The push to explore the outdoors has been astronomical this past summer due to the pandemic. And if you’re in Virginia, you’re in luck—our state has extremely diverse options for outdoor activities what is that be wine tasting or waterfall chasing.
But, if you’re like me and have lived here more than 15 years oh, there might be a chance that you haven’t been a hundred miles outside of the I-95 corridor. Well, I took the pause on international travel as my chance to explore all three corners of our beautiful state, and now is your chance to!
Who is this itinerary for?
I went on this trip with my best friend: two 20-something-year-old women looking for social distance, adventure, comfort, and the outdoors. There are activities in this for all sorts of travelers—family, couples, solo, young, and old. But especially if you’re young, moving at a fast pace, and alright with a pretty energetic schedule, tune in.
Three words to describe it: Outdoor adventure, COVID-19 cautious, and Black-owned.
Note: This itinerary assumes you’re beginning in the Northern Virginia (NOVA) area because that is the most populous area in the state. If you are, I highly suggest exploring what D.C. has to offer.
Know before you go! Please wear a mask or face covering when indoors and observe Virginia’s current safety guidelines when you travel. And as things change daily, be sure to call ahead to assure business hours.
1. Charlottesville, VA
Leave in the morning to make it to your first stop, Charlottesville, by the early afternoon.
Before you reach downtown, stop at King Family Vineyard, where you’ll have your first socially distanced outdoor activity: horseback riding! Organize a 1.5-hour ride and get a tour of the winery—no prior riding experience required. Purchase a few bottles of wine and pack them in the trunk to last you the rest of your road trip!
Then head to Charlottesville and grab Bodo’s Bagels for lunch. The drive-through only line wraps around the building for a reason, and this is a must.
If the weather is good, spend the rest of the day exploring Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall stop into the IX Art Park. The “The Looking Glass” is Virginia’s first immersive art exhibit and truly a unique Virginia experience! Check out this fun TikTok tour I made of it.
Wind down at Public Fish & Oyster with their Happy Hour for Virginia oysters, and retire to your hotel and shower that long day off.
Might I suggest the newly opened Quirk Hotel? They are practicing safe COVID-19 measures, have an open-air rooftop to enjoy, and a free gallery on the bottom floor of local Charlottesville artists to support and enjoy!
2. Play in Staunton, VA
Head out to your next stop: Staunton, VA! But not before support this Charlottesville, Black co-owned cafe, MarieBette Cafe & Bakery. And if you’re a really earlier riser, head up to Carter Mountain Orchard and grab some of their staple apple cider donuts!
Arrive in Staunton, VA, and I have to recommend staying at the Blackburn Inn for reasons you will soon see.
Staunton, VA is an adorable smaller town that reminds me of downtown Fredericksburg—walkable, with many little shops, and restaurants.
Around 5 PM plan to have dinner at Zynodoa for some yummy southern cuisine. Why so early? Well, I want to leave you some time…
Depending on when you go, you might be lucky enough to catch the American Shakespeare Center’s outdoor-adapted rendition of Twelfth Night or Othello!
Finally, I recommend retiring to The Blackburn Inn if you have the means. I mean… the photos speak for themselves.
3. Dirty Dancing in Giles County, VA
Mountain Lake Lodge has a longstanding claim to fame that might interest you. Get your nostalgia ready for the film location of Dirty Dancing! We were lucky enough to attend during one of their Dirty Dancing weekends full of movie-themed events, a self-guided tour of the property and Baby’s cottage, and a socially-distanced dance party.
However most of these events were at night, so what to do during the day?
Start by organizing kayaking with Tangent Outfitters—you can do a solo session that takes about 2.5 hours from drop off to pick up point. Don’t worry if you have no experience, it’s Class 1 and 2 rapids only and you can’t get lost on a one-way river.
For a late lunch, I have to recommend eating at Bluegrass BBQ for a delicious, affordable, and very western-Virginia meal of… deep-fried frog legs! Are you brave enough? Do it for the gram!
Before you leave the Giles County area, consider stopping by the Town of Narrows and hiking Mill Creek Falls for a refreshing, moderate hike with many bubbling brooks.
4. Mud it Up in St. Paul, VA
The drive out to this corner of VA is especially beautiful in the early morning when the morning fog still sits in the valley, I highly recommend it.
Walking into The Western Front Hotel was a shock. I never would have imagined one of the most rural-meets-modern, beautiful, intentionally-designed hotels I’d ever stay out would be in this reformed coal-town in Western VA.
What makes this town even more special is how the town is so integrated—a must-do experience is ATV mudding through the backwoods and getting absolutely soaked. But how to clean off when you’re done?
