Virginia is a state full of secrets. And no, I’m not just talking about the national government. What we have in Virginia is a treasure trove of historical and natural sites that are just waiting to be explored. From living history museums to breathtaking natural wonders, there’s always something new to discover. If you missed our previous posts on
hidden gems and most underrated attractions, then be sure to check them out here. In the meantime, here are 10 more well-kept secrets in Virginia that you simply won’t want to miss.
1. Henricus Historical Park, Chester
While Jamestown gets a lot of the attention, Henricus should not be overlooked. As the site of the second successful English colony in the New Word, Henricus is where Thomas Dale led 300 settlers from Jamestown in 1611. Henricus Historical Park provides a living history perspective of the settlement and surrounding Native American populations. On-going archaeological digs at the site show that Native Americans, known as the Arrohateck, had lived in the area for thousands of years. In fact, it was at Henricus that Pocahontas met and married Jon Rolfe. Today, visitors can explore re-creations of the settlement and an Indian Village guided by historical re-enactors. Visit
Henricus Historical Park
to learn more.
2. Sand Cave, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Ewing
You have to be willing to take a bit of a hike to see this gem, but once you're there, it's more than worth it. About 4.5 miles up the Ewing Trail in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park lies the Sand Cave, a massive rock shelter formed by wind, water and ice. A waterfall at the cave opening adds to its beauty, but the real treat is inside. The cave’s ceiling features multi-colored striations with up to 21 colors. Before the park was created, it was said that church congregations would come to the cave to sing because of its phenomenal acoustics. But whether you’re singing, or just there for the beauty, Sand Cave is a Virginia secret you’ll be glad you learned.
3. Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park, Tazewell
While much is known about the founding of the nation in the Eastern and Northern parts of the state, the Southwest "frontier" can sometimes be overlooked. The Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park provides a comprehensive look at the cultural heritage of Appalachia, featuring a museum, guided tours, outdoor living history displays for both European pioneers and Native Americans, educational programs, special events and a gift shop offering local arts and crafts.
4. Old City Cemetery Museums and Arboretum, Lynchburg
Referred to as a "Gravegarden," the Old City Cemetery is the oldest public cemetery still in use in the state. Established in 1806, the cemetery covers more than 26-acres and features museums and heirloom gardens, including hundreds of varieties of plants and flowers. This historic cemetery is also home to The “Pestilence” or Pest House. Cited as Lynchburg’s first “hospital,” and by hospital, we mean quarantine facility for people with contagious diseases like smallpox and cholera, the Pest House was built in the 1840s and used as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. In 1862 Dr. John J. Terrell noticed the appalling conditions of the place and instituted significant reforms. Visitors can still see his surgical table, “poison chest”, “asthma chair” and chloroform mask in the carefully preserved building. The cemetery also contains the Hearse House and Caretakers Museum, the Station House Museum, a chapel and the Mourning Museum.
to plan your visit.
5. Dolphin and Whale Watching Tours at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach
The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is in and of itself one of the country's finest aquariums. With 800,000 gallons of aquariums, as well as wildlife exhibits, there is more than enough to explore. BUT…if you're looking for something a little different, embark on a Sea Adventure, a guided boat tour that allows you to see dolphins, whales and other marine wildlife in their natural ocean habitat. All tours leave from the Virginia Aquarium dock and offer a firsthand education in Virginia's aquatic life. Check out tour times and availability
6. Marriott Ranch Bed and Breakfast, Hume
Southern Living Magazine called the Marriott Ranch in Hume one of the Blue Ridge's Best Kept Secrets. Secluded on 4,200 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, Marriott Ranch was the private ranch of Marriott hotel founder, J. Willard Marriott, Sr., until his death in 1985. Today, the property is a working cattle ranch and operates as a B&B with rooms in the restored manor house and cottages. Guests can live out their wild west fantasies on cattle drives, or enjoy horseback riding, jeep adventure tours, clay target shooting, western style cookouts, flyfishing and more. To find out about rates and reservations, visit
Marriott Ranch Bed and Breakfast
7. Booker T. Washington National Monument, Franklin County
Burroughs Plantation, now a national park and monument, is the where the legendary educator, innovator and Civil Rights' activist, Booker T. Washington, was born and spent his boyhood as a slave. Beginning at the visitors’ center with an audio-visual presentation of his life and achievements, the park walks visitors through the restored plantation, including historic buildings and a working farm. The park hosts living history events and tours, as well as offering picnic areas, gardens and walking trails. Best of all, admission is free. You can learn more at the
National Park Service
8. Birch Knob Observation Tower, Dickenson County (near Clintwood)
Located on the border of Virginia and Kentucky, the Birch Knob Observation Tower stands at 3,144 feet above sea level at the highest point of Pine Mountain. From the top, visitors have incredible views of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee – and, according to the Dickenson County website, on a clear day you can see as far as Ohio. The 183-stair climb to the top begins at a point just below Birch Knob (accessed by a paved road). Be sure to check it out in the fall when the leaves begin to change -- it might just be one of the most perfect perches in the state.
9. Drewry's Bluff, Richmond Battlefield Park, Chesterfield
Only 8 miles down the James River from Richmond, a 90-foot bluff rises high above the water. Named Drewry's Bluff, this vantage point provides an incredible, sweeping view of the James and surrounding area. During the Civil War, the bluff was home to Fort Darling where Confederates fended off Union naval attacks on Richmond both at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 15, 1862 and again in 1864. Today, the well-preserved fort is available for tours and well-marked paths and signage lead visitors to a Confederate cannon, strategically placed to re-create the vantage point that soldiers would have had in the 1860s. This well-kept Richmond secret is perfect for history buffs and those looking for less-crowded sites. Visit the
National Park Service
for more information.
10. Matildaville Ruins, Great Falls Park, McLean
When Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, signed a 900-year lease on the land that was to host a booming community on the newly constructed Potowmack Canal, he may have gotten just a wee bit ahead of himself. Named after his late first wife, he had high hopes for the town. And for a while, it seemed he was right. Founded in 1790, Matildaville was planned as a trade and tourist destination along the canal. Matildaville thrived with a gristmill, forge, homes, stores and an inn. But after the canal failed to live up to its promise and closed c.1828, the town declined and today, only ruins remain along the Matildaville Trail in Great Falls Park.
We all have our favorite go-to spots in Virginia, whether it’s a park, museum, or just a place to get away. What are some of your favorite secret spots in Virginia? We would love to hear about them in the comments below. They might just pop up in an article soon – several of these suggestions were made by readers in the past!