It’s true that Richmond offers more than enough activities to keep you and your family occupied for all four seasons of the year. But, sometimes it’s nice to get out and explore other corners of this beautiful state we call home. Packed with history, natural wonders, and adventures around every corner, winter is one of the best times to discover all that Virginia has to offer.
We are fortunate in the fact that, while it gets cold in Virginia, we aren’t (all that often) hindered by too much snow or temperatures that drop TOO far below bearable levels. Best of all, although Virginia’s incredible outdoor destinations are no less fun or exciting in the winter, they are much less crowded.
To get your family out and about this winter season, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite family-friendly winter outdoor activities in Virginia. And because all of these destinations are within half-a-day’s drive, you’ll have easy access to family fun in the great outdoors whether you want to go for the day, a weekend, or longer,
We hope you’ll take advantage of the lighter crowds this winter season and head out to some of these amazing places. In the meantime, we would love to hear about some of your favorite winter outdoor activities/destinations in Virginia. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Explore the History (and Natural Beauty) of Southwest Virginia
If there’s one thing that Virginia is known for its history. As home to Jamestown, the oldest permanent English settlement in the country, and important Colonial capitals like Williamsburg, Virginia attracts droves of tourists during the summer months. But, Jamestown and Williamsburg aren’t the only places that history happened. Virginia also offers a rich frontier history in the southwestern part of the state. As an added bonus, this part of the state also happens to host some of the most beautiful natural sites available. Here are a few spots that are perfect for winter exploration:
Driving time from Richmond: 6 ½ to 7 hours
Nestled in the far southwest corner of the state, Wilderness Road State Park is a treasure trove of beauty, history, and outdoor fun. This park features living history programs, including Martin’s Station, an outdoor living history museum depicting life on Virginia’s 1775 frontier; a restored 1870s-era mansion; and a theater showing the award-winning docudrama, “Wilderness Road, Spirit of a Nation.” Enjoy picnic shelters, nature “play-scape,” playgrounds, and more. Or hike, bike, or ride horses the park’s nearly nine-mile Wilderness Road Trail.
Middleboro, KY (on the Virginia-Kentucky border)
Driving time from Richmond: 6 ¾ to 7 hours
Just next door to Ewing along the Kentucky border, you’ll find Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. For centuries before European pioneers began using it to explore west into Kentucky, the Cumberland Gap was a treasured mountain pass and hunting ground for Native Americans. Today, the park offers visitors a chance to follow the historic paths of Native Americans, European pioneers, hunters, wildlife herds, Civil War soldiers, and Appalachian settlers. While some of the park’s attractions are not available for tours in the winter months, there are still ample opportunities to hike the park’s nearly 50 miles of trails and explore the Visitor’s Center complete with kids’ activities like the Pioneer Playhouse.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
91 Bartlett Park Road
Middlesboro, KY 40965
(starting in Thomas Walker Civic Park)
Driving time from Richmond: 6 ½ to 7 hours
Located within the Cumberland Gap National Park, you’ll find the Sand Cave. This natural wonder was created by centuries of wind and water, resulting in a rock formation featuring a lushly forested entrance, a small waterfall (which makes stunning icicles in the winter months), and a vast, sand-covered floor. The trailhead to this cave starts in Thomas Walker Civic Park in Ewing. A 3.9-mile hike takes you to the cave entrance, located just on the other side of the Kentucky border.
Past the cave, continue along the trail for another 5+ miles to reach White Rocks. From atop the rocks, hikers will receive an unforgettable view of three states: Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
These trails aren’t for the faint heart, but they are definitely do-able with a family—and they are equestrian-friendly, as well! Visit Hiking Bill to see photos and learn more about this one-of-a-kind hike.
Thomas Walker Civic Park Trailhead
S R 724
Ewing, VA 24248
For information about the Sand Cave and White Rocks, call Cumberland Gap National Historical Park at (606) 248-2817
Driving time from Richmond: 5 ¾ to 6 hours
Reaching more than 10 stories high and measuring 850-feet long, Natural Tunnel is a naturally-carved limestone tunnel that was formed over thousands of years. Today, the area has been turned into a state park featuring two campgrounds, cabins, picnic areas, an amphitheater, a visitor center, a camp store, and a gift shop, as well as a chairlift that takes you to the Tunnel floor. While you’re there, take cave tours or explore the local environment with local hiking trails and canoe trips on the Clinch River. Be sure to visit the park’s event calendar for ongoing events throughout the winter including the “Christmas Lighting of the Tunnel,” holiday concerts, and guided hikes.
Go On A Family Fishing and Glamping Adventure
If you think of fishing as a spring and summer sport, you’re not alone. Even experienced fishermen pack up their rods and reels and winterize their boats with the onset of cold weather. But there are certain spots in Virginia that offer fantastic fishing throughout the year. One such place is Rose River Farm in Syria, Virginia.
Driving time from Richmond: 1 ¾ hours
This picturesque farm is located in Madison County, less than two hours from Richmond. The highlight of the farm is the Rose River, which features crystal clear, easily wade-able water that is perfect for catch-and-release fly fishing. The farm offers fishing opportunities for the whole family, including lessons, as well as three, luxury yurt-style cabins that come fully equipped with everything you need to enjoy a weekend getaway. The cabins are set on a fully stocked pond (including bass, bluegill, and trout) and offer amazing views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.
If fishing isn’t a favorite activity for the whole family, be sure to take advantage of nearby activities including horseback riding (arrangements can be made at the farm); hiking at Old Rag Mountain (located on Route 602, about 15 miles from the farm); hiking and more at Graves Mountain Lodge (about one mile from the farm); guided kayak tours with the Rapidan River Kayak Company; and tons of local wineries and restaurants.
