Summer break provides a wonderful opportunity to get away with your kids. It’s not always possible, however, to plan a trip to a far-flung destination. Sure, I have friends going to Iceland, Costa Rica, and Paris this summer, but for most of us without the budget or the Frequent Flier miles, that’s just not going to happen. So we should count ourselves lucky that living in the Washington D.C. area is so close to one of the most beautiful and family friendly destinations in the country: the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains area of Virginia.
1. Shenandoah National Park:
Virginia’s mountains should definitely be added to your family’s travel bucket list. Kids will love learning while they go exploring thanks to the free Junior Ranger Program for kids 7-12 and Ranger Programs for kids 13+. You can even rent an explorer backpack filled with for the day if your kids want to really get into it. With more than 500 miles of hiking, you could come back again and again to visit different areas of the gorgeous National Park. Getting around the National Park’s 105 miles is part of the fun. Driving on the scenic Skyline Drive is something kids will remember forever. There are four entrances (and exits) from the park (each takes about an hour to get to), and you can plan your route to the park in Directions.
If you are in or near Winchester, Virginia, you must visit the beautiful Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum that is perfect for kids of all ages. The Discovery Museum offers weekly classes and monthly events that are free with admission, like Science Kitchen for lab experiments, story time, and demonstrations from their artists in residence. The regular exhibits include a full-sized ambulance everyone can climb in, the Roller Coaster Alley, an apple-packing shed, a model Powhatan home, a musical foyer, and a killer observation deck on the roof, which also houses a gorgeous roof garden. There’s something for every kid to tinker around with at the Museum, which carefully designed their space to highlight Shenandoah Valley themes. Cost is $8 per person, children 2 and under are free.
3. Local farms like Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Whether you’re going for the experience of Pick-Your-Own (ideal if you’re going to stay somewhere with a kitchen) or just want to visit the farms and animals during their seasonal festivals and events, local farms like Great Country Farms offer a perfect way for families to enjoy the outdoors and feel more connected to their food. If visiting in the summer, the U-Pick options include blackberries, blueberries, plums, peaches, and late summer vegetables.
4. Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns:
To see one and not the other is a shame, because the two Caverns offer a different experience that is difficult to compare. They’re both breathtaking to visit, and they make you marvel at the beauty of the natural world. There are special passes you can get to visit all the Caverns.
Shenandoah Caverns (above) has been open since 1922 and has the distinction of being the only Caverns site in Virginia with elevator service, so if you’re going away with grandparents, this is a perfect stop. Kids will love the “Bacon” formations, the Cathedral Hall, Rainbow Lake, and the Capitol Dome areas of the Caverns. And when you’re done with the Caverns, you can visit the exhibit of Main Street of Yesteryear, which features antique window displays and the neighboring American Celebration on Parade, a museum of 27 parade floats & over 100 props.
Luray Caverns (below) has the distinction of the world’s only working stalacpipe organ:
And of course, there are plenty of amazing things to see, like the 47-foot double column in Giants’ Hall, the pure-white calcite formation called Titania’s Veil, the optical illusion of Dream Lake, and the majestic “shawls” in Saracen’s Tent. But if your kids are like mine, their favorite stop during a tour of Luray Caverns will be the legendary Eggs!
5. Family Drive-In Theatre: I thought Drive-In movies were a thing of the past, the kind of thing that my kids would only know about from watching old movies like “Grease” or “American Graffiti.” The Family Drive-In Theatre outside of Winchester, however, is alive and kicking — and while it has adapted to the times with a fully digital projection system, it still provides this magical nostalgic experience for the entire family to enjoy. The best thing is that the price of admission is for a double feature, and the theater shows many special, holiday, and cult-classics. As for the concession, the Family Drive-In Theatre has much more than popcorn and candy; you can have an affordable full meal.
Here’s a photo gallery of my trip:
For more information about visiting Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, visit:
- Go Blue Ridge Travel’s Shenandoah Kids Trail
- Kid Trips Guide to Winchester, Va. Trip
- Visit the Shenandoah Valley Family Attractions
Disclosure: I was invited on a media trip with the Virginia Tourism Corporation to visit family-friendly sites around the Shenandoah Valley, but all opinions are my own, and no other compensation was provided.