Virginia is a state that has virtually everything. From fascinating historic sites and Civil War battlefields to picturesque towns to sandy beaches and imposing mountains, no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in the Old Dominion. This post is dedicated to the best Virginia natural attractions.
What I love most about this state is that everything is so accessible. You can easily go hiking in the morning, explore a historic town in the afternoon and enjoy world-class wine, beer or cider in the evening.
Best Virginia Natural Attractions
Virginia’s Natural Bridge used to be included in 19th-century lists of the Great Wonders of the World. Nowadays, it’s still as imposing as ever. Formed after a cave collapsed, the area is said to have been surveyed by a young George Washington. Thomas Jefferson purchased the area from the British King George III and built a cabin there.
This is one of America’s oldest tourist attractions and one of the best Virginia natural attractions. It is now included in the National Register of Historic Places and a Virginia state park.
Great Falls Park
Located a short drive outside of Washington, D.C., Great Falls Park is one of the top Virginia natural attractions. It’s a popular day trip destination from the capital of the United States. The park is managed by the National Park Service, but it’s not an official national park.
It lies at the northern end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and protects a section of the Potomac River. Great Falls Park, as its name suggests, has one major feature—a magnificent series of waterfalls.
Shenandoah National Park
Occupying a section of the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, Shenandoah National Park receives almost two million visitors each year. A long and narrow park, it is traversed by Skyline Drive, one of America’s greatest and most popular mountain roads. This is the only road through the park, but it’s lined with hiking trails, about 75 overlooks and a few historic sites.
With its landscapes of endlessly rolling mountains, dense forests, streams and waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, Shenandoah National Park is a superb destination for outdoor activities. Cyclists are often seen on Skyline Drive while the park’s 500 miles of hiking trails attract backpackers and day hikers.
Great Dismal Swamp
The Great Dismal Swamp is what’s left of a vast million-acre area of wetland habitats that once extended from southeastern Virginia into northern North Carolina. Nowadays, it’s still the largest swamp in that region and a National Wildlife Refuge.
Activities in the park range from hiking and cycling to environment education, photography and wildlife watching.
Located in southwestern Virginia, Grayson Highlands encompasses Grayson Highlands State Park and the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area. It is home to the highest mountain in Virginia, Mount Rogers, and rugged hills, expansive mountain meadows and huge heaps of boulders. Wild ponies roam the area, making it an exceptionally attractive destination for nature lovers.
This is arguably one of the greatest places in Eastern America for hiking, camping and horseback riding. The Appalachian Trail as well as the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail cross the area. Grayson Highlands is without question one of the absolute best Virginia natural attractions.
Peaks of Otter
Situated around milepost 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter have been a popular tourist destination since a local farming family opened an inn in the early 1800’s. This area is characterized by three distinct mountain peaks, wonderful forests and pretty waterfalls.
The Peaks of Otter Lodge is the only year-round accommodation on the Parkway, set scenically on the shore of man-made Abbott Lake. A few hiking trails start at the lodge, others begin at the nearby Peaks of Otter visitor center. This area is superb for hiking. Consider doing the Sharp Top Trail or the Fallingwater Cascades Trail.
One of the most popular—and the largest—caverns in the Eastern United States, Luray Caverns is a major tourist attraction in Virginia. It is a Registered Natural Landmark featuring giant underground halls, crystal-clear mirroring underground lakes, towering columns and the Stalacpipe Organ, claimed to be the largest musical instrument in the world.
Luray Caverns is one of several caves in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it’s probably the best one.
A 38-mile-long barrier island off the Atlantic coast of Virginia, Assateague Island lies partly in Virginia and partly in Maryland. The entire island is protected as a wildlife sanctuary. Particularly the southern part of the island is interesting to visitors. There, 14,000 acres of coastline, forests, wetlands and beaches are protected as a National Wildlife Refuge offering a habitat to more than 300 water and wetland birds. The most famous inhabitants of Assateague Island, however, are the wild ponies.
Because of these wild ponies, but also because of its absolutely spectacular beaches and great coastal hiking trails, Assateague Island draws in 1.5 million people on an annual basis. It’s truly one of the best natural attractions in Virginia.