Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire to travel, but here in Virginia, we call that feeling WanderLove. And while travel is a little bit different in 2020 due to COVID-19, you can still explore Virginia’s endless beauty with an epic road trip! To help you plan your next vacation out on the open road, we’ll be sharing a few of the most scenic and adventure-filled routes through the Commonwealth, including the best outdoor adventures, important sites, restaurants, and lodging options to add to your itinerary.
Follow this family-friendly road trip through the Virginia Mountains for a relaxing vacation that the whole family will love!
**While we have shared COVID-19 alternate hours and closures when possible, please contact individual businesses before visiting, as these details may change at any time.
DAY 1: Explore Park & Virginia’s Blue Ridge
Photo Credit: Cameron Davidson
Start your adventure in Virginia’s stunning Blue Ridge, right near the beautiful town of Roanoke. For your first adventure, head to Explore Park, located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Explore Park will provide more than a full day’s worth of activities. Kids ages 4+ and adults will love the Treetop Quest ropes course. All of the equipment is sanitized in between uses, and the outdoor, spacious course is perfect for a socially distanced adventure. We loved that there was a smaller course for younger children, and more challenging ones for older kids and adults.
Photo Credit: Shannon Terry
Once you’ve climbed around while safely harnessed, head over to Blue Mountain Adventures to do some tubing down the river. The gentle rapids mean adults and kids 7+ can go on their own – perfect for maintaining social distance. There’s truly an activity for every interest in the Virginia mountains!
If outdoor adventure isn’t up your alley, consider going to find the iconic Roanoke Star and then heading over to the trail to Mill Mountain Zoo (open daily 10am-5pm). Or is arts and culture more your thing? Be sure to check out Center In The Square. Don’t miss the Roanoke Pinball Museum and Roanoke Starcade.
Photo Credit: Creative Dog Media, IG account: @creativedogmedia
After your day of adventure, grab some dinner – some great options are Wildflour Cafe, Tuco’s Taqueria, Taaza, and Cedar’s Lebanese. All of these should be open for carry out, so you can eat outside wherever you wish, or consider taking your meal back to Natural Bridge KOA, a fantastic campground for families. Whether you’re in your own RV or renting one of their private cabins, it’s a perfect way to have your own space and relax. The campground is spacious and clean, and has full RV hookups for a comfortable stay.
DAY 2: Natural Bridge & Rockbridge County
Start your morning with a scenic drive through beautiful Goshen Pass. There are several pull offs where you can stop to admire the Maury River and the surrounding beauty. Depending on your timeline, you may want to consider fishing, swimming, walking the trail on the north side of the river, or tubing. Virginia’s mountains have a vast variety of activities, giving you lots of options for outdoor fun.
If it’s a Thursday-Sunday, consider stopping at Wade’s Mill, Virginia’s oldest continuously operating commercial grist mill. You can even purchase grains fresh to order!
After stopping for some lunch (consider the Pink Cadillac Diner), head over to Natural Bridge State Park. The 215-foot tall natural limestone bridge was carved out by Cedar Creek, and is surrounded by forested area and hiking trails. A National Historic Landmark, the area was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Admission is $6 for kids age 6-12, and $8 for those 13+.
The Cedar Creek Trail will take you to a 30-foot waterfall with beautiful views along the way. Stop to take in the awe-inspiring wonder of the natural bridge itself, and don’t forget to cross the small pedestrian bridge to peek into a cave. There are several easy access points to the creek, so little ones will love getting their feet wet in the shallow and cool water. And at just 1.6 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain, it’s perfect for families (though not stroller-accessible). While the Monacan Indian Village is currently closed to visitors, hikers can still view the outdoor setup as they walk by.
After your hike, head back to your campsite at Natural Bridge KOA and relax while you make some dinner.
DAY 3: Virginia Safari Park & Downtown Lexington
On your third morning, consider doing something a bit different – a Virginian safari! At the Virginia Safari Park, visitors can view animals from the comfort of their own vehicles, and kids will love that the animals often come right up to the car to eat. Plus, the park is just down the road from your campground, offering easy and quick access during your stay.
