When discussing summer vacations, most people picture beachfront getaways filled with nothing but surf, sand, and sun. While a tried-and-true trip to the coast may be the most reliable plan, we want to infuse your summer with a little extra adventure. If you’re ready to make new memories and explore a different destination, consider planning a trip to one of these four lesser-known summer vacation spots.
This is Part 2 of a series. Read Part 1 Here.
The Well-Known Virginia Vacation: The Shenandoah Valley
A Lesser Known Virginia Vacation: The New River Valley
Organized along the New River between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, the New River Valley in Southwest Virginia contains cities like Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Pulaski, and Radford. With the New River as the focal point, water sports in the valley are becoming a big draw for travelers interested in exploring Virginia’s rushing waterways. Plan a paddle trip with New River Outdoor Co., an outfitter that rents kayaks, canoes, and rafts along the New River or cast a line on a guided fishing trip with Greasy Creek Outfitters. Explore the area on foot with a section hike of the challenging Appalachian Trail, which runs through the New River Valley, or traverse the landscape on a mountain bike through trails in New River Trail State Park.
Where to Stay:
- Jackson Park Inn—Pulaski
- Mountain Lake Lodge—Pembroke
- Inn at Riverbend Bed & Breakfast—Pearisburg
- Claytor Lake State Park Cabins—Dublin
Where to Eat:
- Zeppoli’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Shop—Blacksburg
- Due South BBQ—Christiansburg
- Blue Ridge Restaurant—Floyd
- The Palisades Restaurant—Eggleston
- River City Grill—Radford
- Al’s on First—Pulaski
- Blue Door Café and Bakery at Draper Mercantile—Draper
Starting near Galax, the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, follows the New River west until it reaches Mouth of Wilson. There are several notable sites to see along this section of the Crooked Road, including the Rex Theater in Galax and the Blue Ridge Music Center in Caroll, and if you continue west along this historic music trail, you’ll reach the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace in Abingdon and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol. Wine lovers should stop at Chateau Morrisette Winery in Floyd, where they can tour the vineyard, sip on the resulting wines, and enjoy a meal at the winery’s on-site restaurant. For outdoor enthusiasts, visit Cascades National Recreation Trail, a popular 4-mile hike that ends at a 66-foot waterfall within the Jefferson National Forest, or head to Claytor Lake State Park and rent stand-up paddleboards through Mountain 2 Island for a scenic paddle tour of the lake.
The Well-Known Virginia Vacation: Blue Ridge Mountains
A Lesser Known Virginia Vacation: Alleghany Highlands
On the western edge of the Virginia Mountain region, the Alleghany Highlands cover the Highland, Bath, and Alleghany Counties of Virginia. The area is known for its beautiful mountain views, outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking, and delicious maple syrup that is harvested within the Highlands. It is the perfect destination for those looking to get “off the grid” and unwind with a little peace and quiet. With Highland County referred to as Virginia’s “Little Switzerland”, this mountainous region is a must-see vacation spot in the Commonwealth.
Where to Stay:
- The Highland Inn—Monterey
- The Omni Homestead—Hot Springs
- The Red Lantern Inn—Clifton Forge
- The Inn at Gristmill Square—Warm Springs
Where to Eat:
- Highs Restaurant—Monterey
- The Monterey Dining Room and the Black Sheep Tavern at The Highland Inn—Monterey
- Les Cochons D’Or—Hot Springs
- Waterwheel Restaurant—Warm Springs
While in the Alleghany Highlands, make your way to the Garth Newel Music Center in Hot Springs for live music performances and a taste of the musical heritage of the region. History fans should visit McDowell Battlefield, the site of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s first victory in the legendary Valley Campaign of the Civil War. After, go to Highland County Museum, which served as a hospital during the Civil War and tells the story of the Battle of McDowell and the story of the rural mountain community. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you have plenty of gorgeous sites to choose from within the Alleghany Highlands, including parts of the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, the Jackson River, Douthat State Park, and Lake Moomaw. Hike at Buck Run and Locust Spring Run Trails or some of the almost 40 miles of trails within Douthat State Park, which are also open to mountain bikers.
