We know clumps of snow are frozen to the ground, but would you believe that it’s actually time to start planning for spring? Spring break and balmy weekends are on the way. Here are some ideas to keep the entire family happy and busy outside. So grab the bags, pack the snacks, and head to the Shenandoah Valley.
Museums and Attractions
Dinosaur Land (White Post) has been wowing kids with the sheer scale of dinosaurs since 1963. Time travel to the Mesozoic era and take selfies with over 50 life-sized fiberglass creatures from the past including Sabor-toothed cats and a giant shark. Natural Bridge’s Dinosaur Kingdom II mixes history and fantasy through the wacky creations of theme park and attraction designer, Mark Cline. A favorite of sites like Atlas Obscura and Roadside America, the attraction features an interactive walking adventure where visitors witness an epic battle between dinosaurs and Civil War soldiers.
Thrill animal-loving children with a trip to nearby 180-acre Virginia Safari Park, a drive-thru adventure where visitors can touch and feed the animals that stick their heads through the car windows. Observe other animals such as tigers, monkeys, kangaroos, penguins, and giraffes within the walk-thru portion. There’s even an aviary where birds will eat from your hands and perch on your fingers. You can also meet the animals at the privately-owned Luray Rescue Zoo, which uses admission fees to support the animals that live there. These include retired education and zoo animals, unwanted or confiscated pets, and more. The zoo is populated with primates, felines, birds, mammals, and reptiles, including a massive venomous snake collection. Get close to the safe animals in the petting area, or book an after-hours guided tour.
Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum brings the experiences of early settlers to life with costumed interpreters and authentic, hands-on exhibits and activities. The museum boasts 17th, 18th, & 19th-century farms from Europe, West Africa & America. A working 18th-century blacksmith forge, a schoolhouse, and lots of farm animals will be highlights for the younger set. Get the horse-crazy kids back in the saddle with a guided trail ride through the Valley at Star B Stables. Hour-long rides are suitable for ages six and up and appropriate for all ability levels.
Climb, scramble, and fly through the scenic forest at Bear Mountain Ziplines (Luray), a 50-acre adventure area offering fun and instruction for all levels of experience and ages five and up. Conquer catwalks and cargo nets on the high ropes obstacle course, race up the 3-story climbing wall, or zip down 2,700 feet of line, reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour. Gear and instruction will be provided. The Massanutten Family Adventure Park also has extensive options for adrenaline-inducing fun. Learn to climb and rappel with professional guides and rocket down the ski slopes on ziplines. There’s a Kids’ Adventure Course for children under 12 as well as bouncy houses and gem mining.
You can fill your entire day with unique experiences at Shenandoah Caverns (Quicksburg). Venture underground for a guided tour of impressive cave formations. Later, check out actual parade floats seen at the Rose Bowl and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parades at American Celebration on Parade. You can also pan for treasure at the Gemstone Mining Sluice, play on the playground, and much more.
Natural Chimneys Regional Park and Campground is an ideal spot for a family camping trip. The park offers a pool, hiking trails, picnic and playground facilities, and river access for fishing and wading. It’s all set against the 270-foot tall limestone chimneys, which look like the ruins of a once-great castle.
Gardens and Green Spaces
Originally designed for formal entertaining, the gardens at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley now cater to a more relaxed crowd and are perfect for young minds to explore. Grab a to-go lunch from one of Old Town Winchester’s many restaurants and spread out on one of the garden’s picnic tables. You’ll love the large and ever-changing floral display and the open space for kids to play.
You’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland when you let Heritage Bakery and Cafe pack you a delicious family picnic basket stuffed with goodies like chicken salad sandwiches, tea, sweets, and a full tea set. Take your picnic basket to Edith J Carrier Arboretum and watch the world turn into a wonderland of blossoms this spring. The arboretum also hosts storytime, fairy house building, activity backpacks, and lots of activities and magical places in the garden for kids to discover.