Well, The Western Front Hotel’s showers were designed with mud in mind, and your filthy rinse won’t clog their pipes!
We’d originally planned to hike to Devil’s Bathtub, but the summer rains can make it such a treacherous hike, for no reason. Little Stony Falls was a lot easier to navigate to, with a stunning waterfall and cooling mountain pool.
5. Camping in Roanoke
Start your day by getting some Black-owned morning juice at RND Coffee and head up to the Roanoke Star—the largest, free-standing, man-made, illuminated star in the world. It’s a great photo op and view of the city and view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After then you can spend the day looking for Roanoke’s hidden street art, hiking the nearby Dragon’s Tooth, eating at delicious restaurants downtown, or recreating the summer camp memories of your youth at Explore Park!
Though their targeted demographic for activities is kids, it’s designed for fun for all ages and we ziplined, hiked, and tubed, and even camped overnight at Explore Park in their canvas glamping tents!
Farmville is an aptly named, quiet, simple town most famous for being home to Longwood University and Greenfront Furniture store. But there are some interesting and adventurous activities to find here too!
Start by taking 2,400-foot stroll down High Bridge Trail State Park‘s High Bridge—there are some spectacular views and the surrounding trails are great to explore on foot or bike.
Then check in ad drop your things at your hotel—we stayed at the Hotel Weyanoke which was convenient, adorable, and closeby the university and great restaurants nearby like their hotel restaurant Effingham’s (seen below) or a block away at North Street Press Club where we had a delicious dinner of poke and fish tacos. They also have a great tequila Tuesday deal!
The one can’t-miss stop in Farmville has to be the Moton Museum, Gen Z and Black-history lovers, especially for you.
There is so much Black and American history that has yet to be known by the mainstream, and this museum highlights one of them—the stories of Barbara Johns and the 16-year-old activists in Farmville whose fight for a better education led to the Civil Rights Movement as we know it
Sigh… Richmond, VA. The city where I went to college for 3.5 years and that made me fall in love with Virginia more than ever before. This city is diverse, rich in history (both good and bad), has a fantastic food scene, and so much to do.
If you’re looking for a breakfast or brunch spot try Perly’s, a Jewish-owned bagel eatery downtown.
Wednesdays and Friday evenings at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are usually the most lively, and if you go in the near future I highly recommend the Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities exhibit they currently are hosting.
Of course, in a city that once the capital of the Confederacy, it is touched by a history of injustice and slavery as well. I recommend 3 activities to get a holistic view of the Black history in Richmond:
- A visit to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia is non-negotiable, and new since even I left the city after college in 2017. The information that is presented and the way that is done will send shivers down your spine but make you eat up every second of it.
- Richmond was a center point for the height of Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond, VA in 2020. The new Mending Walls RVA is a project that uses this city’s iconic medium of choice—street murals—bring encourage dialogue, community, and meaningful insight into Black Lives Matter.
- A visit to the Elegba Folklore Society and chat with the owner Ms. Janine Bell will give you a view of Black Richmond through a lens of original African ancestry and how that translates into modern-day.
Finally, crash at The Graduate Hotel. I used to live in the section of townhome directly behind this beautiful hotel and I will tell you this is the perfect location for access to downtown, the university, restaurants, uptown, and walking distance to 7-11 for midnight snacks!
8. Cape Charles
The end to an adventurous, jam-packed vacation should be at the beach—so welcome to the Eastern Shore!
There’s not much in the way of busy downtown areas or hiking trails here, but you will find relaxing beaches where you can SUP, crab hunt, or just sunbathe.
As for accommodations, why not try camping at KOA’s campground and staying in one of their trailers? Sleep under the stars!
Was it safe?
Health & Safety
Virginia is doing an extraordinary job of addressing the pandemic in terms of company policies, mask laws, and health & safety. Not everyone appreciates that—especially in more rural areas where it might impact already struggling small businesses—but I personally felt like everything possible is being done to mitigate the risk of transmission.
Traveling as two young women of color (biracial Black and Asian) we had a few hesitancies about our comfort going to rural areas. However, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this trip.
Perhaps it’s because small business owners and locals are focusing on good business more than ever because of the pandemic, but we didn’t have any issues even in the furthest corner of the state. Every person we came across was welcoming and happy to hear that we were exploring the state.
If you’re considering a road trip around Virginia in the coming seasons—do it! And doing it in Virginia means a variety of activities to choose from, adventure, and supporting our local tourism economy when it sure does need it most.
This post was sponsored by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. All thoughts are my own.
Which spots are you going to hit in your Virginia adventure?
Tell me in the comments which stood out to you!