an old Indian village to experience the serenity of the shore. Even in a state as rich in history as Virginia, Onancock stands out.
Historic Orange Train Station in Orange, Virginia
The Town of Orange is a true old-fashioned small town experience, with a few special twists. The Historic Orange Train Station on Main Street is surrounded by an eclectic and historic downtown commercial district with local shops, homes, the 19th century County Courthouse, historic churches and sites, and local restaurants with affordable to fine dining options. Don’t miss the James Madison Museum, the first to commemorate our fourth president, called the Father of the Constitution. Modern amenities mix with home-spun style at places like the stately federal-style Holladay House. Year-round you will find unique experiences in Orange, but whenever you visit, you are sure to be welcomed like a local, fed like a farmer, and sleep like baby in comfort and style.
Scottsville is situated on America’s founding River – the James – and is a town with deep historical roots and an ever encompassing vision for the future. In a return to its agricultural roots, Scottsville offers Thistle Gate Vineyard and James River Brewing, which is located in the downtown district.
Smithfield Station Waterfront Inn Restaurant in Smithfield, Virginia
Smithfield is perpetually stuck in the weekend. It has a slower pace, there is always something going on, and it constantly smells of bacon. There are plenty of towns that have historic buildings, kooky museums, and unique eateries, but, when it comes to the best of all of them, one needs to look no further. Waterfront dining complete with sunset? Smithfield Station. Regional, national, and international musical acts and performances? Smithfield Little Theatre. Locally grown fresh produce? The farmers’ market on Saturday. Unwind and have a few ham biscuits at the Smithfield Inn, there’s no rush.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Troutville is the only designated Appalachian Trail Community in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Troutville’s location along Route 11 makes it an ideal choice for thru-hikers on the trail, as well as day hikers. With access to a town park that includes restrooms and shelters, hikers are able to camp within the park grounds. If camping is not a preferred choice, there are more than five hotel properties within a short walk. The Town of Troutville is also home to Botetourt County’s fine dining restaurant, Pomegranate Restaurant and Gathering Place. Offering a wide variety of menu items, from steaks and seafood, to wine, beer and spirits, Pomegranate hosts bands on the weekend to provide entertainment to the entire area.
Warrenton is in the middle of everything you could possibly want. Old Town Warrenton is filled to the brim with local artisans, shopping and restaurants. Not far from town are mountains to hike, caves to explore, Civil War battlefields, wineries, and polo matches. Truly, there is something for everyone. Whether you’re 100 or 10, you’ll feel at home.
The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. Image by Cameron Davidson.
Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Woodstock has a charming downtown with interesting shops and good restaurants, and a brewery on the way. Woodstock is the fourth oldest town in Virginia, home to Revolutionary Peter Muehlenberg, and boasts many historic homes and churches, not to mention the County courthouse designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Located at the intersection of Interstates 77 and 81, Wytheville provides the best in small town living and natural beauty. Known as the crossroads of Virginia, Wytheville is home to a regionally known dinner theatre, wineries, scenic drives, a butterfly house, historic B&Bs, museums, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The New River and the Big Survey provide countless outdoor opportunities for nature enthusiasts.
Which Virginia small town is your favorite? We asked that question of our “locals,” who contributed content to compile this list. Feel free to comment with your pick below!