How about a “Hot Chocolate Hike” or “Birding for Beginners” walk to channel those young naturalist impulses? There’s always something going on for kids at 700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm (Boyce), a University of Virginia research facility and home to Virginia’s state arboretum. Sign up for a program or check the website for a self-guided activity as you explore the themed gardens, native plant trails, and more.
Lexington’s Boxerwood Nature Center & Woodland Gardens will fascinate people of all ages with its gardens, trails, and art installations made from natural and found materials. Kids will especially love the natural playground, the fairy forest, and the turtle pond.
NatureRidge at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton is a natural playground designed to encourage and foster creativity and imaginative play for children 2-12 years of age. NatureRidge has a mud kitchen, rock quarry, pirate ship, tunnel, chimes, and an elevated sandpit accessible to children of all abilities. This park’s amenities are rounded out with a traditional playground, disc golf course, tennis, basketball courts, and a pool.
Do you have budding green thumbs in your crew? Sign up for a tour at Luray’s three-acre Birdsong Pleasure Garden to see flower, vegetable, and herb gardens decorated with water features, statues, swings, and cool places to sit and chill. Stanley’s Ed Good Memorial Park is a great place for the whole family to burn off some energy. Let the kiddos play on the playground while the grownups stroll the walking trail. Older children will enjoy performing tricks at the skate park. Kids and grownups will also enjoy a stroll around Pebble Hall Wildflowers (Weyers Cave). Not only can you see (and pick!) bouquets of flowers and herbs, but there are things that will appeal specifically to kids like a fairie garden, hula hoops, photogenic and pettable cows, a small nature museum, and plenty of places to spread a picnic.
Kids will love meeting farm animals and exploring the farm’s discovery area while their adults pick lavender and sniff lavender products at Harrisonburg’s fragrant White Oak Lavender Farm. Before you leave, make sure to sample some lavender ice cream and Purple WOLF wine.
Family Hikes and Bike Rides
Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country. Visitors of all ages will thrill at the incredible views, waterfalls, hikes for a variety of experience levels, ranger programs, and camping. Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge, or try one of the park’s recommended day hikes.
Everyone will love the short, sweet, and amazing Woodstock Tower hike, which will blow your mind with 360-degree views of the seven bends of the Shenandoah River. The tower was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for spotting fires, and visitors are actually allowed to climb it. The entire hike is two miles but can be shortened even more to a 10-minute jaunt.
Hike the paved and mown trails to the river at Clarke County’s 195-acre Cool Spring, a nature preserve managed by Shenandoah University that was once a Civil War battlefield. Kids will love looking for frogs in the ponds and streams and exploring the waterfalls. You might also catch glimpses of beaver, raccoons, deer, and foxes.
The universally accessible Hawksbill Greenway stretches for two miles along Hawksbill Creek through downtown Luray. It connects to Ruffner Plaza, where there’s playground equipment, picnic space, and murals. Bike or stroll along the greenway and look for more than 200 bird species reported in the area. There’s also creek access for wading or fishing the stocked water. Waynesboro’s South River Greenway is another flat, paved trail suitable for even the youngest legs. Walk or ride bikes along the South River and look for birds or other animals. Educational signs along the way offer insight into animals, river topography, and Waynesboro history. The trail offers river access, exercise stations, a picnic area, and Virginia LOVEworks installations. The nearby Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail delves under Afton Mountain and treats visitors to thrilling, total darkness. After your outing, take the family to nearby Benny Stivale’s to enjoy the biggest pizza you’ve ever seen!
