From trail towns surrounded by mountain vistas to sleepy seaside escapes, these eight Virginia towns make perfect weekend getaways for outdoor lovers. If you like spending your days hiking, biking, paddling, and fishing, but also want easy access to amenities, make note to explore these Virginia towns this summer.
View part two for seven more small towns with big outdoor personality.
Damascus – Trails, Trails, Trails!
Damascus is known as “Trail Town USA” for good reason. This small town of less than 1000 residents has a BIG outdoor personality. Each May Damascus welcomes 20-30 thousand hikers and major outdoor brands during their Appalachian Trail Days festival, but it’s that’s not the only time to visit. Damascus has endless opportunities for hiking and backpacking, mountain biking and road cycling, and wildlife watching opportunities as it’s traversed by the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. If the trails aren’t enough, Damascus also lies within a short distance of the 191,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, home to Virginia’s highest peak and dozens of wild ponies. Several local outfitters offer bike rentals and shuttles up nearby Whitetop Mountain so cyclists have a leisurely 17-mile downhill ride back to Damascus. Forgot some gear? No worries, there are multiple gear shops in town too.
Hang: The Damascus Brewery
Eat: BoBo McFarland’s, Hey Joe’s, MoJo’s Trailside Café & Coffee, Creeper Trail Café
Stay: Local cabin rentals, Damascus Old Mill Inn, camping in Mount Rogers Recreation Area
Outfitters & Gear Shops: Mount Rogers Outfitters, Sundog Outfitters, Adventure Damascus
Fredericksburg – SUP, Yoga, Boating, Climbing, Historic Hikes
Well known for its historic significance in Virginia, Fredericksburg is also emerging as an under-the-radar town for outdoor lovers. Situated along the Rappahannock River and close to hotspots for boating, fishing, and paddling like Hope Springs Marina in Stafford and Lake Anna in Louisa, Fredericksburg is a great location for fun on the water. Go to River Rock Outfitter right in the heart of the historic district to get the scoop on rock climbing, SUP, yoga and other fitness programs in the area.
Hang: Spencer Devon Brewing, Agora Coffee Shop
Eat: Happy Clam; FoodE, Kybecca
Stay: Kenmore Inn; Braehead Manor
Outfitters & Gear Shops: River Rock Outfitter, VA Outdoor Center, Bike Works
Insider Tip: Mix some history in your outdoor getaway by going on a bike tour of the historic area attractions, taking advantage of fitness walks at National Battlefield Parks, or learning about the 10,000 freedom-seekers who crossed the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg along the Trail to Freedom.
Lexington – Boulder Fields, River Floats, and the Natural Bridge
Lexington is a picturesque small town in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains steeped in history and charm, but it’s what visitors can find as they explore the wilderness areas, rivers, parks, and attractions around Lexington that make it a premier town for outdoor lovers. Road cyclists can take in the scenery along Route 39 through Goshen Pass. Hikers can spend hours climbing the massive boulder field at Devil’s Marbleyard, or hike the Laurel Run Trail, a quick and easy stroll that rewards hikers with a great view of a waterfall. After the hike, head over to nearby Glasgow and arrange a leisurely 4.5 mile float down the James with Wilderness Canoe Company (WCC). And, of course, don’t forget the natural geologic wonders sure to impress onlookers at The Natural Bridge.
Hang: Breweries along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail
Eat: Lexington Food Tour; Cool Springs Organic Market; Stock up at The Amish Cupboard for meats, cheeses, breads and specialty non-alcoholic beverages.
Stay: Hummingbird Inn, Robert E. Lee Hotel, Natural Bridge Historic Hotel
Outfitters & Gear Shops: Walkabout Outfitter; Shenandoah Rides & Rentals; Wilderness Canoe Company.
Insider Tip: Stop by Virginia Horse Center on Rt. 39 to see a one of the many horse shows in June and all summer long.
St Paul – ATV Trail, Scenic River, Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve
St Paul is a small Southwest Virginia town that’s a hub for adrenaline-pumping adventures along Spearhead Trails, Virginia’s multi-use ATV trail system. No ATV? No problem. Rent one at Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure. Want something a bit less intense? Spend the day relaxing on the scenic Clinch River, one of the cleanest and most biologically diverse ecosystems in Eastern North America. Not only is St Paul situated right on the Clinch River, but it also has the only exclusive public access points with several popular hiking and biking trails directly on the river. Set up a tubing or paddling day with Clinch River Adventures and spend some time walking along eight miles of well-maintained hiking and biking trails in the Sugar Hill Recreation Area.
The Sugar Hill Loop Trail links to the Guest River Gorge Trail for an intermediate 16-mile, biking or hiking adventure.
Hang: Sugar Hill Brewing Company
Eat: Riverside Diner, Ma & Pa’s Restaurant, Fat Boy’s BBQ
Stay: Mountain View Lodge, Copperhead Road Rentals, Ridge Runner Campground, Maggie Way Campground
Outfitters & Gear Shops: Clinch River Adventures
Insider Tip: Grab some trail or river snacks at the local farmers market open Wednesdays from June-October and Saturdays May- October.
