Just because kiddo’s school year is in full swing, doesn’t mean you have to reign in your road trip wanderlust! You can still hit the road on the weekends and Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is the perfect destination. The Valley stretches a couple of hundred miles from Winchester in the north down to Roanoke in the south, but the northern end is within an easy hour-or-so drive from D.C. Hiking trails, limestone caverns, and a potato chip factory (yes, a potato chip factory!) make for a show-and-tell worthy day trip.
Explore the Caverns
Caverns grow like weeds in the valley, but Shenandoah Caverns is our top pick because you get more bang for your buck. You pay just one admission ($23 for adults, $10 for kids 6-14, and free for kids under 5) and get to enjoy four separate attractions! Tour the underground caverns first. Ooh and ahh at fascinating limestone formations with giggle-inducing names like “Breakfast Bacon.” Then head over to see the window displays of Main Street of Yesteryear, the antique farm equipment in The Yellow Barn, and the amazing floats at American Celebrations on Parade.
261 Caverns Rd.(Quicksburg, Va)
Play With the Animals
The Luray Zoo is the only true rescue zoo in Virginia and is home to 250 animals—including venomous snakes, a Bengal tiger, and pigtailed macaques—that have been abandoned or abused, as well as retired zoo animals.
1087 U.S. Hwy 211 West (Luray, Va)
Route 11 Potato Chips is famous for their unique flavors (Dill Pickle or Chesapeake Crab anyone?) and quality ingredients like unrefined sea salt and organic sweet potatoes from Virginia’s very own Quail Cove Farm. Fans can stop by the factory to see what really goes into making small-batch potato chips. The plant is open to the public Mon–Sat, 9:00 am-5:00 pm, but call in advance to make sure they’re cooking on your visit day. And did we mention the free samples?
11 Edwards Way (Mt. Jackson, Va)
Okay, so a few dozen life-sized dinosaur replicas (not to mention the token King Kong) scattered throughout a park may sound a little cheesy. But your kids will love this roadside attraction! And Dinosaur Land‘s giftshop is a treasure trove of dinosaur paraphernalia to stock up on gifts for your dino-loving offspring.
3848 Stonewall Jackson Hwy. (White Post, Va)
Take a Hike
The absolute must-visit jewel of the valley, Shenandoah National Park stretches 105 miles from Front Royal to Waynesboro-Charlottesville, straddling the Blue Ridge mountains. It’s pure awesomeness for nature-lovers! Stop by the visitor’s center for tips on the best hikes for little ones. And ask about our favorites:
1. Big Meadows (mile 52)- Get ready for plenty of miles of hiking trails and almost-guaranteed sightings of neat animals such as white-tailed deer, or chipmunks.
2. The Limberlost Trail (mile 43)- A wheelchair accessible trail that loops around 1.3 miles, this makes for an easy hike with plenty of critters to keep wee ones enthralled.
3. Dark Hollow Falls (mile 50.7)- The trek’s a little bit of a workout—1.4 miles out and back with elevation gain and loss—but you’ll be rewarded with an up close and personal encounter with a waterfall.
Have you been to Shenendoah Valley? Tell us about your trip in the Comments section below.
Photos courtesy of Route 11 Potato Chips, chanchan222 via Flickr, davidmurr via Flickr, Aguilas2011 via Flickr, Viennamarie1977 via Flickr