Every year at about the same time, admittedly, it’s usually at the sign of the first snowflake, I start planning my summer. I can’t wait to get out of the house, to be outside and to be DOING something. And yet, ironically, a few weeks into my crazy, over-booked summers, I start looking forward to fall when things settle back into a routine. Summer is all about relaxation – and somehow I always manage to forget how to do that very thing. But what I’ve come to realize is that relaxation isn’t about sitting still and doing nothing. Sometimes it’s just about being in the moment wherever we are. We don’t have to stop doing all the things we want to do – we just need to learn to stop and breathe in the beauty around us.
There’s no place better to feel at one with yourself and the world around you than in Virginia’s natural wonderland. Here are 19 amazing places in Virginia, some hidden away and others simply hidden in plain sight, that allow you to get out and explore, while settling into the moment and relaxing your mind or your body – and if you’re lucky, both.
1. Take a float down the New River or the James
Whether you're there to catch some sun, catch a fish, or just catch a break from the craziness of every day, there are few better places to do it than one of Virginia's beautiful rivers. Rent a canoe, a raft or some inner tubes, pack a picnic and enjoy.
2. Visit Historic Homes and Gardens
Spots like Monticello in Charlottesville or Westover Plantation in Charles City provide stunning gardens, breathtaking scenery, and rich history without much fuss. Perfect for a day trip, these beautiful places are ideal for picnics, family get togethers, or just a day out and about.
3. Take a Rappahannock River Boat Cruise out of Tappahannock
Enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Rappahannock with companies like Tangier Cruises. Leaving from Tappahannock, the Capt. Thomas will take you up the Rapphannock to Ingleside Winery and back. With lunch available on board, it's truly a one-stop shop (or ship, I suppose).
4. Spend the day at Huntley Meadows in Fairfax
Tucked away in Fairfax County's Hybla Valley, Huntley Meadows is 1,500 acres of pristine wetland, woodland, and meadows. Featuring walking trails, a historic 1825 villa built by Thomas Francis Mason (George Mason's grandson), and diverse wildlife, Huntley Meadows will make you forget that such a thing as a city ever existed.
5. Lose yourself to the beauty of Carvin's Cove in Roanoke
Located just outside of Roanoke, Carvin's Cove is the second largest city park in the nation at 12,700 acres. The park offers hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, and boat rentals -- all within a few miles of downtown Roanoke, the Appalachian Trail, and incredible hikes like McAfee's Knob and Tinker Cliffs.
6. Soak it all in at the Jefferson Pools at Hot Springs
While legend has it that the pools were discovered by Native Americans in the 1700s, it was in 1818 when Thomas Jefferson visited - and didn't leave for 3 weeks - that they became famous. Now part of the Omni Homestead Resort, the pools continue to offer relaxation with continuously warm temperatures, crystal-clear water, and high mineral content for easy flotation -- and zero chemicals.
7. Take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens
Filled with flowers we can only dream of growing (or have nightmares about having to water), Virginia's botanical gardens are an oasis of plant life. Visit Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond (top image), Norfolk Botanical Gardens in Norfolk (middle image), or Meadowland Botanical Gardens in Vienna (above) for a chance to truly stop and smell the roses.
10. Ride the Virginia Creeper Trail through Abingdon and Damascus
For 34 miles, the Virginia Creeper Trail takes you through some of the most beautiful landscape Virginia has to offer. The trail is considered Virginia’s premier mountain biking trail, but there are sections that will fit any skill level. Bike rentals and shuttle services are available, or bring your own bike, pack a picnic and enjoy the ride.
11. Explore Great Falls Park in McLean
Encompassing 800 acres along the banks of the Potomac, Great Falls Park is a National Park and a national treasure. With hiking trails, rapids, rock climbing, waterfalls, and cascades, Great Falls is the perfect place to have an adventure, or simply have a picnic.
12. Drive the Skyline
The Skyline Drive, beginning in Front Royal, is only 105 miles through the Shenandoah National Park, but the views along the way make it feel like another world. In addition to 75 scenic overlooks, the drive offers access to hikes like Compton Peak, Hogback Mountain, Big Meadows, Hawksbill, Rose River Loop, and Doyle’s River Falls.
13. Go swimming at Panther Falls in Amherst County
Pools are great. But when nature provides the water and the scenery, swimming goes from great to AMAZING. Located just outside of Lexington in the George Washington National Forest, Panther Falls offers several deep swimming holes, stunning forests, and a waterfall that is nothing short of picture-perfect.
14. Let the Eastern Shore work its magic
If sun on your face and sand in your toes is more your scene, Assateague and Chincoteague Islands are little bits of paradise right here in Virginia. Check out the Assateague Island National Seashore for quiet, pristine beaches, wetlands, and wild ponies, or spend your time in the quaint, seaside villages of Chincoteague for a vacation that won't leave you feeling like you need another vacation when you get home.
15. Travel the Canal Walk along the James River in Richmond
From sunny riverside paths and gondola rides to deliciously dark and eerie tunnels, the canal walk takes visitors through 400 years of history along one of the earliest trade routes in and out of Virginia’s capital city.
16. Visit a winery -- anywhere in the state
With 250+ wineries and vineyards throughout the state, you don't have to look far to find one near you. Even if you're not a big wine drinker, Virginia wineries are ideal for picnics, family and friend gatherings, and a chance to sit back, relax and take in the scenery.
17. See “The Grand Canyon of the South” at Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks Canyon is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi and is, without a doubt, the highlight of Breaks Interstate Park in southwest Virginia. Located within the Jefferson National Forest, the canyon ranges from 830-1,600-feet in depth and stretches 5-miles in length. With outdoor activities and amenities to spare, Breaks Interstate Park is a must-see.
18. Hide away at Hidden Valley Lake in Washington County
Tucked away in the mountains of Washington County, Hidden Valley Lake sits at an elevation of 3,500 feet in the Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area. Motorboats are not allowed, making it a perfect place for peaceful fishing, picnicking, or just enjoying all that nature has to offer.
19. Take a hike through Prince William Forest Park in Prince William County
Located near Quantico, this park is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. With hiking trails, wildlife, and natural beauty in abundance, it's like a place that time forgot.
Where are your favorite places to explore, relax, or do both? We always want to hear about new places – whether they are well-kept secrets or just a place that you connect to and want to share with others. Let us know in the comments below!