Wachapreague – Eco-tours, Fresh Seafood, Biking, Kayaking
Wachapreague is one of the rare small coastal towns with water access on the ocean side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. With only 200 permanent residents, this sleepy coastal Virginia town is sure to offer a quiet and authentic throw-back to simpler days. Mornings here can be spent hanging around the marina and harbor, while afternoon kayak adventures await. Set up a trip with one of the local, certified eco-tour guides and spend the afternoon trying your luck at clamming or venturing out to exploring the Atlantic coastline and the remote barrier islands. Fishing enthusiasts can charter inshore and offshore fishing boats or put their boats in at the free boat ramp. In the evenings, watch the sunset while cooking up your daily catch, or grab a fabulous dinner at the Island House Restaurant.
Hang: Island House Restaurant
Eat: Island House Restaurant; Wachapreague General Store for great to-go meals for day trips.
Stay: Teasers Fisherman’s Lodge; Wachapreague Inn; many local vacation rental properties.
Outfitters: Seaside Ecotours; Broadwater Bay Ecotours, Daytrippers Wachapreague
Insider Tip: All accommodations in Wachapreague have grills so purchase fresh clams and oysters from the Wachapreague Inn and grill your own seafood feast!
Luray – Cabins, Caverns, and National Parks & Forests
Luray is known as “Cabin Capital of Virginia” due to hundreds of cabins and home rentals in the area. Luray is home to the spectacular Luray Caverns, the largest caverns in the East, and is a gateway town into Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest. Spend a week in a cabin and have your pick of day trip options with more than 500 miles of National Park hiking trails, local paddling outfitters along the Shenandoah River, and underground wonders at Luray Caverns. Enjoy leisurely biking around town on the Hawksbill Greenway.
Hang: Speakeasy at The Mimslyn Inn
Eat: Gathering Grounds Patisserie and Cafe; Triple Crown BBQ, Flotzie’s Soft Serve
Stay: Hundreds of cabin rentals to choose from; The Mimslyn Inn
Outfitters & Gear Shops: Shenandoah River Outfitters; Appalachian Outfitters, Shenandoah River Outfitters, Shenandoah Mountain Guides, Page Valley Fly Fishing Service
Insider Tip: Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop
Norton – Fire Tower, Hikes, and Mountain Bikes
Technically, Norton is not a small town, but it is Virginia’s smallest city which gives it a small town feel. Flag Rock Recreation Area boasts 25 developed acres including High Knob Observation Tower, Lost Creek Trail, and the 1.8-mile Sugar Maple Trail, part of the new mountain bike trail system called (FRAT) Flag Rock Area Trails, a stacked loop system with options for different fitness levels. Get a workout with a vigorous hike from Legion Park, a public park located at the base of the mountain near Highway 23. The trail is only 1.5 miles, but it climbs about 1,000′ in elevation to the overlook at Flag Rock, so even experienced hikers will get their heart pumping. Anglers can spend the morning at the Upper and Lower Norton Reservoir, just a few hundred feet higher on the mountain, for quiet, peaceful fishing opportunities. Pathfinders Outdoor Adventures in downtown Norton can hook you up with your choice of bike, kayak, and canoe rentals. They also offer, fishing, shooting, and stand up paddleboarding.
Hang: Central Drive-In
Eat: Fishtales Family Restaurant; Snack Shack; Romano’s Restaurant
Stay: High Know Lake Campground; Flag Rock camping facilities available with breathtaking views of the mountains; first come first serve basis.
Outfitters & Gear Shops: Pathfinders Outdoor Adventures, Colgard Outdoor Sports, Home Hardware & Furniture Co.
Insider Tip: Saturday nights experience the traditional mountain music of Southwest Virginia during a visit to The Country Cabin, one of the eight major venues on The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.
Altavista – Fishing, Boating, and Wildlife
Altavista is a hidden angler’s paradise nestled alongside the Staunton River, an 81-mile segment of the Roanoke River, an under-the- radar fishing spot in Virginia full of Striper Bass, Walleye, Small Mouth Bass, and even Catfish. Bird watchers and hunters will also enjoy the bounty of the river and its adjacent bottomlands. Canoeists can experience the challenging Fish Trap (Class III) and Cat Rock (Class II) rapids. In addition, an abundance of flat water is available for those individuals seeking a more relaxing trip down the river. After a day on the water, boaters can get out at English Park in Altavista and ride, walk, or run the trails before hanging out for the evening in this quaint riverside town.
Hang: Two Sisters Tap Room
Eat: Main Street Café & Coffee, Vintage drive-in restaurants like Dairy Freeze and Chef’s Drive-In; Perky’s Place.
Stay: Bed & Breakfast in the loft space about the Altavista General Store that looks over the quaint downtown area; camping
Insider Tip: Currently there are 3 public boat ramps near Altavista that make day-long and weekend floats easy. Those public boat ramps are located in Altavista English Park, The Town of Brookneal, and Long Island.