5 Unexpected Destinations
While spending your spring break conquering roller coasters at Busch Gardens or reliving Virginia’s founding moments at popular historic spots like Colonial Williamsburg are always fun options for the family, consider looking at a less-traveled destination for your vacation to avoid the crowds and peak hotel prices. These 5 Virginia destinations offer endless fun and exciting activities without the hassle of the typical spring break spots.
What Makes it Great: Endless outdoor recreation opportunities.
Called Virginia’s Mountain Playground, Giles County is an outdoor lover’s dream, with hiking, fishing, kayaking, paddle sports, and camping all widely available in the region. The Appalachian Trail runs through Giles, making it a popular spot for hikers, as well as Cascades National Recreation Trail in Pembroke, where you’ll finish your excursion at a magnificent 69-foot waterfall.
Kayakers and water sports enthusiasts embark on the New River, either bringing their own equipment or renting through the local outfitting companies, such as New River Outdoor Co. or Tangent Outfitters. Interested in visiting a place that combines a variety of outdoor activities, from mountain biking and hiking to bird watching and fishing? Visit Mill Creek Nature Park and get your fill of outdoor experiences in one convenient location. End the day with an excellent meal from the Palisades Restaurant, located in Eggleston on the banks of the New River.
Film buffs should plan a stay at Mountain Lake Lodge, the site of the iconic film Dirty Dancing.
—VIRGINIA’S EASTERN SHORE—
What Makes it Great: Pristine coastlines, less crowds on the beaches, custom waterfront tours throughout the shore.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia consists of a 70-mile long stretch of land that is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Spend your spring break relaxing along the coast of the Eastern Shore to experience some of Virginia’s most breathtaking beaches located in quiet seaside communities.
If arriving via Virginia, you’ll cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a nearly 18 mile engineering marvel that is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. After crossing, head to Cape Charles for your first taste of the Eastern Shore, where you can find boutique shopping, waterfront dining, and even world-class golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at Bay Creek Resort.
Travel north, stopping in charming towns like Onancock and Wachapreague, where you’ll discover tasty restaurants like Wachapreague’s Island House, local antique shops, and water sports outfitters such as Burnham Guides and Southeast Expeditions that provide custom tours of the region (including boat rides to historic Tangier Island).
Kids will enjoy learning about the unique environmental regions and conservation practices of the Eastern Shore at Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve, where your family can hike through shoreline, sand dunes, and maritime forests, often spotting rare wildlife along the way. (A quick note: The natural preserve does not have any on-site restroom facilities.)
Finish the trip on Chincoteague Island, a small community on the northeast corner of the shore that provides access to Assateague Island National Seashore. This park has everything, from carefully preserved beaches to the region’s storied wild ponies.
End the day with the unforgettable view from the park’s lighthouse; you won’t regret it.
What Makes it Great: Outdoor recreation and stunning scenery.
With the Appalachian Trail running straight through the town, Damascus is obviously a town for outdoor enthusiasts, but even beginners can enjoy many of the activities available here.
Bicyclers of all levels get out on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 35-mile trail that consistently runs downhill, ending within the town limits. Bike rentals are available at SunDog Outfitter, as well as gear for backpacking, camping, fishing, and several other outdoor pursuits popular in the region.
Next, travel to Grayson Highland State Park, one of Virginia’s most beautiful destinations and yet another place to find wild ponies roaming freely (although they are off limits to feeding or touching!). During the spring, the meadows in the park bloom abundantly with wildflowers, creating an aroma of fresh mountain air that you’ll be daydreaming about for years to come. Just a short trip from Grayson Highlands, Mount Rogers is the highest point in the state, and a great hiking location for those looking for more challenging trails.
Take a short drive to Abingdon and pick up some handmade souvenirs from local artists with a stop at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway. If you’re lucky, you may catch some toe-tapping live music and special performances at the popular Southwest Virginia venue.
What Makes it Great: Fantastic museums for kids, waterfront fun.
Only 18 miles directly west of Virginia Beach, Norfolk is an alternative for those spring breakers looking for a coastal vacation without the oceanfront price tag or crowds. Plus, you’ll find many opportunities for kids in Norfolk, both educational and enjoyable.
Visit Nauticus, a maritime science museum, and learn about the power of the sea during hands-on experiments, films, and interesting exhibits. On the second floor, you can tour the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, which commemorates Virginia’s naval history with displays featuring authentic uniforms, ship models, and underwater artifacts. After touring the exhibits, head outside to explore the USS Wisconsin, the world’s largest battleship. Want even more museums? If your kids are fascinated by trains and the railroad, a tour of the Norfolk Southern Museum is a must, and the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth is tailored to teaching kids in the most interactive and entertaining ways.
Take advantage of your waterfront locale during your spring break with an evening ride on the Spirit of Norfolk, a harbor cruise that offers breathtaking views and a unique dining experience. Another downtown waterfront attraction is Harbor Park, where you can catch a Norfolk Tides game, the minor league baseball team for the New York Mets.
What Makes it Great: Tons of impressive restaurants, caverns and Shenandoah National Park nearby.
Located in the Shenandoah Valley region, Harrisonburg is an unusual mix of rural charm and busy downtown streets. While you’ll have plenty of shopping and dining options available all within easy reach, you can take a short drive and end up journeying through farmland and bucolic rolling hills.
Harrisonburg is an ideal spring break destination for families with kids of all ages. The youngest kids will love attractions like the Explore More Discovery Museum, or if college is just a few short years away, you can take your teens on a tour of James Madison University.
Experience the wonders of the region with a tour of either Luray Caverns or Shenandoah Caverns, both less than 30 minutes away.
Then, take the Swift Run Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park and travel along Skyline Drive for unbelievable views of the valley. During the spring months, the lush green of the landscapes are especially eye-catching, and can make for some gorgeous photo opportunities. Hike the trails that wind throughout the park to get an up-close look at the pristine landscape.
Written by Patricia Keppel for Virginia is for Lovers and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Virginia Tourism Corporation