The tourism slogan “Virginia is for Lovers” is more than just a phrase, it’s a testament and a lifestyle. The state is home to many natural wonders that are worth multiple visits since there’s something new for anyone every time. The place is a mish-mash of surprises because Virginia is hugged by the towering Appalachian Mountains and the pristine Atlantic Ocean.
The state anthem aptly said: the rolling hills, the majestic mountains, the wide rivers, and tall forests, all that can be had “in one Virginia.” The commonwealth is teeming with attractions, be they man-made or natural, so it’s not surprising that it was visited by more than a million people in 2018.
From its urban jungle to its wilderness, the Old Dominion knows how to deliver a vacation like no other. Thanks to Mother Nature’s offerings, here are some landmarks and activities that will make spending time in Virginia one for the books.
Be One With Nature At Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah is Virginia's only national park, but it’s not short on pockets of paradise. Its cascades, the mesmerizing vistas, the quiet forests, and the blossoming fields of flowers make it an outdoorsman's office.
- The park is open daily, with the visitor centers operating from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- There's an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 for walk-in guests.
Conquer The Trails
Hiking is undeniably the best way to be one with nature because it gives trekkers the freedom to just be out there while taking it all in. The trails in Shenandoah are ready to take guests home.
- For a quick stroll, tourists can take the trail of Fort Windham Rocks, which will lead them to geological wonders like split boulders. This 0.8-mile trek will take one hour to finish (roundtrip).
- A moderate hike through the 3.7-mile trail up Mary's Rock Summit will give trekkers an expansive view of the valley and the Massanutten Mountain. It takes 3.5 hours to finish (roundtrip).
- Hikers who are up for a challenge can embark on a journey through Little Devils Stairs Loop, a 7.4-mile trek that will take more than eight hours to finish. It's worth it once they explore the gorge, stop by waterfalls, and pass through forests.
- Trekkers should not miss Shenandoah’s most popular attraction — the Old Rag Mountain. Atop, tourists will enjoy a 360-degree view of the area — a refreshing experience after a tiring hike.
Where The Wild Things Are
Those who plan to camp will be able to spend plenty of time enjoying the sights and sounds of Shenandoah, especially if they intend to explore its wild side.
- There are 190 bird species in the park, and birdwatchers might get lucky spotting scarlet tanagers and cerulean warblers.
- Those who plan to cast a line might score brook, brown, or rainbow trouts among the 40 fish species in the park.
- Botany lovers are lucky, too, since Shenandoah is home to more than 1,400 plant species, from ferns and grasses to shrubs and wildflowers.
- The more patient traveler can wait for the presence of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and lots of insect species. The most prominent resident mammals are bears.
The Caverns Are Waiting
Caverns are not present everywhere, and in some areas, they are hard to access. Luckily, Virginia has eight tourist-friendly caverns, all awe-inspiring.
- The most famous Virginia cavern is the Luray. This attraction is so stunning that the Smithsonian Institution said there's no other cave in the world as “profusely decorated” as Luray.
- Skyline Cavern is famous for its anthodites and it's the only cave system in the United States where the rare mineral can be viewed by the public.
- Those who want to explore the underground with a lantern can visit Gap Caverns, where dripstone formations await them.
- A cave discovered by a dog? That’s Dixie Caverns, an attraction known for its mineral pool that reflects the stunning stalactites.
In Shenandoah, The Water Is Always Fine
The Shenandoah River, which runs through the two Virginias, was made famous by the John Denver song, but it’s not the only Virginian waterway that offers exciting moments. Watersport lovers are in for a treat in the Mother of States.
- Paddlers will have a good time as the state has scenic rivers perfect for serene sojourns. For the more adventurous, they can take on the rough waters of Clinch and New Rivers.
- Waterfalls should not be missed, too. Virginia is proud of its 25 cascades — all offering nothing but magnificence.
- Those looking for a quiet getaway with paddleboards and small boats can visit lakes, like the stunning Smith Mountain Lake.
- Sun worshippers should be excited, too, because Virginian beaches are easily accessible like the Sandbridge, those along the Chesapeake Bay, and in state parks.
The State Parks Are Winners, Too
Aside from the national park, Virginia is also proud of its state park system, which they claim to be the greatest in the country. Virginia is truly gifted — in the west lies the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the east the ocean, and in between is a mix of welcoming landscapes and inviting waterways.
- The Pocahontas State Park is perfect for boaters and paddlers because it's by the Swift Crake Lake.
- Tidal wetlands await tourists at Belle Isle State Park, a place where picnicking is just as enjoyable as hiking – thanks to the mesmerizing river views.
- The Grayson Highlands State Park is a hiker's paradise because it offers stunning views of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.
- Of the 41 Virginia state parks, the Natural Bridge is one of the most unique. It’s simply picture-perfect, bridge and all.
With the state’s brimming wilderness and enticing waterscape, it’s easy to understand why it’s popular for those bitten by the travel bug. Tourists just need to choose what to explore because, in Virginia, everything’s great.