Whether you are driving down I-81 for a quick day trip or simply “passing through” the northern part of the interstate to a much further destination, this 95-mile stretch of road has a surprising amount of attractions that make for great pit stops. Take a break and venture off Interstate 81 when making the drive between Winchester and Staunton to visit a few of these interesting and fun destinations.
Patsy Cline’s House
Take a tour of famed country singer Patsy Cline’s home located in Winchester. The preserved home is a testament to the star’s humble roots and stands as a monument to one of the most beloved entertainers of all time. Although she moved to Nashville to pursue her musical career, Patsy Cline lived at the Winchester home longer than any other place, and she always considered the town her true home.
Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley plays a significant role in the history of Virginia, and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley has over 11,000 artifacts from the region in their permanent collection. The museum aims at preserving the cultural identity of life in the Valley through this collection, the Glen Burnie House, which dates back to the 18th century and is bordered by seven acres of gardens, and a series of rotating exhibits. The permanent collections include a group of miniature houses that show how the resident’s way of life has changed over the centuries, and individual items from those residents that explore the history of the Shenandoah Valley and its effect on Virginia culture overall. Decorative arts are a big part of that, with furniture, paintings, textiles, and ceramic pieces making up a large part of the collection.
This quirky stop has been around for over 50 years, and while some of the dinosaur statues definitely show their age, it doesn’t stop Dinosaur Land from being any less entertaining. Step into the souvenir shop before entering the park and roam aisles of peculiar knick-knacks, from fireworks to stuffed dinosaurs to collectable minerals and gemstones. The selection may seem a bit odd, but you’ll find yourself wandering the rows of souvenirs picking up armfuls of wonderfully random items. Once you finish up in the shop, begin your tour with a picture in the mouth of the large shark statue and a pose in front of the Dinosaur Land sign. Walk around the park and read about dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years before us. If you have kids, this is a must-visit destination along I-81.
Belle Grove Plantation
The estate of President James Madison’s sister Nelly and her husband, Isaac Hite, Belle Grove Plantation may not be as famous as Monticello, Mount Vernon, or Montpelier, but the plantation is no less stunning. This historic plantation was built in 1797 sits just north of Shenandoah National Park on 283 acres of the original 7500 acres of land that was used for growing crops, raising cattle, and operating a distillery along with several on-site mills. Take a tour of the Manor House and the surrounding outbuildings, then walk around the grounds to see the gardens designed by the Garden Club of Virginia, the apple orchard, and the slave cemetery.
Exit: Multiple exits listed below
There are a total of four caverns just a few miles off of I-81 between Winchester and Staunton, and no matter which one (or all five if you want!) you visit, you’ll be astounded at the natural beauty of these remarkable landmarks. Heading north to south along the interstate, you’ll find these caverns off of the respective exits:
Shenandoah Caverns: Exit 269
Endless Caverns: Exit 264
Luray Caverns: Exit 264
Grand Caverns: Exit 235
Virginia Museum of the Civil War
The Virginia Museum of the Civil War displays relics, and preserves the story of the Civil War in Virginia, focusing specifically on the Battle of New Market and how local Virginia Military Institute Cadets played a role. Watch the Emmy Award-Winning film “Field of Lost Shoes”, the story of the 257 young Cadets that fought in the Shenandoah Valley. After experiencing the museum and the film, allow yourself about two hours to tour the extensive battlefield grounds.
Massanutten Water Park
Bring along your swimsuit and cool off at Massanutten’s Water Park. With over 80,000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor water park attractions, your kids will love this detour. Eight water slides, an Adventure River, hot tubs, and the Flow Rider, a manmade surfing attraction that creates an endless perfect wave, will keep the family entertained for hours. Those that want to stay dry can check out the state-of-the-art arcade, filled with the latest games and entertainment. If you decide to take a break from all the driving, stay overnight at this gorgeous Virginia resort and make it a complete family vacation only a few miles off of I-81.
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
Another interesting stop off of I-81 is the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. It is located adjacent to President Wilson’s birthplace museum, a pre-Civil War manse that was converted to a museum, and both are open for tours. The museum follows the story of Wilson’s fascinating life, through significant moments that include his time as a professor and his Presidency. There is an interactive World War I trench exhibit that includes authentic weapons, a display of Wilson’s family heirlooms, and visitors can even check out President Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow limousine. Stretch your legs even further with a walk through the pristine boxwood gardens.
Sunspot Glass Blowing
The art of glass blowing is a skill that few have mastered, and watching these experts create beautiful glass sculptures is something everyone should experience at least once. Stop by Sunspot Studios in downtown Staunton for glass blowing demonstrations, available free of charge and seven days a week! Or call ahead and make reservations to try your hand at the craft with a “Blow Your Own Ornament” experience taught by the glass blowers. They produce ornaments, drinking glasses, vases, jewelry, and other art pieces that are available to purchase, but even a free class is worth the stop off in Staunton.
Frontier Culture Museum
The Frontier Culture Museum explores the history of farming and rural life, not just of Virginia or the United States, but throughout the world. Once only four farms, the outdoor museum has grown to include eight farms, a blacksmith forge, a schoolhouse, and a church. Each of these exhibits displays a select time period from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in Ireland, England, West Africa, Germany, America, and even a Blue Ridge exhibit that shows how Native Americans may have used the region. These outdoor displays are complete with the livestock, breed animals, crops, and tools used, as well as the buildings and gardens that would have existed during the time periods. Learn about the history of agriculture while enjoying the scenic landscape of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.
With so many interesting pit stops, it may take you more than a day to travel this Virginia road. Still heading south along Interstate 81? Stay tuned for Part 2 of the I-81 detours article!