If you’re looking for fun things to do in Virginia, here’s a round up of some of the best days trips from Charlottesville!
I’ve lived in Charlottesville for more than a decade now (that is so hard to believe!!) and it’s one of the most beautiful places to live! There is so much to see and do within a few hours drive. You can roll out on a day trip from Charlottesville to see beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, mountaintops, hiking trails, historical landmarks, theme parks, and lakes. You can even reach the ocean – Virginia Beach – in a couple of hours!
We have a goal to do more day trips with the boys this year. Now that Birch is older, able to make it through a day without a nap, and doesn’t cry in his car seat (most of the time!), we are ready for new family adventures. A day trip is so much easier than an overnight – much less packing to do!
With warmer weather on the horizon, here are some of my favorite day trips from Charlottesville, plus a few new ones on our bucket list!
Best Day Trips From Charlottesville
Note that before you visit, you’ll want to check with each destination to see what health/safety guidelines are currently in place..
1. Monticello + Highland
Super close to home, you can easily spend a whole day at Monticello! One of the most famous historic sites in the state, Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, sits at the top of “little mountain.” Monticello is the only U.S. presidential and private home on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List. It’s important to note that the property was a plantation and Jefferson had enslaved people. The curators do not gloss over this history, and there are exhibits on how the slaves lived and how Jefferson profited off of their labor.
Be prepared to walk around a lot – the grounds and gardens are expansive. And the views are beautiful. Monticello holds several festivals throughout the year, including Founders Day in the spring, a Naturalization Ceremony on the 4th of July, and the Heritage Harvest Festival every fall. While the grounds are more crowded, there is a lot more to see and do during a festival.
Highland, which was James Monroe’s home, is also just outside of Charlottesville. Highland offers tours of the farmhouse and outlying buildings and has a museum shop including a Virginia Artisans Room. I’ve actually never done the tour, but I’ve been to Highland for a wedding and a country fair!
2. Colonial Williamsburg + Jamestown
A second very well-known historic site in Virginia is Colonial Williamsburg, about 2 hours from Cville. There is a ton to see and do in the heart of the historic district, and we’ve been several times. Check out this post from when I took baby Mazen: A Weekend in Colonial Williamsburg. As a living history museum, you’ll see lots of people in costumes in the working village with a blacksmith, potter, baker, brick maker, farmer, and other colonial shops. At each one, you’ll find a reenactor who will tell you about the process for creating their goods. Be sure to dine in some of the taverns and have some real Colonial fare and ale! I’d recommend a spring or fall visit since you’ll be doing a lot of walking and going in and out of buildings, but Christmastime is also a special time to go!
Be sure to hop over to Jamestown too and go even further back in history to America’s first permanent settlement. The reenactments in Jamestown are very realistic to what life must have felt like back then.
3. Busch Gardens + Great Wolf Lodge
These are wonderful kid adventures you can add on to a Williamsburg trip! Busch Gardens is a huge adventure theme park packed with roller coasters and rides. It has a European theme and food offerings with a fun Oktoberfest celebration!
Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park located inside a kid-friendly resort. You can read about our visit in February 2019 here. Mazen had a BLAST!
Richmond is Virginia’s capital and an easy one-hour drive from Cville. Last year Thomas and I went to Richmond for an overnight: Fun Things To Do In Richmond, VA. We packed a lot into our visit, but there is still so much left to see! From our stay at the Jefferson Hotel to walking across the James River to Belle Isle to beer tasting in Scott’s Addition, you’ll find lots of entertainment. There’s also the Short Pump area for shopping, which is a day trip we used to make regularly. The Maymont Gardens are also on our list of places to take the kids. There are gardens and a great nature center with lots of animals to see.
5. Washington, DC
A 2.5 hour drive through beautiful countryside, DC makes a great day trip or weekend getaway. Our list includes visits to the National Zoo, which is free to the public, and some of DC’s amazing museums. I know Mazen would love the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Obviously there is a ton to see in DC: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, the Capitol and the White House. Check out my visit to the White House here!
6. Blue Ridge Parkway + Humpback Rock Hike
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway about an hour from Charlottesville is Humpback Rock Hike. This hike is short and steep – about 1 steep mile to the top. Take a picnic to eat at the top! The views of the Shenandoah Valley are amazing! Definitely go on a warm fall day. May I suggest October 26? It can get quite crowded and also chilly at the top, so keep both of those in mind. Here’s a detailed post about the hiking experience.