Iconic spots within the Alleghany Highlands include Humpback Bridge, the only covered humpback bridge still standing in America, Falling Spring, a breathtaking 80-foot waterfall in Covington, and the Historic Masonic Theatre, Clifton Forge’s opera house and masonic lodge that dates back to 1905. Before leaving the Alleghany Highlands, stop by Sugar Tree Country Store to pick up a few bottles of premium Highland County Maple Syrups.
The Well-Known Virginia Vacation: Virginia Beach
A Lesser Known Virginia Vacation: Chesapeake
On the Intracoastal Waterway in the heart of Coastal Virginia, Chesapeake has about 22 miles of waterways to explore. The small city is about 30 minutes west of Virginia Beach, but while Virginia Beach has become the go-to destination for visitors looking for sun, sand, and surf, Chesapeake has remained a quieter, more tranquil destination for those looking to explore Virginia’s coast. Furthermore, it’s an ideal base for exploring the region, with Norfolk, Suffolk, and Hampton Roads all just a short drive away. While staying in Chesapeake, head to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, an 113,000-acre wilderness that contains miles of hiking trails, endless wildlife including over river otters, black bears, and over 200 species of birds, and the hauntingly beautiful Lake Drummond.
Where to Stay:
- Irish Isle Bed & Breakfast—Chesapeake
- Aloft Chesapeake—Chesapeake
- Freemason Inn Bed & Breakfast—Norfolk
- Hilton Norfolk The Main—Norfolk
Where to Eat:
- Off the Hook—Chesapeake
- Passion the Restaurant—Chesapeake
- Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood—Chesapeake
- The Butcher’s Son Chop House—Chesapeake
While visiting the Great Dismal Swamp outside of Chesapeake, book a kayak excursion on Lake Drummond for an unforgettable coastal experience. Hike along the scenic trails of Northwest River Park, winner of the “Best of Chesapeake”, and bring along your camping gear to stay overnight at one of the park’s 70 campsites. To learn about the unique flora and fauna of the region, visit the Chesapeake Arboretum, a 48-acre garden with hardwood forests and a fragrant garden containing a stunning antique rose garden. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can see the coastal region from the air with a skydiving trip from Skydive Suffolk.
The Well-Known Virginia Vacation: Smith Mountain Lake
A Lesser Known Virginia Vacation: Philpott Lake
Philpott Lake sits within the rugged foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwest Virginia, about an hour south of Roanoke. This 3,000 acre lake has over 100 miles of shoreline that is mostly protected recreation areas and state park lands, creating pristine coasts teeming with Virginia wildlife. The lake offers tons of recreational activities, from swimming and fishing to hiking and camping. With a total of eight campgrounds, six beaches open for swimming, and nine boat launches along Philpott, the lake has everything you need for a secluded summer vacation.
Where to Stay:
- The Simmons House Bed & Breakfast—Martinsville
- The Virginia Home Inn—Fieldale
- Uptown Suites of Stuart—Stuart
- Stoneleigh Estate—Stanleytown
- Camping at Philpott Lake—Bassett
Where to Eat:
- Checkered Pig Barbecue—Martinsville
- Wild Magnolia—Martinsville
- 3rd Bay—Martinsville
Philpott Lake is located along the border of Franklin County, known as the Moonshine Capital of the World. Visit Twin Creeks Distillery in Henry to samples these world-famous spirits. While exploring the lake’s shoreline, be sure to see Fairy Stone State Park, named for the legendary “fairy stones” found in the waterfront park. Walk the trails and search for these lucky stones, which you can take home as a souvenir of your summer vacation. Head to Floyd County, about 30 miles northwest of Philpott Lake, to experience traditional Appalachian music at The Floyd Country Store, which hosts live music and dancing every Friday evening at the Friday Night Jamboree. For a memorable photo opportunity, take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mabry Mill, a restored gristmill that still hosts old-time skill demonstrations including basket weaving and making apple butter.