After your morning fun, head into downtown Lexington to pick up lunch and explore this enchanting city, which is home to both Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, giving it the beautiful and vibrant feel of a college town.
Be sure to walk around the charming streets of the downtown area, and consider any safe indoor activities that might be open, such as Boxerwood Nature Center, or just drive around taking in the beautiful homes and Virginian charm!
Finally, head back for a final night at Natural Bridge KOA. It’s the perfect convenient spot to launch your adventures during the following day.
DAY 4: Covington & the Alleghany Highlands
Now that you’ve explored the Lexington and Roanoke areas, head towards the Alleghany Highlands in the Virginia Mountains for some gorgeous and restful time in the Great Outdoors. On your way to some distanced outdoor activities, detour to the charming town of Covington.
For your first stop, seek out the Downtown Covington LOVEwork right on Main Street. It’s a perfect photo op to start your day and remember this incredible adventure. Next, head to the Eastern National Children’s Forest, a beautiful forested monument in an area that once suffered from wildfires. The site was planted by over 1,000 children – a fact any little travelers will love.
Stop in for lunch at Cucci’s Pizzeria, a Covington staple. The pizzas are huge and the crust is fantastic, so be ready to take home some leftovers if you’re traveling solo or with a single companion.
Next, head over to the LOVEwork at Humpback Bridge. This was our family’s favorite by far, and you’re sure to love it, too. The bridge itself is a National Historic Site and is the oldest remaining covered bridge in Virginia. The LOVE letters here are all constructed from materials unique to the history of the area.
Once you’ve snapped a few photos with the LOVEwork, take some time to walk under the bridge over to the grassy area on the other side. The water is usually fairly shallow here, so it’s a fun place for little ones to get their feet wet, or if it’s moving more quickly, there are plenty of rocks to throw in – an activity that could keep the kids occupied for several hours if they are anything like mine!
After playing at the bridge, head up to Falling Spring Waterfall. The 80-foot waterfall and its surroundings are incredibly scenic, and there is a beautiful viewing area that’s perfect for taking a few photos. It’s a great stop even if little legs are tired because the view point is right by the parking lot – no hiking required.
Finally, head up to Morris Hill Campground at Lake Moomaw. It’s an amazingly beautiful area with private sites that are surrounded by trees. It’s a perfect spot to roast marshmallows and sit around the campfire. Just be sure to pack away all food and trash as black bears do frequent the area. They’re generally harmless, but it’s always best to keep everything safe.
DAY 5: Alleghany Highlands in the Virginia Mountains
It’s your final day exploring this beautiful area of the Virginia Mountains! Kick things off with a peaceful morning bike ride along the Jackson River Scenic Trail and Blueway. Alleghany Outdoors is located right near the Intervale trailhead, and has bike rentals available for riders ages 10+. You can either ride as far as you’d like and turn back or do a one way rental and catch the shuttle back. If you have younger riders, feel free to bring your own bikes – the trail is perfect for little ones as it has finely packed gravel and only a 1% grade. The protected path is perfect for all ages, even kids in bike trailers.
After your bike adventure, switch to a different outdoor adventure – kayaking! Alleghany Outdoors also rents kayaks to paddle down the Jackson River (Ages 8+; 6+ for tubing). It’s a perfect way to see the beautiful cliffs along the river and to experience the stunning Alleghany Highlands from the water. The full trip is about two hours downriver (a shuttle will take you to the start), while a shorter trip of about an hour is also possible. If you have smaller children, consider instead walking across the swinging bridge.
Finally, finish out your time in the gorgeous Alleghany Highlands by heading up to the Coles Point Beach area at Lake Moomaw. The swimming area is clean and perfect for families, with warm, clear water and a sandy beach. Bring a picnic and watch the sunset over the water before heading back to Morris Hill Campground for the night.
This guest blog post is courtesy of preethi, the author of the local passport family blog. Preethi feels passionately about providing a diverse education for families through travel. She works to make travel and the outdoors more inclusive, and helps families develop curiosity and connection by connecting with the world at home and abroad. She loves exploring with her 5 kids, and writes about actual and virtual travel, global education, and parenting.
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