Cabin rentals: $250/night (weekly rates available)
Rod rentals: $95/person
*The farm limits the river to five rods per day, but if you book four rods or more at one time, they’ll reserve the day for your party to fish privately.
Try Geocaching with the Family
Locations and distances vary
If you’re looking for a winter activity for the family that is fun, but offers some flexibility with both time and location, then try your hand at geocaching. This outdoor treasure hunt involves using a GPS receiver, a mobile device, and/or other navigational techniques to find “caches” hidden at specific locations. A “cache” is usually a small, waterproof container holding a logbook and pen. Once you find it, you can mark it with your family’s code name and put it back for the next “cacher” to find. Some containers will even include trinkets, toys, or other items that you can trade.
Virginia has many popular geocache “trails,” including a full series of hidden locations at our state parks. The 2017 Virginia State Park geocache theme is Get L.O.S.T. – Listen, Observe, Sense and Try. Each cache includes a collector’s card describing a simple activity that involves imagination, senses, colors, textures and comparisons to explore in creative ways. To find a complete list of parks and geocaches coordinates, visit the Virginia State Parks website or visit Geocache.com’s list of sites. Keep in mind that many state parks offer overnight camping and/or cabins, making it easy to turn your geocache adventure into an fun, overnight trip.
For more information about geocaching in Virginia, visit these sites:
Virginia Geocaching Trails and Maps with TrailLink
Northern Virginia Geocaching Organization
Central Virginia Geocaching Association
See Wild Ponies and More on Chincoteague Island
Driving time from Richmond: 3 ½ hours
Located just off the coast of Virginia, Chincoteague has long been famed for its wild ponies. Legend has it that the ponies made their way to shore after a Spanish galleon wrecked just off the coast. Today, the island is a magnet for summer travelers who want to soak up the sun on the island’s sandy beaches and see the world-famous “pony swim,” where the ponies swim from their home on neighboring Assateague Island to Chincoteague.
Needless to say, traveling to Chincoteague during the summer months can be hectic. That’s why we would venture to say that there’s no better time to visit this quaint island than during the winter. Despite being only seven miles long and three miles wide, the island is packed full of activities for the whole family, including boat tours, fishing, hang gliding, airplane tours, museums, horseback riding, pony rides and lessons at the Chincoteague Pony Centre, and, of course, sightings of the famous ponies themselves. If you time it right, you can even view rocket launches from Virginia’s own NASA Flight Facility on nearby Wallop’s Island. And as Virginia’s only resort island, you can be certain that charming hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts abound – and with more vacancy by far than you’ll find in the summer.
For information about visiting Chincoteague, or to start planning a trip, visit Chincoteague.com for upcoming events, places to stay, activities and more.
Get Out the Bikes and Hit the Trails
Biking might seem like more of a spring, summer, or fall activity—anytime other than winter, in other words. But winter bike rides can make a fantastic day of family fun. Of course, you’ll want to bundle up a bit more, but Virginia offers some of the most scenic bike trails available no matter what the season. Here are just a few you might want to try:
Richmond to Williamsburg
Driving time from Richmond: varies
With 52 miles of paved paths stretching from Virginia’s current capital city in Richmond to the former Colonial capital in Williamsburg, the Capital Trail is the perfect place for a family bike ride. With many starting, stopping, and/or resting places along the way, you can make the ride as long or as short as you want. The trail is lined with historic homes and sites, as well as ample dining, lodging, and bike rentals, so make the most of it and take a crowd-free winter ride that the whole family will love.
To learn more about tours, rentals, and historic sites, or to find interactive trail maps and videos, visit Virginia Capital Trail, call (804) 788-6453, or email email@example.com.
Abingdon to White Top
Driving time from Richmond: 5 hours (Abingdon); 5 to 5 ½ hours (White Top)
The Virginia Creeper Trail is undeniably one of the most beautiful trails in Virginia. The trail runs for 34 miles from Abingdon through the quaint town of Damascus (known as the Heart of the Virginia Creeper), along the Whitetop Laurel River, and ends at its highest point in Whitetop Station near the North Carolina State Line. Open year-round, the trail offers stunning scenery, as well as plenty of options for bike rentals, overnight lodging, and restaurants along the way.
Burkeville to Pamplin City
Driving Time from Richmond: 1 hour, 10 minutes (Burkeville); 1 hour, 35 minutes (Pamplin City)
Stretching for 31 miles through Southside Virginia’s beautiful farmlands and small towns, this rail-to-trail route follows a former railway line. The highlight of the trail is its namesake, High Bridge, a spectacular railway bridge-turned-trail that spans 2,400 feet and stand 160 feet above the Appomattox River. The trail and bridge are part of High Bridge Trail State Park.
Mount Vernon to Arlington
Driving time from Richmond: 2 ½ hours (Mount Vernon); 1 hour, 50 minutes (Arlington)
This 18-mile, multi-use trail offers an ideal place to bike and sightsee all at the same time. Starting at George Washington’s historic home, Mount Vernon, the trail runs along the Potomac River to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Arlington. Along the way, it connects to other trails if you want to add a little adventure to your trip. But if you do stay on the Mount Vernon Trail, you’ll catch plenty of breathtaking views of the DC city skyline, pass through historic cities, and have ample opportunities to stop for food, entertainment, and attractions along the way.
To learn more about the trail or to view a trail map, visit the National Park Service – Mount Vernon Trail, or to request a ranger program along the Mount Vernon Trail, call (703) 235‑1530.