Home to more than 20 National Parks as well as 40 state parks and 1.7 million acres of National Forest, it should come as no surprise that Virginia offers a wealth of hiking trails. The more than 100 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, and nearly 200 lakes and rivers, also assure Virginia visitors a plethora of boating and water sports. Then there are the more than 400 miles of biking rail trails and the designation of Virginia’s Blue Ridge as America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital to ensure plenty of cycling opportunities. So here, we offer up a list of some lesser-known Virginia activities to help inspire a vacation guaranteed to quench your desire for the great outdoors.
Look to the Stars
With more officially designated International Dark Sky Parks than any other East Coast destination, Virginia offers some of the best stargazing in the U.S. Free of light pollution and development, Shenandoah National Park is one of the premier locations, along with the four state parks officially designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Primland Resort, a luxury boutique property set on 12,000 acres in the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains, is also a perfect stargazing spot. The remote resort’s high altitude, on-site Observatory Dome, and nightly Come to Starwalk at Primland programs make it ideal for amateur astronomers.
Hit the Greens
When it comes to golf courses, no state can match Virginia for quality and diversity, and one needs to look no further than the list of the state’s 220 public courses. The Old Dominion boasts one of the world’s great mountain courses and one of the world’s great golf destinations (Williamsburg, ranked No. 24 in the world by Golf Digest). With numerous resorts offering golf on-site, the hardest choice is deciding at which one to stay.
Take it Off-Road
A true American activity, off-roading is a unique sport to try when you visit the states and the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia are the perfect place. ATVs – or all-terrain vehicles – offer a great way to experience the mountains in a rugged new way. Virginia’s Spearhead Trail System combines a network of more than 300 miles of trail to explore with lodging, rental equipment, and guide services all readily available.
Climb to the Top
Virginia is also a good place to try your hand at rock climbing. A variety of short routes and brilliant bouldering spots make it an ideal place to learn with minimal commitment, though there are also places to go extreme if that’s your desire. No need to try it on your own either, there are plenty of guide services to assist. The Shenandoah Mountain Guides climbing/rappelling program is one of the most respected in the East.
Take to the Sky
There are more ways than climbing to get your feet off the ground and take in some exceptional views of Virginia. Take to the sky on a zipline course and speed your way over the ground. The Canyon Rim Zipline at Breaks Interstate Park features three sections of zip line offering spectacular views of the mountains, foliage, and river below. Wintergreen, Bryce, and Massanutten Resorts all offer zip lines and adventure park experiences, and the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat features four levels of high-rope courses and zip lines.
Watch for Wildlife
Virginia is home to 14 national wildlife refuges and miles and miles of forests and waterways. That translates to a lot of places to spot wildlife, with everything from eagles to dolphins to bears – there are even wild ponies. Visit the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge to spot bald eagles, blue herons, and other migrating wildfowl. At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, wild ponies are the stars of the show. Head to Shenandoah National Park if you’re hoping to see some black bears, or visit Breaks Interstate Park and take in an elk tour, watching the herds as they graze on the pristine lands. A can’t miss activity takes place in Virginia Beach, where dolphins can be spotted frolicking just off the shores almost all year round, as the water temperature makes for an ideal dolphin playground.
Spend a Day on the Farm
Maybe you prefer your animals a little more domesticated. Many local farms offer access to adorable animals, including babies during certain times of the year. Check out Little Goat Farm on the Lake for some newborn goat snuggling, or try your hand at goat yoga (yes, both are real activities!). Or head to Great Country Farms where, beyond petting the animals, you can pick your own fruits and vegetables.
Take to the Saddle for More than Just a Trail Ride
Virginia offers a wealth of ways to take a horseback ride including guided tours through the mountains and along shores, or even through vineyards, with companies like Indian Summer Guide Service. But if you have ever fancied learning the sport of polo, Virginia is your place. Twilight Polo School and Destination Polo will both teach you the art of moving the ball downfield from the back of a pony.
Cast a Line
A huge benefit of all Virginia’s vast waterways is the abundance of fishing opportunities. You can lake fish, river fish, bay fish, or ocean fish. You can do it from a boat or from the shore. And you can catch just about every kind of fish. No matter what style you are looking for, and whether you are a novice or a pro, there are also guides and teachers galore. Why not channel your inner Brad Pitt and tackle fly fishing? Virginia is home to some of the best fly-fishing waters. It is also home to the largest Fly Fishing Festival of its kind in the country.
Take it Underground
Part of Virginia’s great outdoors is actually underground. Found in the Southwest and Shenandoah Valley regions Virginia’s eight caverns are awe-inspiring attractions. Below-ground temperatures hover around 56 degrees year-round, so they are a great place to escape summer’s heat and perhaps even warm up on a cold winter day. Luray Caverns are the largest on the East Coast and a U.S. Natural Landmark. They also feature the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ, which creates music of symphonic quality from stone formations.