Virginia’s Top 7 Summer Road Trip Destinations

Published on July 06, 2020 - Updated on February 22, 2021

Outdoor adventures abound in the heart of the East Coast.

Welcome to week one of our state-by-state travel highlight reel, where we fan out across the country covering all our favorite family-friendly adventures one state at a time. This week we feature the beautiful and diverse landscapes of Virginia. It is, of course, adjacent to our flagship city of DC and because of this location, it is said to be within a day’s drive of 50% of our country’s population. 

Since we are experiencing the unprecedented life challenges associated with the COVID-19 era, road trips are the wisest strategy for satisfying your family’s summer wanderlust. If you choose to stay somewhere overnight, RV travel, camping or home rentals with clear sanitization protocols are the safest options. Additionally, as you may expect, weekends can be very busy in certain parks, so midweek travel is ideal when possible.

We considered all of this, and believe that combined with a healthy respect for physical distancing, disinfecting, and strategic mask use, safe adventures await. It is our goal to highlight destinations with affordable overnight options that allow physical distance, including camping. #wearamask 

Outdoor activity and fresh air family fun are always high on our list of priorities. Additionally, variety is also important, suited to a diverse cross section of landscape and lifestyle preferences. Excited to launch our newest travel series, it didn’t take long to determine that Virginia is the perfect place to start!

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Fun Facts

  • The state tragel slogan is “Virginia is for Lovers!” though it was ironically named for England’s “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth.
  • More US Presidents were born in Virginia than any other state, including four of the first five.
  • Both the American Revolution and the Civil War ended in Virginia.
  • Virginians love a good season, which, in Virginia’s case, means all four of them!!


Shenandoah 

skyline Shenandoah blue ridge

Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive runs its length, and a vast network of trails includes a section of the far-reaching Appalachian Trail. Mostly forested, the park features wetlands, waterfalls, and rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag mountains. Shenandoah is home to an impressive array of wildlife, scenic hikes for all levels, and natural wonders such as Luray Caverns

There are many opportunities for tubing and water sports on the James River and countless charming little towns in the area (Luray and Crozet are two of our favorites). The lovely city of Charlottesville is closeby and there are family-friendly hiking trails, horseback riding stables, picnic areas, orchards and vineyards sprinkled throughout the Shenandoah Valley. 

A little research will uncover many potential options for camping, cabins, and individual home rentals, ranging from rustic to pristine. Considering its convenience and accessibility for so many people up and down the eastern seaboard, Shenandoah National Park should be on every easterner’s travel bucket list.

Virginia Beach & Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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The Virginia Beach region is entrenched in US Military history, with the highest amount of military personnel outside of The Pentagon and the world’s largest Naval Base in neighboring Norfolk. The area’s deep national pride attracts history enthusiasts and military service members, and the three-mile boardwalk that runs along the massive, beautiful beach also makes it a huge tourist destination. 

Considering the circumstances of the coronavirus, we encourage you to avoid the more congested area of the boardwalk. There are many areas slightly off the beaten path to explore, so skip the heart of Virginia Beach and head to the beach entry points past 40th Street, or the Sandbridge area which is just south of the boardwalk, where your family can maintain a healthy distance from other beachgoers. Lovely homes are available for rent in these areas, and the further from the beach you look the more last-minute success you will find at a reasonable price.

For our outdoor enthusiasts, there are many places to paddleboard and kayak in addition to the open ocean, with numerous bays and inlets available. Additionally, head a little further south for an unbelievable flat water experience at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (3 miles) or False Cape State Park (4.5 miles). 

DC and Northern Virginia Parks 

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If you live near enough to the DMV, a day trip to our Nation’s Capital might be a great way to commemorate this summer. With so many people working from home, the city itself is quite a bit more quiet than usual, and for a city that is already very spread out, that leaves a lot more space for physical distance. 

With an abundance of protected land from parks, protected wildlife areas, national historic places, and lands carved out for monuments and memorials, the DC area is blessed with ample space to wander. With the Georgetown Waterfront Park, National Arboretum, Rock Creek Park, The Mount Vernon Estate and Trail, Theodore Roosevelt Island, The National Mall, Great Falls, and countless other parks and hiking trails in and around the city, the DC area is a viable urban option.

The annual August Congressional Recess clears many people out of the city, so it is typically a quiet month, and while it can be very hot, it’s the perfect time for a day trip if you’re close enough. Come prepared with a picnic and outdoor scavenger hunt designed around DC’s many monuments, or plan to do some paddleboarding and take in the city’s majestic beauty from the water. 

Colonial Williamsburg & York River State Park

Williamsburg

For history buffs with a tribe beyond the preschool years that are unsure how to spend the summer of COVID-19, what better destination for your family’s road trip than to the largest outdoor museum in the world. This living history museum at Colonial Williamsburg brings the 18th Century to life, and they are open for business! For more information on their commitment to safety, check out the website. The park is run by a private foundation that requires masks inside all buildings and touchless ticketing, among other strict protocols.

