With the new year finally here, it’s time to hunker down and wait for the cold that we all know will, inevitably, arrive. Or…better yet, forget hunkering down. Let’s make 2016 a year to explore the beauty of Virginia – even in the snow and ice. To get you started, here are 14 places that will be that much more beautiful after a visit from Jack Frost.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. The Peaks of Otter in Bedford.
Winter is the perfect time to take on the Peaks of Otter and nothing proves it better than this view of a cozy cabin on the summit of Sharp Top. After a great winter hike, warm up at the Peaks of Otter Lodge or visit the nearby Johnson Farm, an historically restored, fully functioning farm that shows off life in the Blue Ridge at the turn of the 20th century.
2. Dark Hollow Falls in the Shenandoah National Forest near Big Meadows.
A winter hike may seem like a daunting task. But add the right layers and an extra pair of socks and you might just be lucky enough to see Dark Hollow Falls looking like this. The trailhead begins at mile 50.7 on Skyline Drive, just north of Big Meadows.
3. 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. The park is home to Mather Gorge, a river gorge located at the lowest part of the Potomac River directly on the border of Virginia and Maryland. Breathtaking year-round, snow and ice turn the falls into a magical wonderland.
4. Caledon State Park in King George.
Caledon State Park covers 2,579-acres in King George. Originally owned by the Alexander brothers (the founders of Alexandria), the park land was founded as Caledon Plantation in 1659. In 1974, the land was turned over to the state of Virginia and named a National Natural Landmark. Today, it offers a protected habitat for bald eagles on the Potomac River and a winter getaway for the rest of us.
5. Highway 91 into Damascus.
It’s as if time stood still in this stunning photo captured along the highway outside of Damascus.
6. Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County.
Tucked away in Fairfax County's Hybla Valley, Huntley Meadows is 1,500 acres of pristine wetland, woodland and meadows. Featuring walking trails, an historic 1825 villa built by Thomas Francis Mason (George Mason's grandson) and diverse wildlife, Huntley Meadows gains a new level of beauty in the winter.
7. York River State Park in Croaker (James City County).
Set along the shore of the York River, York River State Park features an archaeological site at historical Croaker Landing, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site shows signs of Native American inhabitants dating as far back as c.1000 B.C. The park was formed in 1980 in the town of Croaker, which was originally the Taskinas Plantation. Today, winter on the shoreline creates a beautiful juxtaposition of still ice and rolling water.
8. Catocin Mountain in Loudoun County.
Catocin Mountain starts in Maryland, but runs south into Loudoun County ending at the town of Leesburg. Catocin offers a rustic natural setting for winter hikes in the middle of Loudoun County where you can catch glimpses of frozen icefalls like these that are seeping through the beautiful greenstone.
9. Wilderness Road State Park, Ewing
The Wilderness Road was the main route used by early settlers through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. Blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775, the area now occupied by Wilderness Road State Park was home to Martin’s Station Fort. Today, the park offers an interactive experience with living history exhibits that show life on the Virginia frontier in 1775. With replicas of cabins, the fort and other examples of life on the frontier, it’s truly humbling to imagine what winter would have been like for these early adventurers.
10. Mabry Mill in Meadows of Dan.
As one of the final southern stops along the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill is also one of the most photographed spots along the way. This incredibly preserved historic gristmill offers a look at Appalachian life more than a century ago. At the nearby Matthews Cabin and blacksmith shop, The National Park Service offers demonstrations on blacksmithing, carding, spinning, basket making and other traditional Appalachian crafts and skills. And while it is a beautiful site year-round, winter lends an austerity that is breathtaking.
11. George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Fairfax County.
One of the most famous images of George Washington is “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze. The famous scene shows ice and snow as Washington and his troops braved the wintery cold to continue their fight for independence. Scenes like the ones above bring home that determination and valor as it becomes easy to imagine the conditions the colonial army must have endured. The winter lends an almost poetic bravery to the familiar sites at George Washington’s final home, Mount Vernon.
12. Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville.
Set on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, Shenandoah River State Park is 1,600 acres, featuring 5.2 miles of river shoreline. One of the newer state parks, it also offers beautiful views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. As this image shows, winter snow and ice only enhance the beauty of this state treasure.
13. Arlington from across the wintery Potomac.
This photo, taken from the Washington, D.C. side of the Potomac River, shows the Arlington skyline just behind the icy expanse of the Potomac.
14. For another look at the frozen Potomac, try Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria.
Dyke Marsh serves as one of the largest freshwater tidal wetlands that remains in the Washington metropolitan area. Covering 485 acres, the preserve offers tidal marshes, floodplains and swampy forests that are only enhanced by the icy sheen of winter.
The best part about living in Virgnia is that we are not limited by seasons. There is beauty in every part of the year. So as we get 2016 started, let’s make it the best one yet by discovering all that Virginia has to offer. If you have favorite places to go in Virginia where winter only enhances the beauty of the surroundings, we would love to hear your contributions in the comments below!