7. Shenandoah National Park
About 30 minutes from Cville, the 105-mile Skyline Drive runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and takes you right through Shenandoah National Park. It’s the only public road through, and there is a toll. This is a great trip to take in the fall when the foliage is at its peak of orange and red and the days are still warm for some great hiking! This post outlines several itineraries and routes to take to see the overlooks and pack in some hiking: Shenandoah National Park Day Trip Planner.
8. Old Rag Hike
Old Rag is one of the best hiking trails on the East Coast, if I do say so myself! The 8-mile hike is one giant loop that takes the better part of a day to do. Pack plenty of water, especially in the summertime, and a picnic for the top of the mountain. When I first hiked it, I was surprised at how much scrambling we had to do at the top. There were some rocks I couldn’t get over without a lift or hand from a companion (at my height!). So note that this hike is not for beginners or anyone with limited physical ability. Check out my blog post recap here (the day that Anne got engaged!!).
9. Crabtree Falls
A little over an hour’s drive southwest of Charlottesville is George Washington National Forest. The Crabtree Falls hike winds next to 1,000 feet of waterfall drop – a super impressive waterfall! The 3.5-mile hike took us a couple of hours, including stops for photos, a picnic, and pausing to admire nature’s beauty : ) Grab sandwiches from Bellair Market to enjoy at the top or head to Camp Trapezium in Amherst for beer and pizza after!
10. Luray Caverns
Discovered in 1989, Luray Caverns are the largest caverns in the eastern U.S. and you’ll find some truly spectacular underground rock formations. Remember stalactites and stalagmites from science class? That’s what’s inside! You’ll be able to wander through the cave and see mud flows and pools. Great for a steamy hot summer day when you need to cool off underground. Your ticket also includes entrance to the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Shenandoah Heritage Village, and Toy Town Junction. The drive is about 1.5 hours from Cville.
11. Richmond Metro Zoo
We had a blast at the Richmond Metro Zoo last year! This regional zoo is on the smaller side, which makes it relaxing and great for kids. You’ll still see tons of wild animals! There’s a safari ride and a ski lift ride and plenty to fill a day. I recommend feeding the giraffes, too! We bought tickets online (total of $67 for the 4 of us) for a 9:45 a.m. entrance time. We left Charlottesville around 8:30 and made the trip in about an hour and 15 minutes. Parking was free and easy, but we found quite a long line to enter. I definitely recommend going early – by the time we left the place was crawling with people! Lastly, you can bring a picnic lunch, which we did to simplify lunchtime.
About 40 minutes from Cville is the Wintergreen Resort, the closest skiing to town. We’ve had a blast going there the past few years. As a beginner, I find the slopes very challenging! If you’re used to West Coast skiing you might not 🙂 Here are my tips for skiing at Wintergreen. Ski school is popular for families but fills up fast. Check the forecast to ensure there is snow. It gets warm here and sometimes it all melts! There are condos surrounding the slopes that you can rent for the weekend.
Wintergreen is also fun mid-summer, and the resort has tennis, golf, and a pool.
In Loudoun County, Middleburg is one of the most charming small towns in Virginia. Known as the “horse and hunt capital,” it’s on our list to visit either for a day trip or an overnight at the Salamander Resort.
14. The Virginia Creeper Trail
At the far western tip of Virginia is the tiny town of Abingdon. From there, you can rent bikes and take a shuttle to Whitetop Station and cruise down the 35-mile Virginia Creeper Trail. The old railway trail takes you through beautiful countryside and across bridges. The first 17 miles are downhill; the second 17 are flatter. Fun fact: I did this trip with my parents when I was in high school and loved it!!! It’s the ultimate adventure for kids who love to bike (although I would recommend for older kids).
15. Smith Mountain Lake
We’ve been to Smith Mountain Lake a few times as a family, and it’s one of our favorite summer spots. Check out my blog post here from Mariner’s Landing and here from an Air B&B house we rented with my parents in the fall. The lake is beautiful and deep, perfect for fishing, boating, and swimming.
16. Civil War Battlefields
If you’re interested in American history, you’ll want to visit some of the historic battlefields in Virginia. Manassas National Battlefield is 5,000-acre park that was the scene of two major Civil War battles, and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park that includes preserved battlefields, a church, cemetery, and more.
17. Charlottesville Area Vineyards
Obviously I have to mention all of our vineyards! Find a designated driver, pile into a car, and spend the day with your friends vineyard hopping. We have so many amazing vineyards within a 20-minute drive. From polo at King Family on Sundays to Saturday night Starry Nights at Veritas, there are lots of special events to plan around, too. There are vineyards both large and small, so mix and match depending on how intimate of an experience you’re after. A perfect spring, summer, or fall day!