On the Water
Massanutten Adventures has been leading guided canoe, kayak, and tube excursions for over 20 years along the Shenandoah River. Shenandoah River Adventures provides all levels of experience with transportation, guidance, and canoe, kayak, or tube rentals for a day (or more) of adventure on the Shenandoah. Confident enough to take on the river on your own? Downriver Canoe Company (Bentonville) and Shenandoah River Outfitters (Luray) can provide you with canoe, kayak, tube, raft rentals for self-guided tours. Shenandoah River Outfitters can also help you with camping and cabin rentals along the route. The canoe/kayak season runs from April to October and the tubing season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Park your car at Watermelon Park (Berryville) and take advantage of their tube or kayak rental and shuttle service to points upstream. Float for miles down the lazy Shenandoah River to the pull-out point in the park and plan to stay for the weekend. Besides water fun, the park offers swimming, camping, fishing, sports facilities, and a playground. Luray’s 34-acre Lake Arrowhead features a lovely white sand beach for lounging and wading. Guests can rent canoes and kayaks, and fish in the stocked waters. There’s even a roped-off swimming area for hot days as well as a walking trail around the lake.
Take the family fishing on the South River in Waynesboro, one of only two urban trout fisheries in the state. The section from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park makes up the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail. It has a fishing deck and multiple access points to the river. Anglers can hope to catch small-mouth and rock bass, redbreast sunfish, rainbow and brown trout, and more. Visit South River Fly Shop for guide services and fishing gear.
Celebrate spring at the Dayton Redbud Festival (April 23, 2022). Historic Dayton comes alive with music, food and beer, arts and crafts vendors, free carriage rides, and much more for the whole family. Learn about environmental conservation and watershed preservation at Waynesboro’s free Riverfest event in Constitution Park (April 30, 2022). Stop by for canoe rides, reptile and wildlife shows, arts and crafts, rubber duck races, and much more.
The 34th Annual Virginia Wine and Craft Festival (May 21, 2022, Front Royal) brings joy to all ages in downtown Front Royal. Taste the best wines from 20 VA wineries, dance to live music, and shop the unique wares of over 100 vendors. You’ll find a big selection of food vendors, and there will be plenty of activities and games to keep the kids engaged. Finally, the EPIC Fest Beer & Wine Festival brings lots of music to Elkton Landing. It will feature beer, wine, and live music.
Bring your kids to Woodstock’s Kids ROC the Market event at South Street Barn Market on the last Saturday in May for a fun hydro-dipping art activity. Individual vendors will also be hosting educational activities, and of course, the entire family will enjoy shopping the market for seasonal produce, baked goods, and more. Another way to experience community and art is at Staunton’s 55th annual Art in the Park on Memorial Day weekend. Join the fun at this family-friendly Staunton tradition where you’ll find amazing art by regional artists, community spirit, live music, food, and creative activities for the kids.
Set up a chair or spread out your blanket in New Market Community Park for the free, monthly Saturday night Movie Night in the Park series this summer. Movies begin at sunset and are family-friendly. You’ll also want to catch a show at Berryville’s Barns of Rose Hill, a nonprofit performing arts venue that seeks to enrich lives through the arts. Choose from live music, exhibits, films, workshops, classes, jam sessions, community programs, and more.
If your family is into testing its endurance, the following events will push you to the limit and help you work on teamwork. The Stokesville Sixty/Forty mountain biking event takes place on March 6 and winds through George Washington National Forests. Both loops offer amazing single track including killer climbs, sections along “rock armored highways,” and epic descents. Participants in the Frozen Foot Challenge 12 & 6 Hour Adventure Race take on Woodstock and Seven Bends State Park on April 9. Teams or solo competitors hike, bike, and paddle to various checkpoints, testing their endurance and grit. The 6-hour race is good for beginners. Create your team carefully for the grueling Shenandoah EPIC (April 23-24, 2022). This 24-hour race will test all your outdoor skills including trekking, paddling, and mountain biking as you challenge yourself to cover up to 100 miles. The Shenanduro (May 7) challenges even the most seasoned with six- or twelve-hour endurance mountain biking courses in Shenandoah River State Park on some of Virginia’s best singletrack. can be tackled solo or with a two- or three-person team.
Hopefully, this list gives you a place to start planning your epic family adventure to the Shenandoah Valley! For more information about events in the Shenandoah Valley click here.