In addition to the many historic sites in and around Williamsburg (including Jamestowne - the site of the first permanent English settlement in America), there are many places to explore nature. You will find miles of hiking at Freedom Park in Williamsburg, which is one of the first free black settlements in America, and also home of a Treetop Adventure Course and Ziplining! 

An outdoor adventure also awaits at York River State Park, only about ten miles north. There is no camping on site, but numerous options are available in the area. Check out camping, glamping and cabin rentals in addition to home rentals if you plan to stay the night. We found a lot of appealing spots that still have availability in the coming weeks.

Assateague/Chincoteague Islands (National Park)

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Known for tranquility and untouched beauty, getting away for a quick escape to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands will cause your whole family to take a deep collective breath. The islands provide a true social distancing escape, with miles and miles of beaches to explore.

You can easily visit both islands in a single trip, but home rentals are only available on Chincoteague because development is not permitted on Assateague. The Chincoteague rentals are surprisingly reasonable, particularly on the bayside. 

If you are a camping enthusiast, Assateague is perfect for your family. You can camp on the bay or the ocean sides with daily opportunities to watch wild ponies which have roamed free on the island for centuries, so pack up your RV (or rent one!!) Insider tip, pack your bug spray!!

There are nature trails and hiking, boating, and non-motorized watercraft rentals, and arguably the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Coastline. Assateague is a National Wildlife Refuge and is completely undisturbed so it’s wildlife is unreal and there are 37 miles of pristine beaches to wander. If you need a true break from the world, this is the place to do it.

Natural Bridge State Park/Blue Ridge Parkway

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For a journey steeped in history, nature, beauty and a healthy dose of fun, Natural Bridge, Virginia is an unexpected treat! In addition to the geological history of the natural bridge itself, it is the believed site of a Native American tribal face-off centuries before the arrival of European explorers. Also, Thomas Jefferson once owned the land on which it stands among other interesting facts - the history runs deep.

The land officially became a state park in 2016 and features beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails in addition to the bridge. The Caverns at Natural Bridge are nearby and as if that isn’t enough to keep your family busy, the Virginia Safari Park is just fifteen minutes away and is a thrill for every age.

For a safe, interactive experience the kids will love, the Virginia Safari Park features a Drive-Thru Safari. The outdoor walking portion of the park is also now open, with enforced social distancing guidelines. There are a large variety of exotic animals and many opportunities get close to them, and in many cases feed and pet them. 

A trip to Natural Bridge is sure to please the entire family, and if you are lucky enough to travel there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as “America’s Favorite Drive” it truly is as much about the journey as the destination.

Lake Anna

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Swimming, boating, and fishing are welcome on the third largest lake in Virginia. It is a peaceful retreat with many areas available to spread out. Private homes, cabins, and yurts are available for rent on and near Lake Anna, and they are quite reasonably priced compared to many other seasonal communities. It’s important to understand if you’re booking on the hot or cold side of the lake. The summer heat combined with the warm water side is something to consider. 

Lake Anna State Park is a great adventure in itself, with a variety of cabin, camping and glamping options available. The hiking in and around the state park is gorgeous and there are 250 miles of shoreline around the massive lake, so you could spend days exploring the lake by paddleboard or kayak.

If you happen to have a Civil War history buff in your family, there are also many historic attractions and sites nearby. Considering its location in central Virginia, you could easily link a number of our other featured destinations to your relaxing lake vacation. 

Whether you seek ocean beaches, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, caverns, islands, thick forests, mountains, valleys, beautiful wide-open countryside, a drive-through safari, or historical landmarks to your heart’s content Virginia has it all. With so much to visit close to home, people who live in and around Virginia can experience a new adventure without getting on a plane for many vacations to come.


Does your family have a favorite road trip destination? Please reach out to share@happyly.com and tell us all about it for future installments of our state to state series and tag your summer road trip highlights on Instagram @gethappyly. We love to hear from you!

We welcome you to explore our blog for more inspiration such as Build a Summer Bucket List and Camping, Glamping or RV Travel: What Suits Your Family? or take a few moments to Fill Up Your Tank: Self-Care For Moms to make sure you're ready to give summer all you’ve got!! 

Enjoying our content? Download the free happyly app, the country’s only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our blog content, favorite activities, and expertly curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Randi Banks
Washington, DC
Randi (Betts) Banks grew up in New York and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She moved to Washington, D.C. more than thirteen years ago with her husband, Eaghmon, and they love to explore the area and seek out adventure, now with their two young children along for the ride. Growing up right near the beach, they are happiest when on or near the water, so exploring the rivers, lakes, and streams in the greater DC area is a favorite pastime for their family. In addition to serving as one of the Washington, DC area ambassadors, Randi is also the Editor in Chief and Co-founder of happyly.
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